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August 26, 2022 — 9:00 AM
Your date from last weekend still hasn’t texted you back about hanging out again. A promising new lead at work suddenly stopped responding after you shared your rates. The guy on Facebook Marketplace who offered to buy your old television just never came to pick it up, and you never heard from him again.
It comes in many different forms, but the experience of being ghosted is universal. And most of us would probably agree: ghosting sucks.
Ghosting is when someone stops responding to messages and disappears from a relationship without explanation, usually in the context of dating. The term can also be used for any situation where a person abruptly stops communicating or showing up, such as when a friend starts ignoring your texts or when an employee just stops showing up to work without ever formally quitting.
“Ghosting exists on a spectrum and can happen at literally any part of dating, from disappearing from a chat on a dating app and unmatching, to leaving your text messages on ‘Read’ after a date, to cutting off all communication with you after years of dating,” explains sex and dating coach Myisha Battle, M.S. “All of this is ghosting behavior.”
Many relationship experts discourage ghosting because of the way it impacts the person being ghosted. “It leaves the other person to guess at what they did or didn’t do to cause you to ditch them. That guessing is the spectre that looms in people’s lives after a disappearance,” Battle tells mbg.
According to clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., that lack of closure can trigger feelings of uncertainty, confusion, anxiety, and even reduced self-esteem in the person being ghosted. “In general, ghosting is disrespectful and tends to perpetuate patterns of dismissiveness and avoidance,” she says.
- Ignoring or choosing not to respond to someone’s texts or emails indefinitely
- Leaving someone’s text messages on “Read” … forever
- Going on a date with someone and then never speaking with them again, despite them trying to follow up
- Unmatching with someone on a dating app in the middle of a conversation without explanation
- No longer responding to a friend or someone you’d been talking with regularly, even when they reach out multiple times trying to get in touch
- Suddenly cutting off all communication with someone after dating for months or even years
- Intentionally responding slowly, briefly, or noncommittally to texts so they eventually stop reaching out
- Setting up a date with someone and just not showing up, with no explanation, follow-ups, or apology
- Interviewing someone for a job and then never letting them know if they didn’t get the position
- Quitting your job without telling your employer
- Suddenly stopping showing up to your sessions with a therapist, personal trainer, etc. without telling them that you’re no longer wanting to work with them
- Scheduling an appointment but then never showing up, without warning or explanation
- Sending someone a DM but then never saying anything else after they respond
How the term became popularized.
Great relationships start with great sleep.*
The phenomenon of ghosting has likely been around since the dawn of time. Consider the cavewomen who had to start getting choosy with their sexual partners because they didn’t want to birth a child with someone who could disappear without a trace shortly thereafter, or the lovelorn man in colonial times pouring his heart out in handwritten letters to some distant lover, only to never hear back. Many a ‘90s rom com, too, featured a despondent leading lady hovering over a landline telephone for days on end, waiting hopelessly for the guy who took her out a few days ago to call her up and ask her out again. (He often never did.)
While the behavior itself isn’t new, the term “ghosting” itself rose to popularity in the early 2010s. In 2015, after online tabloids ran headlines about how Charlize Theron “ghosted” Sean Penn, The New York Times even wrote an explainer on the term, calling it “the ultimate silent treatment.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary added it to the dictionary in 2017.
It makes sense that ghosting would get a lot of people talking around this time: With technology rapidly transforming the speed and ease with which people could communicate with each other, ghosting behavior likely felt even more pronounced than ever. While mailing a letter just to reject someone may have been legitimately too much time and effort back in the day, the fact that people were still disappearing on each other without a trace even now that a kinder closure was literally just a few quick button taps away… harsh!
Dating apps were also just beginning to enter into the cultural mainstream, with Tinder launching in 2012. (Though to be fair, what’s often thought of as the world’s first online dating site, Match.com, launched in 1995, and we can only imagine people ghosted each other as much then as they do on today’s best dating apps.)
