Relationships

Is It “Ghosting” If You Stop Texting Someone Back After One Date?

A low-stakes debate.

A woman looks at her phone next to a "typing" text bubble.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

When you’ve voted, donated, volunteered, and screamed into the void, what’s left? Leading up to Election Day, Slate is offering a series of Low-Stakes Debates as brief respites for your all-consuming anxiety.

This time: Is it “ghosting” to decline to respond to someone after you’ve gone on one date? 

Shannon Palus: What’s everyone’s immediate answer? I’m a firm: No. It is not ghosting if you don’t bother to respond to a follow-up text after one date.

Rachelle Hampton: Also a no.

Daniel Schroeder: It’s an obvious yes.

Rachelle: I really feel like there is a gender line here. Most (straight) women I know don’t think it’s ghosting, perhaps because we chafe at owing a man anything after one date.

Shannon: I hadn’t thought of it in that light, Rachelle, but that makes sense. I just think that the first “date” with someone you’ve never met isn’t really a date. If you’re really on the apps, you’re going on so many of them, these casual meet-ups. It’s not a formal enough interaction to send a formal rejection.

Daniel: Once you have met somebody in person for a one-on-one date interaction, cutting off contact without telling them is ghosting.

Shannon: Is it really “cutting off contact” if they follow up the date with one or two texts, and you don’t answer?

Daniel: Well, the decision not to respond is a choice to end that contact even if the person on the other end is unaware of it.

Rachelle: I agree with that Shannon. So many of app first dates are basically just vibe checks: Are you the person in your photos? Can you hold a conversation? Are you pushy? I just feel like ghosting denotes some kind of emotional connection that you’re severing. Not following up after a coffee with some dude you talked to for 45 minutes doesn’t deserve the term.

Shannon: Yes. I will say that if you’ve been texting back and forth furiously for weeks, and then you meet in person and hang out for hours, and then after the other person keeps reaching out, and you go silent—that is ghosting.

Rachelle: Yeah, I’d agree with that.

Shannon: But all first “dates” should be 45 minutes anyway. That should be the standard.

Daniel: See, but you’re already making exceptions! These are very small parameters for not using the word “ghosting” and makes me think there’s too much tied up in the feelings around that specific term.

Rachelle: Though I don’t think it’s technically ghosting, I do normally send a “Thanks for taking the time; this isn’t for me” text, but that is purely to avoid the situation where someone texts you “Hey, what’s up?” every month.

Shannon: Oh my god, those guys are awful. Take a hint.

Rachelle: Do we need to Merriam-Webster the term “ghosting”?

Shannon: Look it up!

Rachelle: According to Wikipedia, “Ghosting is a colloquial term used to describe the practice of ceasing all communication and contact with a partner, friend, or similar individual without any apparent warning or justification and subsequently ignoring any attempts to reach out or communicate made by said partner, friend, or individual.”

I think this gets at what Shannon and I are saying, which is that ghosting is for someone you’ve established some kind of relationship where you’ve agreed to be accountable to each other. And I don’t like the idea of owing that kind of accountability to every guy I go on a first date with, since too often, they expect too much anyway.

Daniel: But I think taking the teeth out of the term will take away that feeling of owing accountability. Ghosting is something we’ve all experienced, and it can suck, but there’s freedom in becoming a ghost and realizing everybody else is one too. We don’t need to get caught up in those messy feelings of guilt or anxiety if we just accept ghosting as the norm. I’ll say it: Ghosting is fine! We should expect people to ghost, and be pleased when someone doesn’t. You should leave every date thinking your date might have died by the time you got home.

Rachelle: I think the issue here is that there needs to be another word for what you’re describing, which is not following up after a first date. What the term “ghosting” gave voice to was the specific feeling of someone disappearing after you established some kind of relationship. Which you should feel guilty over doing! That’s shitty behavior!

Shannon: I agree. The negative connotations of “ghosting” hold people accountable when they rightly need to be held accountable.

Daniel: How can you hold a ghost accountable, though?

Shannon: Well, in your head, in your friend group. You can shame other people in the world into not ghosting in the first place.

Rachelle: Basically, to be a ghost, you need to have been a person in someone’s life, and no one is really a person after one date. You’re still basically an idea that someone’s projecting onto. But, say, you went on a first date with a friend, or someone you knew beforehand. If you didn’t follow up, then that would be ghosting.

Shannon: Or if you had sex.

Daniel: Lol, no, you can ghost after sex. That’s like prime ghost time.

Shannon: Wait, Daniel, are you in FAVOR of ghosting?

Daniel: I have ghosted and have been ghosted after sex, and honestly it’s better than receiving a “sex with you was not good” text.

Shannon: There are so many things in between never following up and saying that!

Daniel: Well I think we’re getting to the gender divide again. Sex is a much more casual activity for me, so I don’t think I put the same weight in it. One time a guy I ghosted texted me asking “Are you alive?” I was so tempted to reply with “no.”

Shannon: Regardless of seriousness, I do think after you’ve seen someone naked you need to follow up. Unless no one follows up, which is fine.

Daniel: So it’s fine if you’re both ghosts.

Rachelle: Mutual ghosting is the best ghosting.