Ghosting may seem like a quick solution, but the aftermath can be haunting. Words by Natalie Michie
s a kid, I learned about the rules of dating from “chick flicks” like She’s the Man, and the entirety of Taylor Swift’s Fearless on loop. One golden rule that I picked up quickly was to always make a breakup happen face-to-face and never do it over the phone. It seemed objectively wrong to disconnect in that way.
But as I got older, dating didn’t look the way I’d expected. My introduction to casual dating, like many people my age, was through dating apps. These apps are built on the premise of not having face-to-face conversations.
When I downloaded Tinder for the first time, I’m not going to lie—I was excited. The greatest appeal to me was that there was no pressure when it came to messaging. If I didn’t want to engage with someone, I didn’t have to. I never felt like not answering someone on Tinder was bad. That’s just a part of dating apps: sometimes you get a response, and sometimes you don’t.
This cloud of excitement dissipated during my first Tinder date, when I became acutely aware of the ugly side of dating apps. It was everything I hoped it wouldn’t be. We didn’t have much in common and the conversation was dull. I wasn’t physically attracted to my date in person. And to top it off, he wanted to hook up with me—which I wasn’t down for. Instead of being up front with him, I sat through the date uncomfortably. When I walked into my apartment at the end of the night, after agreeing to “do this again sometime,” I opened Tinder and blocked him.
“Ghosting” was first added to Urban Dictionary in 2006, defined as ”the act of disappearing on your friends without notice.” Since then, many articles have been written about the coined term as it applies to dating. With the creation of dating apps like Grindr in 2009, Tinder in 2012 and Bumble in 2014, ghosting has become a part of every millennial and Gen Z’s vocabulary.
While none of us like the idea of being ghosted by someone, if we’re honest, we’ve probably found ourselves doing it to others. An American survey conducted in October 2018 by Bankmycell, a site for cell phone trading, found that 82 per cent of women and 71 per cent of men have either been ghosted, ghosted someone else or done both.
Ariella Lenton-Brym, a PhD student in Ryerson’s clinical psychology program, studies psychological outcomes of dating app use. She says the use of dating apps has made the act of rejection easier to do.
“In real life, if you walk up to someone in a bar and try to introduce yourself, and they decline that invitation, then that’s really obvious. Whereas, on a dating app, that may be less the case because there are so many people, and you’re doing such frequent swiping,” says Lenton-Brym. “Rejection is less salient on a dating app, but it is more frequent.”
When you match with someone on a dating app, they’re just a face on a screen. You haven’t established a real connection with them yet, and you probably feel that you don’t owe them a response. If the conversation gets dull, or you’re no longer interested, the easiest thing to do is to just unmatch.
But now, ghosting happens even after you’ve met in person. In my case, I never felt bad about ghosting my date after the fact, even though he didn’t do anything inherently wrong. I was uncomfortable, and that seemed like enough of a reason to cut off communication without explanation. We had no other ties, and by unmatching him on Tinder, I knew I would probably never see him again.
People are fully within their right to ghost, especially if they’re uncomfortable or have safety concerns. However, as ghosting becomes increasingly common, it may make it more difficult to establish tangible, real connections in the long-run. For some Ryerson students, the practice of ghosting has significantly impacted the way they form relationships.
ecca Maset, a third-year real estate management student, used to regularly ghost guys that she’d met on dating apps when she was no longer interested.
“It’s just the easy way out,” says Maset. “You unfollow them, unmatch them on Tinder, and if you have their number, you block it. You just never talk to them again.”
Because ghosting is so normalized, Maset says she never really felt any remorse for doing it to her past dates. But one time, it went too far.
Last year on Halloween, Maset was out with friends when she started thinking about someone she had recently met through Tinder and gone on a date with. “I was drunk and I got thirsty, so I texted him and I was like, ‘Where are you? What are you doing tonight?’” says Maset. They started texting back and forth, and she invited him over to her place.
When Maset received the “I’m here” text, she was back at her apartment sitting in the living room with her housemates. She suddenly realized she was no longer interested in having him over, telling her housemates, “I don’t want this to happen right now.”
So, with him standing outside, they turned off the lights and went to bed.
