Ghosting: Today’s Dating Phenomenon

Tell me if this sounds familiar…

You meet someone. You talk, you text, you Snapchat. Maybe you even go out.

Everything seems great, this person seems to be unlike the other people you’ve met (boring, rude, obviously not a good fit for you, etc). You feel excited and hopeful. And why wouldn’t you feel that way? They are clearly giving you vibes that they are hopeful and excited about you too!

And then one day…


Nothing. No more texts, tags, snaps, nothing.

Before you start thinking you’ve gone crazy and created this person in your head, like that imaginary friend you had as a kid, it’s important to remind yourself that this happens. A lot. So much so in fact, that this phenomenon has been given an official name: “ghosting.”

According to a study by Elle magazine, 50% of men and women had experienced being “ghosted” – yes, BOTH men and women.

If you google the definition of ghosting, here’s what comes up: “the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.”

The purpose of ghosting? According to the wise ones at Urban Dictionary, ghosting is done in “hopes that the ghostee will just ‘get the hint’ and leave the subject alone, as opposed to the subject simply telling them he/she is no longer interested.”

Romantic interests are not the only ones who ghost – “friends” or potential friends ghost too. Ghosting can take different forms. There is immediate ghosting, where contact is cut off immediately, or the more gradual form, where the “ghoster” (“ghost”?) cancels plans, decreases their communication with you, etc.

Basically, ghosting is confusing because most of the time, the other person seems to be as into you as you are into them and you are left feeling one or more emotions: confused, angry, embarrassed, shamed, etc.

So, why do people ghost?

There are many reasons, but here are two that come from my own observations and research:

1) Shame, or the feeling/belief that we are unlovable. This can manifest in different ways:

a) No matter how self-assured and confident we are in ourselves, others’ interest in us tends to validate our desirability. We feel increasingly more special and validated when the object of our desire returns the interest. However, this does not always happen. In order to avoid feeling unwanted and unlovable, it’s nice to have people in the background that can validate our desirability through their interest in us. Writer Heidi Priebe says that we often date people we only “kind of like” to distract ourselves from the fact that the one we really like hasn’t returned the interest, or we want to keep our options open for when our current relationship dies, so we don’t have to experience the feeling of being undesired.

b) Some people seem to see “ghosting” someone as a kinder way of ending a relationship than actually verbally ending it. I’ll never forget breaking up with my very first boyfriend when I was in high school. For me, the Lifelong People Pleaser, ending the relationship was TORTURE because I had internalized that being “nice” to others meant never doing anything that may remotely cause them pain or discomfort. Here’s what would happen: I would start the break-up conversation, he would express pain or discomfort, and I would say, “Never mind! Let’s not break up!” (Why he wanted to continue dating me after two or three of these conversations, I have no idea!) Eventually, after much support from friends and family, I mustered up the courage to call him one night and end it for good. While I was not proud of ending it over the phone, and for being too chicken to do it in person, I can empathize with the “ghosters.” Ending things sucks, no matter how, when, or why you do it, because you know the other person will not be happy. And most of us do not like to make others unhappy. (If we do, there is usually something wrong but that’s another story.) It’s important to remember that ghosting usually doesn’t make people feel good either. At least with a clear ending, both parties can move on, and while there still might be difficult emotions regarding the end of the relationship, the chances for resolution and understanding (not to mention, less negative feelings towards the break-up initiator) are greater.

2) Self-protection

Why do we self-protect? Because we’ve been down the road of broken relationships before and it sucks. We don’t want to experience it again. The irony, though, is that we do want to be in a relationship again. We have one foot in the door, and one foot out, as Priebe says. We’re putting ourselves into a self-defeating pattern of dating: protecting ourselves, but not getting the intimacy and closeness we want.

Priebe says, that when we are in a committed dating relationship, we “put all [our] eggs in [that] one basket.” When these relationships end, we feel “burned. So the next time, [we] make a point to distribute [our eggs] evenly. [We’re] so worried about not getting [our] own heart broken that [we] don’t really care whose [we] break along the way.”

There are no guarantees in dating. Your relationship will either result in a long-term commitment or it will end. This is scary! Priebe writes: “No matter how happy we are with somebody and how invested it seems like they are, we never know when the other shoe might drop…We are constantly at risk of being one-upped and there’s no way to shelter ourselves from it other than to prepare for it.”

I want to end this relationship, but I don’t want to have that conversation…

So, what do you do when you’d like to end the relationship in a thoughtful way, but ghosting would be easier? Things to consider:

1) Do you want to end things or do you want to keep dating this person? Slow down and identify how you feel about the person. Priebe suggests that we often take things too far in a non-committed relationship “before we decide how we feel.” We can focus our time and energy not only on getting to know the person, but also on getting to know how we feel about that person.

2) Empathize. Are you rationalizing your decision to “ghost” by telling yourself, “this is just the way it is now” in the world of dating? Challenge yourself to consider how you would feel if you were ghosted.

3) Consider your values, and how you believe in treating people. Priebe writes: “We are desensitized to the ways in which we’re using other people, under the guise of ‘Well, that’s just how it works.’” This may be in large part how the culture of dating operates, but is it how you specifically want to operate?

