Why do people ghost, anyway?

by | Apr 19, 2020 | RELATIONSHIPS

This is an image of a person who looks like a ghost.

Why do people ghost?

Many people wonder why so many people are ghosting in today’s dating world. Communication has always been tricky to navigate in the dating world. How long to wait until I call? Should I call or should I text? What does it mean if he texts me but won’t answer my calls? Why is she taking so long to respond? The internal dialogue is endless! Particularly challenging are the communication methods surrounding relationship dissolution, in other words, the breakup. An uncomfortable, yet guaranteed happenstance in almost every person’s dating journey (except those kids who got together in 6th grade and are still happily married, woah), is the inevitability of having to endure a relationship’s end. Learning techniques for decreasing the trauma and distress caused by breakups is essential. A growing strategy for ending a relationship over the last three years, is ghosting. Ghosting, easier on the ghoster than the ghostee, is a concept referring to the sudden stop of all communication, namely online, without any warning or explanation. Essentially, the person who wishes to end the relationship just disappears. At its core, this is an absence of a formalized breakup.

Predictors of relationship satisfaction, or why people stay, have been studied and theorized as complex paths for both the relationship starter and ender. Some people believe in destiny or “the one” and others use more pragmatism. Unfortunately, there is no surefire way to know if a relationship is going to work out and most breakups are non-mutual. Several strategies for “ending it” exist, more so with today’s technological advances, and based on a person’s attachment style, patterns emerge. Ghosting has become commonplace for many and mimics an avoidance strategy. Interestingly, individuals with avoidant attachment styles are more commonly on the recipient side of the breakup. If you’ve been a recipient of ghosting you may find it awful or perhaps you’ve been the ghoster and note it’s just easier not to communicate. What does this communication style say about people’s relational patterns? Are those who ghost unwilling to be uncomfortable and therefore shy away from all communication, online or otherwise? Are they too busy to take the time to call, and ghosting is a byproduct of their endless scrambling? Or is the prospect of commitment too overwhelming, so after their fill of the fun, they move on. There isn’t one answer, as everyone’s internal dialogue develops from a unique dating history.

People ghost to avoid hurt feelings.

Fear of direct communication and of hurting someone’s feelings are common reasons for choosing to ghost. Instead of engaging and expanding their efforts as communicators, they find it easier to ignore, a perhaps inconsiderate method of dissolution. The prospect of talking about one’s feelings can bring immense insecurity and vulnerability, therefore, they shy away from the confrontation. Others have a fear of intimacy and as a relationship progresses, will resort to internal dissociation of feelings (or not feeling) and ghost to “run away” from said feelings. People who believe in destiny or “the one” have a stronger tendency to ghost. Those living in the realm of ambiguity choose to ghost as a way not choosing, leaving the relationship status open to interpretation and reboot. Many reasons point back towards avoidance stemming from fear. If you’d like to learn more about avoidant attachment and your attachment style, checkout Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel S. F. Heller.

Ghosting leaves many in awe by removing the prospect for discussion available in face to face conversation. What happened? What did I say? Was it my outfit? He was definitely married. She probably wants a taller guy. Is it because I didn’t give him an orgasm? The uncertainty caused by people ghosting can leave the ghosted in a state of perpetual self-blame and shame. An insidious emotion, shame leads to feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, challenging narratives to overcome when attempting mate-seeking behaviors. Without knowing why someone wants to end a relationship leaves the ghostee with a lack of understanding and opportunity for personal growth and reflection. Not everyone offers the whole truth when ending relationships, but with no data, the brain is wired to “fill in the blanks”. The story that follows can be inaccurate and may lead to the creation of false relationship narratives. It is important to note the universality of breakups, you are not alone, and you are enough!

Ask yourself, “Do I want to be a person that ghosts?” If you are interested in changing the outcome of your dating it may be important to examine your own relational patterns. Perhaps taking an inventory of your last year’s dating history and how often you have ended a relationship, or been on the other end. How have these experiences altered the way you engage in new relationships versus how you want to engage? Everyone has an ideal self, what shows up is your actual self, which your dating history will help predict. If you have been the recipient of ghosting you may be less inclined to do so, noting the hurt it caused, or due to a sense of entitlement will employ this method because, “Well someone did it to me.” How you enter and end new relationships is up to you, you have the opportunity to re-write the script.

