Rejection and breakups are hard enough, but being ghosted can be traumatic. It can leave you with unanswered questions that make it hard to move on. Although ghosting also occurs in friendships, it’s usually associated with dating. More devastating, but less common, is when a spouse disappears after years of marriage. It’s like a sudden death of the person and the marriage. But even the unexplained, unexpected end to a brief, romantic relationship can feel like betrayal and shatter your trust in yourself, in love, and in other people.
It’s a shock to the heart whenever you care about someone who suddenly cuts you off without any explanation. If you insist on one and get a response like, “I just don’t feel it anymore,” it isn’t satisfying. You still want to know “Why?” We are information-seeking animals. Our brain is wired to wonder and search for solutions. Once we pose a question, it looks for answers. This is compounded by the fact that we’re also wired to attach and to experience rejection as painful. We try to reconnect — why babies cry fiercely when they need their mother. Rejection can cause obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior, like stalking your ex’s social media, which fuels more pain and more questions.
Ghosting a Romance
In a romantic relationship, breakups are always harder during the early stage, when ghosting usually occurs. You don’t know your partner that well and are still in a blissful haze of idealization. Your hopes for the future may be abruptly and inexplicably dashed. Normally, after a relationship progresses from the romantic “ideal” stage into the “ordeal” phase, couples struggle with ambivalence and conflicts. If that ends the relationship, at least you have an understanding of why it didn’t work and perhaps agree.
If couples can communicate and accommodate each others’ needs and personalities, they get to the “real deal” — a real relationship based on mutual understanding and acceptance. This takes two people compatible and committed to making the relationship work. They must also have enough self-esteem and autonomy to give without feeling unappreciated or robbed and receive without feeling unworthy or smothered.
In dating, often there is less accountability, depending upon various factors: The way you met (a chat room or hook-up app), the individual’s maturity and values, length of the relationship, and frequency of face-to-face contact. Technology promotes less emotional involvement. If instead you met through mutual friends, there’s more incentive to be on good behavior or other friends will hear about it.
Ghosting might start with an unanswered text or call, or long silences between replies, until there are none. Here are eight reasons why a person might ghost instead of communicate:
- They’re chicken: People who don’t handle conflict well fear confrontation. They expect drama and criticism and want to avoid a breakup conversation. They may rationalize to themselves that they’re sparing your feelings by not admitting that they no longer want to continue the relationship. However, leaving without a word, let alone closure, is more cruel and painful.
- They’re avoidant: Ghosts are more likely to have intimacy problems, which explain why they leave a relationship that’s getting close. They’re emotionally unavailable and may have an avoidant attachment style.
- They’re ashamed: People with low self-esteem want to avoid criticism and the shame they’ll experience if you get to know them better — one reason for avoiding intimacy. They also expect to feel shame for hurting you. Their lack of boundaries makes them feel responsible for your feelings, though the reverse is true. They’re responsible for how they communicate, but not for your reaction. If they want to end a relationship, you’re entitled to an honest explanation. Thus, in trying to avoid false responsibility, they err by not taking responsibility for their own behavior, causing you the unnecessary pain they were trying to avoid.
- They’re busy: When you’re not exclusive and acknowledge that dating someone else is okay, your partner may assume the relationship is casual. While dating other people, you and/or your messages might have been overlooked or forgotten. Your date may have already moved on or just not made time to respond. When later realizing this, he or she is too embarrassed to reply and rationalizes that your “thing” wasn’t serious in the first place.
- They’re game-players: To some daters, particularly narcissists, relationships are solely a means to satisfy their egos and sexual needs. They’re not interested in a commitment or concerned with your feelings, though they may feign that when they’re seducing you. They’re players, and to them relationships are a game. They’re not emotionally involved and can act callously once they’re no longer interested, especially if you express needs or expectations.
- They’re depressed or overwhelmed: Some people can hide depression for a while. The ghost might be too depressed to continue and not want to reveal what’s really going on in his or her life. There may be other life events you don’t know about that take precedence, like a job loss or personal or family illness or emergency.
- They’re seeking safety: If you’ve raged in the past or are violent or verbally abusive, the ghost may avoid you in self-protection.
- They’re setting a boundary: If you’ve annoyed and smothered your friend with frequent texts or calls, especially if they’ve asked you not to, then their silence is sending a message, because you’ve ignored their boundaries. You likely have an anxious attachment style and are attracted to people with avoidant styles. See “Breaking the Cycle of Abandonment.”
What to Do if You’ve Been Ghosted
The main thing to realize is that in the vast majority of cases, ghosting behavior reflects on the ghost not you. It’s time to let go. Here are some do’s and don’ts to follow.
The other person has decided to move on for whatever reason. Accepting that is more important than knowing why. The ghost is also demonstrating that he or she doesn’t respect your feelings and lacks essential communication and conflict resolution skills that make relationships work. Your feelings aside, consider whether you really want a relationship with them.
Allow Your Feelings
Realize that you can’t figure out the ghost’s motives in your head. Let go of obsessive thoughts, and allow yourself to feel both sadness and anger, without falling into shame. Give yourself time to grieve. Open your heart to yourself with extra doses of self-love — all you wanted from the other person.
Deal with the rejection in a healthy way. Rejection can be painful, but you don’t have to pile on unnecessary suffering. Don’t blame yourself or allow someone else’s bad behavior to diminish your self-esteem. Even if the ghost believes you weren’t what he or she was looking for, that doesn’t mean you’re undesirable to someone else. You cannot make a person love you. You simply might not have been a good match. He or she is not your last hope for a partner!
If you’re tempted to write or call, think about how the conversation will go, how you will feel, and whether you would get a truthful answer from the person. Often times, the person ending a relationship won’t be honest about the reasons or may not even be able to articulate them, because they’re just going with their gut feelings. Men tend to do this more than women, who analyze and ruminate more. In addition, the odds are you’ll be rejected a second time. Would that hurt more?
To heal faster, experts advise no contact after a breakup, including all social media. Read more tips on how to recover.
If you find it hard to let go of your ex and pursue a conversation, resist any temptation to lure him or her back. You may later regret it. Instead, communicate that his or her was hurtful and unacceptable. In other words, be resolved that you’re now rejecting them. Then, move on.
Beware that if you’re still hurting and vulnerable, contact may prolong your grief. If you don’t feel strong, such a conversation may not help you let go. Also, remember that anger isn’t always strength. It may be a temporary stage of grief, followed by more longing.
Get back into life, and plan activities with friends. You may need a break from dating for a while, but socialize and do other things that you enjoy. Don’t allow yourself to fall into depression, which is distinct from mourning.
© 2019 Darlene Lancer