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Relationship Strategy: Don’t Ghost, Just Lie

Relationship Strategy: Don’t Ghost, Just Lie: Jacquie Boyd

Jacquie Boyd

You’re dating someone. It’s going fine, but there’s not a connection and you want to end it. You’ve been going out long enough that you owe them some sort of explanation, but not long enough to warrant a true break up. How do you tell them you want to stop seeing them?

If you’re like a lot of people, you communicate your feelings by not communicating your feelings, by ignoring the dumpee until they get the hint, by ghosting them.
You shouldn’t. There’s a better way and I don’t mean in a moral sense. This isn’t an article about why you should feel bad about ghosting or what casual dating partners owe each other or how we can’t even with the can’t even-ing of our Millennial peers. While a long relationship deserves a thoughtful, honest talk about why it’s ending, neither side needs to go through that after three dates. When I say there’s a better way, I mean easier.

“But what could be easier than ghosting?” you’re thinking. “With ghosting I get to avoid having a tough conversation by literally doing nothing.”

Sure, we all like not doing things, but ghosting can be almost as agonizing for the ghoster as the ghosted; you have to do nothing for an undetermined amount of time, perhaps even indefinitely. This means spending days, maybe weeks, stressing every time your phone buzzes, worrying you’ll see their name appear on your screen. You’ll watch in silent horror as the messages transition from innocuous texts to long meticulously crafted screeds. Screeds the other person may have had vetted by friends. All of this, only to culminate in short death knells like, So, just nothing? or Really???????

This inefficiency happens for two reasons. One, it takes time for the ghostee to figure out what’s happening, and two, it doesn’t provide them with a “why.” Whether it’s been ten years or ten days, people want to know what went wrong.

It sucks to give people the “why” of the break up. Though being lazy is certainly the main motivator for ghosting, it’s not totally selfish–we do it, at least in part, because we want to spare someone’s feelings. In a fledgling courtship it isn’t always clear why things aren’t working. Sometimes you find someone attractive and it’s a great match on paper, but you just don’t like them “in that way.” You don’t have a good reason for dumping them, so you say nothing, hoping to avoid hurting their feelings. This point of view is understandable, but ghosting makes it worse. It leaves the person wondering what’s wrong with them, and in a headspace like that they’ll inevitably fill in the blanks with inaccurate and crazy answers - Do I smell vaguely of canned olives? IS THAT WHY THIS HAPPENED, BECAUSE OF THE OLIVE THING?!

Someone from my past has come back into my life and I’d like to see where it goes. Given that, we shouldn’t go out again. Sorry and good luck.

Luckily, there’s a cruelty free, efficient alternative to ghosting: lying.
But not all lies are not created equal. Some are less hurtful than others. If you truly want to let someone down easy, one lie works the best of all:

Someone from my past has come back into my life and I’d like to see where it goes. Given that, we shouldn’t go out again. Sorry and good luck.

You might be tempted to use other lies that seem softer or kinder, things like “I’m too busy to date right now,” or “I just got out of a serious relationship” or “I’m moving to Dallas because I love tex-mex,” but a lot of these can be countered – I’ll work around your schedule! I’m not looking for anything serious either! – or fact checked - I just saw you here, which is not Dallas, and you were eating Panda Express.

Stick with “the person from my past” thing. Everyone knows that people from the past, be they ex’s or time travelers, are powerful, so your dumpee will walk away knowing it wasn’t their inadequacies, but fate that caused the relationship to end. They won’t hate you or themselves. Most likely, you’ll only get one message back, something like, Thanks for letting me know. Good luck to you too.

I’m confident this is how the dumped person will react because it’s how I reacted. You see, I discovered this magic trick called “lying” when, hours before a date, a woman I was seeing sent me a text similar to the above message. I suspected it might be bullshit, a last minute excuse to get out of a date she just didn’t want to go on. Her attitude would have been understandable–we’d had a few fine dates, no fireworks, and I myself had wondered if it was going anywhere–but the (probable) lie bothered me. Lying is bad! The truth is good! Give me MY TRUTH.

But what if the truth was she didn’t think I was worth changing out of sweat pants for? Did I really want to hear that? No, I did not. I decided her message, true or not, was a gift, more thoughtful than a ghosting, less painful than reality. I appreciated that gift. I saw the kindness in it. Instead of going Tom Cruise on her and demanding the truth, I wished her luck and got back to swiping right.

So please, the next time you end a casual relationship, do the right thing: lie.

Matteson’s first book Available: A Memoir of Heartbreak, Hookups, Love, and Brunch comes out May 26th. You can find it in bookstores or order online.

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