What is Ghosting and How Do You Respond to Ghosting?

Let’s talk about ghosting. I’ve been ghosted a few times, and I’ve done my share of ghosting. Ghosting, I believe, is one of many symptoms of the millennial generation’s deep-seated fear of rejection. I find, when I’m most in fear of rejection, I tend to reject connection. Ghosting? It’s a pretty clear rejection of any connection at all.

Unfortunately, though ghosting may have started amongst Gen Y, it’s been passed down to Gen Z via online dating culture, and it doesn’t seem to be a fading phenomenon. So, what is it exactly?

What is “Ghosting”?

Ghosting is essentially when one party in a relationship, whether casual or serious, digital or in person, simply vanishes, never to be heard from again. There’s a wide range of ghosting levels too. On the one hand, if you exchange a couple of casual messages with a match on Bumble, but the conversation dries up and nothing ever happens, that’s more of a light ghosting. In the app dating world, some of us get overwhelmed with the small talk or the sheer number of conversations in our inbox, and some matches inevitably slip through the cracks, their potential dying with every day that’s added to the last read receipt.

On the other hand, some folks really commit to their ghosting. I once dated a man over the course of a summer. We went on 4 dates, and in between those dates we texted regularly, getting to know each other at a pretty comfortable pace. I had a good feeling about this guy! He was taking his time, and we were getting along. I’d even met his dog! Then, on the day of our fifth date, he reached out to let me know that a family emergency had occurred, and he would need to reschedule. I let him know that I understood and would wait to hear from him… and I never did! Ever. Not a word. I got ghosted hard. Let me be clear, this guy had also made a habit of stopping by the coffee shop where I worked to visit me a couple of mornings per week, and even those visits suddenly ceased. I never saw him again! A summer of opening myself up to a new guy went down the drain, and I’ll never know why. That’s textbook ghosting.

The Effects of Ghosting

I guess we should all thank “John” for such a clean example of ghosting, which we can now analyze. First, let’s talk about how I responded and why. I did nothing. I did not follow up. I did not reach back out to him. I did not stalk him on social media to figure out if he was seeing someone else.

The reasons I didn’t do those things are two-fold:

  •  I had tried those things before, and the results were wholly unsatisfying.
  •  I was afraid if I reached out, he would simply reiterate his rejection of my company with words that would hurt to hear. I   already blamed myself a little bit, and I didn’t want any evidence to back that up. I was scared and more than a little angry.
  • Why was I angry? Because ghosting is rude! By this time, I’d been ghosted before, and I’d also committed a fair number of ghosting crimes myself. Eventually though, guilt started to eat away at me about leaving people in the dust like that, and I started to wonder if ghosting was as harmless as it seems. Turns out: it’s not harmless at all.

Effects on the Ghosted

The most obvious person who stands to get hurt after a ghosting is the person who gets, well, ghosted. When you sign up for an online dating site or app, you’re putting yourself out there. Every match is a potential future mate, and every conversation is the possibility of a meaningful relationship. That means, no matter how insignificant an interaction is, every time a match doesn’t pan out, there’s also a miniature loss. Loss is hard enough without it coming suddenly, unexpectedly, and without closure. So, every time you’re ghosted, it’s like a miniature trauma, a severing of emotional ties.

If it happens once or twice, it’s not so bad. Most of us can understand that being rejected on an online platform is not such a big deal… but if it happens over and over and over again? That’s a tough blow. It takes bravery and vulnerability to attempt to connect with someone in hopes of finding love. It’s hard not to take it personally when the ghosting phenomenon seems to be ending every potential match. I have friends who have been rendered hopeless and given up on dating altogether, simply because a string of seemingly innocuous ghosting ate away at their resolve to find connection. If you’re struggling to cope with being ghosted, reaching out to one of the email mentors at TheHopeLine could help you sort through your feelings.

Effects on the Ghoster

See above. If you’re the ghoster, each individual ghosting may not feel like a big deal. It’s just a screen, just an online profile, and if the person you’re cutting off has any experience with dating apps, they’ll get it and simply move on, right? But remember, you never know how many times this person has been ghosted before. You never know how hard it was for them to create their profile, respond to your initial messages, or ask you for that first date. You have used the online platform as an excuse to ignore the human on the other side of the profile, and that’s called cognitive dissonance. 

You know there’s a real person there with real feeling, but because you can’t see them, you proceed to treat them as you would never dare treat a person standing right in front of you. You shift the responsibility of ending things to the app itself. You take the easy way out. And let me tell you that just like being ghosted over and over again can eat away at your feelings, ghosting over and over again can eat away at your humanity. You forget empathy.  And when you forget empathy, you actually lose an essential ingredient for forming any meaningful connection in the future. The more you ghost, the further you get from yourself and from your future partner.

Let the Ghosting Stop with You

That said, if you’re tempted to ghost someone, I get it. Telling someone that you’re not into it is hard. Most of us don’t want to cause pain, and sometimes, admitting that we’re not ready for a deeper connection is a vulnerable position to be in. But here’s the thing: ghosting is mean. No matter how you look at it, to ghost someone is to disrespect them, their time, and the amount of emotional capital they’ve spent engaging with you, even if it’s just been a brief digital conversation. SO DON’T DO IT. Here are a few easy things you can say instead of just leaving someone on “read'' for the rest of forever:

  • Hey, sorry, but I’m really not in the headspace for a new relationship right now. Thanks for chatting, and I hope life treats you well. Bye!
  • Hey there, I’ve had a nice time chatting with you, but I’m not feeling the connection, so I’m going in another direction. Be well!
  • Wanted to reach out and let you know that I’m not interested in continuing our talks. So sorry, it’s nothing you’ve done, just not the right time for me. I wish you the best!

Literally “copy and pasting” one of those messages into a chat that you’re wanting to end is an easy, and much kinder, way to remove yourself from an equation than simply blocking or deleting a person from your phone. Take a breath, remember that a human being in the flesh is on the other side of that screen, and don’t convince yourself that the faceless “...” message on your screen doesn’t have feelings. 

A Less Spooky Future

It is more important than ever that we challenge ourselves to acknowledge the humanity in everyone, including ourselves. Every one of us is a unique, precious creation, deserving at the very least a respectful conversation. So don’t ghost. You’re better than that, and you deserve better than that too. We all do. If “John” were ever to surface again, I think I’d apologize for not asking him if his family emergency turned out okay. I think I’d also let him know that it hurt when he vanished overnight, that it took me a few months before I was brave enough to date again, and that I deserved better than a ghost. Ultimately, this ghosting thing is here to stay as long as humans fear, but my own ghosting days are over.

If you've had your heartbroken, you may wonder if you'll ever start dating again. Here are some ways to start the healing process. 

-Cara Beth

Cara Beth Graebner
Cara Beth Graebner is a freelance writer and editor based in Chicago, Illinois. With a degree in creative writing from the College of Charleston and a Master of Fine Arts in Playwriting from Western Michigan University, she's been living by her pen for many years. She loves the way words come together to bring light into dark places, which is the goal of every piece she writes for TheHopeLine and other clients. When she's not writing, she's probably snuggling her 2-year-old pup, reading a book, or gardening.
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