Being “ghosted” is one of the toughest ways to be dumped. What do we mean by the term? It’s when someone you’ve been seeing suddenly ceases all contact with you. They defriend you on Facebook, stop following you on Twitter and avoid responding to calls, texts and emails. They just disappear; fade out of your life mysteriously…
As a practitioner I’ve seen a lot of this so I know it’s not uncommon. And across the pond it certainly seems to be something of a phenomenon with a recent poll for the Huffington Post finding that 10 per cent of Americans had been “ghosted” at some point.
So why is ghosting so hard to deal with? In many cases it’s the incompleteness of it. It can be frustrating when someone appears to finish with you out of the blue and then won’t talk about it. We want answers to achieve closure but can’t get any.
According to a study on preferred relationship endings conducted in the 1970s, when one party chooses to end a relationship through avoidance, it’s likely to trigger more anger and hurt – and lead to confrontation. The age of this study shows ghosting is nothing new – it happened, in a way, to Carrie Bradshaw on Sex in the City over a decade ago when she was dumped via a post-it note; it’s just that now you’re likely to find out about it via social media.
Modern technology gives us ample chance to connect with someone but it’s also incredibly easy just to stop communicating. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Research in Personality identified seven break-up strategies, and suggested ghosting - essentially withdrawal and avoidance - is the least ideal way to end a relationship: and yet it seems to be happening a lot today.
There are numerous dating blogs that complain about ghosting, with a recent one saying it’s all but made dating impossible now with expectations so low that ghosting is the norm. It may be a small comfort to know this seems to be a growing practice but when it happens to you it feels very personal.
So if you’ve been ghosted, what’s the best way to cope? Whilst hiring a private detective to track them down may spring to mind, it’s best to avoid trying to contact them, at least for the time being. It may be tempting at three in the morning to torture yourself by looking at their Facebook page (if their privacy settings still allow), for clues about any new partner, or to reread old texts over and over, but it’s unlikely to help the way you feel. Consider deleting their number from your phone or at least ask your friend to keep hold of it while you recover emotionally.
It’s common to harbour thoughts of revenge but instead why not find something to distract you? Being ghosted can make even the least obsessive people behave obsessively so find something else to focus on - something that’s just for you.
It’s easy to think being ghosted is all your fault and to internalise the blame, but it’s likely to be more about the other person’s issues than your own. Try not to think too much about why you were let down in this way. You can’t always know what’s going on in someone else’s head and you can drive yourself to distraction trying to come up with plausible explanations. Some people just aren’t very good at endings, for whatever reason they may have.
Many endings are difficult and often painful. We don’t have a rite of passage to mark a relationship ending in the way we do with a death but this is just like a bereavement, even if you’ve only dated for a short while. Being dumped unceremoniously with no explanation also taps into our deepest fears of abandonment. That’s why it’s so hard to come to terms with. However there’s a compensation to being ghosted - when someone has suddenly gone from your life it is easier to get over them because you don’t see them and can’t be constantly reminded they still exist.
Clare Prendergast is a Relate counsellor. The charity provides a range of services including relationship counselling for couples and individuals as well as a free online Live Chat service which allows you to speak with a trained counsellor in real time. Find out more at www.relate.org.uk
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies