Ghosting: How to Deal with Digital Disconnects in Dating

7 min read

There are two kinds of ghosting. Both involve disappearing after making contact, but only one comes with treats. Ghosting at Halloween means you ring the doorbell, leave a bag of treats, and then run away before anyone can see you. Ghosting online or on dating apps is simply disappearing without an explanation. No treats. In fact, quite the opposite. Ghosting can cause considerable distress by leaving the other person wondering what happened. Ghosting is an increasingly common relationship management strategy. It is also unkind, generally inexcusable, and often indicates a lack of maturity, courage, and empathy. Just because “everyone’s doing it” doesn’t make it okay.

Ghosting—the sudden disconnect after some amount of contact—is the ultimate silent treatment. Withholding contact is a passive-aggressive, detached communication style that can have ripple effects for both parties. It may seem like the fast and easy way out of dealing with discomfort, but it can trigger feelings of abandonment and rejection and even increase the temptation to act aggressively against others for the person ghosted and undermine healthy relationship patterns in the ghoster.

Ghosting and Technology: It’s a Match

Virtual environments can make translating normal behavioral patterns tricky, and dating is no exception. It’s hard to navigate the emotional roller coaster of romance without throwing tech into the mix.

Dating apps have further increased the frequency of ghosting. Mobile apps gamified dating, even commodifying it, reducing the perception of potential matches as real people with feelings. According to Tinder stats, 80 percent of users say they want a serious relationship, 60 percent are between age 18 and 34, and 83.5 percent access dating apps on their mobile devices (Elad, 2023). The mobile format, however, creates distance and depersonalizes matches, making empathetic connections more challenging.

The Arguments in Favor of Ghosting

Not surprisingly, rationalizations for ghosting abound. Here are two big ones.

They “deserve” to be ghosted. Many people argue that there are some circumstances on dating apps that warrant ghosting besides sheer laziness. Aggressively rude, disrespectful, or threatening comments fall on this list. When someone behaves badly, it can trigger the retribution bias, which is our innate response that people who do bad things should pay for it. This eye-for-an-eye cognitive bias can make ghosting feel like an acceptable response to bad behaviors.

It’s easier to ghost than to explain. We all know that breaking off relationships can be awkward and uncomfortable. People-pleasers, in particular, can have a very hard time being comfortable with decisions that might upset someone else, especially a partner. Ghosting is a maladaptive social pattern that can become truly destructive to long-term relationships, like using the silent treatment to avoid conflict. Ghosting is abusive and shows a lack of maturity and interpersonal skills. It takes very little effort to end an online relationship with a short text. The short-term gain of avoiding discomfort comes at the long-term cost of your own personal development and self-esteem.

What’s the Big Deal? Ghosting Hurts

Whether virtual or IRL, research consistently shows that we have three basic psychological needs: social connection, agency, and competence (Ryan and Deci, 2000). Being ghosted may seem innocuous, but it undermines all three needs, decreases well-being, and increases mental distress and the risk of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. Here’s why:

  • Ghosting is the symbolic withdrawal of love and belonging.
  • Being ghosted makes us feel powerless.
  • Being ghosted causes us to question our abilities and competence.

6 Ways to Avoid Being a Ghoster

People ghost because they don’t want to continue a relationship, not because they want to hurt someone. In fact, ironically, many people think they are sparing someone’s feelings by ghosting. Ghosting avoids the stress of confrontation, but it doesn’t justify inflicting pain on others. Here are some things to remember if you’re tempted to ghost someone:

  1. Don’t fool yourself. Ghosting is not a kinder way of ending a relationship (even a short one) than sending a short “thanks but no thanks” note. Frequent ghosters not only risk inflicting unnecessary psychological harm on others but can also create unhealthy relationship patterns.
  2. Reflect on your behavior. Don’t ghost on a whim. Decide what behaviors are dealbreakers and how you can best handle them to feel good about yourself and avoid the later guilt of knowing you wimped out.
  3. Plan ahead. Brainstorm some notes ahead of time so you don’t have to end a relationship exchange under stress. (for example, “You’re great, but I’m not in the right space right now.”)
  4. Keep it short. You are under no obligation to explain why you are disconnecting—only that you are doing so. People have a natural tendency to feel they need to respond to questions. You don’t.
  5. Have empathy. A simple, polite reply keeps the other person from wondering what happened or what they did or didn’t do.
  6. Feel good about yourself. You’ll feel better for having been brave enough to tackle the discomfort. Believe it or not, those positive feelings are the germs for greater strength and resilience.

9 Ways to Deal with Being Ghosted

Statistics suggest that if you are active on social media and dating apps, you have high odds of eventually being ghosted. Here are some things to consider.

  1. Don’t take it personally. Remind yourself that the ghoster is a coward who cannot face the consequences of a dating partner’s reaction, such as hurt or anger. It is not about you.
  2. Watch for negative self-talk. If someone ghosts you, it is common to think we were somehow to blame and that we did something wrong. However, you aren’t, and you didn’t. Watch for feelings of shame, guilt, or feeling “less-than” so you can recognize and stop them, replacing them with positive statements or affirmations. Remember that you are in charge of your self-worth, no one else.
  3. Engage in self-care. Find activities that build your self-esteem, bring joy, or demonstrate your strengths and talents. Positive emotions are healing.
  4. Do something for others. Volunteering or finding some way of helping others not only keeps you from ruminating on your situation but also builds self-esteem.
  5. Spend time with real friends. Don’t wallow and feel sorry for yourself, appreciate having genuine love and social support from people you know and love.
  6. Congratulate yourself for dodging a bullet. Anyone who would do that isn’t someone worthy of your long-term investment. It’s hard to be rational when you’re emotions are bruised, but ghosters are demonstrating the emotional maturity of a middle schooler, not integrity, empathy, and compassion.
  7. Practice coping strategies. Techniques like mindfulness, deep breathing, listening to soothing music, or taking nature walks can help you process pain, rejuvenate your spirit, and inspire new ideas.
  8. Start a gratitude journal. This doesn’t have anything to do with dating apps, dating, or even ghosting specifically. However, writing down three things that you’re grateful for every day will improve your emotional outlook and self-esteem. This not only affects your well-being but also contributes to the quality of your relationships.
  9. Report and Block. Not all apps accept reports of ghosting—Bumble is just starting to—but remember that you can report abuse to the app or platform. Use your ability to block users who don’t add to your well-being. If you were at a party, you wouldn’t stand where you could hear a jerk insult you. You don’t have to do it online, either.

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