Ghosting, also known as simmering or icing, is defined as “the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.” The phenomenon is becoming increasingly prevalent in modern dating culture, with about 23% of American adults reporting they’ve been ghosted in romantic relationships and 39% in friendships. 80% say they’ve been ghosted more during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Why people ghost
To get to grips with why people ghost, we must first understand what ghosting isn’t: leaving an abusive relationship or a situation where your personal boundaries were breached without saying goodbye isn’t ghosting – that’s protecting yourself. With that out of the way, we can now get onto the first reason why people ghost, which is linked to decreasing levels of empathy. A study conducted by Personality and Social Psychology Review found that levels of empathy amongst young adults fell by 48% between 1979 and 2009.
People who ghost lack the emotional awareness, maturity and empathy to simply say, “I am no longer interested in continuing this relationship”, and would rather opt to cowardly disappear instead of demonstrating basic communication skills. Ghosts may also find the idea of not giving their victims closure appealing, as it gives them a sense of power, further exposing their lack of empathy and sadistic nature. Ghosts may also be users: they may start dating someone to get something out of the relationship (like money or sex), and once this primary goal is fulfilled, they’re out and onto the next victim, like vampires out for blood.
Another reason people may ghost is because of the prevalent swipe culture made possible by dating apps. Dating apps are a great way to meet people, but their downside is that they give us too much choice. The average human is overwhelmed when faced with more than 15 options. Imagine having to pick up hundreds of people every day. Some are bound to feel that the grass is greener on the other side and be enticed by other options, leading to ghosting.
Of course, this isn’t a good reason to ghost somebody, as everyone deserves a proper ending. Even if ghosts find someone who seemingly fits their needs and desires at first, their “what if I could have better?” mentality will make it impossible for them to settle down and be happy in their connection.
Real-life stories from people who have been ghosted
Two years ago, I befriended a young woman that was a working relationship first. We became close in a short amount of time, and a date was planned, but at the last minute, she bailed.
Then she unfriended me on social media and erased all previous likes and comments from posts (like things never existed). One day she wrote to me, saying she was dealing with a number of issues personally, and she opened up to me about her struggles.
Then things resumed again as a friendship for a few months. One day we had a disagreement, and she ghosted me for two weeks. Then she resumed talking to me again for another few weeks before I noticed again that she unfollowed me again on social and wouldn’t reply to texts, calls, etc. Ghosted cold turkey. It gutted me because it felt like I was being played with and used like a toy. She was emotionally immature and sucked at communication. The ghosting experience also affected my confidence and self-esteem.
It impacted dating slightly because the experience made me trust people less. I closed myself off as a defence mechanism. I spent a lot of time healing and learning to love and trust myself. I can’t give my heart to someone (again) if I’m not whole myself first.
Ultimately, I feel people who ghost lack the skills to communicate their thoughts and feelings. They would rather run away from someone than deal with reality. Ghosting sucks. It’s selfish and has a ripple effect on the lives of all involved. It’s not healthy.
In the fall of 2015, I met a Chinese woman named Emma. She had had two serious relationships before me, both in the US. Little did I know at the time that she admitted to instances of ghosting throughout both of these relationships.
These things should have been a red flag to me early on, but when you’re in a new relationship and things seem to be going fairly well, you don’t think about this. So it later came to a point in our relationship where it was clear that she and I were not a good match. Mainly due to cultural misunderstandings and lifestyle differences. But there was something that kept us coming back to each other throughout the multiple instances of “on again, off again”, which we experienced over the 5+ years we were together. Those were mini ghosting instances. We would call things off, and then months later, we would reconnect and repeat the process.
This continued until December 2020, when she said we could no longer be together through text message. In June of 2021, I visited her home, and she reluctantly let me in and talked to me for a while – even had dinner with me. She talked about what she had been up to and that “we could not go back”. I remember indicating that that’s not why I was there; I just wanted to have her in my life still as a friend. After all, I wasn’t ready to completely lose someone I had spent five years of my life with. And as I walked out the door, that’s exactly what I said – I told her not to be a stranger. And she said she wouldn’t! Turns out, that’s exactly what happened.
Ever since then, all of the times I tried to contact her in any way have gone completely unanswered.
The ghosting is still very traumatic to me, especially after the over five years we spent together.
After it happened, I was very depressed, mainly all the time. Feeling like my outlook on life is dubious at best. And I missed her a lot. But I have to question if it is her that I miss or is it the idea of her?
There was a time when I was going to have someone look at my basement window. It turned out I got bad vibes and thought he was ghosting me when he probably wasn’t. And there have been other instances where I lashed out at someone thinking they weren’t responding when I probably should have just been more patient. I attribute these acts and others to the psychological impact that Emma’s ghosting has had on me.
Truthfully, I think people who ghost just need to grow up. And that includes if a 70-year-old ghosts someone. I don’t care how old you are or what the situation is; there is never really any excuse for completely cutting someone off. Life is so short, and it goes by so fast. And we could all be a lot better off if we would just be adults about things.
How to heal from being ghosted
Ghosting is so serious and painful that there are hundreds of help groups online on how to get over it, so don’t blame yourself if healing isn’t as straightforward as you previously may have anticipated. Grief doesn’t adhere to a linear timeline, so honour your feelings without criticism.
To start the healing process, remember to surround yourself with people who genuinely love and care about you, speak lovingly to yourself and take care of your body. Remember that being ghosted doesn’t make you unworthy of love in any capacity; rather, it reflects poorly on the character of the person who did the ghosting. Some people may try to get in touch with their ghosts to try and find a sense of closure. Only you can know what is best for your situation, but for now, try and find some closure in this: their immaturity, unwillingness to communicate, closed-off nature and disappearing acts will ensure that finding a happy, stable relationship will be impossible for them.
Ultimately, ghosting is a cruel practice that needs to end. Communicating instead of disappearing is one of the many ways we can learn to be kinder to one another as humans.