What Is Ghosting? And What To Do If You’re Being Ghosted, According To Relationship Experts

by | Jun 27, 2023 | Relationships

Dating is spookier than ever and I’m not just talking about the new voice note feature on Hinge. I’m talking about the modern dating trend of “ghosting.”

Ghosting isn’t necessarily new. While the word itself—plus its modern definition—wasn’t added into the dictionary until 2017, the behaviour of cutting off communication without explanation—sort of the ultimate Irish exit—has always existed in some way or another. However, with the rise of social media and dating apps, the act of ghosting has become more prevalent and the psychological effects cannot be ignored.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Healthnearly a quarter of daters in the United States have been ghosted by a romantic partner. What’s more? Those who have experienced ghosting—or a combined form of breadcrumbing and ghosting—reported less satisfaction with life and greater feelings of loneliness.

When someone completely cuts off communication with you without saying why, it can rattle your sense of confidence and reality, relationship experts tell Women’s Health.

“Ghosting can be a difficult and painful experience for both parties involved,” says Kalley Hartman, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Newport Beach, California. “But it can leave the ghosted partner feeling especially confused, hurt and abandoned.”

Meet the Experts:

  • Kalley Hartman, LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist.
  • Tiffany Green, LCPC, is a psychotherapist based in Chicago, Illinois.
  • Dr. Ketan Parmar, MD, is a forensic psychiatrist and mental health expert at Clinic Spots.

Any time you open up your heart to someone, whether a potential new boo, friend, or any other significant person in your life, it can be anxiety-inducing. Who hasn’t obsessively checked their phone or felt phantom buzzes while awaiting a message or call from a crush? With so many modes of communication available today, relationships take up more and more of people’s mental and digital space. This is another reason why ghosting can be so jarring, says Hartman. Internet users are used to seeing partners or potential love interests everywhere, all the time—from Instagram Stories to BeReal. If all of that digital intimacy suddenly disappears, people are left in a never-ending cycle of “what ifs.”

If you fear you have been ghosted, or simply want some advice on how to move on from a ghostly experience, ahead relationship experts break it down. What ghosting is, exactly and what to do if you, too, have been personally victimized by Casper the Not-So-Friendly Ghost.

What is ghosting?

Ghosting, per the experts, is suddenly ending communication with someone without explanation. This can apply to romantic situations. This is how it’s often discussed, but ghosting can also occur between friends or even former coworkers.

The key is the abrupt stop in return calls, text, emails, or DMs, says Chicago-based psychotherapist Tiffany Green. Ahem, perhaps even smoke signals (a girl can get desperate). And people who ghost provide “no explanation for why they are choosing to end communication,” Green adds.

Imagine you’re texting a new person you went on a few dates with pretty consistently—a little flirty banter, perhaps talks about your next date—and that person just stops answering mid-convo. You try after a few hours and then again after a day, only to find out your usually blue iMessages have all of a sudden gone green. Sorry to break it to you, but may have been ghosted.

Obviously, the impact of this behaviour varies depending on your level of intimacy. Being ghosted by a person you’ve been DM-ing back and forth on a dating app may sting a bit less than, say, your bestie.

Why do people ghost?

There are many reasons—trust me when I say I’ve considered them all—as to why people ghost. But quite often, people abruptly end all communication with another person because they do not want to feel discomfort (uh, like, at all) so much so that they would rather digitally drop off the face of the Earth than have an honest conversation or even shoot a text message, says Green. And while it’s not the nicest way to cut things off, some people just can’t tolerate emotional conflict, Green notes.

Let’s say you got into a seemingly innocent political discussion over drinks. And maybe what you thought was a harmless quip about your political leanings was actually a huge deal or game-changing piece of information for your date. Rather than just, ya know, saying something, some people would rather just vanish. “People often ghost when there are difficult topics they do not want to explore or discuss,” explains Green.

However, if a date you thought you had a good rapport with suddenly goes AWOL, Dr. Ketan Parmar, MD, a forensic psychiatrist and mental health expert at Clinic Spots, urges a bit of empathy. The person you’ve been chatting with may be too scared to explain their feelings or is simply not emotionally mature enough to do so—a frustrating but common phenomenon, he says.

“They may also be trying to avoid a potentially awkward confrontation or even just trying to protect themselves from getting hurt. Whatever the reason, ghosting is a way out.”

How should I respond if I think I’ve been ghosted?

Well, first off, it’s important not to jump to conclusions, Green says, which is difficult in a situation like this. But remember: People are busy and things do come up! If you think your friend, or potential romantic partner, is in a state of overwhelm, it may be worth reaching out. Maybe they truly do have a lot of stress at work or at home and perhaps they mentioned something about it earlier in your conversation. Sending a note letting them know you’re thinking of them—a sort of “Hey, I’m thinking of you and I hope you’re okay”— can go a long way, says Green.

“It is not uncommon for people to resurface after their life circumstances have been resolved and they are interested in reconnecting,” Green adds.

Take matters into your own hands

If this is a true ghost, though, it is important to take matters into your own hands. Ask yourself what would make you feel better in this situation, says Hartman.

You may want to take time to process your feelings and try to come to terms with the ending of the relationship however feels right to you. That can look like busting out your journal, calling a friend, or just taking a few days away with your thoughts. But whatever your form of self-care and processing is, make time for it. This is not something to gloss over, says Hartman, as it can be startling.

“It is also important to remember that whatever the reason for the ghosting, it is not a reflection of your worth or value as a person,” she adds. Period.

After taking some time to reflect, it can also be helpful to reach out in a kind and respectful way. Sending a message expressing how that person’s behaviour made you feel and getting your own form of closure can be key here, explains Hartman. “This will help build your resilience and help protect against further hurtful behaviour in the future.”

What’s the best way to get over being ghosted?

Someone you care about cutting you out of their life without explanation hurts. There are no “ifs” or “buts” about it. But creating safe, supportive environments to express your feelings and talk through everything can help you in the long run, says Hartman. Schedule time to talk to the people that get you and can help you build yourself back up. Self-care—like journaling, meditating, resting, or perhaps hitting the streets for a good old Hot Girl Walk—can also really help boost your self-esteem, Hartman adds.

To paraphrase the Ghostbusters themselves, “Who you gonna call?” Your therapist!

According to Hartman, it can also be helpful to speak to a professional who can walk you through coping skills and allow you to debrief on anything you might have overlooked in the relationship.

Also important to remember here: This behaviour says a lot more about Casper than it does about you, says Green. “Ghosting says more about the other person, their communication style and investment in your relationship than about you. Try to see it as a warning sign of potential red flags about a relationship if it had continued.”

How do I avoid accidentally ghosting someone?

As difficult as it can be to have open and honest conversations, this is key when dating—and in life in general! Simply sending someone a message saying you are no longer interested can save them weeks, months, or even years of “what ifs,” say the experts.

Not only is it a decent thing to do, but in this Taylor Swift era, where karma is your boyfriend, I, for one, definitely want it to be on my side.

This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com

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