No matter how hard we try to forget them, we want to know more about the people who permanently cut us out of their lives suddenly and without explanation — the people who “ghost” on us.
Why did they do it? Was it something we did?
You might never hear from those people, but listening to the hard truth from anyone who ghosted will provide valuable insights.
It’s more complicated than cowardice. Ghosting alone does not make someone a horrible person, and there are many reasons why people ghost. Understanding them might be what you need to move on.
Ghosting and Dating
They Can’t Have That Hard Conversation
Ghosting does not occur exclusively in the context of dating, but there is a reason why our minds jump to dating when we hear “ghosting.” It usually happens during the first couple of dates when one party decides they are not interested in pursuing a relationship with the other. The “I’m not that into you” conversation is difficult, so people assume dealing with the guilt of ghosting will be easier.
When New Theory Magazine Writer Jessica ghosted, she felt “extremely bad about it,” she told Talkspace. The circumstances leading up to it didn’t make her feel great either.
“It was the first time in my life I had ever been dating more than one person at the same time,” Jessica said. “I began to get very overwhelmed at the thought.”
When it was time to cut the weakest connections, she struggled.
“I couldn’t give the ‘it’s not you it’s me speech,’ so I just sort of disappeared and let the pieces fall,” she said.
Jessica also worried her date would take the rejection personally rather than understanding it was about her preferences. Still, this did not completely rid her of the guilt.
“I do wish I had the conversation,” she said. “It would have been the right thing to.”
They’ll Be Less Tempted to Get Back Together With the Person
Sometimes people try to break up but end up staying together. They might try multiple times until they are not sure they have the courage to do it. Maybe it’s because they had a traumatic experience with a previous breakup. Then there are situations when people ghost on their exes because they worry about reconciling.
Talkspace therapist Nicole Amesbury worked with a client who ghosted after worrying he would prolong or rekindle a relationship he didn’t want, which had happened in the past. The ghosting prevented this from happening, although he felt guilty about it. The issue stemmed from his general discomfort being in relationships, Amesbury said.
Do They Owe You an Explanation?
Some people who ghost after one or two dates don’t see the behavior as morally questionable. This often happens with women who meet men via online dating sites.
Meg ghosted on several dates she met via popular online dating sites such as Hinge and Bumble.
“I’ll find a few hours with these guys over drinks but have usually decided after 15 minutes if I’m ever going to see them again,” Meg told Talkspace.
The dates mostly end the same way: these guys give her a kiss and try to get her to come home with them.
“The answer is always no,” Meg said.
Then some of them text the next day. That’s when Meg ghosts if she’s not interested.
“I also don’t feel like I owe these guys anything if I’ve only met them once,” she said.
Does Meg owe them a text saying she isn’t interested?
Like many of the men women like Meg encounter online, some of these seemingly sweet online dates turn out to be rude jerks who are clearly only interested in sprinting towards sex. Nonetheless, even jerks might deserve an explanation rather than being left in the dark.
They are usually not too remorseful, Rubin said, and often justify their actions by saying it is “what we do in this era.” Some have gone as far as criticizing the victims of ghosting for being upset, saying they should have thicker skin.
The remorse increases, however, if the ghoster has known the ghostee for a longer period of time. It is harder for clients to admit to ghosting if they did it after dating the person for months, Rubin said.
Ghosting as a Way of Breaking Up with a Friend
Ghosting is something people can do to end their friendships as well. It’s more tempting in this situation because ending a friendship without a word is more difficult than ghosting after a few dates.
After a weekend trip to Las Vegas gone wrong, blogger Jessica Winstead decided to ghost her friend.
“My friend had done nothing wrong, but I felt like her friendship with this other girl was unhealthy and since it was starting to affect me I ended all communication when I got home,” Winstead told Talkspace. “I thought I was saving myself an emotional headache and lots of drama, but what my actions have actually done is leave me feeling like an inadequate friend.”
Winstead wishes she had risen to the challenge of having that difficult conversation. It might have made her stronger and allowed her to become a better person, she said.
Other people ghost when they feel friends are being consistently disrespectful and unsupportive.
Another person we spoke to had surgery and was expecting emotional support from a friend she had been there for many times.
“I helped her through her pregnancy, and was just always there for her, no matter the time,” she said. “I always went to her house, and helped her babysit or when I would visit I use to cook and clean for her.”
When the woman we spoke to was recovering from surgery and looking at a list of best wishes from friends and family, this friend was not on it. Instead, the friend had spent her time posting pictures on Instagram and other social media platforms while insisting she was too busy to comfort anyone. This was the last straw.
