The phenomenon of ghosting has likely been around since the dawn of time. Consider the cavewomen who had to start getting choosy with their sexual partners because they didn’t want to birth a child with someone could disappear without a trace shortly thereafter, or the lovelorn man in colonial times pouring his heart out in handwritten letters to some distant lover, only to never hear back. Many a ‘90s rom com, too, featured a despondent leading lady hovering over a landline telephone for days on end, waiting hopelessly for the guy who took her out a few days ago to call her up and ask her out again. (He often never did.)
While the behavior itself isn’t new, the term “ghosting” itself rose to popularity in the early 2010s. In 2015, after online tabloids ran headlines about how Charlize Theron “ghosted” Sean Penn, The New York Times even wrote an explainer on the term, calling it “the ultimate silent treatment.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary added it to the dictionary in 2017.
It makes sense that ghosting would get a lot of people talking around this time: With technology rapidly transforming the speed and ease with which people could communicate with each other, ghosting behavior likely felt even more pronounced than ever. While mailing a letter just to reject someone may have been legitimately too much time and effort back in the day, the fact that people were still disappearing on each other without a trace even now that a kinder closure was literally just a few quick button taps away… harsh!
Dating apps were also just beginning to enter into the cultural mainstream, with Tinder launching in 2012. (Though to be fair, what’s often thought of as the world’s first online dating site, Match.com, launched in 1995, and we can only imagine people ghosted each other as much then as they do on today’s best dating apps.)
In a world where it can feel like you have nearly endless potential people to chat with, it’s become easier than ever to start talking to someone regardless of whether you’re actually interested in continuing the conversation with them over time. People start to feel like just pictures on your screen rather than real-life humans whose feelings you have to care about. And more starts with less follow-through (and less care) unfortunately means more ghosting.