3 Reasons to Never Engage With a Relationship Zombie

4 min read
Dylan Sauerwein / Unsplash

Source: Dylan Sauerwein / Unsplash

Being ghosted is an all-too-common experience shared by people on dating apps. Dive deeper into the psychological aftermath, and three predominant themes emerge:

  • Confusion (“Did I Do Something Wrong?”): Ghosting often leaves individuals in a fog of doubt. Without closure or reason, many internalize the experience, questioning their actions, words, and worth.
  • Justification (“Maybe They Were Just Busy”): Rationalizing painful experiences is human nature. After being ghosted, many create narratives to lessen the sting. Perhaps they think the ghost was overwhelmed with work or had personal issues to address.
  • Avoiding Future Vulnerability (“I Won’t Get Too Attached Next Time”): Once bitten, twice shy. After experiencing the abrupt end that comes with ghosting, some swear off vulnerability in future interactions.

Additionally, there’s a prevailing sentiment that technology enables such behavior. And, just as technology allows for ghosting, it also allows these ghosts to return. When these past flames reappear in our lives, often without acknowledging their absence, they’re “zombies.”

While one’s gut reaction might be to ignore, curiosity often wins. Often, this doesn’t end well for the ghosted. Here are three reasons why responding to a zombie, even to turn them down or get closure politely, is risky.

1. Interacting With Someone Who Ghosted You Can Reopen Wounds

When you’re ghosted, it’s a clear sign that the person prioritized their feelings or needs over yours, often neglecting the social pain this could cause you.

Drawing on scientific insights, a 2016 study in Pain Management highlighted that social pain—like the one experienced from ghosting—shares neural pathways with physical pain. This suggests that the emotional hurt from such experiences isn’t just “in your head” but can be as palpable and real as a bodily injury.

Even when their intentions seem benign or remorseful, engaging with the source of this emotional trauma remains fraught with risk. Just as a physical wound may be vulnerable to reinjury, so can the emotional scars from ghosting be reopened.

The mere act of letting them back into your life, regardless of their present demeanor, can inadvertently resurface past hurt, reminding the psyche of the initial emotional blow. Treading these waters necessitates caution—beneath the veneer of niceties, the latent pain can linger, waiting to be rekindled.

2. Connecting Opens the Door for a Power Imbalance

The hope of understanding or getting an apology from someone who once ghosted you can be compelling. Or, maybe you want to confront them and let them know how their ghosting affected you. Yet, pursuing this can inadvertently compromise your agency.

A 2021 study from Acta Psychologica revealed a connection between ghosting and Dark Triad personality traits. Engaging with such individuals, who might harbor narcissistic, Machiavellian, or psychopathic tendencies, could be akin to navigating a maze: They often redirect blame, manipulate narratives, and thrive in ambiguity. In such convoluted interactions, the balance of power tips.

You may be defensive and trapped in a cycle of seeking validation or clarity. This destabilizes your emotional footing and erodes your ability to assert and protect your boundaries and well-being.

3. It Impedes Growth and Closure

True closure often comes from within. Engaging with a zombie can hinder your progress in finding internal peace and understanding regarding the situation. Instead of looking backward to what was, focusing on personal growth, self-worth, and future relationships can be more beneficial for emotional well-being.

Ultimately, here’s what you need to accept: A zombie may have their reasons for reaching out to you. No matter what the reasons are, they shouldn’t matter to you.

Revisiting happy moments or emotions you shared with them is not productive—it will be hard to trust them again, and expressing negative emotions is draining. It’s often a lose-lose situation for you.


While the pull to confront or engage with a returning “zombie” is strong, it’s often wise to prioritize emotional safety and leave the past behind. True self-respect means ensuring that your feelings are honored and valued, by yourself and others.

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