Studies on “ghosting” in relationships published from 2012-2018 in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships uncovered some findings which may help us understand the notorious practice better – why it happens and when it’s most likely to happen… but they still have not uncovered whether it’s happening more.
Unless you yourself have been hiding under a rock, you are definitely aware of the advent of social media and technology. Have you stopped to think, like many, about how our phones, computers and devices are no longer simply sitting in our homes or out of reach when we’re out and about? They’re now sitting in our back pockets or in our palms, constantly. The growth and development of technology is no doubt beneficial in quite a few ways that don’t need to be listed here. I’m sure you can think of them all, from the new ways we can treat ailments in hospitals to the way we stay connected with relatives halfway round the world at the touch of a thumb.
While it can definitely be said that these advances have made it easier for us to connect to others and form personal relationships, has it also made it equally as easy to disconnect from those personal relationships? If you think so, you are definitely not the only one by far.
Can we ever just get rid of ghosting, and bring back good manners? Or if not, is it necessary to change the way we look at it?
Something I often hear from the previous generations is that ghosting is a very immature tactic used to cut ties with someone. Another common remark is that “back in so-and-so’s day”, you told someone to their face that you didn’t have an interest in seeing them anymore, or being friends. Given our newly found propensity for desiring instant responses in a “sending, delivered, received, seen” world, it’s no surprise that our expectations have changed. Seeing those words on a screen can tell us where our messages went, but they can’t tell us the thought process of the person on the receiving end.
I think that ghosting is conflated too many times with a friendship or relationship just naturally having run its course. The act of ghosting means, rather, that someone is making a deliberate attempt to ignore your phone calls, texts, et al. If we look at it this way, then ghosting has been around for longer than we can remember. Ignored telegrams, letters and calls were certainly something the elder generations dealt with. Perhaps they felt just as entitled to a response or an explanation or a “goodbye” as we do. It’s nothing new.
However, given our society’s current relationship with technology, ghosting may be a more common thing now than it ever was. Dating site Plenty of Fish (POF) released the results of a survey from 2016 in which it questioned 800 millennial users between the ages of 18-33 about their experiences being ghosted. 80% who took the survey said they had been ghosted. Is it really surprising? Look up any studies or surveys which revolve around the concept and you will find similar results.
One of the peer-reviewed studies mentioned at the beginning of the article is called “Ghosting and destiny: Implicit theories of relationships predict beliefs about ghosting”. The research within this document supposes that there are generally two implicit theories when it comes to relationships. In other words, the population tends to have two ways of looking at the pursuit of relationships. These two implicit theories are known as destiny and growth. “Destiny” describes the belief that a relationship or friendship is either meant to be, or not meant to be. “Growth” is the belief that a mutual effort is required to maintain a relationship. How do you think these beliefs would influence one’s perception of the act of ghosting?
The results are quite interesting. The mentioned study shows that those who believe relationships are impacted by “destiny” may be more likely to ghost, or at least, they were more likely to admit they had ghosted someone. Predictably, because they believe that their relationship is either “meant to be” or “not meant to be”, they are less likely to have a negative perception of people who ghost them. It seems that they simply chalk it up to fate. For those who hold the “growth” belief, there doesn’t seem to be too much of an effect on how often they ghost or what they think about those who do ghost.
25% of people disclosed that they had been ghosted by those they were dating, versus 38.6% having been ghosted by a platonic friend. 20% of participants admitted to having been the “ghoster” in a romantic relationship, while 31.7% had done this to end a platonic friendship. It seems that fewer people think ghosting is an acceptable way to end a romantic relationship versus a friendship. This inherently makes sense – throughout our lives we can expect to come-and-go out of various friend groups and connections with people, while we tend to view romantic relationships as more of a permanent fixture in our lives. With regard to the romantic side of things, 28% feel that it’s OK to ghost someone after a first date if you’re really not feeling them. If you’d like a very optimistic result, consider that ONLY 4.7% of respondents felt that ghosting is an acceptable way to end a relationship that is long-term, versus the 19.5% who believe it’s OK if the relationship was short-term or “not serious”. I think that these results are pretty consistent with the beliefs that society has generally always held about long-term versus short-term connections.
Thanks to such studies, we are somewhat able to answer some questions about who is more likely to ghost, when ghosting may be likely to happen, and we are probably also on the way to figuring out more about why it happens. Given that we’re living in a new age where people live in front of a screen more often than in front of each other, it may be reasonable to assume that “Ghosting Culture” may be a real thing, and it may be on the rise.
But don’t let it get you down. One of the best parts of being human is human resilience. We can rise above it.
Let’s Give Up The Ghost
Remember this: Ghosting often says more about the person doing it than it does about you. Whatever is going on with the other person that causes them to not respond is their own issue, so there is no need to make it about you and beat yourself down.
