What to Think When a Guy Pulls a Disappearing Act

Mr. Houdini may be trying to tell you something.
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Mr. Houdini may be trying to tell you something.
Photo Credit: Christie Graham Photography

Photo Credit: Christie Graham Photography

“I haven't heard from him in a week. What does this mean?” 

I've heard this from at least two of my female friends in the past month. I can’t help but join them in racking my brain for possible reasons. Sick grandmother? Hit by a car a la An Affair To Remember? Kidnapped??

Of course we want to imagine the worst because the alternative—that he's just pulling the age-old trick of avoiding you—isn't exactly pleasant. When a guy we’ve been talking to regularly suddenly pulls a Houdini, it can make us feel as though we've gone a bit insane. In this Age of The Smartphone, when a message can be sent with barely any effort, it's an especially confusing sign.

I can sympathize. An ex-boyfriend and I had been dating a year when he decided to just not show any signs of life for an entire week. No calls, no texts, no emails, no letters, not even smoke signals. Wanting to play it cool, I insisted to myself that I didn't care and that I needed space anyway. But as every hour and day passed, I became more and more restless. I obsessively checked my phone for a reply until I anxiously told my roommate to hide it from me, lest I find myself feverishly texting him things I’d regret. 

Needless to say, it did not go well when he showed up at our apartment a day later asking me if I had any food he could eat. He said he'd been “incredibly busy” and proceeded to ask, “I thought you wanted to take it slow?” and “Are you seriously out of bread?” (Don't worry, we didn't date much longer after that.)

Admittedly, this situation occurs less frequently in long-term committed relationships. More often it happens in the early stages, when one date turns into another, and then that date turns into another and then, radio silence—the dates stop. Or he’s that “friend” who's always on the fringe, pulling you close periodically and then poof-ing into thin air, again. And even though deep down we know it does not bode well for a long, happy relationship and therefore should be thankful it's over, we often cannot help but wonder: What the eff happened?

So, instead of ruminating on why men fall off the face of the earth, I went ahead and asked ten guys to illuminate us as to what is happening on their side of the disappearing act—so you don’t have to keep guessing. From financial advisers to engineers to professors, there was a surprising amount of consistency in their answers. During the interviews, I found that an overwhelming majority of men have done this; if they haven’t, they have friends who have. While no answer was exactly the same, I uncovered three recurring themes that explain why guys disappeared on girls they had been seeing. Here are the answers I should have given my friends when they asked me why—and the pep talk to go along with them.

01. Conflict avoidance.

“Yes, I have [disappeared]. We'd be dating for a few weeks, and she was trying to move way too fast for my comfort. Despite talking to her about it, she didn't take a hint. Not a proud moment for me.” - Will, 29, engineer

Most people dread uncomfortable confrontation and do everything to avoid it. How many of us don’t return his calls in the hopes that he'll get the hint? As frustrating and annoying as this may be, at least we can understand the temptation. This particular reason for disappearance is especially hard to swallow, though, as it piques more questions. I mean, what if you could have worked it out? What exactly went wrong? You want closure! In these cases, just remind yourself that if this kind of avoidance is typical for him, he’s probably not a man you want to be in a relationship with anyway.

02. Another girl.

“I’ve also dropped out of nowhere before because I was dating a few girls at once, and one relationship accelerated much faster than the others . . .” - Giovanni, 26, tech operations

It’s hard to admit, but when you are just starting to date and have no commitments, the guy might be taking other girls on dates—and that doesn’t necessarily make him a player. It stinks, but if you have been on a couple dates with a guy, and you don’t hear from him again, it’s fair to assume that you might not be the only one. 

Would it have been nicer for him to tell you that you are lovely, but he has met someone else? Maybe, but save your mental energy for a guy who doesn’t want to let you get away.

03. Disinterest or laziness.

“I used to abruptly stop communication in college. In one instance, after a few dates I really did break my phone, but had I been really interested, I wouldn’t have let that stop me from talking to her. I know how to use the Internet. Had this happened when I was dating the woman I’ve ended up marrying, there’s no way I would let a broken phone get in my way.” - Mike, 30, designer

Sigh. I might not be the biggest fan of He’s Just Not That into You, but this is a prime example of when its logic works. But why? Why isn’t he into me? I know there was something there! I’m not questioning your feminine intuition; there probably was something there, and you probably did have a great time—but he is just not interested enough. There’s a difference between action and attraction, and it may have less to do with you and more to do with him. Look on the bright side—at least he dropped off the face of the earth quickly and didn’t waste your time with a bunch of “not interested enough” bull honky.

While disappearing may not be the most manly way to tell us what’s going on, guys do it because they don’t see you as a priority in their life. Ouch. Now, before we let that sting, consider this: Many of them described that they disappeared with no explanation when they were younger, and many regret the way they handled it. “Have I ever gone MIA on a girl? Yes, but not since I grew up, stopped being a coward, and started taking dating seriously. This sort of behavior belongs only to the young . . . [who are] much more suited to taking naps than making vows,” confesses Jason (30, professor). “You will know it if a man really cares for you. If you’re always questioning if he does, then he doesn’t.”

If a man you're interested in falls off the face of the earth, no one would blame you for wanting an explanation—and depending on how long you've been dating, you may indeed deserve one. However, you may find more peace in deciding it’s one of the reasons above and moving on.