The Art of Ghosting

There are days where my phone’s contact list feels more ghost than it does human.

This is to say that in a world where communication often exists only in the digital sphere, it is easy to cut off contact with people and stop responding to them altogether. The art of ghosting is rampant in millennial culture. I’ve ghosted. I’ve been ghosted. Whether you’ve been the ghoster or the ghostee, it’s important to look more closely at this phenomenon as it is a complex topic.

Oxford Dictionary defines ghosting as “the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.” Ghosting can transcend romantic relationships, though these are a prime recipient, and be applied to friendships, familial relationships, and other forms of connections. A friend of mine ghosted her last therapist, for instance, ignoring appointment reminders and phone calls.

It is vital to look at this practice through the two lenses mentioned earlier: the ghoster and the ghostee.

Say you’re the ghoster. There can be a multitude a reasons a person may consider ghosting an individual they are in contact with. If abuse is being experienced, ghosting is completely valid. That person doesn’t deserve an explanation and cutting off contact is a healthy response to the situation.

One of the main reasons people ghost is because they are afraid of being confrontational and letting the other person down. Hurting someone’s feelings is never easy, but it’s easier to avoid your own emotional discomfort through ghosting. Despite the existence of many reasons to ghost, avoidance is at the heart of the act. Sometimes people also just get caught up in life, forget to respond to a text or a phone call for a few days, and accidentally fall into the pit of ghosting.

A few factors should be considered before ghosting, though. How long have you known the person? Did you met through Tinder or another dating app? Is there any chance of seeing them again in real life? If the relationship is meaningless and a deep connection hasn’t been formed yet, it may be acceptable to cut off contact in this manner. What will your one-, maybe two-night stand care if you don’t call them back?

If you’ve given a person months of your time, however, and have spent hours talking, hanging out, and creating a personal and meaningful connection, ghosting can be psychologically damaging.

Studies are even being conducted to measure just how harmful ghosting can be to a person’s psyche. Research suggests that social rejection activates the same neural pathways in the brain as physical pain. Accidentally burning yourself with your morning coffee may hurt the same amount as scrolling through an ex’s social media account. While the immediate pain the burning coffee brought will subdue, the overwhelming feeling of regret and sadness you might experience reading through a former lover’s tweets can be consuming.

This brings me to the recipient: the ghostee.

Being ghosted is never fun. It can make a person question the validity of their relationship, and even themselves. A ghostee might question their self-worth or their ability to gauge social situations. How could they have not seen this coming? Where were the warning signs?

The worst part of ghosting is the lack of closure. You’re unable to ask questions or find out why the person wanted to cut off contact, as that would defeat the purpose of the act. This diminishes a person’s ability to emotionally process what has just happened. It is an act of silencing, the worst and most permanent form of the silent treatment.

There are times where the ghosting is mutual. Both parties just slowly let contact come to an end and no one feels bad. While these situations are ideal, they can also be very rare.
While experiencing ghosting can be distressing on both ends, it shouldn’t be something that stains future relationships. I’ve tried to view the times I’ve been ghosted as a learning experience—or, if anything, as some solid material for a new poem. 

What’s important to remember is that ghosting exists on a spectrum. You are ultimately the only person who can decide whether it’s the right thing for you to do.

In today’s dating culture, it’s only a matter of time before we all become ghosts.

Photo by: Madeline Weinstein-Avery