Oh Crap, Now We Have To Worry About Being ‘Soft Ghosted’

Just when you got used to the cruel, crushing experience of being ghosted, there’s a new flippant, vaguely awful dating behavior to get used to: soft ghosting.

What fresh hell is this, you ask? Soft ghosting is essentially when someone “likes” your last message but never actually says anything. Technically, they did respond so they can maintain plausible deniability that they’ve ghosted you.

Overheard LA is seemingly the first source to call a thing a thing with this one.

Soft ghosting is basically ghosting with a thin veil of nicety. It’s texting purgatory, whereas hardline, original-recipe ghosting is just hell.

In action, it might look something like this. This poor fool (OK, it’s just me pretending to get soft ghosted with my sister’s help) had no idea that a double tap was the textual kiss of death.

That circled thumbs-up? You’ve been soft ghosted.

Admittedly, this is a small potatoes problem. But our behavioral patterns are worth a little introspection sometimes. What compels us to play exhausting games like this when we could just own up to our disinterest?

“The simple answer is, we are animals designed to seek pleasure and avoid pain,” said Chantal Heide, a dating coach who’s based in Waterloo, Ontario. “I see this kind of communication all the time with my clients. Today’s communication has changed quite a bit as we try to balance phone life and real life.”

Everything is fast-paced these days, including our versions of rejection. Soft ghosting, any any stage of dating, is an easy out. That little thumbs-up softens the blow of the inevitable slow fade out. (While also leaving the door slightly ajar if you ever want to pop back in ― it’s a clever strategy, you have to admit.)

Soft ghosting doesn’t exclusively apply to romantic interests, of course. You can soft ghost anyone: your friends, your happy-hour-loving co-worker, your acquaintances.

Maybe your college roommate texts you: “I haven’t seen you in forever, let’s get together soon!” You, not wanting to do anything of the sort, come in quick with a double tap. Follow that up with deafening silence and you’ve effectively communicated, “Eh, hard no.”

Naturally, the sting of the soft ghost is worse when it’s a dating scenario.

In her dating life, Kandie Joseph, a blogger who runs the site Think Like Kandie, has been soft ghoster and the soft ghostee. (She, like Joni Mitchell, has seen both sides now, but instead of clouds and “dreams and schemes and circus crowds,” sub in deadbeat dates.)

“Once, I was talking to a guy who I felt wasn’t forward enough for me and didn’t initiate enough,” she told HuffPost. “He kept asking me where I wanted to go but at some point, I just wanted him to decide. He finally asked, ‘How about Starbucks?’ Instead of saying yes or no, I just ‘liked’ it. I thought it was better than insulting him with a ‘no.’”

“I’ve soft ghosted and I’ve had it happen to me, too. It may be the nicest alternative, it may be the weak man’s out, but in my opinion it’s always clear as hell what they mean.”

– Ariana Wist, a graphic designer in New York

When she was soft ghostee, she was chatting in-app with a Tinder match. (They hadn’t taken the conversation to text, so it was a low-level investment.)

“He was a really cool guy and it turned into a pretty deep conversation on the meaning of life, but then he ‘liked’ my comment and never replied,” Joseph said, laughing at the memory. “I got the hint!”

Modern dating can be crazy-making. To get through it, you have to learn to take no for an answer and no answer as an answer, said Ariana Wist, a single graphic designer in New York.

“I’ve soft ghosted and I’ve had it happen to me, too,” she said. “It may be the nicest alternative, it may be the weak man’s out, but in my opinion it’s always clear as hell what they mean.”

Here’s how to stop being a ghoster, soft or otherwise (and how to not take it so hard when you’re the ghostee).

The first step to disabuse yourself of your ghosting ways is to admit there’s a problem.

It might be a built-in behavioral pattern for you. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Research in Personality suggested that people tend to default to a few strategies when ending things.

“Open confrontation” is when partners are more or less transparent about their feelings and end things out in the open.

Others use the “cost escalation” strategy. “That would be like essentially making the relationship so terrible that your partner decides to get out,” Tara Collins, the psychology professor who wrote the paper, told Science Daily.

Then there are those who opt for an “avoidance” strategy. These people taper off contact, dodge requests to meet up and disclose very little about their personal life. (“Wyd?” None of your business!)

Soft ghosters clearly aren’t as cold or calculated as the cost escalation folks ― a double tap is actually kind of polite ― but their behavior lines up pretty neatly with the “avoidance” description.

Ultimately, the trepidation associated with telling the truth is understandable. But there’s something liberating, even refreshing, about being honest in a world of ghosts. (Or at the very least, telling a kind lie: “I loved getting to know you but I’m realizing I’m not in the right headspace to date rn. Will text if things change!”) Do that and you’re pretty much above reproach, Heide, the dating coach, told us.

“You might even sprinkle in a little about what’s positive about the other person,” she said. “And you should feel free to block anyone who isn’t taking the truth with grace.”

If you’re shaken over getting soft ghosted, try to take it in stride. Certainly in the moment, don’t jump to conclusions; give the other person some time to reply. Yes, we have the ability to communicate all the time, but that doesn’t mean we’re available all the time.

Maybe even ask yourself if you’re peeved out of a sense of entitlement.

“Singles sometimes feel a loneliness void that they fill by seeking validation from other people,” Heide said. “That can go wrong or turn to anger when that validation isn’t turning into the instant gratification we’re conditioned to expect with texting.”

Sure, it would be great if your date was into radical honesty, told you how they feel and didn’t waste your time. But at the end of the day, this person owes you nothing, especially after a date or two. No one “likes” to be passed over, but keep your head up; there are plenty of non-ghosting fish in the sea.