One of the negative aspects of millennial dating is that romantic partners are often treated as disposable. You know the typical story: Everything is going great with a guy or gal for a few months, and then one person pulls a Houdini act. They stop responding to text messages, phone calls, Facebook notifications, Instagram DMs.
I recently experienced this with a nice guy (or so I thought) and did what other millennials do: I searched Google for answers. “Why did he ghost me” and “why do guys ghost” were auto-populated search terms on my laptop for a few days. I had the usual conversations with my friends about how inconsiderate this man was, how I may hear from him when I no longer care about the relationship and, most important, how I should move on.
I rarely hear positive stories about my generation falling in love. Maybe millennials aren’t as socially apt at making lasting romantic relationships as previous generations were. When I asked some middle-aged or senior-aged singles about their dating experiences, it became clear that we’re not the only generation to deal with ghosting or people sending unsolicited pictures of their anatomy.
Deb Besinger, a dating coach in North Carolina who works mostly with clients ages 40 and over, hears the complaints of many middle-aged and some senior singles who find themselves perplexed by childish dating behaviors at any age. “I once consoled one of my 68-year-old clients who got very upset after a date texted her an unsolicited picture of his genitals,” Besinger says.
Evan Marc Katz, an author and dating coach in Los Angeles, has seen similar immaturity. “Whether a person is 16 or 66, dating behaviors haven’t changed much over the years,” he says. “It’s a universal concept that dating is very personal and all of us are driven by self-interest. People pursue pleasure and avoid pain. Doesn’t matter if they are middle-aged or a millennial.”
Why do people ghost? Well, for starters, it can be hard to face conflict head on. Even if sorely needed, initiating a breakup talk can feel confrontational or awkward. “Ghosting is nothing more than old behavior with a new name. People who ghost, regardless of age, see it as a safe way to terminate a relationship, despite the fact that others may find it inconsiderate or immature,” Katz says.
“When confronted with a dilemma in a relationship, a boyfriend or girlfriend could rationalize that they are too busy, lazy, insecure, or immature to address their own discomfort,” Besinger adds. “At the same token, most romantic partners truly don’t want to hurt their partner’s feelings, so they find disappearing from the relationship a logical solution.”
But people who ghost might not realize the lasting effects their inaction can have. “Ghosting partners don’t realize their silence causes more hurt,” Katz says. “They rarely consider the emotional consequences of their behavior.”
That’s why Besinger recommends being honest as early as possible. “Many people are bad at being upfront in the beginning dating stages,” she says. “This in part is because some dating experts are telling people to ‘play games’ like text them at a certain time, or don’t have sex with them until so and so. Know what you want out of life and a partner up front and don’t be ashamed to say it.”
To avoid getting ghosted, Katz suggests speaking in person more than text. “Texting is a primary form of communication for a lot of people, especially millennials, and this can be problematic,” Katz says. “It’s hard to pick up on nuances and body language if you’re not communicating with someone face to face on a regular basis.”
The casual nature of many millennial relationships can cloud expectations. “What you are willing to stand for and tolerate in a relationship is exactly what you’re buying into,” Besinger says. “You need to teach people how to treat you the way you deserve.”