You thought the relationship was going well, until your partner disappeared. Welcome to the cruel world of modern dating, says Deirdre Reynolds.
EVER get the spooky feeling you’re being ignored?
When actress Amy Main’s latest leading man failed to return her texts or emails, she inadvertently found herself starring in the most modern of ghost stories.
Speaking to Feelgood from her LA home, she recalls: “We met through a friend and had an incredible eight-hour first date that I thought was perfect and included a super-hot, make out session on his kitchen counter.
“Then he dropped off the face of the planet. I could not figure out what happened, and took a sucker-punch to my self-esteem.”
There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but for Generation Tinder, ’ghosting’ — the act of cutting off all digital contact — is fast become the most popular choice.
A spine-chilling 80 per cent of 18-33 year-olds have been haunted by the phenomenon, according to one recent survey by dating app Plenty of Fish.
Glee star Lea Michele, 29, is believed to be among them after boyfriend of two years Matthew Paetz reportedly left her “all of a sudden and without warning”.
“She got no reason or explanation for the split,” a source told E! News.
Main, who’s written about her experience of online dating — and dumping — in new book 40 Dates & 40 Nights, can sympathise after a second love interest whom she met on www.Match.com employed the break-up technique also known as the ‘slow fade’.
“Unfortunately, we did have sex,” she says.
“Twice. On the second and third dates. And then poof! He was gone.
“I contacted him several times, no answer. Then about a month later I got a one-line email from him saying he was in Europe.
“And that’s the last I heard.”
With an estimated 10m people worldwide swiping right or left on Tinder each day, experts say they’re not surprised that kicking someone to the curb has become just as casual.
“When we studied online dating back in the mid-2000s we found that most people emailed back and forth for a while to get to know each other,” says Dr Larry Rosen, Professor Emeritus at California State University and one of the world’s leading authorities on the psychology of technology.
“Now it is a single swipe and a few words and people meet.
“No longer do you meet someone first in the real world, exchange numbers, have a first date in a week or so and continue to slowly develop your relationship.
"Everything is gleaned from a few two-dimensional words with a glass screen forcing each person to assess the other with limited cues.
“Relationships explode and implode much faster when they start electronically,” continues the author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming its Hold On Us.
“Not that they can’t work, but there is not enough time to process the person and make an assessment of them based on all available face-to-face cues.
“Ghosting is just a side effect of doing everything behind a screen, as is breaking up by text and other strange ramifications of online dating.”
If breaking up is hard to do, as Burt Bacharach once wrote, then blocking someone on social media is certainly easier, with women just as likely to ice a relationship.
Stateside, a survey by Elle magazine found that almost 17% of men and 24% of women have ghosted someone at some point in their lives.
But newly single Charlize Theron, 40, insists she’s not one of them.
Opening up to the Wall Street Journal this month, the Oscar winner shot down rumours that she iced out fiancé Sean Penn after 18 months together: “When you leave a relationship there has to be some ... crazy story or some crazy drama.
“And the ... ghosting thing, like literally I still don’t even know what it is… It’s just its own beast.
“We were in a relationship and then it didn’t work anymore. And we both decided to separate. That’s it.”
From being left standing under Clerys clock to waiting endlessly by your WhatsApp, of course, rejection is nothing new when it comes to courting.
In an era where you can click to ‘ignore’ invites on Facebook and ‘unfollow’ friends on Twitter, psychologist Bernadette Ryan reckons today’s tech-savvy teens may even be able to cope with heartbreak better.
“With Tinder you can swipe right, swipe left, it’s all very immediate,” she says.
“So I would think ending a relationship can be very immediate as well. Ghosting is probably part and parcel of online communication.
“For a lot of teenagers, it’s quite acceptable to break up by text, particularly if the relationship has been conducted by a high level of social media interaction, as opposed to face to face.”
A relationship therapist with Relationships Ireland, Ryan believes the ghosting phenomenon has the biggest impact when the people have involved have had a face-to-face relationship.
