Why Fading Out of a Relationship Can Be Worse Than Ghosting
The charade of the slow fade in a relationship can cause emotional harm.
Posted June 27, 2021 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma
- The slow fade is the charade that someone puts on when they decide to end a relationship but don’t share their decision.
- The slow fade isn’t kind, it’s a form of gaslighting that can cause emotional damage.
- Providing clarity about the break-up allows the other person to process it emotionally; it's the kindest way to end a relationship.
It’s never easy to end a relationship with someone in your life. Whether it’s a romantic relationship or a friendship, there are almost always hurt feelings on one side or the other. But some endings are worse than others. While ghosting has become almost commonplace in our society, as bad as that is (Why Ghosting Hurts So Much), there is another way to end a relationship that is actually even more painful—the slow fade.
The slow fade is essentially the charade that someone puts on when they have made the decision to end the relationship but don’t share their decision. Instead of telling the other person directly that it’s over, they continue to pretend the relationship is intact while sending mixed signals and slowly drift away, hoping that the other person will take the hint and get the message.
This is different from a slow fade that occurs naturally when both people stop making efforts to maintain the friendship due to various factors like moving across the country, leaving school, or changing jobs.
People who use the slow fade when the decision to end the relationship is one-sided, often think they are being kind by cutting someone off slowly rather than abruptly. They get to feel good about themselves for trying to be nice and also don’t have to deal with the emotional discomfort of having a difficult conversation or the hurt emotions of the other person.
What’s really happening, however, is they are gaslighting the other person, causing that person on the other end to question themselves and their own version of reality.
Unlike ghosting, which is mean but clean because it leaves no room for the uncertainty that the relationship is over, the slow fade is a prolonged ending that results in the soon-to-be-ex being filled with confusion and self-doubt.
Clarity and certainty help someone process a psychological event. Research has shown that uncertainty can intensify an emotional situation, making an unpleasant situation even more unpleasant. 1
When the person on the receiving end finally figures out what’s going on, they can feel they’ve been duped and deceived by someone they believed they had a close relationship with. There is nothing kind about making someone feel that they have been played for a fool.
When someone feels they can’t trust their own judgment, their ability to have relationships with other people is damaged. They are likely to become more anxious and insecure and have difficulty opening up or being vulnerable.
What is the best way to handle the ending of a relationship you no longer want in your life? That depends on how long you’ve known the person and the type of relationship you’ve had. While perceived obligation varies, the kindest thing to do is give someone clarity that the relationship is over so they can process the event and move on.
If you’ve only been on a few dates with the person a simple text such as “It was nice to meet you, but I didn’t feel the connection” should suffice. If you’ve known the person for more than a few months or if you’re trying to end a long-standing relationship that no longer serves you, then some sort of explanation is something most people want, to feel they are being treated with respect.
While it is ideal to share your feelings with the person directly, if a face to face or phone conversation seems too difficult, or if you are worried about the other person’s response, then in this day and age, it’s pretty easy to send an email or at the very minimum a text. The most important part, again, is providing the clarity that the relationship has ended. You don’t need to serve up a long list of what they did wrong, or even a list of all the reasons it is about you and not them. Try something like, “Lately, it feels like we’ve really grown apart, and I don’t feel we have much in common anymore.”
If the person persists in wanting to communicate or asks for more of an explanation, and you really don’t want to engage, then simply state something along the line of, “I don't feel up for a discussion about it.” Yes, that may seem cold and no one wants to be on the receiving end of this kind of communication, however, very few people would prefer an insincere relationship where they are investing energy and believe you to be a friend when the reality is you have already decided you no longer want them in your life.
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Bar-Anan, Y., Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2009). The feeling of uncertainty intensifies affective reactions. Emotion, 9(1), 123–127. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0014607