How Is 'Dial-Toning' Different From Ghosting?

If you're one of the many who hates talking on the phone, you might not recall what a dial tone is. Here's a refresher: When you pick up a standard analog phone, you typically hear a continuous tone that lets you know the line is ready for you to start dialing. If the recipient of your call hangs up or never connects, you'll likely hear the tone again. That sound is the dial tone, and it's the inspiration behind a dating trend known as — you guessed it — "dial-toning."

Dating app Plenty of Fish coined the term in 2020, defining it as "the act of giving someone your phone number only to ignore them when they reach out." Even if the name borrows from old-school phone calls, dial-toning can occur through both calls and texts. And, similar to its close cousin, ghosting, dial-toning is pretty common — 60% of singles have been dial-toned, while 35% said they'd done it to someone else, according to a survey of Plenty of Fish users.

However, dial-toning differs from ghosting in that it occurs before a relationship even develops. For instance, you have a meet-cute moment with a charming stranger who gives you their phone number before you part ways. You're smitten and go home to text them, only to never get a response. In other words, dial-toning involves disappearing before there's even a chance to ghost.

Why does dial-toning happen?

Similar to other dating trends, there isn't one universal explanation for why people dial-tone. With that said, one reason for the behavior might have to do with the switch from in-person communication to texting. "Messaging on an app is quite different to speaking in real life [or on the phone]," couples counselor Heidi Gee explained to D'Marge. Even if you shared IRL chemistry, the other person may not know how to respond through messages, especially once in-person body language and eye contact are removed from the equation.

Something similar can happen on dating apps, too, where it's common to match but never follow up through direct chat. "Knowing how to communicate with someone that they have never interacted with (even when they've expressed mutual interest with a right swipe) can be difficult for some individuals," Jessica Carbino, a former Tinder and Bumble sociologist and relationship expert, explained to Bustle. If you secured their number through a quick or superficial interaction, they might still see you as a stranger and decide to leave you on read.

As hard as it can be to face, dial-toning could also be a sign that someone's just not that into you. As pointed out in a 2019 study published in Imagination, Cognition and Personality, it's often more convenient to reject someone by going MIA than sharing your honest feelings in a conversation. Put simply, just because they gave you their number doesn't mean they were serious about pursuing a relationship.

How to handle being dial-toned

Dial-toning isn't the same as ghosting, but they can both hurt in similar ways. So, how should you cope when your new crush never calls or texts back? First, resist the urge to double text, unless you believe your first text was confusing or unclear (it's fine to send a clarification text, such as, "I'm the one you met outside the festival on Saturday night — I was wearing the sparkly dress"). Otherwise, take their silence as a red flag. "They're either horrific at communication, which will follow you into the relationship if you choose to continue it," Tara Fields, a marriage and family therapist, told Women's Health. "Or they're so unmotivated to try to talk to you and that should be a symbol too."

Without a response, your mind might start to ruminate and draw conclusions, even with limited evidence. "Brené Brown calls this 'story-telling,'" therapist Nicole Richardson shared with Elite Daily. "In the absence of information, we often make assumptions and more often than not, those assumptions are hurtful and negative." If you notice you're overthinking or blaming yourself, pause and challenge those thoughts. Remind yourself of the many alternative explanations that could be equally as plausible. Then, turn your attention to something else — a self-care ritual, a productive project, or even a new meet-cute crush.