In a world where it can feel like you have nearly endless potential people to chat with, it’s become easier than ever to start talking to someone regardless of whether you’re actually interested in continuing the conversation with them over time. People start to feel like just pictures on your screen rather than real-life humans whose feelings you have to care about. And more starts with less follow-through (and less care) unfortunately means more ghosting.
There are so many reasons why people ghost, but here are a few of the main ones specific to dating:
1. They’ve moved on, and they don’t care enough about the other person to tell them.
In most cases, people ghost because they’re no longer interested in pursuing a relationship with the other person. Instead of telling them that upfront, they go for the easiest and most convenient route: just stop responding.
“Ghosting arises due to a lack of concern and empathy for others,” Manly explains, and she notes that this is true most ghosting situations. It’s selfish, passive-aggressive behavior that is grounded, as Manly notes, in dismissiveness and avoidance.
2. They got too busy or stressed.
The other most common reason for ghosting? They just have a lot going on in their own life.
“Sometimes when people ghost us, it’s because they are focused on other things or may be isolating themselves because they are feeling depressed,” marriage and family therapist Patrice N. Douglas, LMFT, previously told mbg. “Everything isn’t always about us, so we can’t panic right away.”
They may honestly just be too busy at the moment and distracted by other life happenings, Manly notes, such as work stress, mental health issues, or other challenges. And sometimes a person may forget to respond to a text initially or plan to respond to it later when they have time or energy, but then enough time passes that they feel like there’s no point in saying anything anymore.
3. They’re worried about hurting the other person’s feelings.
In some cases, people ghost because they don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings, Manly adds. But if that’s why you’re choosing to ghost someone, the truth is that it’s counter-productive: “Unfortunately, being ghosted often causes far more irritation and pain than straightforward ‘I’m moving on’ or ‘We’re not a good fit’ comments might create,” she says.
4. They’re uncomfortable with hard conversations.
Ghosting can also happen when someone is just generally anxious about ending the relationship, because they struggle with hard conversations in general. According to licensed counselor Shae Ivie-Williams, LPC, BC-TMH, CCTP, people with certain backgrounds may be more likely ghost: “[They] may not want to have those hard conversations because maybe their family didn’t have hard conversations when they were young,” she previously told mbg. “And so having those types of conversations involves vulnerability.”
Again, though, people find it uncomfortable to reject someone may be making it worse by opting to ghost: “It also doesn’t feel great to be the ghoster!” Battle points out. “Most people experience some amount of guilt for ghosting.”
She adds, “I have coached people on how to communicate more directly rather than ghost. Most of the time it feels harder initially, but much better afterwards compared to ghosting. I’ve even had cases where the other person has thanked my client for not ghosting them!”
Sometimes a person may choose to ghost someone because they enjoy the sense of power it gives them over the situation, says Manly. This may especially be true if the “ghoster” feels like they were wronged by the other person or if they just think the other person is a jerk, loser, or otherwise unworthy of their time. It can also just be an attempt to feel powerful, at another person’s expense.
6. They’re concerned for their own safety.
Last but not least, both Manly and Battle note there’s actually one valid reason for ghosting: fearing for one’s safety. “If a person is afraid that they are in an emotionally or physically dangerous situation, ghosting is often the safest exit strategy,” says Manly. A person may be concerned that the other person may respond poorly to rejection by lashing out, and so leaving quietly feels like the safer thing to do.
How long does it take before it’s ghosting?
There’s not a set amount of time it takes before it’s considered ghosting, and it doesn’t matter how long you’ve known the person. If they stop communicating with you completely without a word despite your follow-ups, it’s ghosting.
As far as how long to wait before moving on and assuming the ghost is officially gone, it depends. “If it is someone you recently met, it can be two weeks before it’s time to move on. If it’s a longer relationship, it ranges up to a month,” says Douglas. “It truly depends on the circumstances around what was occurring before the ghosting occurred. Sometimes people just need space, and it’s up to your comfort level of the timeframe you want to allow for space.”
