We’re Calling It: Gophering Is the New Ghosting

I was in the middle of researching the best cooling mattresses when my cousin called me: “The weirdest thing just happened on Hinge,” she said. The Casper Snow could wait. “I matched with a guy (who was cute enough), and we’ve been small talking on the app for a few days,” she started. “This morning, I opened the conversation to see he sent his digits and wrote, ‘Text me so we can set up a date.’ Yet, when I went to type in his number an hour later, he unmatched me and the conversation disappeared. Why would someone do that?” she cross-examined. And while I had to acknowledge; dangling your number like a carrot stick is…strange, I chalked it up to him being a weirdo. “On to the next,” I advised. 

But then, three hours later, I received a bizarrely similar call from my friend Jake. “The weirdest thing just happened on Bumble,” he said. Was I having déjà vu? He went on to explain: “I matched with this girl, we talked for a week, and I asked her to grab dinner (she agreed). But when I followed up with a time and restaurant this morning, she immediately unmatched me…What was the point of that?” 

Clearly, there’s a pattern here. It’s not quite ghosting—which would look like someone leading you on (or at least showing up for a first date) before abruptly ending the relationship—and it’s not a curve; the person would have to communicate that they’re rejecting your advances. So, since my peers’ frustration with this phenomenon mimics the angry sweat you break into while playing a game of Whac-A-Mole, I’m giving it a name: Gophering

Basically, gophering is the precept whereby after you match with someone on a dating app—and put time and effort into making (days, or sometimes weeks of) small talk—the potential suitor jumps ship at the prospect of taking things IRL. The person sucks up your witty banter and flirtatious one-liners, much like Punxsutawney Phil soaking up the sun, only to disappear at the first sign of contact. Plus, unlike ghosting, gophering stops the relationship from sprouting past the seed stage. You’re precipitously robbed of a potential crush, along with the excitement of meeting someone you can actually hold a conversation with (from behind the screen, of course). 

To that end, dating app Plenty of Fish identified a similar trend called OnlyPlans, which is the act of “repeatedly planning dates with someone, but never actually following through on them.” The term involves a single person chatting online with another single person, and agreeing to meet IRL for a first date—only to cancel last minute. “52 percent of singles have experienced this situation,” per the report, which mirrors the same disappointment that follows being gophered. 

Nevertheless, you’re probably wondering why people are doing this? If dating apps are ‘designed to be deleted,’ as Hinge’s tagline purports, why are people running from the hope of meeting a potential partner (or joining dating apps at all, if that’s not the goal)? Even if you’re not looking for something serious (here’s looking at you, bootycallers), it’s hard to see the value in avoiding physical contact altogether. 

I’m no doctor—just a Zillennial who writes about dating—but it seems, to me, that the only plausible explanation for gophering is a generational fear of vulnerability. According to a recent survey of 2,002 U.K. adults, 72 percent of millennials (ages 25 to 39) said they’ve been cut off by a potential partner and 71 percent of Gen-Zers (ages 18 to 24) said they’ve stopped a potential relationship from forming by abruptly ending all communication. “Nearly three-quarters of young daters have fallen victim [to this pattern], so it is obviously best to keep your guard up,” a spokesman for the company summarized. 

Yet, from where I stand, ‘keeping guards up’ seems to be at the root of the problem. If there’s one theme gophering and ghosting share, it’s fear of rejection. “[Cutting communication early on] may feel psychologically safer than engaging in direct conversations about wants, needs, desires and boundaries, because they can get their needs met on their own terms without having to face the vulnerability and discomfort that comes with the potential for abandonment and change,” explains Stacey Diane Arañez Litam, Ph.D., a licensed professional clinical counselor, in a recent Forbes article. Meaning, an overwhelming majority of singles would rather forfeit possible connections (gopher someone) than risk being rejected IRL. What’s ironic, however, is how gophering impacts the other side: “[People who are gophered] may engage in personalization scripts that include, ‘If only I was smart enough, attractive enough or somehow better, then this would not have happened.’ In reality, the issue tends to lie with the person doing the [gophering], not the person being [gophered].”

All this to say…yes, it feels safer to gopher (and avoid the humiliation of returning from a first date with a chunk of spinach in your teeth). Plus, unmatching with someone you’ve never met is hardly a crime—it’s far more considerate to cut communication in the early stages (instead of stringing someone along for months). But if you find yourself habitually unmatching at the prospect of meeting IRL, it might be worth asking why you joined the apps in the first place. If it’s time to take a break, your potential suitors will thank you for sparing them the mind-numbing small talk (trust).

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Assistant Editor

Sydney Meister is PureWow's Assistant Editor, covering everything from dating trends and relationship advice (here's looking at you, 'soonicorns') to interior design, beauty...