4) Identify your purpose. What are you looking for? A casual hook-up? A long-term relationship? Consider how you’re going about getting what you want.

5) Consider your own sense of shame. Are you looking to fill a void with a relationship? Do you feel that you are nothing if you’re not in a relationship or that something is fundamentally wrong with you because all of your friends are in relationships? Consider where these thoughts and feelings come from. Are others giving you these messages? Or maybe you’re afraid to continue in your awesome relationship because you believe that once the person you’re dating really gets to know you, they’ll reject you. Can you identify what makes you who you are, your strengths as an individual, what makes YOU worthwhile all on your own? Can you identify those negative thought patterns that occur when you do face rejection and how you internalize them?

If you’re worried about making the other person feel bad, acknowledge that your feelings about the other person and your relationship are valid and that you have them for a reason. Is that guy you’re talking to perfectly nice but something about him gives you the creeps? Or the girl you’ve gone out with a couple of times seems to have everything you’re looking for but you just don’t feel the chemistry? These feelings are okay! There are ways you can let people down gently (without ghosting) that respects them, and enables you to end the relationship without violating your conscience. If you still feel guilty for ending it, consider why and what other times in your life you experienced this sense of guilt.

6) Are you self-protecting? What are you protecting yourself from? Maybe that last break-up didn’t go so well and you just don’t want to deal with that again. The scary thing about relationships is that there is always risk involved (even after you say, “I do”)! That shouldn’t be news to anyone, including the person you want to end your relationship with. It’s important for all parties involved to have a realistic outlook on relationships (that there are two outcomes: ending or long-term commitment), and a healthy, positive view of themselves as individuals. Give yourself some positive affirmations! (“I’m ending this relationship because I’m an honest person who does not see this going anywhere, and I don’t want to waste his/her time.”) Care for yourself ahead of your difficult conversation with the person by taking some deep breaths, doing something relaxing or that you enjoy, and/or enlisting the support of a friend. Repeat these positive affirmations and self-care after your difficult conversation. Remember: most likely, the person will prefer you to verbally end the relationship than ghost them.

 Am I being ghosted right now???

What do you do when you think you’re being ghosted and how do you respond?

1)   Make sure they’re actually ghosting you. We all have different response rates/times to different forms of communication and social media. Especially if it’s someone you’ve never met in person, they may feel less inclined or responsible for responding to you in a time period that you feel is appropriate.

2)   If you suspect you’re being ghosted, be direct and straightforward, but not nasty. Something like: “Hey, I haven’t heard from you in awhile. Please tell me if you’re not interested in seeing me again.” Or, state how you feel about it. “I feel disrespected that we spent the day together, you said you would call, and then you never did.” In her blog on dating for the Elite Daily, Caitlyn Luce Christensen points out that being straightforward allows you the opportunity to be honest and state plainly how you feel. She also points out that dating sites don’t always empower you to share your emotions because they encourage promoting a “well-constructed persona.” However, sometimes it may be easier to be more emotionally open (within reason, of course!) on social media than face-to-face, particularly when confronting a ghoster. Are you tempted to send a raging, angry text? Know your anger is justified! But sending a mad text will not make either of you feel better and may get you further away from what you really want: a response.

3)   Give yourself a time limit for concluding the relationship is over. You send them a straightforward text, and if they respond, great! Maybe you can work through it, or maybe they’ve cleared the air and let you know they’re not interested. But if they continue not to respond, give yourself a time limit (a day, three days, a week) and if they don’t respond within the time limit, then conclude that your relationship with that person is officially over. This will help you move on, and open yourself up to receiving someone else’s interest and developing a different relationship. If the ghoster comes back later and wants a second chance, the decision to give them one is up to you. However, you now have a vital piece of information about them regarding their communication style. Be straightforward with them and let them know how their disappearing act made you feel, and what you will and will not put up with in your relationship with that person. Don’t be afraid to be honest and stick to your boundaries – if you don’t, the ghoster may start to see you as someone they can just call when they feel like it and may ghost you again.

4)   Don’t blame yourself. “Ghosting is about fear and avoidance. Theirs—not yours,” writes Simone Paget. If you worry that you did something that offended them, know that it’s THEIR responsibility to tell you. If they don’t tell you, it’s useless to overanalyze everything you did or said because you’ll never know for sure. Mostly, writes Paget, ghosting is about people not wanting to have awkward conversations, or, as I mentioned earlier, their own sources of shame and self-protection.

5)   Let it go. Take a note from Frozen, and let it go. Use this experience as information for future relationships and what you expect in terms of communication and shared values with a longtime partner. See it as a bullet dodged and move on to greener pastures!



How To Keep Your Cool When Someone Ghosts On You

About Abundant Life Counseling St. Louis

Julie Williamson is the Founder and Therapist of Abundant Life Counseling St. Louis LLC. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor, National Certified Counselor, and Registered Play Therapist. She enjoys working with adults and adolescents facing the challenges of depression, anxiety, relationships, spiritual struggles, and life transitions.