Ghosting has—sadly— become a norm in today’s dating culture. I was recently chatting with a few coworkers about the practice of ghosting and they were all surprised to learn I have never been ghosted and have never ghosted someone. One coworker had her own personal theory—attributing my ghostless experiences to the fact that I don’t do much online dating. Apparently, the chances of getting ghosted or ghosting increase when you meet someone online versus in person. But why is ghosting the thing to do versus just telling someone this isn’t working? Well, a new study may have some answers.
First, let’s define “ghosting.” Ghosting is suddenly ceasing all communication with a person you were dating and sometimes in a relationship with, without giving them an explanation. Literally just ignoring someone, hoping they catch the hint and stop reaching out. We’ve seen it some of our favorites shows like Insecure and with Spring finally here and summer around the corner there’s no doubt that you might soon experience the sinking feeling of getting ghosted very soon. The study, led by Leah LeFebvre of the University of Alabama, may be the first to research the science behind ghosting. Researchers conducted the study using participants who either have ghosted someone or have been ghosted. The “ghosters”, were asked questions that explored their decision to ghost such as, “Why did you ghost rather than directly indicate your intentions?” and “When did you decide to (or at one point) to ghost?”
Those that have been ghosted were asked, “In what specific conditions did the ghosting occur (e.g. time of day, location) and in what form (text, in person, social media). The participants were also given the chance to clarify their previous answers at the end if they wished. The questionnaires revealed five themes were common as to why people ghost.
No shock here! Ghosting is way easier than having the difficult conversation of telling someone you’re no longer interested in them. It also shields you from having to deal with that person’s emotions because (understandably) most people don’t take rejection or getting broken up with well.
This theme was related to mate selection and the physical, emotional, and/or intellectual appeal. Online dating and apps widen your options and allow you to “know” a person without actually having to meet. Having these “gate features”, as they’re called, allows users to decide whether they want to pursue or disengage from a potential mate. The use of technology gives enough information to feel like you know enough about someone to not be attracted while still maintaining enough distance where you don’t feel it’s serious enough to owe them an explanation. So ghosting is the best option. (My coworker might have been on to something.)
Ghosters described negative interactions that caused feelings of anger, frustration, and toxicity that made them want to disengage. Ghosting bypassed the awkwardness of confronting the antagonistic behavior of the other person and having to deal with another possible negative interaction.
For this theme when ghosters decided to end a relationship, they took into consideration the time investment and engagement. A 27-year-old female participant said, “I chose to do it because I had only been on one date and did not wish to continue to lead him on but felt awkward having that conversation so I instead just stopped talking to him.” This could also go hand in hand with convenience— the first theme.
Ghosters decide to ghost once they felt uneasy or in fear. Ghosting provided an easier way to protect themselves should the other person lose control once rejected. As an 18-year-old participant stated, ghosting is the best method when “somebody’s being like inappropriate, creepy, or weird.” This is an absolutely understandable reason to cease communication with someone, safety is always a priority.
Outside of safety concerns, I do think people are owed the courtesy of being told you’re no longer interested in them. I understand not everyone wants to explain themselves but being ignored is a major hit to someone’s self-esteem and can mentally send someone down a spiral of endless “was it something I said” scenarios. Sometimes there isn’t even anything to necessarily explain, you’re just not feeling them and you can say that, you won’t have chemistry with everyone. When my attraction for someone isn’t growing or I’m just not feeling them, I usually have a pretty standard line: “I don’t feel like we’re clicking but I appreciate you wanting to get to know me.” It’s pretty to the point, honest, and respectful. Of course deeper relationships require a different conversation but sometimes there’s just no spark and that’s okay since everyone can’t be your soul mate.