Is getting ghosted killing your mood? You may be dealing with rejection sensitivity

Like a bad coupling, rejection sensitivity and online dating probably shouldn’t be together but seem to be persistently drawn to each other.


Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

A: At the end of a great date with someone you met on Hinge, they said, “I’ll call you next week,” but you never hear from them again. You’ve just been ghosted.

B: Things started off great with your Tinder match, but now, replies have become slower, less frequent, and shorter in length. In other words, things have fizzled.

C: It was going to be an incredible date – you had planned to see Barbie and Oppenheimer back to back with your Bumble match. But you waited for half an hour at the theatre and they never showed up! You wanted to give them a piece of your mind, but when you go to message them, you notice that you two are no longer matches! You can no longer contact them at all – and you’ve missed your Barbenheimer showing. That one’s called cloaking.

Online dating has spawned myriad rejection tactics and, when you’ve been swiping for a while, encountering one or other almost becomes an expectation. As of 2022, 337 million people are using dating apps or dating sites worldwide, which adds up to a colossal number of dismissals day by day, even minute by minute. This makes the online dating environment particularly difficult to navigate for those with rejection sensitivity.

What is rejection sensitivity?

Rejection sensitivity is a disposition to anxiously expect, readily perceive, and overreact to rejection. Individuals with elevated rejection sensitivity might meticulously monitor the time it takes for their matches to text back or analyse these messages in an effort to detect subtle shifts in tone. They tend to interpret seemingly neutral or mildly unfavourable social signals, such as a delayed response, as clear indications of rejection. Instead of considering more rational explanations, they may dismiss logical reasons and even resist reassurances from the person they believe is rejecting them.

This hypersensitive behaviour can inadvertently drive others away, turning an anticipated rejection into a self-fulfilling prophecy. And when rejection inevitably comes, the emotional aftermath is notably more profound for those with heightened rejection sensitivity compared to their less sensitive counterparts.

When someone is overly attuned to perceived slights in a relationship, it has the potential to disrupt the connection. The individual who feels rejected may find themselves caught in a cycle of scrutinising and doubting every form of communication or interaction. This persistent negative mindset can significantly impact overall relationship satisfaction, potentially leading to further strain on the connection.

Rejection sensitivity 🤝 online dating

A 2021 study found that implicit rejection in online dating (when a match does not explicitly express disinterest but takes an indirect approach, such as ceasing contact) produces stronger behavioural intentions than explicit rejection. According to researchers, “Daters are more likely to revise their personal profiles when facing an ignored message vs declined message.” In other words, rejection-sensitive individuals may find themselves constantly second-guessing the content of their profiles, agonising over every word and image. Fear of not being perceived positively can lead to a reluctance to put oneself out there, hindering their chance of making meaningful connections.

Another study from 2014 revealed that individuals with high rejection sensitivity exhibit a greater inclination to engage in online dating. This phenomenon can be attributed to the feeling among rejection-sensitive individuals that online platforms, like dating sites, provide a better space for expressing their ‘true’ selves.

Unfortunately, this means that the very spaces where covert rejection tactics such as ghosting, fizzling and cloaking are born is exactly where rejection-sensitive individuals will be found.

In her online dating masterclass on dara & co, cyberpsychologist Dr Nicola Fox Hamilton highlights a recent study exploring the effects of romantic rejection on online daters. Interestingly, the findings revealed that men, unlike women, exhibited heightened hostility following rejection from their online dating partners. “They displayed aggressive tendencies towards the person rejecting them, as well as hostile attitudes towards women generally,” says Nicola. “Both of these were explained by increased levels of anger after being rejected.”

So if it feels sometimes as if online dating is an emotional rollercoaster – you’re not wrong. You’re dealing with the exhilarating highs of promising connections, the stomach-churning uncertainty of waiting for a reply, and the sudden drops when a potential match goes silent. Rejection sensitivity can exaggerate this emotional turbulence even further. However, by understanding and addressing this sensitivity through effective coping strategies, we give ourselves the opportunity to not only endure but thrive in the online dating world.

Tired of mindlessly swiping left? If so, check out our online dating masterclass with Dr Nicola Fox Hamilton – it will transform your online dating experience!

Danielle Olavario
Danielle Olavario is a full-time social media expert, part-time writer, and life-long Sex and the City super fan. A digital native born in the Philippines, she has had a love-hate relationship with the internet since the dial-up days.

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