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Is There Such a Thing as a Friendly Ghosting?

Research-based insights into ghosting in relationships.

CNuisin/Shutterstock
Source: CNuisin/Shutterstock

Just as technology has introduced new possibilities for connection, it has also made it easier than ever to ghost. Ghosting is a modern take on an old strategy and involves using technology to abruptly cut off contact with someone. Ghosters might signal that a relationship is over by avoiding an ex-partner’s phone calls, ignoring their texts, or even blocking them on social media. Although ghosting can occur at any stage in a relationship, it’s especially common on dating apps and in situations when people don’t expect to see each other again face-to-face.

Why People Ghost

Despite its bad reputation, ghosting isn’t always done with malicious intent. In certain situations, there can even be good reasons for ghosting out of a relationship. For instance, sometimes people ghost in response to abusive behavior, or because they believe it’s kinder than telling the truth about why they’re no longer interested in pursuing a relationship.

In one study, Manning and colleagues conducted in-depth interviews with 30 young adults about their reasons for dissolving a relationship through ghosting. They found that explanations for ghosting varied widely and were motivated by a variety of factors. Whereas some people ghosted because they met someone else or didn’t think the relationship was serious enough to require an explanation, others said they feared saying something that would hurt an ex-partners’ feelings. There were also people who ghosted because they were afraid of how the other person would react to a rejection. For women in particular, ghosting was sometimes a response to harassment that left them with few options other than a quick exit.

Mourning the Loss

Regardless of why ghosting happens, it can still hurt to have a relationship end suddenly and without explanation. In another study, Timmermans and coauthors surveyed 328 dating app users about the consequences of ghosting. Many of the ghostees experienced negative emotions like feeling sad, angry, and disappointed. Some indicated that ghosting damaged their self-esteem and made it difficult to trust others. A few even said it contributed to depression.

When a relationship ends, people want to know why. But ghosting offers little in the way of closure. This can make ghosting one of the more common and frustrating side effects of digital dating. One solution might be Caspering, which has been described as a “friendlier” form of ghosting in which people deliver a compassionate letdown before withdrawing from a relationship.

References

LeFebvre, L. E. (2017). Phantom lovers: Ghosting as a relationship dissolution strategy in the technological age. In N. M. Punyanunt-Carter & J. S. Wrench (Eds.), The impact of social media in modern romantic relationships (pp. 219-235). Lexington.

Manning, J., Denker, K. J., & Johnson, R. (2019). Justifications for ‘ghosting out’ of developing or ongoing romantic relationships: Anxieties regarding digitally-mediated romantic interaction. In A. Hetsroni & M. Tuncez (Eds.), It happened on Tinder: Reflections and studies on Internet-infused dating (pp. 114-132). Institute of Network Cultures.

Stinson, A. (2019, October 1). Everything you need to know about “caspering,” the friendly way to ghost. Bustle. https://www.bustle.com/p/what-is-caspering-theres-a-friendly-way-to-gho…

Timmermans, E., Hermans, A. M., & Opree, S. J. (2020). Gone with the wind: Exploring mobile daters’ ghosting experiences. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Advance Online Publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407520970287

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