“Ghosting” Is Unethical

I don't care if you are dead, Marley; when you leave my party, say good-bye.

I don’t care if you are dead, Marley; when you leave my party, say good-bye.

Slate contributor Seth Stevenson has an interesting justification for being rude: good manners are too much trouble.

This is the way the world ends, as T.S. Elliot would say.

Stevenson argues that instead of saying goodbye and thank-you to one’s host at a party, the best way to exit is “the Irish good-bye,” or in its non-ethnic stereotype form (Irish guests are presumed too drunk to say good-bye, you see), “ghosting.” “Yes, I know,” he writes. “You’re going to tell me it’s rude to leave without saying goodbye. This moral judgment is implicit in the culturally derogatory nicknames ghosting has been burdened with over the centuries.” That sentence is signature significance for me: Stevenson is an unethical jerk. I get comments and e-mails all the time accusing Ethics Alarms of “moralizing” or being “sanctimonious” when I write that obviously unethical conduct is obviously unethical. That’s because unethical people who do unethical things feel much better about themselves if nobody calls them on it, so they can maintain, as one recent commenter did here who was, I’m proud to say, chased away by the rest of you (and me) with torches and pitchforks, that ethics is “100% subjective”—Translation: “If I want to do it, it’s ethical.”

That’s essentially Stevenson’s reasoning, too.  “Is it really so bad to bounce without fanfare?,” he asks. Score one for Seth on the rationalization scoreboard: it’s #21, the Comparative Virtue Excuse, a.k.a. “It’s not like I killed somebody,” a.k.a. “Manny’s Rationalization,a.k.a. “The Bottom of the Barrel.” In ethics, the initial question isn’t how bad conduct is, but whether it’s bad at all. Yes, intentionally and unnecessarily skipping the civilized ritual of thanking your host for inviting, housing, entertaining  and feeding you and otherwise extending good will and hospitality isn’t as bad as, say, projectile-vomiting in his face, but it’s still rude. Stevenson continues,

“We all agree it’s fun to say hello. A hello has the bright promise of a beginning. It’s the perfect occasion to express your genuine pleasure at a friend’s arrival. But who among us enjoys saying goodbye? None among us! Not those leaving, and not those left behind.”

That’s it, then. The reason not to say good-bye is that it’s a chore, and that justifies being rude to a gracious host. You know, saying thank-you is a chore, too. And “please.” I personally hate having to shave and dress respectably to go to the theater. Or to a wedding. Or a funeral. I hate not being able to chat away on my cell phone to a friend  when I am having dinner with my  wife. Chewing food with my mouth open is easier than keeping it shut…great, now I can eat egg salad my favorite way. And bathing! It’s a pain not to smell like a barnyard in public. Wearing pants to the grocery store? To hell with it. Too much trouble. It’s the Speedo for me!

Seth is, not to be harsh, but there it is, a boor and a clod. The reason such social rituals have significance is that they do require consideration and effort, and thus demonstrate gratitude and respect. Stevenson suggests that an after-event e-mail is just as good. Baloney. I expect that anyway. Sneaking out of my party without a good reason (other than Stevenson’s juvenile “good-byes are a bummer”) is an insult, and that email had better be an apology.

For good measure, he slips in one more classic rationalization which, I realize, I hadn’t included on the Ethics Alarms master list: “The victim was fine with it.” He tells us that hosts find guest farewells as unpleasant as he does. Okay, now I know how to leave his party, but he is falsely assuming knowledge of other party hosts’ minds for his own convenience. I, for example, expect a thank-you, in person, a hand shake, and a sincere good-bye, or I am likely to think my guest is an ungrateful slob…you know, like Seth Stevenson.

(Slate really does publish a lot of rubbish, doesn’t it? Here’s another example from today’s posts: Michal Lemberger says “Down with lemonade stands!” because they don’t teach kids anything valuable about capitalism.  For the luvva…kids open lemonade stands when they’re bored and looking for fun.)


Source: Slate

27 thoughts on ““Ghosting” Is Unethical

  1. Leaving without saying goodbye additionally implies that the person leaving was not having a good time and would rather just bail than be confronted with a host wishing to make their stay more pleasurable. It further leads down the road that the guest only begrudgingly appeared at the get together to begin with a probably doesn’t really hold the host in any esteem.

    It’s not just ungracious to not say goodbye it is insulting not to.

