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Why Does Ghosting Hurt So Much? I Never Heard From Him Again

Ghosting: I Never Heard From Him AgainMore than a decade ago, Carrie Bradshaw was on the receiving end of a modern break-up — on a post-it note.

Nowadays, people don’t even bother with writing something on a piece of paper. Now you’ll get a text, and that will be it. The end of your relationship — and perhaps the end of any further communication with your ex-partner.

If it was wrong a decade ago to break up with someone on something so impersonal as to disrespect the relationship, how much more wrong has it become to act as though the relationship never even existed?

Welcome to “ghosting” — ending a relationship with zero explanation… and zero communication.

In some sort of perverse but non-sequitur attempt for a tie-in with Halloween, the Huffington Post wrote about ghosting on Oct. 30:

The term “ghosting” (sometimes known as the “slow fade”) refers to the anecdotally pervasive act where one dater ends a relationship by simply disappearing. The ghost does not give an explanation of any sort, leaving the ghosted wondering where he or she went wrong.

The author of that article notes that in a 2012 study, simply withdrawing from the relationship or avoiding the other person was the least ideal way to end a relationship. And yet recent data still suggests that as many as 1 in 8 relationships end in this manner.

So there’s a disconnect here — most people don’t want to just “fade away” from a relationship. And yet it happens increasingly more often as a way to end it, with technology making it easier and easier to reduce our communications with one another to just a few pixels on a screen. Even someone we’re dating.

Sending a Message versus Talking

Some people who engage in ghosting — simply not replying any longer to texts, emails or calls — believe they are sending a clear message: “I’m done with you. Leave.” For many in the population, that indeed might be a clear signal.

But for many others, it is a decidedly unclear signal. Did the other person die? Get kidnapped? Learned new (mis-)information (or some untrue gossip) about the other person? Did the spurned person do something that offended the ghoster?

In other words, simply ceasing communication opens up a wealth of questions that go far beyond simply curiosity. It opens up a veritable can of worms in many people’s minds. They may be summed up in, “What went wrong? What did I do wrong?”

You Have No Right to Know

The people who engage in ghosting say you just didn’t pick up on the otherwise clear signs the end was coming:

The idea that a direct message is necessary to cement a relationship’s end is yet another obfuscation. When it comes to modern digital relationships, the rhythm of the exchange tells us as much as its literal content, and it doesn’t take any specialized skill to read between the lines. If you’re initiating all the texts in the relationship, the recipient just isn’t that into you; if you’re not getting any texts back, the recipient isn’t into you at all.

Ouch. If everyone could read so accurately “between the lines,” I doubt we would ever have miscommunication between two people. And yet, we have an enormous amount of people not being able to read “between the lines.” Too many people believe they are being “perfectly clear.” The reality is that, all too often, they are being anything but.

Which begs the question — wouldn’t you rather be direct and provide clear communications, so there is no misunderstanding between you and your now-ex? Being indirect just invites more questions (and contact!) with your ex. Which is exactly what you’re trying to avoid.

Technology changes more quickly than our social norms do. But just because technology has made it easier than ever to add someone to your “ignore” list on your phone or drop them as a “friend” on a social network, it doesn’t relieve you of ordinary dating social mores — and responsibilities.

All Human Beings Deserve a Tiny Modicum of Respect

Look, we’re all human. We’re all fallible. And we all get hurt — sometimes for no rational reason.

Ending a relationship with a simple but short phone call or text is the way you show a tiny modicum of respect for your fellow human beings. It acknowledges that you spent some time together and that you had, at one point, at least made an effort.

It’s a part of the larger social contract we all agree to in being members of the same society. You hold the door open for the person behind you. You say “Thank you” when someone does something for you. And you say those simple words, “I’m sorry, this really isn’t working for me — you and I. I enjoyed our dates, but I don’t really see a future for us, so I’m calling it quits.”

That makes it clear that the dating relationship has ended, and lets the other person know (a) you’re okay and (b) it’s time to move on. They don’t need some complex, detailed explanation of why you’re ending it. Just the information that it’s over is the key point that needs to be communicated.

Without that simple, clear communication, you’re inviting all sorts of additional trouble and grief. Not only for yourself, but for the other person you dated.

I know it can be hard, but if you want to date, it’s a part of what most people consider “normal” dating.1 End your dating someone with a clear communication that you’re ending it, and help put an end to “ghosting.” We all deserve this kind of simple decency and respect.

 

Read another great take (a longer article on HuffPo) on ghosting: 'Ghosting:' The 21st-Century Dating Problem Everyone Talks About, But No One Knows How To Deal With

Why Does Ghosting Hurt So Much? I Never Heard From Him Again

Footnotes:

  1. And if you don’t want to be a “normal” dater, that’s fine. But out of decency for your fellow human beings, you should at least let your date know that up-front: “Hey, if this doesn’t work out, you’re never going to hear from me again. That’s just the way I am, deal.” []


John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.


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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2019). Why Does Ghosting Hurt So Much? I Never Heard From Him Again. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 25, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/ghosting-i-never-heard-from-him-again/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 12 Mar 2019
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 12 Mar 2019
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