“He kept calling and calling, and I just deleted and blocked him on everything,” she says. “That’s the worst thing I’ve ever done to a guy. When I think about it now, I can’t believe I did that.”
Maset says the incident changed her outlook on ghosting, and she’s since made an effort to stop doing it to people. But her experiences with ghosting still affect the way she thinks and acts in her current relationships. With guys that she dates now, Maset says she’s “expecting them” to ghost her if they don’t like her anymore. But she’s ghosted people too, and she recognizes that this will affect the way they date in the future.
Experts have argued that the emotional effects of ghosting can be “devastating” and cause serious damage to someone’s self-esteem. They say if someone’s self-esteem is low or they’ve been ghosted many times, rejection is more painful and harder to get over long term. The effects are so significant that they can leave “psychological bruises and scars,” according to an article by Psychology Today.
An article by VICE titled “Just Break Up With People, You Heartless Cowards!!!!” seems to sum up the general attitude that people have towards ghosting. It’s unempathetic, it depicts immaturity, and if you do it, you lack basic communication skills.
However, the intent of ghosting isn’t necessarily to cause harm. Sometimes the reason that someone cuts off communication so suddenly is because they can’t bring themselves to have these difficult conversations for deeper, personal reasons.
“No one likes confrontation,” says Maset. She ghosted because she got anxious thinking about the response she would get if she was upfront. “When [people] are really hurt, they can be mean. [I wouldn’t] tell them [I wasn’t] interested, because it hurts to hear that.”
A study by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that millennials are the most anxious generation of all. The APA also found that 91 per cent of Generation Z adults said they have experienced at least one symptom of stress, such as depression and lack of interest, while only half feel like they do enough to manage this stress. Inevitably, these feelings could seep into our dating lives. Lenton-Brym says that anxiety can be the root cause for someone’s decision to ghost.
“Talking to someone about wanting to end a relationship [can be] anxiety-provoking; you’re going to hurt them, and it’s an awkward thing to talk about. You don’t know how they’re going to respond,” says Lenton-Brym. “If you can block them instead of having to go through that anxiety-provoking situation, that may be a much easier course of action, even if it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”
Lenton-Brym says she empathizes with people who struggle with the idea of confrontation.
“People are sometimes limited in their ability to act in line with what [they] think [they] should do in the face of such an intense, emotional experience,” says the PhD student.
But when confrontation is avoided through ghosting, former partners can come back to haunt us. A BuzzFeed News survey found that 29 per cent of participants believed they were owed closure after going on one date, with this number jumping to 74 per cent after more than one date. Meanwhile, MTV is producing Ghosted: Love Gone Missing, a show where people literally track down former partners who ghosted them. Similar to the structure of MTV’s Catfish, Ghosted confronts people who have cut someone off and demands an explanation. This is definitely an extreme measure, but it shows that while ghosting may seem like the easy way out, it can cause someone to harbour feelings of resentment that could become a problem later down the line.
Maset still remembers how hurt she was when she was ghosted by someone she liked in high school. Similarly, her feelings of guilt are still pretty fresh from the time she ghosted the guy who came to her apartment on Halloween, over a year ago. After finding herself on both ends of the ghosting spectrum, she says she now values communication more than ever.
“It’s really not so hard to send one text. Yeah, it’s awkward and weird. But just sending one text message, even if it’s a lie, it gives someone closure. And then they’re not sitting there making excuses for you,” says Maset.
iran Singh*, a third-year business student, started seeing her now ex-boyfriend when she was 17 and he was 20. She liked the fact that he was older, seemingly more mature, and Punjabi, like her. Early on, though, she noticed a power imbalance in their relationship.
Singh was an active Snapchatter and texter, but her boyfriend would often tell her he needed his space and to stop messaging him so often. She tried to be understanding and respect his wishes, even when he was distant with her. “I would just let him ghost me for a week.”
Singh says she ignored the red flags because she felt things would work out for them in the end. He was the first person she had been in an intimate relationship with. They had exchanged promise rings, picked out names for their future children and even made plans to run a business together one day.
Then one night, she stopped hearing from him altogether.
