Another context that’s conducive to ghostwriting is dating. “I’m even my single friends’ single friend,” Rebecca Acevedo, a 30-year-old who works in customer service in Queens, New York, told me. As such, her specialty is helping newly single friends interpret whether a message from someone they know is flirtatious. (In most cases, Acevedo thinks it is, but her advice is not to take it seriously until the person actually asks you out.)*
Of all her ghostwriting work, Acevedo is proudest of a tactic she’s developed to shut down unwanted romantic attention. For instance, if her friends get a message complimenting them on their appearance, Acevedo advises, “just say thank you—that’s it. I’ve helped people with ‘This is just not working for me’ kind of texts, I’ve given feedback on ‘I think we need a break’ kind of texts, but I think the best one, the pièce de résistance, is just say thank you. Let him just sit in that.”
Read: Why is dating in the app era such hard work?
Stephanie Tong, a communication professor at Wayne State University, has found in her research on online dating that it’s common for people to get their friends’ input when sending messages or swiping through potential matches. “A lot of times, people want to eventually introduce their significant other into their social networks, but with online dating, people are doing that at a really early phase,” Tong told me. “Friends are actually getting in on the selection [process], which is new in a way.” The future significant other just doesn’t know it yet.
To some extent, a ghostwriter’s value comes from their writing expertise and overall social savviness, but just as crucially, it is about being able to observe a situation with some emotional remove. Many of the people I interviewed for this story turned to the ghostwriters in their life for validation, to make sure that what they were saying—and, for some of them, what they were feeling—was reasonable. Whether they realized it or not, they were engaging in something like therapy; the writer expressed their unfiltered feelings, and the ghostwriter listened, empathized, and then figured out how to best package that emotional truth in written form. This might be another reason ghostwriting is so common: Regardless of the outcome of a message, the process of writing it collaboratively can provide some emotional release and bring people closer together.
On the other side of the exchange, ghostwriters are game to provide help and validation, because doing so is an act of love—a way of fortifying the people they’re closest to for difficult conversations. Samuel Vo, a 42-year-old middle-school teacher in Fontana, California, told me that he’s occasionally helped his wife, a pharmacist, write work-related communications for about 20 years. He assists her with phrasing requests to superiors and, because English is not her first language, polishes her spelling and grammar. This process, which can include drawn-out conversations about technical aspects of her job, might take hours for even a two-paragraph email. “It's a pain, but I do it because I love my wife and I want to help her out,” Vo said.