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To ghost or not to ghost

Jul. 9, 2018
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Ghosting is formally defined as “the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.”  Ghosting is mostly conducted by people who lack communication skills and are unwilling to express their true feelings in fear of hurting others’ feelings.

Nowadays, ghosting is more common than ever thanks to technology. It isn’t just ignoring phone calls and text messages—it is the drop in text frequency and overall communication that makes people feel abandoned and empty. As a result, the person who has been ghosted (the “ghostee”) feels a sense of inferiority, doubts themselves and their actions, and wonders what they’ve done wrong, even when it’s nothing at all.

People who ghost others (the “ghosters”) can have a variety of reasons for their actions, from a fear of emotional intimacy, to lack of compatibility, to unwillingness to enter a new relationship. Most of the times, ghosting happens after a couple’s initiation-and-infatuation phase, right before they take the leap into a proper relationship. Interestingly, it’s pretty clear that ghosting is avoidable; you must simply be truthful with yourself and others as you’re getting to know your potential partner better. It’s important to ask yourself—do you truly want to be invested in this person, or have you gotten caught up in the moment of affection? If we are able to admit to our own incapabilities, we can avoid hurting other people and protect our sanity.

It takes self-evaluation to understand your own actions and how they affect others. When we are young and stupid, sometimes we forget to stop and think of others.

I had my first experience being a ghoster earlier this year back in January. I had been talking to this guy for two or three weeks, and at the time I was out of the country visiting my brother. Just like most teenage and millenial encounters, this one started on Snapchat. All it took was one swipe up from my story, and we’d begun talking. One thing led to another, and a friendly conversation escalated to a flirtatious one. It came just at the right time for me—I had just gotten rejected from my dream university and was in the midst of a slump, unable to decide what to do with my future. I needed company and a distraction, and it felt right into my lap.

But I was in no shape or form emotionally available to get into a new relationship. So I did what any irresponsible 18-year-old would’ve done: I ran away from my problems. I decided to ghost him. He was out of my usual social circle and went to a different school. I knew that if I ghosted him, I would never have to confront him face to face.

However, I didn’t go about it like other ghosters. After a few days of distancing myself and being unresponsive, I felt bad and immediately confessed to him. When I’d begun my ghosting process, I hadn’t considered how it would affect him—I’d thought about how I was uncomfortable with the idea of confrontation rather than how I’d left him in the dark and abruptly conducted this out of blue. I distanced myself slowly, dragging out the time I had needed to respond. I texted unaffectionately, trying to act as if I had lost interest. I thought what I was doing was protecting the both of us; I thought it was better than an uncomfortable confrontation, that I was allowing nature to run its course. 

That wasn’t the case.

As I scroll back and reread the messages I’ve sent, I see someone who is immature, who isn’t aware of her own actions, who gave sloppy excuses instead of owning up to her own incapability and insecurity. My coldness came from a place of hostility that manifested as I confessed, when I realized the way I exposed my feelings had made me vulnerable in the eyes of others. After I sent my final texts to him, I switched my phone to airplane mode and endured a seventeen-hour flight back home with no internet. I was trapped alone with my own thoughts, and between an infant’s cries and the in-flight alerts, I felt tremendous guilt. 

When I talked to him months after and apologized for the way I had ended things, he told me being ghosted had genuinely affected him. Even though he’d chosen to forgive me and move on, it didn’t change the harshness of my actions. When I distanced myself and decided to ghost him, it had caused him to cast doubt on his own behavior, wonder why I had done so without a proper explanation, and experience feelings of inferiority.

What goes around comes back around. More recently, I had a taste of my own medicine, switching my role from a ghoster to a ghostee. When you have been ghosted, you realize why they call it ghosting. They vanish. You hardly ever see them, and when you do, they come and go so quickly you’re barely aware of their presence.

The ghosting occured in waves, slow and in increments. It took me a full day to realize what was going on, and when I questioned him about it, he quickly denied it. But we’d gone from barrages of texts to one-sided double texting and prolonged intermission. It felt uncomfortable knowing someone didn’t want me as a part of their life anymore. My self-esteem took a big hit. The lack of closure and explanation drove me up the wall; I began seeking an explanation in our past exchanges, examining the words I had said and overthinking it all. 

Even though I knew I wasn’t the problem, I couldn’t change how I felt. I needed someone to blame, but I didn’t want to blame him because I still cared about him, so I blamed myself.

It hurt.

According to an article from Psychology Today, ghosting is viewed by psychologists as a form of emotional cruelty “that can leave psychological bruises and scars.” More clearly, “social rejection activates the same pain pathways in the brain as physical pain.”

Between online dating culture and the simultaneous rise in dating apps, ghosting seems to be a commonly expected outcome. Apps like Tinder don’t provide information about whether a user is online or has read your message. When someone doesn’t respond to you on Tinder, it’s reasonable to assume they have lost interest and have decided to ghost you. However, Tinder rejection seems to be different. I’ve always thought that on Tinder, everything is superficial—we only see the carefully curated photos, biography, and pick-up lines. When you’re talking to someone in real life, like my ghoster and my ghostee, it’s more personal than that. You’re more intimately connected to them than your Tinder matches, so it hurts more when you get ghosted by them. 

We ghost because we are afraid. We’re afraid of hurting ourselves, but when we do ghost, we forget about the people we are hurting.

Before modern technology was readily accessible, we tended to form relationships with people in close proximity. Even now, people are more likely to form relationships with and take a stronger liking to those whom they see more often. This is called the mere-exposure effect. Under this phenomenon, you couldn’t escape potential partners so easily—ghosting was difficult and forced people to be confrontational. 

However, with technological advancements, it has became to easier to connect people—everyone is just a swipe or a click away. You’re able to learn about people a lot quicker; you can scroll through years of Instagram photos, read through their favorited tweets, and go through their interests on Facebook in just one sitting. But at the same time, you can determine whether or not you’re compatible with a person quicker than ever before. Technology is accompanied by overwhelming convenience. You no longer have to meet someone face to face to tell them something. We’ve been given the ability to (not) talk to people without seeing their reactions. It’s easy to abuse that power.

Hence, “ghosting” was born.

Ghosting is a double-edged sword, and I have been both the one slaying and the one slain. It feels right when you’re the one holding the sword, having all the power in the world, but once you’ve been on the other side with a wound to your heart, it’s hard to see the sword the same way.

To ghost is to put yourself before others, even knowingly inflicting pain upon others, and to not ghost provides closure for both parties, allowing them to move on.

The choice is clear.

Image by Kathryn Zix.