Sebas checked his phone again. It had been 12 hours since Ron had texted him. They’d only been dating three months, but they usually texted at least four times a day if they didn’t see each other that day. They’d last seen each other two days ago and everything had been fine then. Ron’s last text was a little shorter than usual but Seas assumed he was tired as Ron had just finished a long shift. It didn’t make any sense. Sebas went onto snapchat and saw that Ron had been on there only a few hours ago. His heart sank. He knew it. This wasn’t the first time it had happened to him. They were done. It was over. He struggled to keep the panic down, the feeling that it would always be this way, that no one would ever stay. That it was something defective in him that made people want to leave him.
For those of you who have been out of the dating scene for a while, the term ‘ghosting’ may not be familiar to you. It’s used to describe the way some people end relationships. They just disappear. Don’t answer calls, texts, e-mails. It is not terribly uncommon these days. The other person is left to wonder what happened, what could have gone wrong. Often there is little indication that there was anything wrong.
I recently heard an interview on the radio with two people debating the ethics of ghosting. One person felt that anyone they dated owed them some explanation for ending the relationship, no matter how new the relationship was. The other felt that ‘ghosting’ was acceptable up to a certain number of dates (2 or 3) but after that, the person should say something if they want to end the relationship.
When I talk to people who have ghosted others, sometimes there is a vague sense of guilt, but often they minimize their actions and don’t see the problem in ending a relationship this way, believing that it makes it easier for everyone, is a great way to avoid conflict. When I talk to people who have been ‘ghosted,’ the outcome for them is rarely good. I have my own opinions about ‘ghosting’ as a way of ending a relationship. Here it is:
When ‘Ghosting’ is a good idea
When the other person is physically or psychologically abusive. When the other person has been repeatedly emotionally abusive and does not respond to any boundaries or feedback given. (See The 3 Types of Non Physical Abuse for more on this). In these cases, your own physical safety and mental health may be at risk if you are to continue in the relationship and, getting into your reasons for leaving may put you in a more vulnerable position. This is a good time to ‘disappear.’
When ‘Ghosting’ is not doing you or anyone else any favours
‘Ghosting,’ unless it is for reasons of safety (as listed above), is abandonment and those who abandon others are engaging in avoidance strategies. Most of us use avoidance strategies when we believe that conflict will be too painful to manage (See Conflict- Approach or Avoid? 6 Things to Consider) or when we feel guilty about a decision or when we have not taken into consideration another person’s perspective. ( See 7 Ways to Avoid Avoiding) Hardly anyone wants to harm another person, but often, we feel even more strongly about not wanting anyone else to be angry at us. We are uncomfortable with other people’s pain and hurt. If we are the cause of the pain it can feel unbearable. But here is the truth. It is bearable and it is worth it to endure this in order to take responsibility for your life choices and move forward in ways that is respectful to yourself and to others.
If you are a conflict avoider you risk causing more pain for yourself and others if you do not learn to face the things that need to be faced. Many people ‘s experience of conflict comes through their observation of their own parents’ relationship. If they never saw their parents fight they might think that all conflict is unbearable and should be avoided at all costs. If they saw a lot of conflict in their parents’ relationship, they might believe that all conflict is destructive. But we are only doomed to repeat these patterns if we never address them. As adults it is important to learn that there is such as thing as healthy, non-destructive conflict. This is important if any future relationship is to find any kind of long term success. (see also When Love is New – 10 Ways to Improve Chances of Longevity)
It is time to learn how to ask for what we want and to say yes or no to what is being asked of use. We need to learn to describe how we feel and what we need and to take ownership of that process by getting to know our own emotions and needs. (see An Emotionally Conscious Resolution) I am not advocating for staying together no matter what but when relationships end, we can do better for ourselves, for those we are leaving and for our future relationships. (see Honouring Relationship Endings – A 5 Step Process)
When you’ve been ghosted
Obviously the way you respond to another person ‘disappearing’ on you will vary depending on the situation, how close you felt to that person, what the circumstances of the relationship were, and your own personality and history with relationships.
Making sense of the situation
If you believe that your actions towards the other person may have been abusive (see The 3 Types of Non Physical Abuse) then it is possible that leaving you, in the way that they did, was the best option for the relationship and this might be a good time to look into some counselling for yourself. (see also When YOU are the Volcano – 7 Ways to Care for Yourself)
If you do not believe that you have been abusive towards the other person, you may find yourself trying to figure out what happened. This is normal. After a while you may notice that you are simply replaying the same situations over and over in your mind, trying to find some new detail about what could have gone wrong. At this point, you will need to recognize when there is no new information and that you do not have enough data to resolve the mystery.
You will likely have some guesses about what could have happened to cause the relationship to end. I suggest choosing the theory that motivates you towards the kind of life you want and the kind of person you want to be. For example, if you believe that this situation is proof that all people are untrustworthy and vow never to love again, you risk losing out on a life with love. But you choose to believe that this person was just not the right one for you and that ‘Ghosting’ you is evidence that they have more work to do on themselves, then you are more likely to move towards a potentially more healthy relationship. It might seem strange to just “pick a theory” but really, it is an educated guess, and the best you’ve got, given the information you have.
Mourning the Loss
Ghosting is a abandonment. It is likely going have some pain involved if you cared about the other person at all. We connect emotionally to those we are romantically involved with. If there is no emotional connection, then I would not consider it a romance. It would be something else. If there is a connection though, then the sudden, and unexplained break in this connection is likely to be painful.
Many people believe that ‘Ghosting’ is just part of the modern dating scene and emotional pain is a sign of weakness. This is a myth. if the relationship was important to you at all, you may need to mourn it’s loss. Mourning involves giving yourself permission to feel what you feel and to comfort yourself in ways that will bring genuine relief (see What do You Really Need? – A 6 Step Complete Self-Care Assessment Guide). You cannot feel what you feel if you are disassociating yourself from your feelings through anything that takes you away from the present moment. i.e. Netflix, drinking, drugs, sex, etc. You will need to find a safe emotional space to be present with yourself in order to grieve what has been lost (see Grief Without Death)
Mourning also involves considering what you have lost, even listing it; what you might have gained from being a part of this relationship, for the time that you were; and what you are glad you are now rid of. This is not a short term process, it may take some times to know what belongs on the list. The last part is acceptance of the fact that what you have lost is gone and that your life can go on, but avoiding or judging or minimizing your emotions is not part of this step.
I would like to see us all get better at relationship endings and put as much care and attention into them as we do in the start of our relationships. Let’s love ourselves and love each other better.