Stacey’s best friend from high school stopped speaking to her without an explanation.
“After 28 years, I still don’t know [why],” she wrote on a Reddit thread filled with jilted friends and ex-lovers. Another woman writes about making plans to move in with her boyfriend—until he suddenly disappeared. “I thought for a whole day that maybe he had legit died,” she wrote.
Both women were victims of “ghosting,” which is when someone abandons friends or lovers without an explanation.
What is ghosting?
Ghosting is the act of ending communication out of the blue without an explanation. The person disappears, like a ghost, and you’re left to wonder whether they fell off a cliff or if you did something to cause the end of the relationship. Ghosting doesn’t just happen in romance. You can be ghosted by a family member, friend or co-worker, left hurt by once-close relationships that suddenly vanish.
People can also “go ghost” in other areas of their lives. The term ghosting also describes the act of someone disappearing from tasks and responsibilities. Employees ghost employers by abandoning cubicles; prospective job applicants ghost corporate recruiters by leaving job offers on the table without an explanation.
The explosion of communication channels—be it text or social media, voice or video calls—means the sudden silence can feel deafening (especially if someone ignores your text, even as you see them posting cat videos on Instagram). You would at least know why a relationship came to an end if you got into an argument and things fizzled. When ghosted, you’re left with unanswered questions.
These are a few other dating terms related to ghosting you may have experienced:
Breadcrumbing is when someone sticks around just long enough to keep you engaged, but they never intend to commit. They lead you on with “breadcrumbs,” such as good-morning texts and plans that don’t ever seem to work out.
Benching is when someone keeps you around on the “bench” as a future option. They like you, but they’re also playing the field.
Orbiting is when someone ghosts you, but they don’t go away entirely. They still “orbit” your life, typically in the social media world, liking your posts and watching all of your Instagram or Snapchat stories.
Zombie-ing is when someone disappears for long periods and then reappears like a zombie. They’ll call or comment on your latest social media post.
Why do people ghost?
Ghosting may be frowned upon, yet a 2018 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found nearly 22% of respondents have ghosted a romantic partner.
Experts say there are reasons some people ghost (which supplements their apparent ease and comfort with being rude and inconsiderate):
The person is avoiding conflict. Ghosting is a method used by some to avoid conflict or uncomfortable conversations. “It has to do with an inability to handle interpersonal and relational dynamics of actually telling someone that you want to end a relationship,” said F. Diane Barth, psychotherapist and author of “I Know How You Feel: The Joy and Heartbreak of Friendship in Women’s Lives.” Someone who hates difficult conversations can just ignore a few phone calls or emails until you get the hint. People who ghost may also be trying to avoid emotional attachment, Barth said. Disappearing is a way to protect themselves from getting too close to another person.
The person believes in destiny. The 2018 study found that people who believe relationships are based on destiny—either destined to succeed or fail—are more likely to ghost a failing relationship. People who believe relationships can grow through effort are less likely to think ghosting is an acceptable way to end a relationship.
The person is escaping from a bad relationship. There are times when ghosting is justified. Cutting ties abruptly without an explanation is acceptable, and even encouraged, in instances where the relationship is abusive or harmful, Jennice Vilhauer, Ph.D., explained in her article for Psychology Today.
The person wants options: Ghosting is a phenomenon that’s always existed, said Barth. People used to wait by the rotary phone for a call that never came. But nowadays, it’s even easier to meet new people and disconnect from others. You can block someone’s phone number or ignore their messages, and you’ll likely never cross paths in person. If you get bored with one conversation or relationship, someone else is one swipe away.
What happens when you’re being ghosted
Ghosting can happen slowly or abruptly. Communication could stop without warning, or you may feel that the person starts to disengage until they fully ghost. Here are possible signs of ghosting:
The person starts taking longer to respond. If you’re chatting back and forth rather regularly but then all of a sudden it takes them much longer to answer, it could be a red flag.
They’re less interested. Maybe you’re starting all the conversations or you’re the one keeping the conversation flowing. This could be a sign that the other person is less committed to the relationship and possibly looking for a way out, but doesn’t know how to say it. The next step could be ghosting.
The person ends communication. This is the telltale sign of ghosting. You call and send messages without any response. If you notice you’ve been sending multiple messages without an answer, this is a clear sign that you’re being ghosted.
How to protect yourself before and after being ghosted
Predicting who will and won’t ghost is challenging. “I’ve sat with clients who’ve been ghosted, and there was no sign it was coming,” said Barth. Someone who tends to avoid emotions or conflict could be more likely to ghost, but ultimately you can’t control or predict how other people handle themselves in relationships and breakups.
We all have the impulse to reach out and make sure someone’s not hurt, sick or recovering from a terrible accident, said Barth. Once you determine you’ve been ghosted and the person is alive and well, ghosting is a clear indication they aren’t ready to be in a healthy relationship with you.
Here’s what to do next:
Self assess. If you’ve been ghosted, remember: It’s not your fault. The sooner you can accept this, the better. You can reflect on your part in the relationship, but you shouldn’t obsess over it or frantically try to contact the person who ghosted you. “People hang on waiting to get closure or a message, but the ghosting itself is the message,” Barth said.
Be careful with second chances. If the person does come back around after ghosting, Barth believes in second chances—but only one. Discuss the relationship and why the ghosting happened. If you start noticing the same pattern, you need to be the one to end the relationship.
Do your research the next time around. Doing a bit of research about the people you date may help you avoid heartache. Use a people search tool to check if someone may actually be married, have an arrest record or even possess several social media aliases you never knew about. This can help you determine whether the person you’re seeing seems trustworthy.
Ghosting can be hurtful and confusing. If you’ve already tried to reach out to someone fruitlessly, obsessing over the reasons behind the ghosting won’t actually change the final result and may not provide a sense of closure. The best thing you can do after realizing you’ve been ghosted is cut your losses and move on.