Ghosting Is Even Crueler When You Could Be Dead

It used to be a sick joke that the person who hit you and quit you did so because they left our mortal plane. But during a global pandemic, it’s not so funny — or unrealistic.

Despite warnings from public health officials that your safest sex partner is yourself, plenty of singles are breaking quarantine to outsource this responsibility to others. When FaceTime dates, tasteful nudes and walking dates no longer quench their thirst, these antiheroes meet up to smash, and with added emotional vulnerability in a pandemic, potentially fall in love. 

Yet shitty habits die hard, and some people still somehow manage to ghost. 

Leah learned this the hard way after she met a guy on Hinge in early March, a month before Missouri’s stay-at-home order went into effect. After talking for a few weeks, the 24-year-old social worker caved and invited him over to her St. Louis apartment on April 4th. They ate dinner, cuddled on her couch, watched the Bert Kreischer Netflix special, had sex and spent the night together.

“We were going to see each other this past weekend, but then it was just radio silence,” she tells me. “It sucks. I’ve only been ghosted once before and never thought it would happen like this.”

Many articles have blamed Tinder and its predecessors for the rise of ghosting: We all have too many options! But now that COVID-19 has banished everyone inside indefinitely, the exact opposite is true: We all essentially have no options. As such, one newer dating app, Ship, reports a decline in ghosting, while messaging on these apps is up across the board, as under quarantine, they’ve transformed into a sweeter, more serious way for people to connect. 

Essentially then, what was once an attributable cause of ghosting is now a courier of romantic crisis correspondence comparable to wartime love letters (if far less romantic). 

Not to mention, when people cross the line and hook up in spite of shelter-in-place orders, it’s both ill-advised and potentially a health threat to anyone they live with; so at the very least, you’d think the two people would treat each other with more respect than usual. We’re also living at a moment with endless free time — and, maybe most of all, where a complete drop off in contact could mean that they’re sick, something far worse than being a garden-variety asshole.

To that end, as much as Leah didn’t want anything bad to happen to a guy she really liked, she couldn’t help but go there. “I thought like, ‘What if his mom is in the hospital or he thought he replied and never did,’” Leah tells me. “But that’s such a small possibility, and it’s so rude to let someone think that.” 

For this and other reasons, psychologist Sanam Hafeez explains that as hurtful as ghosting was before quarantine, it can sting more in isolation. “When there’s nowhere to go and little around the house to stay entertained, it can be damaging to anyone’s self-esteem and cause them to question themselves,” she says. 

Hafeez and many other experts agree, however, that ghosting is more of a reflection of the person disappearing than the one left hanging. It’s also rarely personal, which is more true than ever in quarantine. “Everyday feels like Groundhog Day for some people,” Hafeez continues. “Eventually, you’re going to run out of responses to ‘what are you up to?’ without meaning to. You don’t text or reply as often as you normally would purely because you’ve run out of things to talk about.”

For Brett, a 38-year-old in South Wales who works in marketing, quarantine has actually softened the blow of getting ghosted. “Being ghosted indoors is better than being stood up outdoors, which is a real embarrassment and knock to the ego,” he says. A week before Cardiff went into lockdown, he began flirting with his “hot neighbor” over the fence. But when they went out for drinks, she insisted on paying for her half of the bill. “I should have realized then,” Brett jokes. He texted that he had fun and hoped she did too, but nothing. “I didn’t follow-up after that. Being ghosted is never good, double texting is just social suicide. I have some pride.”

Interestingly, Hafeez says that the best way to cope with ghosting in quarantine is to get a hobby, and Brett’s hobby has become swiping until his thumbs hurt. “I’ve taken ghosting with better grace since the pandemic as more people are homebound and have taken to Tinder in droves,” he tells me. “I’ve had double the amount of matches than before, so if anything, I’ve been struggling to keep up with messages.” As for the hot neighbor, Brett admits it’s a little awkward, but he’s grateful for the fence — and that she didn’t waste his time.

Leah’s date eventually turned back up a couple of weeks later when he told her he wasn’t ready for a relationship. “He friend-zoned me,” she says, adding that she regrets taking such a health risk for a one-night stand. As terrible as it feels, Leah notes that the other time she was ghosted, the guy eventually reappeared. So if her history of hauntings repeat themselves, she says, “I’ll probably hear from this guy in a few months.”