There’s no established rule book for dating, which is why it has become overwhelming for some. The good news is, there are alternative options to ghosting. In the event of emotional or physical abuse, ghosting might be extremely appropriate and recommended. If this is the case for you, accessing resources and obtaining support may be important in helping you create a clear safety and boundary plan.

Here are some healthy alternatives to ghosting.

 

      1. Give it one more chance and if it still doesn’t feel right, end the date with, “Hey, I’m not interested in continuing to date, but I wish you luck in the wild and wacky world of dating!”. It is definitely challenging to face this head on, but if you read the person correctly they likely won’t be devastated and you will feel like a super empowered professional dater!

     

      1. Tell the person directly, in person, especially if you have had a significant connection or relationship. It can be really hard to face the possibility of someone’s pain, but often, ending a relationship in person is the kindest way to go. It is an insult to injury, and even though you may have to see their pain in person, you’ll likely be remembered more fondly and with respect for having the conversation face to face. If you’re especially nervous, perhaps practice having the conversation with a friend or loved one prior to the meeting. Have them play out various reactions, so you can practice your next steps and feel more prepared to end the relationship with grace.

     

      1. Make a phone call. Scary, but it’s a lost art and here is your chance to help bring it back. Again, prepare your thoughts so you feel cool, calm, and collected. It may not go as planned, we can’t anticipate how people will react, but at least you will feel confident going into the conversation. Keep it short and simple, no room for confusion! Individuals with anxious attachment styles tend to leave things open and end up in on-off relationship cycles. If it goes poorly, you never have to see this person again. If it goes well, you might leave the door open for a friendship one day, or at least an imaginary gold star on your dating profile that captions, “It didn’t work out, but at least she dumped me in a respectable way”.

     

      1. Send a text message (one that is thought out) and note why you are no longer interested in dating this person. Tell the truth if it will not cause harm to the other person. People appreciate honesty, and if they don’t, it may just be confirmation of your choice to end the relationship. Here are a few examples of texts you can send instead of ghosting.

     

      1. Maybe not the best option, but, you could have your friend tell them, she’s just not that into you. This option may be appropriate if you feel uncomfortable around this person or if you have left the country for work/vacation.

     

Remember relationships make life worth living! They bring joy, sadness, anger, frustration, and so on and so forth, but, if you are willing to take the time and effort, you just might find someone you would never dream of ghosting! Until then, ponder the question, “why do people ghost?” and decide for yourself how you want to show up. In the end, we’re all searching for connection, and how you get there, is up to you.

References

Collins, Tara & Gillath, Omri. (2012). Attachment, breakup strategies, and associated outcomes:
The effects of security enhancement on the selection of breakup strategies. Journal of Research in Personality. 46. 210–222. 10.1016/j.jrp.2012.01.008.

Freedman, G., Powell, D. N., Le, B., & Williams, K. D. (2019). Ghosting and destiny: Implicit
theories of relationships predict beliefs about ghosting. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36(3), 905–924. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407517748791

Gan, M., & Chen, S. (2017). Being Your Actual or Ideal Self? What It Means to Feel Authentic
in a Relationship. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43(4), 465–478. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167216688211

LeFebvre, L. E., Allen, M., Rasner, R. D., Garstad, S., Wilms, A., & Parrish, C. (2019). Ghosting
in Emerging Adults’ Romantic Relationships: The Digital Dissolution Disappearance Strategy. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 39(2), 125–150. https://doi.org/10.1177/0276236618820519

Patrizia Velotti, Carlo Garofalo, Federica Bottazzi & Vincenzo Caretti (2017) Faces of Shame:
Implications for Self-Esteem, Emotion Regulation, Aggression, and Well-Being, The Journal of Psychology, 151:2, 171-184, DOI: 10.1080/00223980.2016.1248809

Rhoades, G. K., Kamp Dush, C. M., Atkins, D. C., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2011).
Breaking up is hard to do: The impact of unmarried relationship dissolution on mental
health and life satisfaction. Journal of Family Psychology, 25(3), 366–374.
https://doi.org/10.1037/a0023627

Modern Intimacy is founded by renowned therapist Dr. Kate Balestrieri. This blog is designed to be an ultimate resource for mental health, relationships, and sexuality. We have many expert contributors from all around the world! Enjoy!

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Author Bio

Heather Mazzei is a Clinical Associate at Triune Therapy Group, in Los Angeles, An Associate Clinical Social Worker, supervised by Dr. Kate Balestrieri, Heather is passionate about healthy relationships and helping the people she works with to develop relationships that thrive.

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