Understandably, it can hurt to be in a position where you feel that someone you care about has treated you like you are dispensable. You may feel that this person through their actions is communicating that you are not worthy of even a simple “hello”. Most people would want to feel accepted in their social circle and connections, and that they are made a priority even if only for a few minutes. It’s true that everyone has responsibilities like work, home, family, and themselves to take care of along with a laundry list of so many other things to attend to. But you’re really wondering, “How hard can it be for someone to take two seconds out of your day to just say one word?”
The harsh reality is that we are owed nothing in life, even if we think we deserve it. Even if it’s love. Even if it’s acknowledgement. Even if it’s friendship. Even if it’s a message from someone we love or care about.
Try to look at ghosting for what it is in the most general sense – a sudden lack of engagement. There could be so many reasons for that and they don’t all necessarily have anything to do with you. It could be that this person really is busy with work, school or any of their other obligations and they don’t have the extra energy left to chat. Sure, there are times when people want to get out of something and they do this by making excuse after excuse. Or maybe they have accidentally opened your message without actually seeing it and forgot to respond. Maybe their phone was turned off. Maybe there really was an emergency. Or they totally could be ignoring you.
Another angle to consider is that for some of the population, it can be draining to interact on a daily basis even with friends and loved ones. This is especially true for highly sensitive people, empaths, or those with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. If you feel you’re dealing with someone who has any of these traits, empathy will go a long way. Just as you would want your ghoster to have empathy for how you’re feeling, realise that it’s a two-way street. It will be helpful and necessary to think of what the other person is going through, such as if they are experiencing a tough time, or if they are prone to burnout.
You won’t truly know what’s going on unless you break the silence and politely ask “What’s going on?”. Whether you get an answer or not, let them have the space they need even if they aren’t communicating it outright. And be ready to let go if they’re silent!
Don’t Ghost Yourself Just Because Someone Else Did!
If you’ve been a victim of ghosting, do yourself a few favours:
1. Make acceptance your best friend.
This is the first and hardest step. Sometimes you’ve just got to look at a situation as being what it is – somebody has stopped talking to or engaging with you. So, does that mean you need to stop engaging with yourself? Of course not! As was mentioned before, we really are owed nothing in life. Life can be cruel and unforgiving, and while we may feel we deserve some closure or an answer, sometimes that’s not what we’re given, and the best we can do is accept what we are or aren’t given.
2. Realise it isn’t all about you.
Like was mentioned above, you don’t get everything you want. The world is external to you and you need to accept that. The person you’re communicating with could have a million things going on that cause them to disengage, and guess what – there are more reasons that this could have happened than simply “not liking” you. Even if this person didn’t like you, there is no need to concern yourself with it. If we go by the “implicit theories” idea proposed in the above study, it says more about them than it does about you in any scenario.
3. Learn to seek validation from yourself and not others.
What good will it do to analyse whether you weren’t attentive enough, or attractive enough, or interesting enough in someone else’s eyes? Picking yourself apart is just that and all it accomplishes is a punch to your self-esteem. Seeking validation from others instead of yourself is always a mistake, because it isn’t sustainable, nor is it a healthy habit. Remove yourself from the external from time-to-time and focus on you.
4. Live your life and go on your own adventures.
If you are constantly living in the looking glass pointed at what other people are up to, you’ll never see anything outside of that and you can’t grow yourself. Step away from your phone and make it a habit to not touch it at certain times of the day. Get into a good book, discover new music from your favourite artist, take a class and learn something, or simply veg out and play your favourite computer game. Do you! Right now is a great time to focus on your needs, your goals, and the things you like. Chances are if a person ghosted, they may have been doing the same thing: thinking about themselves. The best form of “revenge” is to live your own life happily and away from that spotlight which the ghoster (in your mind, at least) has refused to shine on you.
5. Never be afraid to get back out there again.
Not everybody is out to screw you over. There is no crime in being kind to yourself and others. Allowing yourself to be jaded into thinking that you may as well be alone or that nobody likes you is a fruitless process, especially if you secretly desire to connect with others. When you deny yourself what you want, you are the one depriving yourself. You don’t need to be bitter just because four, or five, or six people haven’t given you the time of day or exited your life. Four, or five, or six, or even 20 people are not the entire population of the place where you live (unless you live in a hamlet, maybe…then you might need to move!). Don’t write off people just because you’ve had some bad experiences being ghosted. It often creates a miserable life where you choose to view things as either good or bad, or black-and-white. See the world for all its colours, which sometimes encompasses grey, too, and you will have a better time with step #1, which is acceptance.
Just because someone has ghosted you does not mean you need to ghost yourself by draining out your own life force waiting for a phone call or a reply. Nor does it mean you need to take up the practise yourself. Set healthy boundaries by communicating openly and honestly rather than leaving someone else in the dark. Keep working through it, you lively living spirit, you! 😉
Have you experienced ghosting? Ghosted somebody? I know I have and boy, I am not proud of it. Tell me about how you deal with it in the comments.