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Ghost me, please: Ignoring someone after a ‘meh’ date isn’t just fine—it’s preferred

Forget obligatory ‘not feeling it’ texts. Writer Sarah Davidson argues that ghosting after a lackluster first date is not only OK, but preferable

A smiling woman looks at her phone, which displays a smiling ghost emoji, in a dimly lit room.
AI illustration by Jesse Rogala/The Standard

By Sarah Davidson

If you’re currently dating online, you’re probably exhausted by your dating to-do list. 

You have to sift through hundreds of potential matches. You have to send witty texts. You have to keep a short list of vibey-yet-approachable date spots. You have to make dinner reservations. Once actually on the date, you have to determine if the way they’re peering at you over their IPA means they want to give you an awkward side-hug and send you on your way, or take you back to their place and have (probably mediocre) sex. You have to consider whether that aligns with what you want.

Then comes the dreaded worst part: the follow-up.

If you both liked each other and you’re ready to see each other again, you have no issue here. But when there’s a mismatch in expectations or feelings, things can get dicey. 

At this point, someone’s probably ghosting. And—unpopular opinion incoming—that’s a good thing. 

Even though some argue that cutting off communication without explanation is at best rude and at worst psychologically damaging, I think we should embrace ghosting as a legitimate way to communicate—at least after the first or second date. 

A 2023 Forbes survey found that 76% of the 5,000 daters polled have ghosted someone or been ghosted themselves and that a higher percentage of respondents felt relief, not anger, about ghosting. In an unofficial poll of my friends on Instagram, more agreed that ghosting is OK, particularly if it’s mutual (my friends call this a “zombie relationship,” because it could still come back to life). If so many of us ghost, surely this can’t be wrong. 

A few months ago, I went on a Hinge date. I didn’t feel a spark and assumed I was making that obvious by ending the date quickly and heading home. I decided I’d decline if he asked for a second date, stopped thinking about it and went about my life.

A few days later, I got this text: “Hey Sarah, I had time to think about Thursday. You’re super funny and attractive but I don’t think we’re gonna be a good fit long term. I’d be open to something casual but that comes with its own challenges haha so maybe best to part ways. Wish you the best!”

WTF was this? A totally unsolicited rejection from someone I wasn’t even interested in? Hey Sarah, I tried to imagine marrying you, and despite having spent an entire hour with you, I couldn’t! I’d sleep with you, but I’m feeling too lazy even for that. Have a nice life! 

Many of my friends think this is healthy communication. They might take issue with the exact content of this text, but not with the sentiment of following up. “A first date is an evaluation,” said one friend. “You can pretend it isn’t, but that’s what it is. Don’t you want to know what they thought?”

“The ripple effect of being left on read in someone’s life can be immense,” said my friend, an emergency room physician’s assistant. She once read a study showing that drivers who killed people in crashes were less likely to develop PTSD if they were drunk than if they were following the rules of the road. The lesson: We want to believe things will work out if we follow the rules. And the current de facto dating rule is that communication is key. “This probably goes back to the fundamental premise that I do believe we owe each other something,” my friend said.

I agree we owe each other something—nearly everyone I spoke with agreed that if someone asks for a second date, leaving them hanging is technically legit but perhaps less than kosher. But no ask? No guilt. “Maybe I’m a coward,” said one person I polled, “but I like holding onto the delusion that they just got too busy or life got in the way and it wasn’t meant to be.” 

The Friday I posted that poll to my Instagram, I ended up sitting at a bar with a friend—right next to someone who’d ghosted me last summer, as if the universe were negging me. I’d thought we’d had an undeniably perfect first date and been upset to never hear from him again. Oh yeah, bitch? The universe sneered at me. Still think it’s better to ghost now?

I spent 10 minutes spiraling and asking my friend if the girl with him was cuter than me (she was). I could no longer tell myself that life had gotten in the way. I couldn’t help wondering why I wasn’t in her seat instead of my own. But then it hit me: I didn’t want to be in her seat. I was in love with my life at that moment, and if I’d started dating him, I would’ve been on an entirely different path. 

No communication is, actually, communication. We don’t really need to know what a stranger projected onto us in the space of one interaction—it doesn’t change anything. Why do we have this obsession with closing the loop? Is the dating to-do list confusing us into thinking we’re at work?

The bar closed, and as I watched the guy and his cute date walk down the block together, it felt like everything was working out exactly as it should. It felt like closure.

Sarah Davidson is a writer living in Bernal Heights. Her work has appeared in Los Angeles Magazine, Willamette Week and Man Repeller. Follow her on Instagram @dearsarahdav for insight on San Franciscans' dating behavior.

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