And why you should stop ghosting others
Intentionally ignoring a person without an explanation is one of the most passive aggressive forms of human behavior there is – it denotes a certain disdain for the person being ignored. It suggests a weakness of character and is a red flag that indicates an unresolved issue on behalf of the “ghoster.”
Ghosting is a becoming a growing communication phenomenon. Around 50 percent of men and women have experienced ghosting, with a large number carrying out the act. Even celebrities are getting involved – Anna Kendrick has been totally upfront about her ghosting: “I ghost everybody all the time. I’m the queen of the French exit.” According to the New York Times, ghosting is “The act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone you are dating but no longer wish to date.” In its way, ghosting is a form of rejection without an explanation – no text, no call, no email, nada. It’s also a way for the ghoster to avoid accountability while hoping you get the hint.
But ghosting is not new—there have always been variations of ghosting in the past: no return letter, someone crossing the street or pretending they don’t know you (just happened to a friend of mine), professional feuds, or the dreaded cold shoulder at a dinner party. In the past (at least pre-90s) you couldn’t ignore someone’s phone call because you didn’t know who was calling – you had to confront the person or hang up. Compare that to our tech-savvy, smartphone culture, where you now have the power to block (virtually erase) someone – ghosting has become incredibly easy to get away with, because there’s no repercussions for the ghoster. Anna Sale, host and managing editor of the WNYC podcast “Death, Sex & Money,” believes that social media and technology assist in the avoidance of difficult conversations. More than that, our phones have become our own personal firewall against complex, real life relationships.
“People don’t hold themselves accountable anymore because they can hide behind their phones.” – Justine Bylo
Why do people vanish without saying a word?
There are many reasons people ghost each other. Often it’s because the ghoster would rather avoid any confrontation, for fear that telling the truth will hurt the other person’s feelings. Duh! This avoidance tactic allows someone to dodge the responsibility of having to explain, in an uncomfortable conversation, that they’re just not that into you. I’ve confronted friends I know who participate in ghosting to better understand why they do it, and I’ve been given similar responses. A young Frenchman I know explained that he will ghost a girl if she is being pushy, needy, or if he is too distracted (with his social life or work) to deal with her. He also admitted to being somewhat lazy with his replies.
“If you disappear completely, you never have to deal with knowing someone is mad at you and being the bad guy,” – Jenny Mollen
I’ve also read comments online from ghosters who believe that no communication at all will make the problem go away, but of course it never does. Some ghosters have reported “being confused with their feelings” and need time to work things out. Then why not just tell the person? “I need some time to work this out.” The internet is riddled with theories concerning ghosting. I’ve even read that the ambiguous nature of ghosting could be viewed as an indecisive action, so to leave possibilities open for future connections. But I’m not really sold on this – considering ghosting is the act of completely ignoring someone. So why would you then want to reconnect with that person?
So why does ghosting hurt so much?
This all depends on the ghosted. If you have a strong sense of character and a healthy self-esteem, then you’re going to be more resilient to this kind of behavior. But the emotional effects can be devastating for someone with lower self-esteem – particularly if you’re someone who is sensitive and have developed feelings for that person. But no matter who you are – ghosting hurts because there’s no sense of closure. When most relationships nosedive, they usually end with a painful moral lesson – a blessing in disguise, a gift wrapped turd (not like Shitexpress, yes you can actually send a piece of shit to someone … please don’t). When my ex broke up with me in my twenties, she met me for coffee, we talked, held hands and cried. We both came to an acceptance that we had outgrown each other and handled the separation in a mature, compassionate way. But when you leave someone hanging without closure, then there is no life lesson. There is no closure.
Ghosting is also painful because it is usually someone you have made an emotional or meaningful connection with (at least you thought so at the time) or someone that you believe cares about you. It’s no wonder their sudden indifference can leave you feeling confused, depressed and hurt. In truth, it can leave you emotionally drained. What remains is a hole – an insecurity where there should be an answer. You are left questioning yourself: What did I do wrong? Did I offend them? Was it something I said? Was it my appearance? Are they OK? All these worries and self-doubt can start to circle until you are in a desperate state of anxiety. On top of that, it is believed that social rejection activates pathways to the brain that correlate with physical pain. So it’s not surprising that the disregarded can have such conflicting emotional reactions. I know people who have even suffered post-ghosting depression after dating someone who spontaneously disappeared.
“Communication represents an essential and very important human need as well as a basic human right. The right to communication should be considered in the framework of the freedom of expression.” – Sen A. Fulya
“Who ya gonna call?” No one. Here are my top ghost-busting approaches when dealing with a ghost:
- Don’t text them your thesis. When someone starts ignoring you, there is a strong desire to allow your emotions to take control. You will want to affirm your position, demand respect, assert yourself. Don’t! The more texts you send the bigger the hole you dig. Keep it short and light, something like: Hey, hope you haven’t been abducted by aliens? Enjoy your weekend. 🙂 Then leave them alone and wait for them to respond. It might take days but you must remain diligent.
- Don’t assume you know what’s going on, because you don’t. When my recent date first dropped off the map, my mind jumped to all kinds of conclusions, which might or might not have been true. It’s important to remember – what you don’t know you don’t know, the rest is your imagination. I say this because if you do resume contact again, you don’t want false assumptions distorting your opinion of that person. They might have ghosted you for a legitimate reason – had their phone stolen, been mugged, a death in the family, anything. So just wait it out and …
- Practice the fine art of patience. Practicing patience is really hard, especially when someone is ghosting you. But practice it you must. In the words of Master Yoda, “Patience, patience, you must learn patience.” Some methods that have worked for me are: meditation, music, reading, exercise, hobbies. In short, keep yourself busy with your own life, just as they are busy with theirs.
- You don’t really know them yet. You’ve probably only recently started dating and you really won’t know them for at least a few months. Withhold judgement and try and resist splitting (when we see someone as either evil or perfect) or forming too many opinions. That being said, if they’re ghosting without a reasonable explanation, then it says a lot about their character.
- If you met on a dating app, sorry but that’s ghost turf. Dating apps are shopping carts where people add and remove other people. If you’ve ever used an app like Tinder you’ll know what I mean. The entire swiping back and forth of profiles means there are no social consequences when you disappear. And considering it happens all the time to everyone, people have become desensitized to it. Being ghosted on dating apps unfortunately is the lie of the land, so try not to take it personally.
- Ghosting comes down to content of character. If someone is emotionally immature or lacks the self-esteem required to effectively communicate their feelings, then maybe they’re not worth your time. In fact, perhaps they’ve just done you a favor.
Modern relationships are challenging to navigate at the best of times. But as human beings I believe we have an obligation to communicate as honestly as possible with people. It certainly isn’t always easy to scoop up the courage to tell someone the cold hard truth, especially if you’ve been burned in the past. But as Gloria Steinem once said: “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” So whatever your fears with communication might be, you have a choice in how to respond. But respond you must. Because no matter how you try and spin it, ghosting is downright disrespectful. We are social beings and communication is an essential human need. When you deny someone of that, you are denying them their dignity and their right to be heard. Like Paul Colaianni, from his wonderful podcast ‘The Overwhelmed Brain’ says: “You have the choice to show up as your authentic self.”