56 Going Ghost
For all the ghosters and ghostees of the world
Because I hope one day we can communicate with one another again.
For my family, who have always inspired me to keep writing and shown me how important it is to talk in any relationship.
Keywords: Relationships, Break-ups, Avoidance, Social media
The following interview about ghosting took place with an anonymous student at Wake Forest University:
Q: Have you been ghosted? If so, more than once? A: Yes. A few times.
Q: How did being ghosted make you feel about the person who ghosted you? A: The worst time I can remember I thought he was mean, ingenuine, and wasted my time. I didn’t like that he sent me mixed signals and led me on.
Q: How did being ghosted make you feel about yourself?
A: It made me question myself and everything I had done throughout the relationship. I wanted to understand what I did wrong so that I would not do it again. I just wanted to know what he didn’t like about me that made him want to cut me off so suddenly.
Although the term “ghosting” has recently risen in popularity, the concept is nothing new. In the Oxford English Dictionary, the term is defined as “To flit about, prowl as a ghost. Also to ghost it. to ghost away: to steal away like a ghost.” In simpler terms, ghosting is the act of suddenly ceasing all communication, seemingly without warning or reason, in order to end a budding romantic relationship. This method of ending relationships is especially popular among young adults who use social media and other technology to communicate with their significant or potential significant others. As a young adult and college student, I have both initiated ghosting someone and been ghosted. I have also seen the effects of ghosting on my friends and peers. Ghosting is generally considered a major part of the college dating scene, and therefore, an important concept to further explore. However, despite the popularity of this method, being ghosted can have a major negative impact on both the initiator and non-initiator. For example, a sudden lack of communication with the non-initiator, especially with today’s technology, can cause them to feel rejected or undeserving. This action can also leave the non-initiator with a lots of questions due to a lack of closure on the situation. It is clear that the non-initiator deals with a lot of thoughts and emotions after being ghosted. In comparison, ghosting also negatively affects the initiator because of feelings of guilt, remorse, and awkwardness. Therefore, ghosting is a bad rhetorical strategy because it causes negative psychological changes, emotional shifts, and uncertainty. Ghosting, as a form of communication, is important because of the negative effects it has on those who are involved in the utilization of this method of communication to end their relationship.
Ghosting has a negative impact on the psychological state of both initiators and non-initiators. In “Psychological Correlates of Ghosting and Breadcrumbing Experiences: A Preliminary Study among Adults,” Navarro writes to further the understanding of the impact of being ghosted has on three important psychological constructs, including satisfaction with life, loneliness, and helplessness. Ghosting is a relationship dissolution strategy in which individuals enact roles as either the initiator or non-initiator. Non-initiators deal with uncertainty and are unable to achieve closure after the relationship suddenly ends, especially if behavioral de-escalation or negative identity management strategies are utilized by the initiator (Navarro, Larrañaga, Yubero, and Villora). Therefore, non-initiators must choose their own method of coping and sensemaking in order to understand the situation better and reduce their uncertainty. However, different methods of communication also affect this process. For example, dating apps have many disadvantages and can expose non-initiators to ghosting as well as other relationship dissolution strategies such as breadcrumbing, slow fading, benching, and haunting which also cause uncertainty and cause psychological changes in a similar manner. Urban Dictionary, an online dictionary for slang words and phrases, defines each of these terms in connection to romantic relationships. Breadcrumbing is the act of sending out signals that are flirtatious, but non-committal to lead someone on with little effort. Slow fading is when, over time, someone gradually stops spending time or communicating with someone else without acknowledging that there is an issue in the relationship. Benching is when someone likes someone enough to continue going on outings and spending time with them, but they are not interested enough to secure a relationship with that person so they keep them as an option while dating other people. Haunting is when someone from a past relationship makes themselves noticeable in the digital world of someone else through acts such as liking posts or watching private stories on social media. Dissolutions strategies, such as those listed previously, all are related to aspects of issues with either commitment and avoidance issues or both. These acts are carried out by initiators which cause them to feel guilt and cope with their decision by emotionally disconnecting from the non initiator. These strategies reflect the internal issues and indecision that occurs for initiators when they end the relationship. Although psychological changes are a major effect of ghosting on the individuals in both roles, these are not the only changes that affect them when ghosting occurs.
