Ghosting: A Guide

It may seem harmless from the ghosters side, but ghosting produces very real and lasting effects. In this article, we’ll walk through the history of ghosting, what it looks like in today’s dating world, why it happens, and what to do when faced with a Ghoster. Our hope is that this gives you some knowledge that you’re not alone and arms you with a few tools to get through it if it happens to you.

person riding a bike wearing ghost mask

What does “ghosting” even mean?

Put most simply, ghosting is a sudden end to communication without resolution. It can happen in any situation: professional, friend, or romantic. And it can show up in a lot of ways: unanswered texts, an unmatch on Tinder, or unanswered calls with no effort to return. Ghosting is not limited to the digital space either, it can also happen in the physical world when you’re stood up at a bar or left waiting to be picked up for date night just to end up watching reruns in your makeup while you wait for the doorbell to ring.

Where did the term “ghosting” come from?

“They’ve ghosted, but they haven’t died. What’s going on?” asks Merriam Webster as they seek to explain the changing definition of the term “ghosting”. Back when we were all Instant Messaging in the early 2000’s, ghosting was sneaking into our language. Do you remember the invisible feature on AOLs AIM? This feature (which came out in 2006) enabled the user to be “invisible” to their Buddy List while still having full messaging capabilities. You could literally be on AIM as a ghost! This would give you the freedom to ignore messages without the ignored party knowing whether or not you’d ever even read their note. That said, the term “ghost” has been used to describe those who disappear in the night for hundreds of years so it’s definitely not a new term.

Fast forward to 2012 when swipe culture came on the scene with Tinder founding. Swipe culture made dating less personal in many ways and empowered a lot of folks to simply exit a conversation when they were ready to move on.

Today, ghosting remains more embedded in our culture and our language than ever before. The verb (ghosting) and the noun (to ghost) are commonplace in our dating vernacular.


Who ghosts and why do they do it?

Ghosters come in all shapes and sizes. Most men and women admit to being ghosted and ghosting others. People of all ages ghost and are ghosted.

One study suggests that those who hold a destiny belief (they believe that things are either meant to be or not) are more likely to ghost while those who hold a growth belief (they believe that good relationships take work) will be most likely to face a break-up head on. Those with a destiny belief tend to think that ghosting is acceptable.

According to leadership consultant and psychologist, Jennice Vilhauer, PhD, of those who have been ghosted, 50% of them have also ghosted. She attributes this to a feeling of indifference that’s swept over the dating arena in the internet age. When we have a couple of choices, we hold them in great value. When we have 100’s of choices? We start to care a little bit less and an air of indifference can take hold.

According to Elate, the self-proclaimed “anti-ghosting” app, Ghosters ghost for all kinds of reasons. Some of the main ones are: They’re avoiding confrontation: the conversation ebbed and something was said that didn’t jive. Rather than deal with it, Ghosters prefer to move on. They’re busy: things are going great but dating just isn’t always top of mind. By the time these Ghosters remember to respond, they say it’s too late. They’re just bad at saying goodbye: These Ghosters simply would rather end the conversation because it’s easier for them.

For other Ghosters, it’s simply the most efficient way to end a romantic relationship that no longer serves you. Some Ghosters truly believe that, in today’s world, texting to end a romantic relationship is even more rude than not saying anything at all.

When is ghosting acceptable?

First and foremost, let’s make one thing clear: ghosting is NOT okay. It’s annoying to deal with and can leave the ghosted party hurt, confused, and/or angry.

And while it’s not a new phenomenon, the digital dating landscape has made it way too easy. Without a mutual social network, it becomes a lot easier to say goodbye by saying nothing at all.

That said, some really believe that ghosting is now an acceptable form of ending a relationship as long as the relationship hasn’t reached specific milestones. For example, if you haven’t met in person, is it okay to ghost? If you’ve only been on a few dates, is it okay to ghost? If you’ve been clear about your intentions, is it okay to ghost?

While we believe it’s always better to close the communication gap, it’s also valuable to understand the ghosters perspective and know that there are different schools of ghosting thought.

How ghosting makes us feel

Researchers who study ghosting say it has a lot of potential immediate and ongoing effects. Ghosting really differs from other “break-up” strategies in that it leaves one party out-of-the-loop. The ghosted person really doesn’t know what’s going on until well after the act. They have to work through the loss by themselves and figure out the why behind it. Studies have tried to pinpoint the emotional effects of ghosting but often fall short of meaningful conclusions. They try to assign feelings of helplessness or loneliness to individuals as a direct response to their ghosting experiences, but it’s not that simple.

We’ll also return here to the feeling of indifference that was mentioned earlier. One result of getting ghosted is that you start to care a little less and build a little more of a hard shell around meeting new people online. This isn’t necessarily a negative, but it is a lasting effect. It is also worth noting because when we care less, we’re less likely to find the meaningful relationships we seek.

Why ghosting hurts so much

Ghosting preys on your perceptions of yourself. If you already struggle with low self-esteem or abandonment, ghosting can be a cruel reminder of a deeper pain. Even if you don’t typically struggle with mental health, being ghosted is confusing.

Because there’s no resolution, the ghosted person can spend hours, days, weeks, agonizing over their word choice. They can question their outfit or the bar that they chose for the first drink.

We have an innate desire to understand one another. With ghosting, the intention is never fully known so the ghosted is left with guesswork. It’s no fun and it also hurts.

It’s important to consider that emotional pain can manifest in physical ways. When you’re hurt emotionally, it can lead to destructive behavior like excessive drinking to numb that pain. This pattern can be self-fulfilling and have super negative repercussions on your mental health in the long run.

How to respond to ghosting

The truth is, the best ghosting response is likely no response which is both freeing and hard to swallow in the moment. With ghosting becoming more common, we think it’s most important to share tips, tricks, and helpful resources for the next time you get ghosted. When negative emotions or feelings start to creep in, remember these key things:

It’s them, not you! When someone ghosts, that is purely a reflection on them, their maturity, and their ability to communicate. Don’t let it get you down. You’re better off without them.

Stay true to you. It’s said that those who’ve been ghosted are more likely to turn around and ghost! Even though this behavior gets normalized by repetition, don’t let it be your norm. It’s never easy to tell someone how you feel, especially if it’s bad news, but a swift goodbye is always better than deafening silence.

Get back at it. You have the courage to show up with your full, authentic self each day and respect the dating process. The best thing you can do to shut down the Ghosters is to move on as quickly and completely as possible. Stay the course and try to find the one you’re really looking for.

See how we can help at Fern Date.