The last time Mason was ghosted they burst into tears.
By Zoe Madden-Smith for Re: News
It was Valentine's Day and their date, a man they had recently met on a dating app, had stood them up at a restaurant.
To make things even worse, when Mason tried to order some dinner to try and salvage their night, they were refused service because the restaurant was only serving couples on Valentine's Day.
"I was so angry and sad I called my friend and cried to them on the phone," Mason, who wanted to remain anonymous in this story for privacy reasons, says.
"I can count more than my fingers and toes the number of times this has happened to me."
The rise of ghosting
Ghosting is when a person abruptly cuts off all communication with someone without an explanation.
It's not a new concept — but the nature of dating apps and social media has made it an increasingly common and shitty aspect of modern life.
Not surprisingly, research from the US has found 'ghostees' can experience mental health impacts like low self-worth and self-esteem, as well as internalised rejection, confusion, and paranoia from not knowing what went wrong.
It can also cause mistrust in others which can sabotage future relationships.
The study found the most common reason for ghosting were people saying they lacked the communication skills to honestly end the relationship. Other reasons were that meeting with the person would stir up emotional or sexual feelings they were not ready to pursue and people also ghosted for safety reasons.
Forty-five per cent of the participants said they ghosted to remove themselves from a "toxic", "unpleasant" or "unhealthy" situation.
But it's not all bad — just over half the participants in the study which involved 76 university students aged between 18 to 29, said being ghosted gave them an opportunity for reflection and resilience.
Re: News spoke with three people about how it feels to be on either end of ghosting.
I gave up on dating because I kept getting ghosted
The last 10 years of Mason's dating life have been a relentless cycle of ghosting.
Despite trying different dating apps and going to events to try and meet new people, the 29-year-old has never successfully been on a romantic date.
Instead what happens is they match with different men and will organise to meet up in person — but hours before, the person will cut off all communication and never show up.
This has happened so many times Mason stopped organising dates.
Now, they wait for the other person to initiate the meet-up — but even then, the same thing keeps happening.
"What's interesting is they will message me after they stand me up and say they want to come over to my house," Mason says.
"Eventually I realised they never wanted to get to know me, it was just a tactic they would use to lower my expectations of meeting them and get me to hook up in private."
The 'type' I attract
Mason describes themselves as a queer non-binary feminine person and says the men they attract online almost exclusively identify as straight cis men.
"I don't know why I attract that crowd. I think because I am also Asian, a lot of men see me as a submissive, feminine ladyboy so I am constantly fetishised in that way.
"But when it comes to actually getting to know me as a person, they aren't interested."
What broke Mason's heart even more, was some of the men who ghosted them would end up dating women in Mason's social circle.
"For a long time, I thought something was wrong with me. It made me feel like I could never be good enough because I can never be a cis woman.
"It's hard because men do find feminine queer people like me attractive, but none of them want to admit it or be seen with someone like me in public."
This vicious cycle has made dating feel like a dead end for Mason.
They say the toll on their mental health is too much to justify going "back down the rabbit hole" — so for now, they've given up on dating.
"Every time I get ghosted, the trauma and pain of past experiences comes back and it feels like I'm getting punished for putting myself out there. It's just not worth it."
Ghosting doesn't align with relationship tikanga
Not having any clarity on why the ghosting happened can exacerbate a ghostee's insecurities, University of Auckland senior lecturer in psychology Dr Jade Le Grice says.
"Sometimes there could be misunderstandings that could easily be clarified, but ghosting leaves people without a right of recourse or a right of reply.
"I think from that point of view, that kind of the ghosting thing can be really tough, especially when someone does have the resources to be able to explain why they did it."
From a Te Ao Māori perspective, Le Grice says ghosting doesn't align with the relationship tikanga of protecting the mana of another person.
She says in every relationship, we have moral or ethical standards we hold ourselves to and we expect others to treat us similarly.
"But in saying that, some people have ghosted another person because they don’t feel like they have another option. People might feel like they won't be listened to or understood," Le Grice says.
"There are also people who have a sense of entitlement that they don't owe anyone anything. They don't feel like they need to respect another person's mana or tapu because the relationship is new or their mana has been disrespected."
Why I'm a serial ghoster
Kaeleen Harley has lost count of the number of men she has ghosted.
She says ghosting can be the best exit if you feel unsafe talking to someone.
She could be talking to a guy for a day or two and they will say something that gives her 'the ick' — an intense turn-off that can be legitimate or obscure — and she'll instantly cut off all communication.
She also ghosted one of her past partners who she had been dating for a month.
"He was telling me he loved me and he wanted to have kids with me and I was just like, that's just not for me," the 21-year-old says.
"Then he was just acting really crazy and showed up to my house to ask why I blocked him — but I just didn't want to tell him that I didn't see myself having that future with him."
When is it okay to ghost someone?
Kaeleen says the decision to ghost someone comes from a gut feeling she gets.
Sometimes the effort to explain to men why she doesn't want to talk to them is too taxing, she says. "And some people don't process it anyway, so what's the point in trying?
"I don't know you long enough to owe you an explanation as to why I don't want to continue speaking with you. But also, you don't owe me anything as well. So if you don't want to give me the time of day, then I'm not going to give you the time of day."
In Kaeleen's experience with dating, she has come across men "wanting wives on a friends-with-benefits budget".
"They want the wifey experience when you are with them, but only friends if you are not in the room," she says.
"If I see the early signs of men not being able to provide what I deserve, it's quite easy for me to cut them off. It all comes down to knowing what I want."
While the ethics of ghosting are up for debate, Kaeleen says for her, ghosting is the best exit if she, at any point, feels unsafe.
"There are some men that make me feel unsafe to bring up that conversation because I don't know how they will respond. So being able to cut ties completely without having to put myself in that position keeps me away from that unpredictable situation."
Ghosting felt like the only safe option I had
Malika Wright knows the feeling of needing to ghost someone for safety reasons all too well.
The 21-year-old matched with a guy on Tinder who was a mutual friend and liked talking about make-up and gender theory — all green flags in Malika's eyes.
But the innocent conversations, they say, quickly turned into unprovoked sexual and creepy comments.
"One day we were talking about how I did martial arts as a child. And he said to me 'Oh, so you're pretty strong then? Well, you can suffocate me with those thighs'."
"He also said he'd bought a soft toy and had named it after me," Malika says.
Malika had already made plans to meet up with the guy but they no longer felt safe seeing him.
"I did not feel safe enough talking to him, let alone telling him I didn't want to see him."
At first, Malika tried ignoring his messages and restricting him from their Instagram, but every time he was left on read he would send more messages and voicemails, and request to follow their other Instagram accounts.
"I didn't know what state of mind he was in and how confrontational it would be if I explained myself," Malika says.
"It felt like ghosting him was the only safe alternative I had because I didn't know this man. I would rather him be blocked by me than anger him."
Ghosting isn't black and white
Le Grice says the reasons behind ghosting are complex and there is never one clear-cut explanation behind why someone ghosts another person.
"There might be a power imbalance that makes the person feel uncomfortable to end the relationship, the person might not have the skills to be honest, or some people do it because they don't want to hurt another person's feelings."
The reality is, sometimes ghosting can be the easiest way to get out of an uncomfortable position, Le Grice says.
But the key thing is to recognise the impact this could have on another person, she says.
"If you have the resources to have that discussion, you will save that person from that vulnerable feeling of not knowing what went wrong."