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Were You Ghosted? Learn Why—and How to Respond When It Happens

Uncover 8 reasons for ghosting and what you can do about them.

Marcelo Jaboo/Pexels
Source: Marcelo Jaboo/Pexels

Rejection and breakups are hard enough, but being ghosted can be traumatic; it can leave you with unanswered questions that make it hard to move on. Although ghosting also occurs in friendships, it’s usually associated with dating. More devastating, but less common, is when a spouse disappears after years of marriage. It’s like a sudden death of the person and the marriage. But even the unexplained, unexpected end to a brief romantic relationship can feel like a betrayal and shatter your trust in yourself, in love, and in other people.

It’s a shock to the heart whenever you care about someone who suddenly cuts you off without any explanation.

If you insist on knowing and get a response like, “I just don’t feel it anymore,” it isn’t satisfying. We still want to know why. We are information-seeking animals. Our brain is wired to wonder and search for solutions. Once we pose a question, we look for answers. This is compounded by the fact that we’re also wired to attach and to experience rejection as painful. We try to reconnect—the reason babies cry fiercely when they need their mother. Rejection can cause obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior, like stalking your ex’s social media, which fuels more pain and more questions.

Ghosted in a Romantic Relationship

Breakups are always harder during the early stage of a romantic relationship. It’s devastating to be ghosted during this romantic phase, but that’s usually when it occurs. You don’t know your partner that well and are still in a blissful haze of idealization. Yet without warning, your hopes for the future may be abruptly and inexplicably dashed. Normally, a relationship progresses from the romantic “ideal” stage into the “ordeal” period when couples struggle with ambivalence and conflicts. If that ends the relationship, at least you have an understanding of why it didn’t work and perhaps you agree.

If couples can communicate and accommodate each others’ needs and personalities, they get to the “real deal—a solid relationship based on mutual understanding and acceptance. This takes two people compatible and committed to making the relationship work. They must also have enough self-esteem and autonomy to give without feeling unappreciated or robbed and to receive without feeling unworthy or smothered.

Ghosted While Dating

In dating, often there is less accountability, depending upon various factors: The way you met (a chat room or hookup app), the individual’s maturity and values, the length of the relationship, and the frequency of face-to-face contact. Technology promotes less emotional involvement. If, instead, you met through mutual friends, there’s more incentive to be on your good behavior or your friends will hear about.

Ghosting might start with an unanswered text or call or long silences between replies until there are none. Here are eight reasons why a person might ghost instead of communicating directly:

  1. They’re chicken. People who don’t handle conflict well fear confrontation. They expect drama and criticism and want to avoid a breakup conversation. They may rationalize to themselves that they’re sparing your feelings by not admitting that they no longer want to continue the relationship. However, leaving without a word, let alone closure, is more cruel and painful.
  2. They’re avoidant. Ghosts are more likely to have intimacy problems, which explains why they leave a relationship that’s getting close. They’re emotionally unavailable and may have an avoidant attachment style.
  3. They’re ashamed. People with low self-esteem want to avoid criticism and the shame they anticipate if you get to know them better—one reason for avoiding intimacy. They also expect to feel shame for hurting you. Their lack of boundaries makes them feel responsible for your feelings, though the reverse is true. They’re accountable for how they communicate, but not for your reaction. If they want to end a relationship, you’re entitled to an honest explanation. Thus, in trying to avoid false responsibility, they err by not taking responsibility for their own behavior, causing you the unnecessary pain they were trying to avoid.
  4. They’re busy. When you’re not exclusive and acknowledge that dating someone else is okay, your partner may assume the relationship is casual. While dating other people, you and/or your messages might have been overlooked or forgotten. Your date may have already moved on or just not made time to respond. When later realizing this, he or she is too embarrassed to reply and rationalizes that your “thing” wasn’t serious in the first place.
  5. They’re game-players. To some daters, particularly narcissists, relationships are solely a means to satisfy their egos and sexual needs. They’re not interested in a commitment or concerned with your feelings, though they may feign they are when they’re seducing you. They’re players, and to them, relationships are a game. They’re not emotionally involved and can act callously once they’re no longer interested, especially if you express needs or expectations.
  6. They’re depressed or overwhelmed. Some people can hide depression for a while. The ghost might be too depressed to continue and not want to reveal what’s really going on in his or her life. There may be other life events you don’t know about that take precedence, like a job loss, a personal or family illness, or an emergency.
  7. They’re seeking safety. If you’ve raged in the past or are violent or verbally abusive, you may be ghosted in self-protection.
  8. They’re setting a boundary. If you’ve annoyed and smothered your friend with frequent texts or calls, especially if they’ve asked you not to, then their silence is sending a message, because you’ve ignored their boundaries. You likely have an anxious attachment style and are attracted to people with avoidant styles. See: “Breaking the Cycle of Abandonment.”

What to Do if You’ve Been Ghosted

If you’ve been ghosted, the main thing to realize is that in the vast majority of cases, ghosting behavior reflects on the other person, not you. It’s time to let go. Here are some dos and don’ts to follow:

Face reality.

The other person has decided to move on for whatever reason. Accepting that is more important than knowing why. The ghost is also demonstrating that he or she doesn't respect your feelings and lacks the essential communication and conflict-resolution skills that make relationships work. Your feelings aside, consider whether you really want a relationship with this individual.

Allow your feelings.

Realize that you can’t figure out the ghost’s motives in your head. Let go of obsessive thoughts, and allow yourself to feel both sadness and anger, without falling into shame. Give yourself time to grieve. Open your heart to yourself with extra doses of self-love―all you wanted from the other person.

Avoid self-blame.

Deal with ghosting in a healthy way. Rejection can be painful, but you don’t have to pile on unnecessary suffering. Don’t blame yourself or allow someone else’s bad behavior to diminish your self-esteem. Even if the ghost believes you weren’t what he or she was looking for, that doesn’t mean you’re undesirable to someone else. You cannot make anyone love you. You simply might not have been a good match. He or she is not your last hope for a partner!

Don't try to make contact.

If you’re tempted to write or call, think about how the conversation will go, how you will feel, and whether you would even get a truthful answer from the person. Often, people ending a relationship won’t be honest about the reasons or may not even be able to articulate them, because they’re just going with their gut feelings. Men tend to do this more than women, who analyze and ruminate more. In addition, the odds are you’ll be rejected a second time. Would that hurt more? To heal faster, experts advise no contact after a breakup, including all social media. Read more tips on how to recover.

If you find it hard to let go and find yourself pursuing a conversation, resist any temptation to lure your ghost back. You may later regret it. Instead, communicate that his or her behavior was hurtful and unacceptable. In other words, be resolved that you’re now doing the rejecting. Then, move on. Beware that if you’re still hurting and vulnerable, contact may prolong your grief. If you don’t feel strong, such a conversation may not help you let go. Also, remember that anger isn’t always a strength. It may be a temporary stage of grief, followed by missing the person more.

Evaluate Your Boundaries.

You gave your heart to someone untrustworthy. It’s wise to evaluate your boundaries when dating. Were you easily seduced? Were you too anxious to fall in love with someone you didn’t know well? Read “To Trust or Mistrust? Do You Trust Too Much or Too Little?”

Don’t isolate yourself.

Get back into life, and plan activities with friends. You may need a break from dating for a while, but socialize and do other things that you enjoy. Don’t allow yourself to fall into depression, which is distinct from mourning.

If you still have trouble letting go, there may be other issues involved, which are described in Why Can't I Get Over My Ex?

© 2019 Darlene Lancer