Ghosting is abruptly ending communication with someone without explanation. The concept most often refers to romantic relationships but can also describe disappearances from friendships and the workplace.
People respond to being ghosted in many ways, from feeling indifferent to deeply betrayed. Some believe that ghosting is inseparably intertwined with modern electronic communication, and the practice is a way to cope with the decision fatigue that can accompany dating. Others believe that ghosting is emotionally troubling given that it offers no sense of closure.
The phenomenon of abruptly disappearing from people’s lives isn’t new–but it seems to be more common today. Technology has made ghosting an easy way to dissolve relationships. According to a 2018 study, approximately 25 percent of men and women reported having been ghosted in a romantic relationship, and 22 percent admitted to having ghosted someone else. The Federal Reserve even recognized the phenomenon in a 2018 report, in which employers reported being ghosted by employees in a tight labor market.
The reason for being ghosted often has a lot to do with the ghoster, rather than with the ghostee. Cutting off communication spares the individual from confrontation, taking responsibility, or engaging in the emotional labor of empathy—despite the benefit a conversation can provide. In effect, it is much more convenient to vanish.
Being ghosted feels confusing because you don't know if the relationship is really over, or if there is a different reason for the person's absence. You may worry that something terrible has befallen the person. When you do realize the relationship is over, you have no idea what happened or what you did wrong. You feel that you are to blame.
This likely depends on the duration of the relationship. If the person did not text you after your second or third date, it is probably futile to contact the person, and you are likely better off without them. If the relationship’s duration was for a longer period, perhaps months, a message or email may be warranted. Be direct and ask for honesty.
They do sometimes reappear. Perhaps the person might send you a message through mutual friends or pop up online through likes and nudges. Some even send apologetic texts, emails, or even voice messages. You might consider listening to what the person has to say, as it takes some courage on the ghoster's part to apologize. However, you must be emotionally aware and figure out whether they are being genuine, and not just bored.
The important thing to remember: No one can make you feel low self-worth unless you allow it. Plus, it is totally fine to feel hurt. However, an extended period of crappy feelings may not be warranted, especially if the time spent with your ghoster was not extended itself. Instead, make time for self-care, eat right, sleep right, stay physically active, see friends. If you need help, contact a therapist.
Sometimes disappearing is necessary. If the person starts to make you feel at all uncomfortable, you will have to weigh your decision to vanish. Perhaps, the person shows anger that feels dangerous and unsafe. Or the person does not appear to have boundaries such as contacting someone else you dated, looking for information. Or the person may start showing dark traits of manipulation, lying, and other forms of deceit.
The desire to avoid discomfort can apply to a wide range of situations. After flirting for a while, a man or woman may disappear rather than admit they’ve lost interest. Someone who feels mistreated by a friend might stop responding rather than confront them. A teenager who feels frustrated by a minimum wage job might spontaneously stop showing up to work instead of giving notice.
When ghosters decide to leave a relationship, they factor in the time they invested and the level of engagement in the relationship. If, for example, the two parties dated once or twice, disappearing may seem to be a viable decision for the ghoster. They do not wish to lead the other person on, and they rationalize the departure as compassionate and reasonable.
Many cultures promote the idea of the soul mate or destiny beliefs, as evident in the classic Hollywood rom-com. Seeking the one and only partner for life is a fixed idea of how relationships should work, and it gives people the license to disappear from the face of the earth when a relationship is not up to their ideal. When a person does something for true love and what is their destiny, then it is okay to leave.
Technology may contribute to the tendency to ghost: Research suggests that the high volume of potential prospects on dating apps may make each individual person appear more disposable. Just swipe right. Another attitude that may foster ghosting is believing in destiny. One study found that people who believe in relationship destiny—that everyone has a soulmate waiting to sweep them off their feet—were much more likely to believe that ghosting was acceptable.
People who ghost must conduct a degree of emotional gymnastics. In cognitive dissonance, a person’s actions may be inconsistent with their beliefs and values; they must therefore convince themselves that their actions are right and just. They also convince themselves that the other person would prefer to avoid a tangled and difficult conversation as well. Otherwise, feelings of guilt and cowardice may plague them.
Offshoots of ghosting behavior, orbiting and breadcrumbing, refer to leading you on. After someone breaks off relations, they carry on engaging with you by orbiting; this often happens through interactions via social media—leaving a like or comment or poke, for example—without speaking to the person beyond that. Breadcrumbing is related to orbiting. The person may send frequent communications, also in the form of comments and likes online. However, all the contact never amounts to anything real. These confusing situations can instill a sense of false hope for the relationship.
Caspering is friendly ghosting, named after the friendly cartoon ghost, Casper. This simple form of ending contact is not ghosting per se, but rather a firm and direct statement that conveys you will not be seeing the person again. It can be short and sweet, as in: Thank you for taking time to meet. I hope everything works out well for you. Bye." It doesn't have to be so hard.