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So, you've been ghosted. What now?

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You may be left feeling confused, hurt, frustrated, and full of self-doubt. Let’s do a little ghostbusting and de-mystify this relationship dissolution strategy.

What is ghosting?
Ghosting refers to the practice of ending a romantic or platonic relationship, situationship, or flirtationship, by evaporating into thin air; that is, by stopping all communication with someone without explanation or forewarning. Ghosting is not new, but research suggests that our increasing reliance on technology to mediate relationships may make ghosting a more common aspect of modern relationships.

Why do people ghost?
Although ghosting can happen in longer-term relationships, it is more common in less committed, less intimate shorter-term relationships. It’s also more common for people to ghost when they have a more fixed view of relationships in general (for example, you’re either meant to be together or you’re not) rather than a more fluid view (for example, relationships grow over time and can improve with effort and work).

Research suggests that some of the main reasons people ghost are:

  • Disinterest: they’re no longer into the other person.
  • Avoidance: to avoid confrontation, discomfort, or intimacy.
  • Safety: they’re worried about how the other person will react.
  • Ease: it’s easier than a direct conversation.
  • Concern: they want to spare the other person’s feelings.

The impacts of being ghosted
Ghosting is a form of social rejection that can feel particularly hard because you’re left with a lot of uncertainty and not a lot of closure. This can leave room for your mind to spin endlessly on itself, coming up with explanations that can’t be confirmed and making it hard to move on. The lack of control can also make it more likely for your mind to fixate on explanations that feel like they offer you control: things like, “maybe there’s something I did to make them not like me, and maybe if I find that thing, I can fix it and make sure that this never happens to me again.” Ghosting can trigger self-criticism, self-doubt, and feelings of mistrust and hopelessness about future relationships.

While the common lore is that ghosting is worse than other types of endings, research suggests that people whose relationships end via direct communication versus via ghosting experience a similar amount of emotional distress. Having a partner end your relationship can be a difficult and painful experience no matter how it occurs, and how an ending is experienced can be different for different people.

Getting over your ghost
Ambiguous endings like being ghosted can bring their own challenges. However, they can also be an opportunity for self-reflection and growth. We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond to, make sense of, and learn from what happens to us.

  • Feel your feelings. Being ghosted can bring up a lot of feelings. If you’re mad, be mad. If you’re sad, be sad. If you’re relieved, be relieved. Make space inside yourself for all feelings that come up. The only way past them is through them.
  • Accept uncertainty and check your assumptions. Try not to fall into the never-ending spiral of trying to pinpoint the reason why you’ve been ghosted. Acknowledge that you may never really know why, and that you don’t actually need to know why in order to move forward. Whatever the reasons were, the outcome doesn’t change. And knowing the reasons doesn’t guarantee you freedom from pain in the future: we can’t control other people’s behavior. Finally, don’t latch onto a self-blaming explanation just to have an explanation: just because this person wasn’t interested doesn’t mean you’re not interesting, just because they didn’t want to be with you doesn’t mean you’re not want-to-be-with-able.
  • Choose what you take with you: Compassion for self and others. Choose what you can learn from this experience that will benefit you and help you grow. For example, you can choose to learn that you shouldn’t trust again because people will hurt you. Or, you can choose to learn that relationships can be complicated, that we’re all just trying to figure out what makes us happy and who we can be happy with, that we may have different expectations, assumptions, and relationship needs, and that relationships are a worthwhile emotional risk.

If you're interested in starting therapy to overcome negative experiences in dating find the digital mental health therapy best suited for you and complete an assessment for individual support. 

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Stronger Minds content is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to establish a standard of care with a reader, you should always seek the advice of your mental health professional, physician or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. If you think you may have a medical or mental health emergency, call your doctor, go to the nearest hospital emergency department, or call emergency services immediately. You should never disregard or delay seeking medical advice relating to treatment or standard of care because of information contained herein. Medical information changes constantly. Therefore the information herein should not be considered current, complete or exhaustive, nor should you rely on such information to recommend a course of treatment for you or any other individual. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.