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What Is Ghosting, and How to Respond to It

What Is Ghosting, and How to Respond to It

So you've been pursuing a new romantic relationship, and things have been going well so far? Great! Whether you met them through mutual social connections, found them online or ran into them on the street and exchanged numbers, a new relationship - whether personal, romantic or professional - it’s always great to make a new connection. 

However, sometimes out of the blue, this other person ceases all contact with you. Texts go unanswered. Calls aren't returned. If you're connected on social media, your DMs are left on read. What happened, and what did you do to deserve this kind of emotional cruelty? 

If this experience sounds familiar, you may be a victim of a trend called "ghosting." 

Psychology Today defines ghosting as “abruptly ending communication with someone without explanation,” a situation in which the person you'd been dating vanishes into thin air (hence the spooky name). Though the term ghosting is mainly used in the context of romantic relationships, it can also apply to other personal relationships, including those at work. 

Either way, it’s not only a demonstration of a lack of communication skills, but sometimes downright rude. Unfortunately, having a name associated with this kind of behavior doesn't make it any easier to process. 

In this article, we'll take a look at what ghosting means and how to avoid it, how to respond to ghosting, and what to do if you've been ghosted.

Ghosting – What It Means and How to Avoid the Emotional Discomfort 

What is ghosting someone? Though people have dropped off the radar long before this term was officially coined, the rise of dating apps and textual communication has made disappearing from someone's life without any further contact easier to do than ever before, and is more prevalent than ever over the last decade. 

There are many articles on the concept, and the term ghosting was officially added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2017. Since then, ghosting has become a widely used phrase throughout pop culture. 

In a survey on ghosting, 30% of participants reported being ghosted by a friend or romantic partner. The trend of ghosting has even extended to the workplace, with workers reporting they've blown off interviews and even quit jobs by simply not showing up to the office. That sure is one way to avoid confrontation at the office!

While there are no hard, fast indicators that can absolutely determine whether or not a person will ghost you, research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships did glean some interesting insights. 

In the study, participants were divided into two groups - those who believe in destiny when it comes to a relationship and those who think relationships take work. Interestingly, the group that believed in relationships as something that fate controls were more likely to say that ghosting was acceptable behavior. 

However, those who viewed relationships as something to work and grow at were more likely to say that ghosting was not an okay method for ending a relationship. So, before getting serious with someone in the future, you might be able to get a sense of their position on ghosting by asking them whether or not they believe relationships are determined by fate or hard work in an early conversation. Otherwise, it could lead the door open to some difficult emotions, and even some tears. 

Can Ghosting Apply to Texting?

One of the most common forms of ghosting occurs when a romantic partner or friend decides to stop texting back. 

what does it mean to ghost someone
(ljubaphoto / Getty)

While it's not necessarily as troubling to have someone you've matched with on a dating app suddenly stop communicating after a few text exchanges, not receiving communication from someone you have a more established relationship with can be distressing, and even lead to low self esteem or severely hurt feelings. It doesn’t take much to show a little bit of basic respect, after all. 

Why Do People Ghost Others? 

Though this can be hard to believe when you're the one being ghosted, the reason people ghost usually has nothing to do with the person they're ghosting. 

The person doing the ghosting may decide that cutting off further chats is easier for them to do. Or, they may feel that the emotional discomfort of telling someone that they're no longer interested in is not something they want to experience. 

In other words, instead of telling the ghosted person that this is the case, they decide to take the easy way out and ghost.

At the same time, at least in the context of dating apps, decision fatigue often comes into play. The plethora of options available can make the act of ghosting feel insignificant to one person or the other. With so many other fish in the sea, what's the big deal about moving on to the next one without a proper debrief, right? 

However, though the ghost may have succeeded in avoiding a potentially uncomfortable situation, avoiding conversations about what they're looking for in a relationship and being able to communicate this clearly to others is a necessary skill when it comes to dating – one that serial ghosters miss out on cultivating. Why make another person feel bad when you can quickly and easily give them a little bit of notice?