    • Never mind that bringing host gifts is pretty much on its way out also if not already gone.

      And thank you notes.

      Criminy I’m about to make a long curmudgeon list of “there goes society”

          • He has filed what looked like a formal farewell with me. I would hope it would temporary—he appears to have taken offense at my mild—some would argue too mild, and they might be right—moderation of the recent exchange in the Zimmerman thread.

            • Wow. I hope AM comes back, too. His absence would be an almost unbearable loss. He is your blog’s Color Commentator. Well, here’s to hope:

              (including hope that AM will return at least long enough to answer the question that’s been gnawing at me for weeks: Is his blog name a reference to a condom?)

      • I’ve mutually agreed with various friends that we’re not expecting gifts when we host each other. Despite that, if it’s big gathering or one side has done much of the recent hosting, we still bring gifts

        • Sorry, my reply wasn’t meant to sound aggressive. My recent readings of some of the Zimmerman equivocation had me frustrated. Not looking to argue the point, but I think that having made mutual agreements with friends is fine when suspending certain social graces.

          • No problem. My comment wasn’t clear either. It was more of a “We’ve agreed to suspend certain social graces, yet we still tend to partake of them. It just feels right. There’s a reason they’re social graces.”

            The suspension of gifting started up after a month long span where a couple friends and I hosted each other around a dozen times. We thought that constantly picking up a bottle of wine or some knickknack was getting to be more trouble than benefit.

  2. What a strange world we live in. This sort of stuff from “Slate” makes me yearn for one or two local newspapers with Dear Abby or her sister and three TV channels, only one of which has Walter Cronkite.

    Isn’t there some sort of maxim like: “Idiocy expands to fill the available space?”

  3. Can I get people to just wear clothes to the grocery store instead of pajamas and slippers that seem to have never been washed? We jokingly suggest to have a pajama day at work so we too can feel like them.

    Please? Can we have self respect back in public places?

  4. Years ago, I read an article on party etiquette and have abided its lesson ever since: Say goodbye and thank the host, but make it sincere, direct, modest and as brief as possible; don’t drag it out, make a lame excuse, or make a big show of your departure.

    That lesson has been most valuable to me, whether as a guest or as a host. It’s a superb application of the Golden Rule. As a guest, I don’t want to have bells go off and a loud public address announcement, “EEYOURE IS NOW LEAVING THE PREMISES.” Nor do I want some ostensibly guilt-ridden guest who just can’t stand for the night to end (whether sincere or faking it, and have I ever known some skillful liars!) corral me, the host, and monopolize time such that many other guests depart in frustration before they have a chance to say their direct and personal goodbyes.

  5. “Do drop AblativeMeatshield a note about the uses of “criminy” as an alternative to “fuck.”
    No, don’t change him, he’s an original.
    A rarity in a nation of unthinking sheep.

  6. I read it and thought ‘What a lazy ass.” when I host I like that last touching base to make sure the guest is still sober enough to drive and make arrangements if otherwise with a spare bed. Someone who can’t be bothered says to me they didn’t enjoy the party and/or didn’t appreciate the event. If I don’t know they enjoyed it, I would probably stop inviting them as I’d rather have a smaller group that has a good time…

    Then again, I’m probably not as cool as Seth as I expect a ‘thnak you’ for wedding gifts, even if not othera anymore.

  7. Guess I’m just old school. Like Jack, to me there are no “shades” of ethics…it either is or it isn’t.
    “In ethics, the initial question isn’t how bad conduct is, but whether it’s bad at all.”

    • That is accurate, but the question “how bad conduct is” also matters as a follow up, in the instances that multiple ethical considerations come into conflict.

      What if:

      Guests at a party got a phone call that their house was burning down or that their ailing mother just fell or a child was grievously injured at a friend’s house, and that the host happened to be in the restroom or indisposed a the time this happened?

      Sorry etiquette, I’m out the door, I’ll send my explanation for rude behavior later.

  8. This is a very delayed reply, but as a single person, I must highlight that this behavior is RAMPANT in dating right now (and perhaps always has been). Unless your personal safety is at risk because of contact, you need to suck it up and give closure if you’ve gone out roughly three or more times.

    Easier said than done, of course. It’s happened to me a few times, and sad to say I’ve done it myself in the past. True, breaking it off is more painful in the short-term, but long-term it’s better for both parties.

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