Here’s how it might happen. You and a partner have been dating for a while, and you’re happy with how things are going. The last time you got together you made plans to see each other again soon. You message your partner, but never get a reply. Maybe you call, reach out on social media or ask friends what could be going on. A lost phone? An accident? A family emergency?
When enough time goes by you figure it out. You’ve been ghosted, and it hurts. Plus, you’re probably confused—you don’t know what went wrong. And you may be angry as well. After all, you feel you deserve an explanation.
We asked Jerimya Fox, a licensed professional counselor and doctor of behavioral health at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital in Scottsdale, to tell us more about ghosting and how technology plays a part in it.
What is ghosting?
Ghosting is a modern form of the silent treatment. With it, someone ends a personal relationship by suddenly stopping all communication without explaining why. “There’s no forewarning or follow-up, only silence. They disappear like a ghost,” Dr. Fox said. Sometimes, ghosters even block calls and texts from the other person and delete or block them from social media.
Ghosting typically happens in romantic relationships but can happen in other relationships as well. For example, a friend can ghost another friend—disappearing from their life, apparently without reason. Family members can end contact with others without explanation. Job seekers can ghost a prospective employer if they decide they aren’t interested in a position. And people who quit their job may give their notice, then ghost for their final weeks of employment. “Ghosting with jobs is more accessible because of the remote workplace,” Dr. Fox said.
Why do people ghost?
People might ghost for a lot of different psychological reasons but at the core, they fear conflict. “At its heart, ghosting is about wanting to avoid confrontation, avoid difficult conversations and avoid hurting someone’s feelings,” Dr. Fox said.
How has technology contributed to ghosting?
“Ghosting is more common than most people might think due to the increased use of technology as a tool in our relationships,” Dr. Fox said. “It’s a common reaction to uncomfortable feelings.”
In the past, ghosting was harder. “As far as communication goes, 20 or 30 years ago there was no FaceTime, text messaging or social media,” Dr. Fox said. You were more likely to run into the other person at work, school or in shared leisure activities. So, the ghoster couldn’t be confident in their ability to disappear. An in-person conversation would be likely to happen eventually.
In today’s relationships, so much communication happens behind phone, tablet and computer screens. In fact, some relationships can progress quite a long way before two people meet in person. So, a ghoster can silence all communication and feel confident that the break is complete and permanent. “Advanced technology has allowed ghosting to exist,” Dr. Fox said.
How can you cope with ghosting?
When you’re ghosted, it’s mentally challenging. “Getting no response is especially painful for people. You might feel a wave of different emotions: sadness, anger, loneliness, or confusion,” Dr. Fox said. “You may feel helpless and shunned and you don’t have information that could guide your understanding.” If you’re ghosted by a romantic partner, you may even want to stop dating completely.
But Dr. Fox said it’s important not to blame yourself: “Ghosting feels so personal, but it’s not about you, it’s about them and their fear of dealing with conflict. It is not your fault that a person walked away without explanation.”
When you’re coping with ghosting, you’re also coping with the end of a relationship. So, self-care is crucial:
- Spend time with supportive family and friends
- Take a class or spend time on a hobby that interests you
How can a ghoster stop ghosting?
If you’re a ghoster, you need to recognize that when you ghost, deep down you’re scared. “Ghosting is an avoidant act,” Dr. Fox said. “Instead of ghosting, you need to break the barrier and clearly communicate with the other person.”
You may want to prepare for the conversation ahead of time and write down the points you would like to say. When you talk, be clear. If you would like the relationship to take a different direction or you don’t feel as though you’re compatible, share those thoughts. Tell the person what you think or feel so it doesn’t seem like you are placing blame on them.
The bottom line
Whether you’re ghosted in a romantic relationship, by a friend or family member, or in the workplace, being ghosted can be painful and confusing. Not knowing what the ghoster is thinking or what is motivating their behavior can also be frustrating. But ghosting is really about the ghoster, not the person being ghosted. If you would like to talk to a behavioral health professional about your relationships, reach out to Banner Health.