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The Doubly Troubling Phenomenon of Ghostlighting

Why someone may do it, and how to stop them.

Key points

  • More and more people have been reporting that they have experienced "ghostlighting" in the dating arena.
  • Ghostlighting occurs when people first ghost you and then, after they return, gaslight you about the reasons.
  • There are three general reasons why someone might ghostlight you, and each says a lot about the person.
  • Consider cutting a ghostlighter out of your life or at least pushing for explanations and setting boundaries.
Source: Jamie Grill/Getty Images
Ghostlighting is a portmanteau of two oh-so-wonderful things that you probably prefer not to experience in dating but are unfortunately oh-so-common: ghosting and gaslighting.
Source: Jamie Grill/Getty Images

On social media, more and more people have been reporting that they have experienced "ghostlighting" in the dating arena. And they haven't been talking about a nightlight shaped like Casper the Friendly Ghost.

No, ghostlighting is a portmanteau of two oh-so-wonderful things that you probably prefer not to experience in dating but which are unfortunately oh-so-common: ghosting and gaslighting. Ghosting refers to the sudden disappearance of someone you've been dating or relationshipping, with no warning or explanation. Being ghosted is bewildering and confusing. You may spend an inordinate amount of time wondering what you might have said or done.

Gaslighting is a highly manipulative technique in which someone makes deceptive statements to you over an extended period of time in a way that makes you question your own judgment, perception of yourself, perception of reality, or even sanity. An example: A supervisor, who by definition has power over you, bullies you by claiming that you are bullying him or her. Or your significant other becomes furious about your lack of trust when you've caught him or her cheating on you.

So how does someone do both and ghostlight you? Well, after someone has unexpectedly gone vamoose from your life, that person may decide to return one day but not offer the requisite apology or explanation. Instead, that person may deny even ghosting you in the first place.

For example, the person may say, "I am getting back to you about going to see the movie," without acknowledging the fact that catching the opening of the 1991 film "Silence of the Lambs" in movie theaters is no longer possible. Even worse, that person may blame you. For example, that person may ask, "Why didn't you call or text me" or say "You just didn't try hard enough," when you called 10 times.

So why might someone ghostlight you? One possibility is that person's life circumstances changed in ways that the person is not willing to reveal or admit. In some cases, the changes could have been legitimately sensitive and private—a health or financial issue, say. Nevertheless, the person could have at least said that they had to deal with something and needed to pause, before departing.

And regardless, why gaslight you upon return? Even if that person had been kidnapped by a bunch of New Cabbage Soup Diet cult members or something touchy like that, he or she could still accept responsibility for the situation. All of this can be a sign that the person is a not very good communicator or tends to have an avoidant personality.

A second possibility is that the person was actually more interested in someone else but didn't manage to seal the deal and is now returning from outer space to his or her fallback choice, namely you.

A third possibility is that the person is just plain manipulative, doesn't care about your feelings, is an inveterate liar, or some combination of these things. Don't expect this to be a stable long-term arrangement. After all, if marriage is a goal, wedding vows don't typically go, "to manipulate and be manipulated from this day forward, for worse and for worse."

If you do find someone ghostlighting you, ask yourself whether you even want to deal with anyone who would do such a thing. Again, ghosting is one thing. Gaslighting on top of that is sort of like adding uranium onto an already questionable pie. While you may be curious as to what happened, the juice may not be worth the squeeze. Remember, gaslighters specialize in blurring the lines of reality. So the chances of you getting an honest answer may be low. Closing the door may be the best thing to do.

Alternatively, if for some reason you do want to give the ghostlighter another chance, insist on a real concrete explanation as to why the sequence of events occurred. Make an acceptable answer the condition of reentry. And make clear that ghostlighting will not be acceptable henceforth. Remember you are in the driver's seat.

Regardless of what the gaslighting may have you believe, this person is the one trying to squirrel into your life. The sequel to the movie Ghost Rider was just as bad if not worse than the original. The same can be said about the sequel to a ghostlighter.

Facebook image: ShotPrime Studio/Shutterstock

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