“I’ve heard of cases where it’s happened three months down the line, and just nothing,” she says.
“First of all, they’re thinking has something happened to them. They desperately try to reconnect with them until eventually they have to live with the realisation that the person has just disappeared. It really is a very cruel way to end a relationship.”
Never mind a ‘Dear John’ letter, these days most Irish singletons would settle for a break-up text, according to Bill Phelan of Dublin-based matchmaking agency Perfect Partners, who predicts that disappearing acts are set to rise.
“I think ghosting is a disgrace,” he says.
“It’s cowardice and it can have an effect on someone’s self-esteem. Sometimes they wonder if it’s their fault. It just happens all the time because it’s so easy to replace a person.
"You can basically go on Tinder and order a potential partner the same way you would buy a book on Amazon or do your weekly shop online.
“This is going to become more and more prevalent because of the fact that these relationships are disposable. There are so many of these [dating] sites now out there — it’s all just too easy.”
Despite confessing that it was “really painful to be completely ignored” by her exes, blogger Amy admits she once ghosted a former flame in order to dodge an awkward break-up conversation, but only ended up feeling even worse.
“I honestly didn’t know how to handle the situation at the time because I’d jumped in way too fast,” she says.
“So I decided to just drag him along for a few weeks, hoping he’d get the hint. Of course he didn’t, he just felt the same confusion and pain I’d felt after being ghosted.
“I finally confronted him face to face and told him the truth — that I was no longer interested in him,” says Amy, who met her current boyfriend in a Manhattan bar.
“He accepted my apology and we’ve remained on good terms.
“It was such a good lesson to learn. If you’re not feeling it, that’s OK, but show respect for the other person and be honest.”
The experts agree.
“There have always been people that for whatever reason can’t face another and say, ‘Look, it’s over’,” says Ryan.
“It’s not easy to tell somebody, ‘This isn’t working for me’, but at the end of the day, it is the right way, it’s the humane way to end a relationship.
“The ghosting thing just leaves people hanging.”
“Man up” is Phelan’s straight-talking break-up advice: “People that we introduce may come back and say, ‘I’m not sure about meeting them again’.
“What I say to them is, ‘Look, what I would like you to do is speak to them’.
“The easiest and gentlest and best way is to be open and honest [and] say something to the effect of, ‘It was nice meeting you, and I enjoyed the evening, but I have to be honest and say it’s not for me’. That leaves both people knowing exactly where they are, but nobody’s been hurt.”
Between ghosts and zombies — exes who apparently come back from the dead in another eerie online occurrence — looking for love in 2016 isn’t for the faint of heart.
Just don’t let the spectre of the ‘dating apocalypse’, as Vanity Fair put it last year, spook you too much, says Ryan.
“I think really you’ve got to realise, ‘This is the other person’s problem — not mine’. If somebody’s going to drop all contact with you, there’s nothing you can do anyway.
“Maybe the question to be asked by the person who gets ghosted is: Was the other person ready for a mature relationship?”
How to make a clean break
Just do it: There’s never a perfect time to break-up with someone, so pick a D-day and stick to it — just so long as it’s not on the way to their best friend’s wedding.
Never dial and dump: Ordering dinner or paying a bill are fine to do by phone. Snapping someone’s heart in two, however, should always be done in person.
Choose neutral territory: Dishes may be fired and F-bombs dropped, so try to minimise the fallout by picking a private but neutral location, and definitely not your favourite restaurant.
Keep it simple: While it’s good to be clear on why the relationship flat-lined, there’s no point in conducting a post mortem either. Now is not the time to point out all of your ex’s annoying habits.
Bring the Kleenex: Breaking-up is the worst, so be prepared for tears, but don’t expect them. Whether your partner feels aggrieved or simply relieved, as the person breaking up you have to suck it up.
Don’t buckle: Only one thing sucks more than being dumped, and that’s being strung along, so once you’ve decided to pull the plug, don’t dangle the carrot of reconciliation.
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