My last “breakup” happened with a guy whom I never officially dated. I use the term “breakup” loosely because he didn’t end things with me—he ghosted me.
For about a month, I regularly hooked up with a guy I’ll call “Cole.” Our conversations staggered until he stopped talking to me altogether. As it turned out, everyone who told me, “It’s not like you were dating,” was right. We never dated, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be hurt by his disregard for my feelings.
I’ve seen this trend of “ghosting” in my own dating life and heard stories of the same thing happening to friends—they go out with someone, hook up with them, and then never hear from them again.
Cole and I met through a mutual friend and spent almost every night together for a month. We hooked up, went out for food, and hung out exclusively. But because we never defined our relationship, I assume he didn’t see a need to end things explicitly.
During the summer of 2018, I went out on one date with a guy I’ll call “Anthony.” He was nice, but I didn’t want to go out with him again. When Anthony texted me and asked me out on a second date, I didn’t know how to reply, so I didn’t. I felt so guilty about ghosting him that I texted him months later to apologize.
I’ve been broken up with before and it hurt, but being ghosted left me feeling confused and disrespected. I didn’t want to make someone else feel like that. I felt embarrassed trying to reach Cole, knowing I wouldn’t get a reply. I had invested time in our relationship and felt a connection when we were together. When he cut me out of his life without warning, I felt like he didn’t value our time together or care if he hurt me.
Hookup culture, especially on college campuses, provides the perfect conditions for lack of connection and basic decency. It seems like people don’t see casual sex as what it is—a relationship. Regardless of exclusivity or labels, when two people interact in any way, they form a relationship. As a result of hookup culture, the intimacy and emotions that come with sex don’t feel valid if the relationship is “just a hookup.” Something about casual sex empowers people to forget how to respect others.
I’ve found that, without defining the relationship, there is no social, and less of a moral, obligation to respect the other person. Societal standards set norms of how to treat a significant other, but there are no such rules in place for how to treat a hookup partner.
Carolyn Bradshaw and her colleagues at James Madison University conducted a study where they explored college students’ perception
s of hookups versus dating. The study concluded that the majority of the 221 participants feared commitment in some way. Most of the men in the study, “Fear that even in hooking-up relationships, which are supposed to be free of commitments, a woman might seek to establish a relationship.”
Fear of commitment in the new dating age contributes to the lack of decency in hookup culture. A Gallup poll showed that the number of single 18- to 29-year-olds rose from 52 percent in 2004 to 64 percent in 2014. This can be attributed to the “choice overload” phenomenon present on dating apps. “Choice overload” refers to the idea that more options lead to fewer decisions and lower decision satisfaction. On dating apps, there’s always the chance that someone else could be out there, right at your fingertips. For some people, there’s a subconscious fear of missing out when deciding to date someone exclusively.
Matching with someone on a dating app only takes one swipe. With gestures as low effort as sending a flirty GIF, a connection can be made. For example, I have 519 matches on Tinder. If I hooked up with someone from Tinder and it didn’t work out, I would still have 518 more matches I could contact. To many people, connections formed via dating apps are seen as disposable conquests rather than actual people.
In an article on Thought Catalog, 25 men answered the question, “What’s The Difference Between A Girl You Date And A Girl You Just Hook Up With?” One answered, “The girl I want to date has a vagina and a brain, the girl I want to hook up with must only need the former.”
Most of the answers from men quoted in the article conveyed a similar tone—partners they hook up with are only valued for their looks. Objectifying people makes it easy to disconnect with them by ghosting, but everyone deserves common decency, whether that person is a stranger, a friend, or someone you’re having sex with.
Ghosting is so common in this era of dating that many don’t see it as disrespectful. Cole probably didn’t see anything wrong with the end of our relationship. He had no societal obligation to “break up” with me since he never called me his girlfriend. However, no relationship should end that way. If a friend started ignoring you one day with seemingly no cause, it would be seen as rude because it goes against societal norms—friends talk about their problems and work through their issues. This standard should be the same for casual dating partners.