Ghosting: Why Do People Do it?

Understanding "why" may help some to recover and others to avoid doing it.

Posted Apr 03, 2018

photo by L. Grande
Source: photo by L. Grande

Ghosting is when you suddenly disappear from the life of the person you have been dating. You stop responding to phone calls or texts, with no explanation given. Although it has always been a risk in the realm of dating, it has become extremely common in recent years. The Plenty of Fish dating site conducted a survey in which they polled 800 daters from ages 18 to 33. Eighty percent of the daters who responded reported being ghosted (http://blog.pof.com).

An obvious explanation for the increase in this behavior is that it is simply easier to break up with someone by ghosting them, particularly if you met online and can avoid ever being face to face with them again. However, the ease of this type of break-up is only relevant for the ghoster, as it is far from easy for the ghostee. Anyone who’s been ghosted knows how painful it can be. It leaves no way for the person who was left to make sense of what happened. Questions are left unanswered, such as: “What did I do wrong?” and “Did he ever really care about me?” and even “Did something happen to her?”. There are often lasting effects upon self-esteem, particularly if the person was already suffering from blows to their self-image. It may be helpful to understand the possible reasons for what happened.  The most common situations will first be considered.

Avoidance of confrontation

By this, I mean avoiding any type of direct communication which has the possibility of angering or even upsetting the other person. Many (if not most) people are conflict-avoidant and would rather walk away or change the subject than get into an argument. Fear of angry responses (yelling, criticizing, etc), and avoidance of emotional responses (crying, or just tearing up) are both extremely common. Being ghosted usually does not mean that you did anything wrong; it is more likely that the person you were dating just could not bring themselves to be direct with you. Is that a character flaw? Not in my opinion; when you consider how many people have ghosted others, it isn’t helpful to label all of them selfish or flawed. It is a matter of emotional maturity and that is a trait that can develop and improve over time. If you think this explanation fits your situation, you’re better off forgiving versus judging them, and letting go as peacefully as you can.

Fear of emotional intimacy

This is the fear of actually allowing yourself to care deeply about someone, and accepting that they care deeply about you as well. It is not too difficult for those with this type of fear to date for a month or even for years as long as they are able to keep their emotional distance. ( I have worked with couples married for decades who have not come to terms with their fear of emotional closeness.) The dating relationship may be stable until something provokes this fear in a way which is intolerable for the potential ghoster. This not to say that the person who was ghosted is at fault. Any number of events could have triggered this subconscious fear and these events may have been unavoidable. Fear of intimacy is a long-term problem which is not easily overcome and usually requires an awareness followed by effort in order to overcome it.

Narcissistic personality style

The narcissist is not very likely to be empathic about the emotional pain of the person(s) they are dating. Lack of empathy is a hallmark sign of narcissistic personality and is likely the reason for some instances of ghosting. If you have had time to get to know the person who ghosted you, you have probably seen other instances of their lack of consideration for others. What you may not have expected is that “others” includes you, from the narcissist’s point of view.

 Fear of a violent reaction

A fourth and much less common situation occurs when the person suddenly disappearing is afraid of an aggressive reaction to a statement of need to break up. I would not even call this behavior ghosting, but rather a self-protective behavior. It is mentioned here primarily to clarify that there are times when sudden disappearance is the only safe way out.

Final thoughts…

None of this is intended to excuse ghosting. It is hoped that a consideration of these possible reasons will be helpful if it has happened to you. And if you are thinking about ghosting someone, think about your kinder options. Try to be mindful of their well-being and consider how you would like to be treated if you were in their place. Maybe s/he is capable of hearing your straightforward explanation of why you need to end the relationship. If you can’t find the words to explain your change of heart, consider saying something as brief as “This just isn’t working for me. It’s not your fault. I need to end this relationship.” I think most readers will agree that a simple statement is better than no statement at all.

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