Ghosting: The Romantic Relationship Disappearing Act

Ghosting: The Romantic Relationship Disappearing Act

If ghosts are not real, then why do I keep getting ghosted? Previously on this blog we have discussed ghosting, which has often been defined as a verb that involves ending a romantic relationship by abruptly cutting off all contact and ignoring any communication attempts from the former partner. Although ending a relationship abruptly certainly is not a new phenomenon, doing so with the assistance of technology (i.e., social media) certainly is (e.g, LeFebvre et al., 2019; Safronova, 2015). Ghosting began to gain notoriety in the mid-2000s and has quickly become one of the main ways emerging adults end relationships. Although vanishing on someone after a few dates may be harsh and have detrimental impacts, this approach is common as 25.3% of 554 participants reported they had been ghosted by a romantic partner and 21.7% confessed to previously ghosting a romantic partner (Freedman et al., 2019).

Why Do People Ghost?

Ghosting has become such a hot topic that research has been done to find out why people choose this route in terminating relationships. For those who did the ghosting, inquiring minds want to know why ghosting was the route they took to end a relationship. For those who were ghosted, curiosity sparked questions about why they believe they were ghosted. LeFebvre et al. (2019) conducted a qualitative study that asked emerging adults about their reasons for ghosting found that some of the main reasons are:

  • Convenience. Participants who candidly admitted to having ghosted someone said that it was because of things such as convenience and avoidance. The majority of participants reported that they felt it was more convenient to ghost than try to communicate their worries and cordially dissolve the relationship. Participants also reported that using ghosting as a break-up strategy is the best way to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.
  • Attraction. This reason refers to the way an individual selects a partner based on physical, emotional, and intellectual appeal. Online dating applications provide greater information and delay the initial face-to-face (FtF) interaction, which has impacted the ghosting culture. Ghosters reported that the delayed FtF interaction led their immediate attraction to gradually decrease over time due to a lack of investment or boredom.
  • Negatively Valanced Interaction. The ghoster expressed that when they experienced negative interactions with the non-initiator of the relationship this produced the tendency for withdrawal and eventually, ghosting. Participants reported that ghosting provided them with a way to avoid having more negative interactions with the non-initiator.
  • Relationship State. This reason refers to the type of relationship (e.g. acquaintance, friend, or romantic partner) and length (e.g. time spent together). Participants reported that they considered the time investment and involvement in the relationship before ghosting. For example, some participants reported that a brief period of communication with the non-initiator is not a significant amount of time to warrant a formal break-up conversation and thus, ghosting was the viable option. For other participants, when the relationship shifted from acquaintance to romantic partner, to avoid having the define the relationship conversation, they chose to ghost.
  • Safety. The last reason involves providing the ghoster with a practical way to ensure safety. Ghosters reported that they had a fear that if they had the break-up conversation FtF it would lead to having to endure intense anger and abusive language. Participants reported that ceasing communication through technological media provided the feeling of safety they needed to end the relationship.

The Ghost That Seems to Linger

Ghosting has been compared to ostracism, where individuals are isolated, ignored, and given the silent treatment when an attempt to communicate is made. Individuals who experience ostracism often report feeling emotional pain, anger, and sadness as their fundamental human needs are being threatened (Freedman et al., 2019). If you have ever been ghosted, you may find yourself feeling the same emotions as people who have been ostracized. You may find yourself feeling confused, abandoned, and sad as you struggle to comprehend the abrupt ending to a relationship that was just beginning. Relationship loss has been known to be associated with feelings of depression, feelings of anxiety, and feelings of guilt (Boss, 2016). Many who have experienced the sting of being ghosted have placed the blame on themselves as they asked questions like “what’s wrong with me” or “what did I do to make this person stop talking to me” (LeFebvre et al., 2019). The truth is nothing is wrong with you. No one deserves to be ghosted. You deserve to be in a relationship where your partner communicates effectively and honestly with you. You deserve to be loved and cherished.

How to Ensure I am NOT the Ghoster?

Communicate honestly what your feelings are when you want to bring a relationship to an end. It is better for both parties if everyone is honest. Unless you ghost for your own personal safety, be caring and tell the person how you truly feel. Your consideration and respect for others’ feelings will be greatly appreciated. It is fine to change your mind about your initial feelings. It is also fine to just simply not be interested in someone. However, it is not fair for anyone involved if someone is left hanging without any explanation. And it is not fair to deprive yourself of what could be a special relationship before it even has a chance to blossom. Give the relationship a fair chance and end the relationship with a fair conclusion.

How to Cope After Being Ghosted?

If you have been deeply hurt by being ghosted, you will need time to process and heal from that experience. You may find yourself months later still wondering what could have been or how you can gain closure from this relationship. This is called an ambiguous loss. Did you know that ambiguous loss has been described as the most taxing and confusing type of loss? You need time to acknowledge the loss and pain. In a recent study by LeFebvre and Fan (2020), individuals who had experienced ghosting were interviewed to discover the strategies they used to navigate their post-ghosting experience. Some of the top strategies participants in this study reported are:

  • Future-focused. This was the top strategy reported by participants who had experienced being ghosted. This strategy involves accepting the changes that have occurred due to the ghosting experience and being ready to move forward with a new experience. For some participants, this was pursuing a new partner, and for others, this was initiating a new relationship that was not romantic.
  • Positive Self-focus. Several participants reported that they focused on self-encouragement that included employing a positive focus when processing their thoughts and emotions about being ghosted. For example, one participant reported that they focused on challenging their blaming thoughts by viewing themselves as important and deserving of having someone who wants to invest in them. While other participants sought professional and personal assistance to help them process and understand what happened. Finding a positive self-focus and processing your experience of being ghosted may require seeing a therapist, (insert link to psychology today) as many participants in this study reported that therapy was their main strategy for healing.
  • Distraction. Some participants reported that it was helpful to find a way to move their attention to anything else or choosing to ignore reality. We all need a break from time to time. It is important to know when you are taking a break or continuously running from your problems. Taking a break can include listening to music, exercising, and finding that binge-worthy show on Netflix.

Every single one of us has experienced pain, heartache, and confusion on this journey through life. We have all wondered if the pain will ever end. We have all struggled to find closure after a relationship comes to an end. We all have a resiliency story to share. Being ghosted will not break you. You can be resilient. Take time for yourself, heal, and process what you want your next steps to be in this challenging dating world. You can learn to recognize signs of commitment in your partner and build a relationship that will last.


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