Being ghosted has a negative emotional impact on the initiator and non-initiator. Ghosting is a form of relationship dissolution that lacks direction on the way that the non-initiator and initiator should react. Often, this is due to the medium in which the ghosting takes place and a lack of clarity on why the initiator has stopped communicating. For example, texting and social media are frequent mediums involved in ghosting. According to the article “The Medium Impacts Emotional Suffering: Exploring the Non-Initiator’s Perspective as a Target of Ghosting,” this medium of asynchronous and lean communication allows for “highly private, personalized, and concealed communication” and “allow for distance and ambiguity creation.” Therefore, this form of communication ultimately leads to an increase in suffering due to an increase in distress from an absence of communication and the well-known frequent use of media creates a deeper sense of loss and rejection. For the non-initiator, this can lead to issues with “self-esteem, external locus of control, internal locus of control, feelings of others, and emotional attachment” (“The Medium Impacts Emotional Suffering: Exploring the Non-Initiator’s Perspective as a Target of Ghosting”). For example, I have observed and experienced instances in which the non-initiator feels self-conscious about their own worth and begins to question whether or not they were the issue in a relationship which ultimately can lead to being discouraged from pursuing other relationships. For the initiator, characterized as an avoidant individual, their state of distress will cause them to “seek less comfort/support from their romantic partners” (Simpson and Steven Rholes). An asynchronous medium provides even more opportunity for initiators to practice avoidance. In contrast, when the dissolution of a relationship occurs face-to-face or on the telephone, suffering is reduced for the non-initiator because there are verbal and non-verbal attributes that indicate the end of the relationship rather than having a lack of closure over text or social media (“The Medium Impacts Emotional Suffering: Exploring the Non-Initiator’s Perspective as a Target of Ghosting”). Additionally, initiators may be able to provide clarity or explanation for their actions and as a result feel less guilty about their decision to end the relationship. It is important to consider, however, the main users of dating apps and technology for relationship building and what that means in relation to ghosting.
As a college student, it is normal to have experiences, and observe others’ experiences, with dating online and through social media. The majority of my parents’ dating lives had to be conducted in person, so whereas they may not be extremely familiar with ghosting, I am very familiar with it. For my parents, communication and outings with partners and potential partners took place in person because technology was not advanced at that point in time. As a result, relationships consisted of less suffering and more clarity. It is also important to note that technology allows for people to communicate and get to know one another on a more personal level in a faster, more consistent way with technology rather than the slower, more natural pace that came with relationships built mainly from face-to-face communication. This is important because relationships built mainly through digital communication, at least at the beginning, are more common today. These kinds of relationships are more likely to bring about the use of asynchronous dissolution strategies. As someone who was born in the digital age, I have ghosted others and been ghosted. It is extremely common on a college campus to be familiar with ghosting and sometimes to even expect to be ghosted. It is a communication form understood among college students and young adults in general that conveys a desire for separation from one party of the relationship to the other.
Ghosting is a strategy for ending relationships in a sudden and ambiguous way, but it is truly an established form of communication because it conveys messages about the status of one’s relationship, allows for the interpretation of each individual’s feelings, and calls for a reaction from the initiator and non-initiator. When someone initiates ghosting then it is important to consider what they may be trying to communicate to the non-initiator as well as how the initiator’s message is interpreted by the non-initiator. The initiator could be trying to communicate a lack of interest, a new partner, a change in their circumstances and many other things through their act of avoidance and effort to separate themselves from the situation. Meanwhile, the non-initiator may interpret being ghosted as being disliked, unworthy, or simply not making a good couple. The lack of clarity that comes with ghosting can create a large gap between the intention behind the message and the interpretation of the message. Overall, ghosting is a term that holds a lot of meaning and emotion. Regardless of the intent, ghosting is a commonly used jarring and sudden way of ending a relationship that can leave the non-initiator with emotional shifts, psychological changes, and uncertainty.
Anonymous. Personal interview. 10 May 2021.
A New Meaning of the Verb“Ghost” https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/ghosting-words-were-w atching. Accessed 14 May 2021.
Freedman, Gili, et al. “Ghosting and Destiny: Implicit Theories of Relationships Predict Beliefs about Ghosting.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, vol. 36, no. 3, SAGE Publications Ltd, Mar. 2019, pp. 905–24. SAGE Journals, doi:10.1177/0265407517748791
Ghosting in Emerging Adults’ Romantic Relationships: The Digital Dissolution Disappearance Strategy – Leah E. LeFebvre, Mike Allen, Ryan D. Rasner, Shelby Garstad, Aleksander Wilms, Callie Parrish, 2019. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0276236618820519. Accessed 14 May 2021.
Navarro, Raúl, Elisa Larrañaga, Santiago Yubero, and Beatriz Villora. “Individual, Interpersonal and Relationship Factors Associated with Ghosting Intention and Behaviors in Adult Relationships: Examining the Associations over and above. Being a Recipient of Ghosting.” Telematics and Informatics, vol. 57, Jan. 2021, p. 101513. ResearchGate, doi:10.1016/j.tele.2020.101513.
Navarro, Raúl, Elisa Larrañaga, Santiago Yubero, and Beatriz Víllora. “Psychological Correlates of Ghosting and Breadcrumbing Experiences: A Preliminary Study among Adults.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 17, no. 3, Feb. 2020. PubMed Central, doi:10.3390/ijerph17031116.
Simpson, Jeffry A., and W. Steven Rholes. “Adult Attachment, Stress, and Romantic Relationships.” Current Opinion in Psychology, vol. 13, Feb. 2017, pp. 19–24. PubMed Central, doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2016.04.006.
The Medium Impacts Emotional Suffering: Exploring the Non-Initiator’s Perspective as a Target of Ghosting. – Google Search.
“What Is Ghosting?” Dictionary.Com, 19 July 2016, https://www.dictionary.com/e/ghosting/.