Why People Ghost Their Way Out of Relationships

You felt a connection, but then they disappear. New research explains why.

Posted Sep 07, 2018

LarsZ/Shutterstock
Source: LarsZ/Shutterstock

How have your relationships ended? For many of us, relationships end with difficult conversations, hurtful or sorrowful words, or painful exchanges that acknowledge a relationship isn't working out. These aren't easy discussions. Maybe that's why some people send the dreaded breakup text — to avoid face-to-face conversations. Still yet, maybe that's why people ghost.

Ghosting is not a new phenomenon, but it's becoming a more prevalent breakup strategy now that we're relying heavily on technology to form and maintain relationships (LeFebvre, 2017). Love affairs of brief or long duration are coming to an abrupt halt when people virtually disappear. They're just gone. There's no end-of-relationship conversation, no "Sorry, it's not working out," and no "It's not you, it's me." Just silence. Ambiguous, confusing silence.

Ghosting creates a number of problems for the ghosted person, including:

  • You don't know immediately if the relationship is really over, or if there is a different reason for the person's absence.
  • Once you start to think it's really over, you don't know the person's motive for ending the relationship.
  • You are left to navigate an unsettling lack of closure.
  • You may feel like your trust has been violated, especially in highly emotionally intimate or physically intimate relationships.
  • You may blame yourself, even with no grounding to do so.
  • You cannot communicate your thoughts about the relationship or breakup with the other person.

So why do people ghost?

In one of the few research studies examining the experience of ghosting, 25 percent of approximately 550 men and women reported having been ghosted, and about 20 percent said they've ghosted someone with whom they were romantically involved (Freedman, Powell, Le, & Williams, 2018).

Do those numbers surprise you? It's very possible they'll only increase, as technology becomes even more entrenched in how people first connect (e.g., Tinder, Match.com), build a relationship, and then maintain it (e.g., social media, texting).

And some people are totally fine with ghosting. The more that individuals subscribe to what are called destiny beliefs, which means they think people are either meant for each other or they're not, the more they tend to think that ghosting is an acceptable way to end a relationship (Freedman et al., 2018). There are other people, however, who aren't so keen on ghosting. Indeed, the more that people subscribe to growth beliefs, which means they think people can work through challenges in their relationships, the more they tend to reject the idea that ghosting is an acceptable way to end a long-term relationship.

So, if they want out, will your newfound flame ghost you?

It's hard to say; however, one predictor of whether or not a person intends to ghost someone in the future is the extent to which they adopt destiny beliefs about relationships (Freedman et al., 2018). If someone has strong destiny beliefs underlying how they think about relationships, they have a fixed mindset about love: It's either perfect, or forget it. Perhaps they experience a bump in the relationship, and this bump means — for them — that the relationship wasn't "meant to be." People high in destiny beliefs may see no point in working on the relationship or even spending the time to communicate that it's over. Maybe that's why they cut off all contact.

References

Freedman, G., Powell, D. N., Le, B., & Williams, K. D. (2018). Ghosting and destiny: Implicit theories of relationships predict beliefs about ghosting. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

LeFebvre, L. (2017). 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). New York, NY: Lexington Books.

More Posts