Gather round kiddies, grab your pumpkins and pumpkin spiced lattes, and prepare for a fiendish tale of wailing WhatsApp read receipts and spooky text silences. Happy Halloween everyone; it’s time to talk about ghosting.
Anyone brave enough to set foot in the veritable haunted house of dating is putting themselves at risk of its most terrifying inhabitant: ghosting – the phenomenon whereby your newly discovered paramour makes an admirable attempt at being your potential future boyfriend or girlfriend but then, inexplicably, disappears.
Almost everyone I know has starred in their own ghost story, either as a hapless victim or as the phantom themselves. My friend Tracy was spectacularly ghosted by a man who sat four desks away from her at work, making him an office ghost whose constant non-presence haunted her until a new job offer served as an exorcism. My friend Lilah has been ghosted a record four times this year, making her a UNESCO World Heritage Haunted Site, while, conversely, my friend Marissa has ‘died’ on three boys since July, making her a particularly prolific spectre.
One friend tells me she is still haunted by the ghost of a man she spent a romantic weekend with.
“The last time I saw him was that Sunday afternoon,” she says. “I then thought it would be really funny to send him the ‘Afternoon Delight’ clip from Anchorman. He never replied. I never saw him again.”
My own dating days were perennially filled with the dread of being ghosted, each unanswered text acting like an unexplained creaking floorboard. One of my many modern-day hauntings involved a ghost actually stealing my belongings. After a few weeks of no contact had lapsed, and I was reassured that the man I had been seeing for the last three months had probably been hit by a bus, I sent a séance-esque text off into the beyond:
“I can only assume that your untimely demise is the reason for your sudden disappearance. All I ask is that you send a sign of some kind to me from the Other Side as to where and when I might get back the blue Zara shirt I left in your flat.”
My shirt, and the boy, is still at large.
Ghosting may be a particularly heinous crime against your ego (and sometimes your wardrobe), but how scary is it really? Dating app The League has, this Halloween, compiled some seasonal research on the phenomenon, including some revelatory stats. Most hauntings, for example, occur after date one; men are 22% more likely to ghost than women; and the profession with the highest level of spectral behaviour is investment banking, with 33% of ghosts floating in from that sector.
Besides teaching us to expect a phantom Wolf of Wall Street, their ghostbusting guide also served up some eye-opening generational facts. We like to think we invented ghosting but apparently, all we did was give a spooky moniker to an age-old trick. The League’s research shows that 21% of the app’s ghosts in the machine are over 40.
When you think about it, people have been prone to this romantic disappearing act for generations. In the pre-smartphone dark ages, dating was far more cloak and dagger. You could legitimately disappear by virtue of being verifiably uncontactable – you could have not paid your phone bill, you could have been drafted to ‘Nam, you could have actually died.
Cary Grant is ghosted by Deborah Kerr in 1957's An Affair to Remember, when an untimely car crash keeps her from their rendezvous at the Empire State Building. In 2000, Sex and the City delved into ghosting via the means of a genuine dead person – Miranda’s no-show, whose excuse for not showing up to their date was that he had dropped dead at the gym.
But why, at any age, do people ghost?
“I’m really bad at those conversations,” says a male friend who ghosts as a dating rite of passage. “It’s so awkward and I end up saying all the wrong things – I’d make them feel worse. The disappearance is easier.”
It’s the same story with everyone I ask who prefers to fade away from a relationship rather than face – or force others to face – harsh facts. The irony is, of course, that avoiding the aforementioned ‘scary’ conversation makes you something scarier still: a ghost.
While the true terror is not the grizzly demise of the person you’re dating, but being appraised of the fact that they just don’t like you that much, it’s the jolting radio silence of ghosting that causes long-term haunting.
Poor, habitually haunted Lilah informs me of the one relationship this year that did not end in a supernatural enigma but an actual, old-fashioned, break-up.
“It was painful, sure, but it was so refreshing to have an actual adult conversation about it,” she says. “It gave me closure, not a ghost.”
The League believes that ghosting is not as scary as you think – if you’re prepared. Recognising the signs of a haunting and nipping it in the bud is the true ghostbusting trick: “If you can tell someone is leaning out, just cut it, especially after a date or two, and don’t get too upset if you don’t get a response back.”
They’ve even got tips for ghosts themselves: acceptable after one date but not three. “By date three you’ve probably shared a combined 6-10 hours with this person, so definitely let them know it’s a no-go!” You owe them closure.
As for me, I have Bill Murray levels of intolerance towards ghosts. I think of all the relationship ghosts that still bother me, long after I stopped caring about them, long after I found happiness in my current relationship. None of them has been laid to rest. A quick break-up text would have exorcised it all, but their ghosting means that they are free to haunt me still.
So, dear readers, this Halloween, do that person you’re about to ghost a favour and just politely inform them you no longer wish to date. Put that nail in the coffin. Trust me, it’s better to treat than trick.