How to Respond to Ghosting in Personal Relationships & Romantic Relationships 

Being ghosted often comes with a range of emotional responses by the person it's happening to. If the relationship was relatively new – a new match on a dating app or a first date, for example - it can seem like an annoyance more than anything. For those who experience ghosting from someone they've had a more long-term relationship with, initial reactions can start with worry, then quickly turn to anger and despair. 

It can be tempting to try and get a response out of your ghoster once you realize what's happening. But once a person has decided to end a relationship this way, trying to get a rise or response out of them through text messages, voicemails or even an in-person ambush isn't likely going to end well. 

Instead, more people feel that choosing to focus on what you can control in this situation – namely, how you move on from here, can make all the difference when it comes to getting over your ghost. It certainly is less painful, and can generally make things easier to accept.

If you don't feel you can move on without having the last word, it's okay to send a text that gives you the closure you did not receive from the person who ghosted you. Something that communicates you're no longer interested in this relationship, that you want to be with someone who values your time and that the door is no longer open for communication between the two of you in the future are strong components to include. 

You will likely not get a response from the person ghosting, but sending a response like this puts the power and decision back in your hands. 

You've Been Ghosted...Now What?

Having someone remove us from their lives by doing nothing inevitably makes us want to do something about it. But instead of trying to sway the ghoster's decision or get closure out of them through a text or phone call, your best move after being ghosted is to focus on moving on from the relationship. 

Not sure where to start? Here are a few tips to consider.

Don't blame yourself 

It's tempting to look back on your text messages, photos and social media interactions and try to identify where it all went wrong. Was there something you could have done differently that would have made them stay? 

what is ghosting someone
(Kilito Chan / Getty)

Feeling this way is a perfectly normal reaction to have. After all, you've been left without any answers or closure – so piecing things together by replaying certain moments of your relationship and trying to analyze them may seem like a perfectly good way to spend your time. 

This can be hard to step away from, but knowing that your ghoster's reaction is more about how they feel about themselves than about you can be a starting point. Do not blame yourself for getting ghosted. 

Spend time with friends or family 

Spending time with the people in your life who appreciate you and see you for the terrific person you are can help start to heal the wound ghosting leaves. Particularly where friends are concerned, spending time with others who have chosen to keep you as a valuable part of their life can be validating after a ghosting experience and can start to help you see all the good qualities you possess in a new light. 

Avoid memories of your ghost

Depending on how much time the two of you spent together, this can be a difficult task to take on. However, the age-old saying 'out of sight, out of mind' can go a long way in moving on from being ghosted. 

If you're still connected with this person on social media, consider removing or, at the very least, muting them. Hide or delete photos of the two of you from your phone. While there are likely to be still things that remind you of your ghost, controlling what you can as far as their visibility in your life can go a long way. 

Evaluate what you truly want in your next relationship 

Experiencing things you don't want in a relationship (read: lack of accountability and communication) is a great way to determine what's really important to you when you think about meeting someone new. You may not be ready to move on and get back out there right away – and that's perfectly okay.

While you're taking the time to heal and recharge, consider making a list of important attributes in your next relationship to help you get clear on what you truly want in a partner. Making a list of questions to ask in your new relationship can help you identify the right person for you sooner than later in the process. 

Is Ghosting Ever Okay?

In one well-known Reddit thread, one woman's story of ghosting her boyfriend of five years was praised by Reddit users. After finding her boyfriend asleep in bed with another woman, she slipped out of his apartment, packed up her things, changed her job, deleted her social media and effectively disappeared from his radar forever.

While this example is extreme, ghosting someone who has wronged you in a way that does not deserve closure (read: finding out the person you've been dating is married or has a family, or walking away from an abusive relationship) have been deemed by most as acceptable reasons for ending a relationship by ghosting. 

In Conclusion

Ghosting someone has become a popular way for people to end relationships with one another, mainly due to the nature of online dating, with most of our communication taking place virtually through text. 

However, just because something has become a shared experience doesn't mean it's the right way to end a relationship. Ghosting is hard for the person it's happening to and doesn't do any favors for the person ghosting in the long run, either. 

Your best defense against ghosting is being able to recognize that someone who would choose to end communication with you through ghosting is not someone who deserves to be with you in the long run -- and learning how to move on. You’re gonna get through this!

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