What is ghosting? And what can you do about it?
As the phrase “Okay, Boomer” swarms the internet and the cultural conversation, I (a proud member of Gen X) would rather dissect an older, but no less frustrating, term invented by a generation younger than my own: ghosting.
What is Ghosting?
It’s even made its way into the actual dictionary — Merriam-Webster, not Urban. Ghosting is defined as the act or practice of abruptly cutting off all contact with someone (such as a former romantic partner) by no longer accepting or responding to phone calls, instant messages, etc.
If you’ve spent any time in the dating world in the past few years, you’ve likely been ghosted and there’s a not small chance you may have ghosted someone yourself. And if you have a heart, you probably felt bad about it. You should — because getting ghosted totally sucks.
The Psychology of Ghosting
It’s a relatively new phenomenon, at least in its current incarnation. Of course, people have been not returning phone calls for decades, but it wasn’t really socially expectable to just ignore someone because you felt like it. “There was a time in American culture when, you know, your neighbor would come over to borrow a cup of sugar,” Dr. Donna Rockwell, a clinical psychologist says. “That has changed and evolved, and perhaps it's because of social media, but we just don't feel obligated to have common courtesy.”
Basically, she says, communication has been devalued in our world of 24/7 availability and the ease of texting, email, DMs, and the million other ways we talk to each other without actually talking to each other. “We give ourselves permission to take the easy road,” she says. “We don't answer to an inner moral code, which is, ‘I owe this person a response.’” Dr. Rockwell notes that ghosting is an intentional act, and within that intention is a lack of consideration that you’re hurting another person.
Ghosting at Work
Lest you think ghosting is limited to the world of dating, it’s become way more pervasive in the professional realm too. Picture it, you’ve had three great interviews for a job you really want. They keep calling you back in to meet with another person at the company to the point that you think an offer may be on the horizon. Then, poof, all communications cease, and you never hear another word from your HR contact. Obviously, you realize you didn’t get the job, but that lack of closure or explanation is frankly, bullshit. A simple, “Thank you so much for your time. We loved your ideas, but decided to go in a different direction for the position” would totally suffice, right? The same goes for that man or woman you’ve been dating for two months who just disappears back into the dating apps with no explanation.
What it shows, Dr. Rockwell says, is a real lack of empathy — a problem rampant in modern American culture. “What would you feel like if you were ghosted? Perhaps that's not a question that our culture is asking itself enough these days,” she says. “Am I showing empathy? Am I treating this other person the way I would want to be treated?” People also often don’t consider the baggage that comes with ghosting someone — there’s a guilt you carry even if you aren’t conscious of it.
What to Do When You’re Being Ghosted
Here’s what Dr. Rockwell suggests you do if you’re the victim of a ghosting: “Say to yourself, ‘That person is not good for me, and fate saved me from what would have been a difficult and disastrous situation,’ she explains. “This applies to romantic relationships, friendships, or work/employment relationships. Ghosting speaks to the person doing the ghosting, not the person ghosted. There is a better romantic partner, better friend, better work or employment opportunity waiting for you. Being ghosted gives us the chance to feel even more inner confidence and empowerment.” If you need a mantra, try “This has nothing to do with me.”
And don’t feel like you need to do a lot of work nudging and trying to get a response. “Walk away and find a better situation in which you feel wanted,” she says. “That choice is best for mental health and self-esteem reasons. We never need to beg someone else for attention. Move on to create a more supportive environment in which you can thrive.”
So, yes, I may sound old-fashioned in bitching and moaning about the ghosting epidemic, but that’s just fine with me. Honestly, if this becomes a standard behavior then what does that look like in another generation or two?
I’ve got plenty of things that keep me young and relevant in the world at the ripe old age of 44. But ghosting will never be one of them.
Check out The Plum’s 4 Types of Friends You Need in Life for some tips on building the relationships that matter most. Hint: These people will never ghost you.