science of us

An Emotional Guide to Being Ghosted

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Ghosting — the practice of silently ending a relationship by suddenly leaving all communication unanswered — may be a particularly cruel way to go about a breakup, but it’s also a popular one. In a 2016 poll by market research firm YouGov, 11 percent of people admitted to having ghosted someone; in a survey from the same year from dating site Plenty of Fish, 80 percent of respondents between the ages of 18-33 said they’ve been on the receiving end. More recently, a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships put those numbers at 25 percent for ghostees and 20 percent for ghosters (out of around 1,300 participants).

On one level, the appeal is easy to understand: avoiding confrontation is seductively easy. But that’s only because the person pulling the disappearing act doesn’t have to witness the aftermath — the hurt, pain, and confusion that happen when a relationship ends without a real ending. Still, even if there’s no strategy for avoiding it, there are ways to make it just a little less awful.

Give yourself dedicated wallowing time.

Ebony A. Utley, a professor of communication studies at California State University, Long Beach, who studies relationships, says that shoving down your feelings of anger or frustration won’t help them fade. On the contrary, she recommends letting your emotions run wild: “Feel it. Really feel it. Call some friends who will feel it with you,” she says. Take some time to sit with your disappointment, whatever that looks like — seize the chance to mope around in a fluffy bathrobe, mow through an entire sleeve of Thin Mints, or sob in the shower.

One caveat: This is best done with a hard stop in mind. Utley recommends setting your limit — a few days, a week — and then, when it comes time to move on, doing just that.

Don’t go hunting for answers …

It’s easy to fall into a spiral of second-guessing and wondering where you went wrong, but “the truth is that you have no idea what’s going on in their head,” says dating coach Laurel House. “You don’t know if it’s a ‘them’ issue or a ‘you’ issue” — and there could be a million different things going on in their life, all unrelated to you, that caused them to disappear.

You also want to resist the urge to analyze the ghoster’s Instagrams, Snapchat stories or tweets for clue as to why they bailed. In all likelihood, you won’t get the information you’re looking for — and in the process, you may set yourself up for more misery if your ex is just living their life like nothing happened. Block, unfollow, and delete. Consider temporarily unfollowing mutual friends, too, if you’re concerned about painful updates trickling into your feeds.

… or for an apology.

If you’re thinking it might be helpful to clamor for attention in an attempt to get closure from the person who peaced out — it won’t. Stop yourself. “If you lose your temper or get petty,” says sexuality educator Timaree Schmit, “it might feel good in the moment, but it’s definitely not going to win their attention back in a good way, and it will only confirm that they made the right choice. It won’t encourage them to act any better.”

Even if you do get an explanation, it likely won’t be the satisfying one you’re hoping for, says dating coach Harris O’Malley, who hosts the advice podcast Paging Dr. Nerdlove. “There isn’t an answer that’s going to make someone say, Okay, that’s fair, I understand that, especially when what you want to hear is, I’m an idiot who didn’t know a good thing when I had it,” he says. “In reality, the answers you get for why you were ghosted or dumped are almost always going to be even more gutting, and almost make things worse. Nobody is going to want to hear I just don’t find you attractive or I found someone I liked better.”

Force yourself to find the positive spin.

“Just because the relationship ended — or faded, in the case of ghosting — doesn’t mean it was all bad,” Utley says. “We’re never the same after having been in a relationship with someone … if we can reframe it in terms of what we’ve learned, we can move on stronger and more aware than we were before.”

House even recommends thanking the ghoster for providing the chance to reassess your dating strategies. Once you’ve had some distance from the breakup, ask yourself several questions: Did you ignore any red flags? Did you present who you are, or who you thought they wanted you to be? Were you trying to force something to work because you thought it could, or because you liked the idea of it?

“If there was a lesson to be learned,” House says, “then take it in, incorporate the change into your dating style, and move forward more informed because of it.”

Hopefully, that also means vowing to never subject your future partners to the same treatment. “Ultimately, be the change you want to see in dating,” Schmit says. “Be kind and honest with people.
Approach dating like trying to make friends with more potential, not shopping for the best deal out there.”

An Emotional Guide to Being Ghosted