“It was Halloween. I was sending him pictures of my costume, and there was no response. I was calling and texting him because he was going to a party that night, so I thought something happened to him,” Singh says.
After a week of silence, she really began to worry. Singh had a key to her boyfriend’s apartment in Toronto, and anytime that she would go to check if he was there, he never was. His Twitter and Snapchat accounts were deleted. He was nowhere to be found.
“I really thought he died,” says Singh. “I would look up obituaries whenever I started thinking about him. I was so scared.” She reached out to his sisters and his friends, and none of them had heard from him.
As weeks turned into months, Singh tried to cope with her boyfriend’s unwarranted silence. The sudden loss of someone she planned a future with was traumatizing, she says. The lack of explanation on her boyfriend’s end left Singh wondering what she did wrong. She started thinking a lot about the hurtful comments he’d made about her appearance when they were together.
“It made me so insecure. I started wearing so much makeup, going out a lot, and hooking up with random guys,” she says. “I didn’t care for my body. I was really unsafe. I stopped giving a fuck. I just wanted to feel wanted by certain people because I felt like I wasn’t wanted by him.”
Lenton-Brym says that this feeling of blaming oneself for being ghosted is quite common, especially among people who experience anxiety. The PhD student compared ghosting to the experience of social ostracism.
“When people are ostracized, they tend to act more aggressively,” says Lenton-Brym. “They tend to experience higher anxiety and engage in greater conformity. Ghosting is a unique form of ostracism because it introduces a kind of uncertainty. In addition to having the experience of ostracism and social rejection, it’s really unclear to you why that happened.”
In psychology, there’s a construct called intolerance of uncertainty, Lenton-Brym explained. People with higher levels of anxiety are more likely to have an intolerance of uncertainty, meaning there’s extreme discomfort in their life when they don’t know what’s going to happen next.
“[Ghosting is] a really ambiguous situation, and we don’t really understand what’s happening,” said Lenton-Brym. “For someone who’s high in that construct [when] you don’t know if a person’s going to reach out, or you don’t know what the next step is, you might want more information, and not having it can really stress you out.”
After spending months trying to move on with the help of friends and her therapist, Singh finally heard from her estranged boyfriend.
“He texted me on Valentine’s Day, six months after, saying that he was sorry,” says Singh. He told her that his grandfather passed away and he had cut off relationships in his life to cope with the loss.
One year later, Singh says the experience of being ghosted by someone she was so close to has made it difficult for her to trust people in her life now.
“He was the person I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with,” she says. “We were in so deep.”
When someone closes the line of communication inexplicably, it can be hard to figure out how to move on. But there are some ways psychologists suggest that can help you to find closure on your own. Acknowledging that you’re in pain, and letting yourself feel that pain is important. Beyond that, allowing yourself to open up to people you trust about the way the situation is affecting you will help you to sort through your emotions.
Lenton-Brym says it’s also important to avoid going to a place of self-blame when a relationship ends suddenly.
“If you are ghosted, ask yourself what are some reasons someone might have done that that don’t have to do with you,” says Lenton-Brym. “Understand that there could be a lot of reasons; it isn’t necessarily because of [you] or something [you] did.”
hen I was ghosted by someone I really liked after seeing each other for a few weeks, I spent longer than I wanted to admit thinking about it. I found myself trying to legitimize the reason why I wasn’t hearing from someone I thought I clicked with, thinking maybe something happened to him, or his phone was broken. After about a week and a half, I began questioning myself. Did I say something wrong? Was I too confident?
I tried not to let it bother me, but for a few months after it happened, seeing his posts on social media felt like salt in the wound. Getting over it completely was a slow process.
When you’re ghosted, it feels like you’re in this weird limbo and you don’t know at what point the silence is intentional. It forces you to come up with your own reasoning, because you have no way of knowing what’s going on on their end.
Although shows like MTV’s Ghosted exist to give people the closure they think they want, seeking acknowledgement won’t stop the pain you felt from being ghosted. Don’t chase a response. Because the truth is, if someone wants to talk to you, they will. And whether they do or don’t, the not knowing is just another part of dating.
*Name has been changed for anonymity