Ghosting: why it hurts and what you can do about it

by Eharmony Editorial Team - November 6, 2015

If your date suddenly does a disappearing act, it’s likely that you’re a victim of ghosting. But why do people ghost and what can you do to exorcise them? We investigate

Ever been on a few dates with someone – or even been in a relationship with somebody – only to have them suddenly disappear without explanation? If this strikes a chord then you might have become a victim of a dating phenomenon that has fast become the new normal: ghosting.

As with zombieing, breadcrumbing and cushioning, it’s part of the disposable dating dictionary – but what exactly is ghosting? Well, the Urban Dictionary defines the term as the ‘act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone you no longer wish to date.’

In the early days, when you’re just a few dates in, this might just mean an expected fourth or fifth date never materialises. In more extreme cases, your boyfriend or girlfriend of several months simply stops responding to your texts, doesn’t answer your calls and goes out of their way to avoid bumping into you in public. They completely disappear into the ether.

Why do people ghost?

Many people see it as an easy way out. Why go through a difficult conversation when you can avoid it? In fact, ghosters often try to justify their behaviour by claiming ghosting is less hurtful than telling someone that you’re not interested in them anymore. In reality, it’s cowardly and immature.

Unfortunately, the practice has become so common in the early stages of a relationship that it’s almost become acceptable. When online dating, you may well be casually chatting with several people at once and it’s tempting to just stop replying to those that you’re not interested in meeting up with.

Communicating online with someone you’ve never met creates a distance between you. It’s easier than it should be to forget that the person you’re exchanging messages with is a real human being with feelings that can be hurt by your actions. We also miss out on the subtle signs of attraction that come from face-to-face interaction. Looking deep into someone’s eyes, exchanging shy glances and brushing hands – actions that help to forge a connection are all missing online.

However, as soon as you’ve been on more than one date with someone, if you don’t want to see them again, you owe them an explanation. The best way to break-up with anyone is to be clear, open and honest. You can even do this over text if it’s only been two or three dates. There’s no guarantee that the person on the receiving end of your text will appreciate your honesty, of course, but at least everyone will know where they stand.

Coping with ghosting

Being ghosted after exchanging a few messages or going on a couple of dates can sting, but being ghosted when you’re in an established, monogamous relationship can be devastating.

Naturally, it impacts your self-esteem. You feel abandoned, betrayed and anxious. After an initial burst of anger towards the ghoster, the ghostee often turns these negative feelings towards themselves. It’s all too easy to spiral into overthinking, wondering what you did wrong; was it something you said, something you wore, did you come across as clingy?

If you’ve been ghosted, the first stage in recovery is to accept it. When someone disappears from your life without explanation, it’s tempting to go into denial. Yes, maybe they have lost their phone or been busy at work, but if you’ve sent a friendly follow-up message and not had a response after three or four days, accept that you’ve been ghosted.

Try to avoid haunting – checking out their social media or frequenting their favourite coffee shop – it’ll only stop you from moving on. These kinds of behaviours take up space in your mind, leave you fixated on your ghost and place more importance on them than they deserve. Delete their number, unfollow, defriend, and do everything possible to avoid them until you’re fully over them.

‘It’s not you, it’s me’ may be a dating cliché but when recovering from ghosting, it’s important to remember that this is often true. If the person you were dating is immature enough to have ghosted you, they probably aren’t ready for a real relationship. Maybe they weren’t over their ex yet or have commitment issues, whatever the excuse, remember that it’s not all about you – and you’re better off without them!

Ghosting: how to spot the signs

Unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible to avoid being ghosted. By its very nature, ghosting comes without warning. The best way to put an end to it is by acting maturely and fairly in your own interactions and relationships. Commit to having the awkward conversation, sending that ‘thanks, but no thanks message) and being the bad guy sometimes. And hopefully, your actions will inspire others to pay-it-forward.

Remember, anyone who would end a relationship without warning could never be the kind of partner that you deserve. And the right person, your compatible match, is waiting.