Funding The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Inme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 707404. The opinions expressed in this document reflect only the authors’ view. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.
Blame toward self (ghostee)
Open research statement As part of IARR’s encouragement of open research practices, the authors have provided the following information: This research was not pre-registered because of its exploratory nature. The data used in the research are not available, but will be made available after publication in the university’s data repository.
Affordances of the app
A fairly large proportion of the sample (n = 94; 44%) also noted that the ghosting experience has had long-term effects on their mental health. Respondents mentioned lowered self-esteem (n = 89), distrust in others/the world (n = 20), and, for a small minority, even depression and panic attacks (n = 3). Such findings support the assumption that having experienced ghosting can indeed have detrimental effects on one’s well-being, as clearly illustrated by Esther’s (31, heterosexual) experience: “We would text each other daily, from morning ‘til evening and decided after a week to go on a date. The date was lovely, we laughed a lot. He brought me home and we even kissed in the car because it felt so good. After the date he texted that he really liked it and I answered I felt the same way. The next day I did not receive the usual ‘good morning’ message, he would also not text me during the day. Yet, I noticed on another app that he was online during that day. In the evening I texted something he read immediately but did not answer. Two days later I asked him whether something was wrong, whether I had done something wrong, but he did not answer either. Because of this I felt very insecure, dumped and rejected.”
Table 2. Regression analysis with painfulness of ghosting experience as dependent variable for MDA users who experienced ghosting on a MDA (N = 178).
While we did not look at self-esteem as a predictor in our analyses, the frequency of having been ghosted, having had face-to-face contact, a longer duration of the contact, and the unexpectedness of the ghosting positively predicted the degree to which respondents rated their ghosting experience as painful, whereas the frequency of ghosting others negatively predicted the painfulness rating. Surprisingly, no significant associations were found for physical intimacy and the intensity of the contact. It thus seems that having been sexually intimate with the ghoster does not make the ghosting experience more painful. One potential explanation could be the perceived normalization of casual sex among young adults (Timmermans Van den Bulck, 2018; Wade, 2017), which might lower expectations toward keeping in touch after having been sexually intimate. However, in the current sample it is not clear whether participants perceived the sexual interaction with their ghoster as casual.
Finally, it is important to note that our findings stress a nuanced perspective on ghosting behavior. Ghosters’ reported reasons to ghost reveal that ghosting is not always done with bad or harmful intent, but instead is seen as a way to protect oneself from aggressive pursuits. Moreover, this ghosting can even be unintentional, and merely be happening due to the affordances of the apps, thereby holding implications for the dating app industry. Last but not least, it also seems that the practice of ghosting has become somewhat normalized within the online dating environment and online daters hold different opinions related to what constitutes ghosting, with some of them arguing that rejections do not need to be clearly communicated and might even be more harmful to the receivers than the practice of ghosting itself.