Christine Manby explores one of the most cruel experiences of modern dating ... getting the digital cold shoulder
Ghosting. If you haven't heard of it, where have you been? If you haven't experienced it, then lucky you. Ghosting is one of the worst things to come out of the digital age.
It refers to the habit of breaking up with someone without telling them you've done so. It's about abruptly terminating communication without so much as a "Dear John" text, leaving your former beloved, or even just a former friend, wondering if your phone was stolen, if you lost your texting thumb in an industrial accident, or if you're actually dead.
And it's rife. A recent poll by PlentyOfFish discovered that some 78% of their respondents had been ghosted. Apparently it happens to the best of us - or at least the most famous of us - too.
Mariah Carey was ghosted by Eminem (I had no idea they even went out). Leonardo di Caprio was ghosted by Blake Lively. Sean Penn was ghosted by Charlize Theron.
Even lovely Taylor Swift got a dose of the treatment from actor Jake Gyllenhaal, who, in particularly dastardly fashion, let her know their relationship was over by simply failing to attend her 21st birthday party. Now that is nasty. Though at least Taylor got a song out of it. The Moment I Knew covers her cruel humiliation in musical detail.
The term "ghosting" first came to popular attention in 2011, but of course the concept isn't new. Back in the old days, before mobile phones and social media, people stopped responding to love letters or didn't answer their landlines. It was harsh, but unless you lived near your ex or had mutual friends to tell you otherwise, if you were ghosted in the 1970s, or even the early Noughties, at least you could convince yourself that something awful had happened and leave it at that.
Social media undoubtedly makes moving on more difficult. You know your ghost isn't dead because they're still liking your friends' posts on Facebook and Instagram, still retweeting bad jokes on Twitter, and when you open Viber, it helpfully lets you know they were last seen ignoring you just 20 minutes ago.
Why do people ghost? Of course, confrontation is difficult and nobody wants to have an argument by delivering the news face-to-face that it's over.
Ghosting is one surefire way to avoid that. And perhaps people are less inclined to be decent now that the nature of dating in the digital age gives the impression that someone better may be just a right swipe away.
There is some good news for victims of this disappearing trick, however. Saudi Arabia, that bastion of sexual equality and women's rights, has taken a bold step into the 21st century by moving to make one particularly pernicious form of ghosting illegal. They're making it law that men inform their wives they've divorced them by text.
Let's make that clear. We're not talking about making Saudi men tell their wives that they would like a divorce by text (as Russell Brand allegedly did to Katy Perry before turning his phone off and never speaking to her again). We're talking about compelling Saudi men to inform their wives that the divorce is a done deal.
Though it sounds brutal, this is actually a slight improvement on the previous system, which didn't require Saudi husbands to inform their wives they'd divorced them at all.
This resulted in many women going around (or not going around, since they weren't allowed out of the house) completely unaware that they were suddenly single until it was much to late to file for alimony or custody of the children.
In a statement on its website, the Saudi Ministry of Justice hailed the move as "a step aimed at protecting the rights of female clients". The divorce text messages will include a divorce certificate number and details of the court where the unhappy divorcee can pick up that certificate.
The move is part of a series of social reforms known as Vision 2030, which include giving Saudi women the right to drive. Very useful if you suddenly discover you need to pick up a divorce certificate from the other side of town. Saudi women will also now be able to check their marital status on the ministry's website, to save having to ask their actual spouse if it's worth buying an anniversary card.
Maybe some Silicon Valley whizz could think about setting up a site where the ghosted of less draconian regimes could check their relationship status too.
A site where ghosts could confirm they're alive but disinterested without the horror of personal contact. Ghostbook?
The site could also send out Saudi-style texts. "We are sorry to inform you that you've been dumped by someone who doesn't respect you enough to tell you face to face. Pick up your things from the following parcel drop-off point." Yes, ghosting is cruel and cowardly, but perhaps there are some situations in which ghosting is absolutely justified.
For every person who has felt let down by the sudden disappearance of a potential date, there's someone who's been on the receiving end of texts or calls they really didn't want in response to a decent attempt to break up.
Women in particular have been traditionally socialised to be kind with other people's feelings and to let them down gently, but that doesn't always work. A polite refusal gets a rebuttal and then another and another and another.
With the rise of the Incel movement, with its "heroes" such as Californian Elliot Rodger, who killed six people in May 2014 in "revenge" at having never been kissed, let alone lost his virginity, rejecting romantic overtures has never seemed so dangerous.
As Emily Kellogg writes in flare.com: "Something that's been missed in the cultural conversation about ghosting is that it can feel like the safer option for women dealing with men who won't take 'no' for an answer. Sometimes, we have to trust our instincts: if someone has made us feel unsafe by crossing our boundaries or refusing to accept our rejections, ghosting is our only choice."
There's nothing cowardly about disengaging from a bully. And of course, bullies and stalkers come in all genders.
Jacqueline Ades of Phoenix, Arizona, was accused of sending 159,000 texts to a man after one unsuccessful date. When arrested, she is alleged to have said: "I can't believe I scared him." I don't think anyone could blame the object of her affections for changing his number.
Still, at the less extreme end of the dating spectrum, it's hard not to take being ghosted personally.
You could, however, consider it a bullet dodged. Often the complaint of the ghosted is that they lack closure, but ghosting gives you perfect closure. They're not interested and they're inconsiderate. You should not waste another moment thinking about them.
After all, is there any advantage to forcing someone who is prepared to ghost you into a face-to-face encounter where they tell you that it was really the way you lick your knife/smell of cat pee that did for your budding romance? Especially if you only went out once.
Christine Manby has written numerous novels, including The Worst Case Scenario Cookery Club