Exploring the phenomenon of “ghosting”

Is modern love dead or merely a ghostly apparition?

With the rise of alternative means of dating and meeting new people in modern society, new means of rejection have also arisen. A mere decade ago, it could be said that in order to be rejected – romantically or otherwise – direct engagement was required. Today, however, this simply isn’t the case. Leaving a message on read or even unopened is a very common form of rejection in the world of social media. It does not require direct engagement or any articulation of what is implied by the action. When carried out long term, this phenomenon is all too familiarly known as ghosting.

Ghosting involves breaking off contact in a relationship by ceasing all communication with the person in question, usually abruptly and without any apparent warning. The ghostee is met with silence in any attempts to reach out to the ghoster, and confusion and insecurity ensue. The phenomenon of ghosting has become so popular in recent years that the definition of the term in the Oxford English Dictionary was updated to refer specifically to its usage in terms of social media as opposed to situations in real life, such as leaving a party or event without saying goodbye.

“Ghosting makes total sense in today’s swiping-fuelled world of dating.”

FƒIn a 2015 VICE article, writer Alison Stevenson interviewed four men who had ghosted her in the past, with the aim of finding out why it is that people use this method of fading out of contact without explanation. One response she received was that ghosting “seems to be the default way to tell someone on Tinder that you’re not interested”. Another admitted that “at that time, the thought of any sort of relationship was scary to me”. Interestingly, all four men interviewed said that they themselves had been ghosted in the past. The majority of students today have had some experience of ghosting, being ghosted, or often have experiences on both sides of the exchange. According to a 2016 study by Fortune Magazine, around 80% of millenials have been victims of ghosting, while a sepparate survey conducted by ELLE magazine showed that women were more likely to ghost than men, with 24% of women having ghosted before, compared to just 16% of men. In any case, the question remains: why do we ghost, especially after having been ghosted ourselves, and is it really a bad thing?

“…Whether you’re a serial ghoster or serial victim, I think it’s fair to say ghosting can be summed up in one word: spinelessness.”

Ghosting makes total sense in today’s swiping-fueled world of dating. The lure of dating apps in particular is their fast-paced, no-strings-attached, instant gratification aspect of it all. The pursuit of love in the modern world is as easy as ordering a pizza; a few clicks and you’re good to go. Yet, most people would agree that it seems like dating – and even social interaction – has never been more complicated and tinged with ambiguity. It’s also fair to say that while the pursuit of love has never been simpler, actually establishing a relationship, even a mere connection, is both exhausting and perplexing. In the reality of face-to-face interaction, it would be considered very odd indeed if you asked a person a question and had to wait two days for a response. In the world of ghosting, however, this is not only the norm but is in fact part of the gameplay of not wanting to seem overly eager or available. All in all, whether you’re a serial ghoster or a serial victim, it’s fair to say ghosting can be summed up in one word: spinelessness.

Ghosting happens when someone wants to cease contact but isn’t quite sure how to break it to the person in question. It doesn’t come from a place of malice, it’s simply easier to stop replying to messages than to face the situation head on. In some ways, ghosting has become a part of our social etiquette. Anyone who has been ghosted will tell you that even though at first they might have been confused about where they stood, they got the message loud and clear after multiple attempts at communication were met without reply. In this sense, ghosting has become the accepted way of rejecting someone, without any embarrassing conversation for either party. It may be spineless but the rarity of receiving an actual explanation in the form of a sort of premature break-up means that the person on the receiving end feels like they need to ascertain in detail what it is they did wrong, as this must not be a simple case of disinterest. If disinterest or a lack of a spark were indeed the case, then surely the situation would have been rectified with ghosting. Ghosting has become the norm and as a result any alternative is met with suspicion.

“However, the opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference, and ghosting is the embodiment of indifference.”

So, is ghosting actually harmful? If it has been normalised to such a degree that when we receive an explanation rather than silence, it arouses suspicion. To be fair, to a certain extent it really depends on the individual. For example, a serial ghostee will understand the intention behind the ghosting from experience and although they may be hurt, they won’t feel as if the ghoster intended to hurt them. In actuality, the cowardice is borne out of kindness; the anxiety surrounding rejecting someone leads to avoidance of messages to the point of ghosting. It’s procrastination at its most hurtful. On the other hand, someone who is not as experienced in ghosting will likely feel disrespected and disposable, longing for an actual explanation. There’s no sense of closure and they’ll always wonder what it was they did wrong. In actuality, they most likely did nothing wrong at all. The spark simply wasn’t there. However, the opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference, and ghosting is the embodiment of indifference. The ghoster doesn’t hate the other person to the point of wanting to hurt them with unnecessary confrontation but also doesn’t care enough for the person to dignify them with an explanation. This is the stinging power of ghosting – not the intent behind it but rather the total lack of intent or sincere consideration of the other person’s feelings.

In theory, ghosting is undoubtedly harmful. It’s the coward’s way out and every person deserves to be told where they stand in a relationship. Unfortunately, reality would suggest that ghosting has become so ingrained in swiping culture that it’s here to stay for the foreseeable future. If you’re a victim of ghosting, just know that you’re not alone. If you’ve never been ghosted, odds are you probably will be soon.