Dating, Mental Health, Relationships

Ghosting, Or How to Be Toxic Without Even Trying

Ghosting, meaning suddenly stopping all communication with someone with whom you are in a relationship, is one of the most common ways for people to end their romantic involvement with another person.

Have you ghosted someone? Of course you have. Ever been ghosted? Probably.

Studies indicate that in the United States, ghosting is used to end 13-23% of all relationships. Data from Spain indicates that about 20% of all relationships end through ghosting. The data here seem to apply mostly to younger people in the 18-30 range, according to a research study done by Raúl Navarro et al. in the journal Environmental Research and Health. The range of situations in which ghosting occurs run the gamut, from ceasing communication with someone with whom you have not even had a date, to disappearing from the life of a serious, long-term monogamous partner. The severity of the impact of ghosting of course is related to the depth of feelings the parties have for one another, the quality of their relationship and the amount of time they have spent together, both virtually and in person.

According to Dr. Loren Soeiro, who cites his work with a female patient of his who regularly ghosts people to end relationships, ghosting can cause real harm. “When the person you like stops returning your texts, the emotional consequences can run from unpleasant to severe. There’s a profound lack of closure to the relationship, an ambiguity that makes it impossible to interpret what went wrong. The social cues present in a traditional breakup – reducation of time spent together, lack of eye contact, a change in the tone of interaction – are disorientingly absent.”

Susan McQuillan similarly states that for the person who is ghosted, there is no closure in the relationship and the person who is left with the silence is troubled by feelings of insecurity and uncertainty.

When I experienced ghosting, after a particularly intense short-term relationship with someone to whom I thought I mattered, I was left with more questions than answers. As McQuillan and Soeiro observed of their patients, I experienced feelings of helplessness and confusion – wondering what had gone wrong and what cues I had missed. Why could the person with whom I was involved not have just sat down with me over a drink and told me the truth about how she was feeling, like you would expect of any adult? I would have been happy to shove off and look elsewhere. She did not, and I paid a serious emotional toll, including lapsing into a prolonged bout with depression. While I still struggle with the consequences of being abandoned by this person, I think there are healthy things you can do to get over ghosting.

First, remove all traces of the person by whom you were ghosted. This is something McQuillan suggests, and I wish I had done it. Conduct digital surgery. Block the person on your phone and all apps that you used to communicate. Delete all photos, conversations, and other reminders of the person who ghosted you. Do not attempt, under any circumstances, any further communication with the ghoster. No positive will come of it. 

Finally, use your experience for good. Do not ghost people. If it comes to it, tell those with whom you enter into relationships in the future the truth about why you no longer want to see or interact with them – No matter how hard it is for you to level with them.


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