Thanks to modern technology, dating has become one of the easiest—and hardest—equations to master. At the touch of a button, one can sign up and begin swiping through eligible matches almost instantly. The ease of mate selection is compounded by the availability and the anonymity the apps offer. But with this anonymity comes the opportunity for narcissists to hide their true selves while racking up their digital victims list and maintaining their perceived power.
“Ghosting” is a relatively modern dating term. The Urban Dictionary defines it as the shutdown or ceasing of communication with someone without notice. It can be done through blocking of phone numbers, social media profiles, and dating accounts; or, the one doing the ghosting will just leave the other person on “read” and never answer. In a 2017 HuffPost article ghosting was described as the “ultimate silent treatment” (Borgueta).
Most diagnosed narcissists are male (APA, 2013) and this is echoed in a 2017 Elle.com survey in which 27% of women state they were ghosted. Jack, 30, admits he has ghosted women in the past to avoid confrontation and conflict and says it is easier to just block a number and move on. “It wasn’t a serious relationship, and she was hounding me for a reason why I wasn’t answering her anymore.” Robert, 40, openly admits to ghosting many women in the past. When asked why, he didn’t have a reason. His most recent victim was a woman he spoke with for over a week and even went as far as setting up a date; he then just stopped responding to her texts.
The opinions of the two men above don’t necessarily reflect their narcissism or narcissistic traits; it does, however, help in compiling reasons why people choose to ghost. The top reasons for ghosting have nothing to do with the person being ghosted; ironically, the reasons reflected the shortcomings of the individual doing the ghosting. Avoidance and fear of conflict are two of the most commonly self-reported reasons (Borgueta, 2017).
The act of ghosting reflects on key traits of a narcissist, particularly low-self-esteem, obsession with perceived power and being in control, and lack of concern for others. The reason narcissists can walk away without a final goodbye is due to the fact they lack crucial human components of caring how their actions affect others. As long as they are comfortable, it doesn’t matter how others feel.
Narcissists often form friendships, partnerships, and alliances to strictly benefit themselves (APA, 2013). They consider themselves to be incredibly unique and special and project a bombastic exterior to protect their fragile self-esteem. By being the one doing the leaving in a relationship, they are maintaining the power and preventing the blow that comes with “being dumped.” Individuals with narcissistic traits are described as emotionally cold and cannot tolerate or respect the emotions of other people (APA, 2013). Expressing emotions is considered to be a sign of weakness, not strength, and narcissists view these people with disgust. Ghosting cuts out the emotions from a breakup and leaves them with a trail free of tears, pleading, or arguments.
The responsibility of picking up the pieces of the narcissistic mess falls on the shoulders of the living, or the one who was ghosted. “Ghosting is the cruelest form of rejection”, says Moriah, 37. Katrina, an East-Coast-to-West-Coast transplant, went on five dates with a guy and thought it was going well, “but I tried to contact him and when I realized I was ghosted, I got kind of depressed. I was finally comfortable with him, and we were always having fun debates and talks. Just up and ghosted … no text saying, ‘Hey, this isn’t going to work out.’”
Thirtysomething Kelly has been ghosted “too many times to count.” The most baffling situation was at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak when quarantine was first being implemented. “We met online and started talking. Over the course of the weeks and eventual months, he was calling me every morning and night and we were making plans for our first date after quarantine. We would send each other pictures throughout the day, always staying in contact and getting to know each other. Then suddenly … nothing. All contact ceased. I sent a few messages just asking if everything was OK, if he was healthy, and no response. I was concerned because of the virus. It was just so strange.”
Although ghosting is usually the means-of-choice for ending a brief flirtation, it’s not just reserved for short-term encounters. When dating a narcissist, even long-term relationships can be vulnerable to ghosting of empathy, compassion, and respect. Ghosting can have a devastating effect on the living’s self-esteem and mental health. Moriah had been in a committed relationship for almost a year when her partner just stopped communicating. “We had just lived together for three months during the pandemic, and then we had a miscommunication over one text and he was gone. I felt confused, sad, angry, insignificant, and unworthy.”
Alison, 45, was in an off-and-on relationship with a serial ghoster for over a decade. “I used to feel like I was the problem, but now I know it’s him. I used to feel that if I acted a certain way or did the right things, he would want to be with me. But now I know that none of that is true … now I’m just being myself and not playing into the chasing-after-him game.”
There is power in realizing your worth as the living. Narcissists are truly ghosts; they are just shadows of humans, lacking any depth or emotion. Ghosting is painful and can make you feel worthless, but it has nothing to do with the living: ghosting has everything to do with the dead.
Have you been ghosted? Let me know in the comments.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). DSM-5.
Borgueta, M. (2015). The psychology of ghosting: Why people do it and a better way to break up. HuffPost. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/the-psychology-of-ghostin_b_799…