Do people ever come back after ghosting?
Yes, people can sometimes come back after ghosting. This is sometimes referred to as getting zombied, i.e. someone first ghosts you but then reappears out of nowhere as if nothing happened.
Even if a person does come back after ghosting, it’s important to get clarity as to why they disappeared and why they’re suddenly coming back before you decide whether to let them back into their life. They may have just honestly been busy at the time of their disappearance and earnestly want to give it another go dating you, or they could just be bored and lonely and using you to fill the time—with all intentions of ghosting you again later.
Should I reach out to the person who ghosted me?
You absolutely can! If the person who ghosted you is someone you’re legitimately interested in or whose disappearance has really hurt you, you can reach out to them to ask what’s going on. They may respond and give you a good explanation for their behavior, and if they’re genuinely interested in you, you may even be able to pick the relationship back up.
“If you ghosted because of a personal reason that you just didn’t know how to address with the other person, you can try to open the conversation again and let them know what happened,” says Battle. “Starting from a place of honesty and vulnerability could help reanimate a previously ghosted connection.”
However, there’s also a chance that you reach out to the person who ghosted you, and they continue to be unresponsive. If nothing else, that will tell you all you need to know about how that person really feels about you.
Is ghosting abuse?
“Ghosting can certainly be emotionally abusive in nature,” Manly says. “Especially if the relationship was deeply connective or promises were made, the person who was ghosted can certainly suffer from significant anxiety and depression related to the ghosting incident.”
Is ghosting ever okay?
Yes, ghosting is okay in situations where you’re concerned about the other person lashing out at you for rejecting them. “In cases where people are jerks to you, cross your boundaries in some way, or display characteristics that feel unsafe for you to engage with them again, ghosting might be the best option,” Battle says.
How to respond to ghosting.
How you respond to ghosting depends on what you want out of the situation and out of your relationship with this person.
If you’re not interested in this person anymore, just leave it be and move on. You really don’t need to say anything to them, and the sooner you can get them out of your head, the better.
If this is a person you are still interested in dating or having in your life, just reach out again one more time and ask what’s going on. Be direct.
Here are some things you can say:
- “Hey! Haven’t heard from you in a while. Are you still down to hang out again?”
- “Hey, stranger. I miss you! Everything okay?”
- “Hey, are you still interested in getting to know each other? It’s OK if not—just wanna know what’s going on!”
- “Hey! I haven’t heard from you in a while. I’ve been enjoying hanging out and would love to get together again. Where’s your head at?”
- “Hi, I know you’ve been really busy lately, but can you let me know if everything’s okay?”
How they respond will tell you everything you need to know. If they’re still interested, they’ll respond positively—maybe they’ll apologize, maybe they’ll have a legitimate explanation for why they’ve been unresponsive lately, and ideally they’ll show some indication that they want to keep getting to know you. If they’re not interested, this will be their opportunity to let you know. And if they don’t respond again—well, that’s them letting you know they’re truly done.
When in doubt, talk it out. If you think someone is ghosting you, reach out one more time and ask them directly about what’s going on and whether they’re still interested in pursuing things with you. If you don’t hear from them, it’s time to move on.
And remember: While rejection stings, ghosting is almost always much more about the ghost’s issues than it is about issues with the person being ghosted. In fact, getting ghosted says essentially nothing about you.
“Having someone ghost you says infinitely more about them than it does about you,” spiritual teacher Monica Berg writes at mbg. “You’re getting a firsthand look at how this person, who just days ago was so marvelous, actually handles their emotions, your emotions, and difficult circumstances in general. ‘Runs away at any sign of conflict’ typically doesn’t make anyone’s list of dream qualities in a partner, and you got to see that clearly and upfront.”
And if you’re the one doing the ghosting? Unless there are safety concerns at play, please know there are much better ways to reject people. Be brave, be kind, and be upfront. Don’t ghost.