Another day, another form of online interaction to further complicate your already complicated dating life.
Soft ghosting appears to have been publicly coined on Overheard LA, the (actually incredible) Instagram account which posts snippets of conversations that people have overheard IRL in Los Angeles. Things like "Did you just assume my milk preference?" and "You went to Burning Man, not Iraq, calm down."
The soft ghosting post detailed an overheard conversation between two guys about (presumably) a date that went cold.
As you can see, soft ghosters, unlike hard(?) ghosters, do not disappear into thin air, never to be heard of again; instead they bring a polite but abrupt and confusing pause to a conversation. Your soft ghoster read that last message, they acknowledged that last message, but they didn't respond. It's the online version of going "hm".
The soft ghoster has managed to achieve several things with their digital "hm", all of them in their favour; they've managed to perform a power grab so effective that Boris Johnson is taking notes. The soft ghoster now has to do nothing while the other party agonises over whether to risk looking too keen and double texting or play it cool and decide that they're being fobbed off. Either decision has potentially catastrophic connotations for the future of this short-lived relationship.
The soft ghoster, however, sleeps soundly that night, knowing that they have not been rude to the other party and that they can pick up the conversation whenever they fancy – if they fancy – at a time that is convenient for them.
Sabrina, 28, admits to being a chronic soft ghoster. She first became aware of the power of the move when she was talking to a guy she says she knew fancied her and who she was into, but not enough to properly invest in conversation. "When I’d get bored of his chat I knew I had to respond in a way that would keep him around but also shut down the conversation for a while. If you were to scroll through our archived WhatsApps you’d see a lot of text on one side of the screen and a lot of single emoji responses from me." By trimming her interaction down to the bare minimum, she says it made it much easier to get away with not responding to his messages for a few days then, eventually, not at all.
The lack of guilt that comes with a soft ghost appeals to her. "You're not leaving someone on read – it’s like okay, I acknowledge your message but I don’t feel the need to say anything, I’m just gonna give a little nod in your direction so you don’t feel completely neglected."
She is "100% aware" of the power that soft ghosting gives her. "It feels like I’m winning an unspoken game, especially if I’m soft ghosting a guy who’s been super inconsistent with their communication with me. My ex went through a phase of sending me loads of memes on Instagram and I told myself I wasn’t going to reply to any of them for a week to make him sweat (I’m that idiot he could rely on to reply to everything straightaway). Instead, I’d just 'like' them so he would get a notification to say that I’d seen it, but nothing of actual substance. A few days later was the first time he called to 'see how I was' after months of him soft ghosting me."
Sabrina says it makes her feel in control of a conversation that she doesn't necessarily want to be having. "It’s also really satisfying knowing that you’re being given attention without feeling obliged to give anything real back. It’s pretty shitty I know, especially because I’ve had all sorts of ghosting done to me, but then maybe that’s why I get a kick out of it."
From her perspective, it's not usually a great sign for the continuation of an interaction. "If I notice myself doing it, it’s normally a sign that we’re on the descent into me writing them off completely. But quite often I’ll intend to leave them hanging for a little bit until I decide I’m ready to engage properly."
If her match does double text, she admits she gets a kick out of it. "I sound like such an awful person but I feel pretty smug! I’ve double texted people after being treated a similar way and wanted to die, so the memory of that feeling would probably nudge me to reply with something if they did."
She's got no time for the tables being turned on her, though. "I hate being ignored by people I fancy. It drives me wild and I’ll end up checking their other social media channels to try and work out when they’ve last been online. I’m that person. So if they were to soft ghost me twice I’d put them straight in the archive and move on elsewhere."
Louise Troen, VP of international media and communications at Bumble, says that if you think you're being soft ghosted, it's important not to jump immediately to conclusions. "Give the other person time to respond," she tells Refinery29. "Although technology has given us the ability to communicate all the time, it does not mean we are available all the time."
However, in order to stop yourself becoming a serial soft ghostee, she recommends being clear and direct when moving forward. "If you’ve not set plans to meet up, this doesn’t automatically mean they’ve ghosted you. Some people do need a more clear call to action so ignoring the liked messages and diverting to a meeting to assess their seriousness is a good move." She suggests offering a time and place to meet and seeing what happens from there. If they don't respond, then make like Sabrina and archive 'em – clearly they weren't worth your time and at least now you won't be left wondering if the conversation petered out over an avoidable miscommunication.
"Don’t torture yourself by replaying the situation over and over again!" she says. "Remember it was probably a 'them and not you' situation and you can move on knowing it would have been a waste of time anyway."