What is ghosting?
- Ghosting is when a potential or current romantic partner cuts off contact without any warning
- Though common in this age of social media and internet dating, it can cause a lot of distress and even leave the “ghosted” person with some serious self-esteem problems
- Here are some tips on why people ghost, why it can be so painful, and how to move past it
If you’ve ever grown close to someone, and really started to think you’ve fallen for them, only for them to vanish without warning – well, you’ve just been ghosted.
Ghosting is a lot more painful if you’ve dated someone for longer. Silence after a first date is rude, but it doesn’t typically lead to heartbreak. When someone vanishes without explanation after a longer relationship, though, it can cause real and lasting distress.
In many ways, social media and online dating have made this problem far more acute. Cutting contact is much easier when you’re behind a screen – and ignoring someone’s messages can be much more appealing than a face-to-face break-up should you decide someone isn’t right for you.
But the feelings that come from being ghosted are nothing new. It’s typically a mixture of age-old sensations like betrayal, rejection and lack of closure, which can combine to really haunt you.
In fact, one of the first people to use the term “ghosting” was Shakespeare. He used “ghost” as a verb – but literally, to mean “haunting.” In Antony and Cleopatra, Pompey notes that “the good Brutus” is being “ghosted” by Julius Caesar, the friend and leader that Brutus murdered. Unlike other Shakespeare plays, this ghost isn’t an actual character – but the guilt still torments Brutus.
In its modern sense, though, “ghosting” didn’t arrive in dictionaries until 2017. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as: “the act or practice of abruptly cutting off all contact with someone (such as a former romantic partner) by no longer accepting or responding to phone calls, instant messages, etc.”
As the word soared in internet searches, Merriam-Webster even wrote an article about why it’s a “Word We’re Watching” – and if you’ve been ghosted, you’re not alone. Plenty of people have been looking for answers about this phenomenon over the past few years. In 2018, the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships published a study of 1,300 people, which found that a quarter had been ghosted, and one fifth had ghosted someone else.
Why do people ghost?
The main reason why people ghost is because they’re avoiding confrontation. Breaking up is never particularly fun, and ghosting lets you bypass plenty of difficult or awkward conversations.
Online dating, which can bring together people from completely different friendship groups and neighbourhoods, makes it infinitely easier to avoid any consequences from ghosting someone – you don’t have to deal with bumping into them.
Interestingly, one study found the people who believe in fate are more likely to think ghosting is acceptable. In the study group, those who had faith in destiny were 60% more likely to say that ghosting is fine, compared to people who didn’t believe in destiny and who felt that “relationships take work to grow.”
Commenting on this study, Live Science writer Bahar Gholipour added: “Ghosting is most similar to the avoidance and the mediated communication strategies. These types of strategies are associated with having an avoidant attachment style, which is a tendency to avoid emotional closeness in relationships.”
“The people who do not like to have emotional closeness, they’re probably more likely to ghost,” said Tara Collins, an associate psychology professor at Winthrop University.
The speed of online dating can also generate a ghosting mindset. Dropping someone might not seem such a big deal when it’s so easy to move on and find someone new. And this ease can also make relationships feel shallower, which may make a ‘ghoster’ think their actions aren’t that bad at all. However, as anyone who’s been ghosted will know, the experience can really knock your self-esteem.
Why does it hurt so much?
When it comes to rejection, it’s human nature to scrutinise ourselves and ask what we’ve done wrong. In the case of ghosting, you can really end up questioning whether you’ve failed at maintaining the relationship.
Speaking to Health.com in 2020, human behavioural expert Karen Ruskin said that ghosting makes people feel dismissed. “It makes them feel like garbage—and when I say garbage, I mean literal garbage like they feel like they’ve been thrown away,” she said. “They’ve been discarded.”
Being dropped so suddenly can leave people feeling worthless, insecure and anxious. It’s very common to start blaming yourself.
But it’s best to bear in mind that the ghoster may well be acting out as a result of their own insecurities, especially about abandonment. According to Live Science, “When being ghosted, people often take it to reflect on themselves — their own wrong behavior, imperfections and flaws. But ghosting actually reveals more about the personality of the ghoster than the ghostee.”
What’s more, painful though it may be, being ghosted sooner rather than later is preferable. “If someone is going to ghost, it’s better that you know now. Better now than two weeks later or a month later or a year later,” Ruskin noted.
If you’re struggling with the emotional fallout of ghosting, Healthline advises that you surround yourself with trusted friends and family (and don’t be afraid to seek therapy or counselling if you need help with coping strategies). You can re-boost your self-confidence by building on the supportive and healthy relationships in your life, particularly your friendships.
Healthline also recommends that, to lessen your chances of being ghosted, you set clear boundaries whenever you’re dating someone.
“Just want a fling? Interested in something more? Expect them to check in every day? Week? Month? Honesty and transparency can help you and the other person make sure no lines are crossed unknowingly,” Healthline suggests.
When it comes to recovering from ghosting, though, it can take a while to build resilience – and that’s okay. “Tough as it is, the healthiest thing is to avoid self-blame, cultivate the self-love you deserve, and keep it moving,” wrote Samantha Vincenty for the Oprah Mag.
And if you’re still fed up after being ghosted, a good movie, TV show or book about the topic might help to shake the blues. The 2013 movie HER is about a lonely man (played by Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with a robot and even begins a relationship with her – only to be completely ghosted. It turns out she’s involved with 641 other people, raising some interesting questions about the ways we experience love and connection. For more suggestions, check out Dazed Digital’s favourite movies on this topic.