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Digital dating and the sly art of the ‘vanishing act’

In today’s Tinder-ised dating landscape, the art of politely breaking off a new relationship has given way to disappearing in a puff of smoke. Emily Power looks at the rise of ‘the vanishing act’.

It’s like Hugo Boss has started selling Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak.

It’s hard to say no these days, from that extra task at work to the invite you’d rather do without. When it comes to dating, saying no is even harder.

It’s resulted in a modern dating phenomenon known as ‘the vanishing act’. This is when men – and women – simply fall off the radar, whether it’s after one date or several months of sleep-overs, rather than tell the other party, “thanks, but I’m just not feeling it”.

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Emily learned good manners - but isn't immune to a vanishing act.

Emily Power isn’t immune to performing a vanishing act.

Text messages languish unanswered and that prestige bottle of pinot you were saving for the next cosy night in is suddenly, unexpectedly, a serve for one.

It’s like Hugo Boss has started selling Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. A work colleague, Anna, jokes that my bedroom is “Platform 9¾”.

It seems to be a symptom of the digital dating age, which has made us more nonchalant about sex and relationships.

If we can browse prospective paramours with left and right swipes on Tinder, how can ending it be anything more than churn and burn, when it was so casually detached from the start?

Seasoned daters tell me if you are online courting, you are probably seeing two, three or more people at the same time. Crudely, it’s a buyers market, but it’s also healthy to get to know lots of people and see which naturally unfolds as a good fit.

These days, you can be in bed with one and scoping another on Tinder under the doona – I know terrible people who have done this – so, in a new world saturated with easy choices, why revert to old-fashioned communique when it comes to calling it off?

Not everyone believes the vanish is the best method for moving on. “Jilt hard and jilt often,” said my friend Andrew.

“It’s better for everyone if you knock it on the head and move on. Why waste time pretending to be interested in someone you’re not interested in? Vanishing is only good if you really enjoy soap opera-style drama.”

Andrew has a point – the jilted always send one too many text messages during the black-out period, fishing for an answer with uncertainty and hope.

You have NO new messages.

You have NO new messages.

But a regular vanish victim, Ellie, finds strange comfort in living in a limbo.

She once went out with a stockbroker who took her to the coast for the weekend as their seventh date.

They indulged in PDAs at the hot springs and drew nonsense love hearts together in the foreshore sand. But the last she heard of him was the roar of his Range Rover Evoque as it zoomed off after dropping her home.

“I’d prefer to pretend they liked me so much they got overwhelmed and scared, and just ran – if they vanish, it lets me live in deluded hope for a bit longer,” she said.

I once dated a gangly young man who reeked of spearmint mouthwash and anxiety. For date three, he oddly changed our plans from afternoon coffee to drinks at a city bar and ferried me vodka sodas while he tipped back water.

His true self – a teetotalling conspiracy theorist – had finally emerged and I hoped aliens would beam down and spirit him away.

Instead of offering a “no thanks” to a follow-up dinner invite, I was the one who vanished like the extraterrestrials had got to me. It was mean but I pre-emptively shut down the conversation, heaven forbid he should ask why I’d gone stone cold.

On the flip side, I once plucked up the courage to ask a former flame why he decided to disappear, after a few months of dating. It was on, it was ramping up and then the SMS’s trickled until my iPhone lay silent.

His critique (“you talked about work too much, I didn’t feel the spark, I didn’t like that you were taller than me, I felt were at different stages in our life and that powdery Chanel perfume you wore reminded me of my grandmother”) was difficult for me to take.

Still, it was no different to getting feedback from a job interview, and he was right. The Chanel stunk.

In a cruel-to-be-kind way, perhaps it reflects well on a person that they’d rather gently leave you with a smile and the memory of a great night, as they button up that Hugo Boss blazer or those designer jeans and forage for a lost sock, instead of outward rejection.

And after the door clicks shut behind them and you suspect that’s the last of them you’ll see, you can put their silence down to your repellent perfume or cologne, a car accident or a dead cat, rather than your own flaws, and get back to Tindering under the doona.

Tweet Emily @_emilypower


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