“I was so hurt and angry that I deleted and blocked her from Facebook, Instagram, blocked her number and blocked her from my husbands social media,” she told Talkspace. “I never talked to her again.”
Some Ghosters Were Ghostees
When you hurt someone, there is a chance they will try that hurtful behavior (psychologists call this “displacement”). Ghosting is no exception, so ghosting someone increases that person’s likelihood of ghosting in the future.
Before Winstead ghosted her friend, one of her friends ghosted her.
“Maybe because it happened to me I felt like I could do it too,” Winstead said.
Trying it did not make her feel better. Being ghosted and ghosting feel equally “crappy,” she said.
Ghosting On Someone You Are Hiring Such as a Therapist
Professional relationships are another context people typically do not associate ghosting with, but the hurt is still there. Imagine seeing the same therapist for years. Then you stop seeing him or her without any notice or explanation.
Despite the relationship being professional, the person you hired will have the same questions as a lover or friend: Was it something I did? What happened? Why did they do it?
Like online dating, ghosting happens more frequently with online therapy. Talkspace therapist Erica Hymen said she worries something bad happened to clients when they stop responding to messages or if maybe she did something wrong and made them upset.
“Then the rational me will eventually kick in and tell myself it’s most likely they’re just busy,” Hymen said. “Somehow though, I am always left wondering if I’ve done enough.”
As for why people ghost on someone they have hired such as a therapist, doctor or dentist, it’s usually for the same reasons they poof on potential dates: They don’t think they owe the person a conversation — especially because they have already paid the person — or are too scared to have that conversation, sometimes because of past experiences.
People Ghost After Being Direct Does Not Go Well
People often ghost because they fear the confrontation of telling someone they are not interested in the relationship or don’t wish to communicate further. What happens when their fears come true?
When marketer and writer Kate Endres was no longer interested in dating a man who had approached her at a cafe, she explained this to him and regretted it. He became upset and told her she was being “heartless.” Endres now feels she should have ghosted.
“I’m not saying it is always the nicest thing to do, but sometimes it’s just easier to say nothing at all than to be honest as to why you are not interested in seeing that person again,” Endres said.
Whether you agree with her conclusion or not, it’s clear people being immature and unable to handle rejection contributes to ghosting. If someone ghosts you, it might be because they tried the brave approach before and got burnt. Now they’re assuming you will react the same way and be unfair to them.
People Ghost to Protect Themselves from Being Taken Advantage Of
If you believe someone is taking advantage of you, do you have the right to ghost them? Confronting someone about taking advantage of you can be difficult and lead to more stressful situations.
David was interested in a woman, but she did not feel the same way. Instead, she used the opportunity to take advantage of him.
“She wanted to make her ex-boyfriend jealous by using me as some kind of prop to get back at him,” David said. “It was definitely the ultimate friend zone and, at that point, I blocked all means of communication with her and essentially disappeared.”
This woman might have improved her behavior over time if David had confronted her rather than ghosting. Still, telling someone you think they are taking advantage of you is easier said than done.
Do Some People Deserve to Be Ghosted?
Ghosting is not the inherently inconsiderate and cowardly action it sounds like. Sometimes people ghost because they’ve had enough and need to protect their mental or physical health.
Brenda became friends with a man named Jason and was close with him for several years before Jason’s behavior caused their friendship to deteriorate.
“He started being very angry all the time, cursing at and scaring waitresses and me,” Brenda told Talkspace.
Jason’s rude actions such as calling her a “sugar mama” continued until Brenda lost patience. She visited him to say he was out of line.
“After that visit I never heard from him again and I never called,” Brenda said. “I pass him on the street from time to time as this is a rural area and there are only a couple of main streets. But I ignore him.”
Brenda’s story raises some interesting questions about ghosting:
- Do you need to explicitly tell someone you are no longer interested in communicating with them to avoid ghosting? – Brenda did not explicitly tell Jason she was cutting communication with him. But because his behavior justified ceasing communication, it’s easy to argue she didn’t ghost. Her reasons were obvious and her confrontation made it clear she didn’t want to interact with him more. Did Jason deserve more explanation and clarity?
- Is it ghosting if you see someone in person but don’t communicate with them? – Brenda sees Jason but does not communicate with him in any way. Is this ghosting or would she need to avoid any contact with him?
People think about this before they cut you out of their lives. Sometimes the guilt and paranoia of running into the person they ghosted is as painful as the hurt the ghostee suffers.
Additional Quick Insights We Gathered About the Average Ghoster
Everyone has a different story, but there are trends among people who ghost. Here are some extra insights we gained by researching, talking to ghosters and experts who have them as clients:
- Men ghost more often than women and feel more guilty about it but are far less likely to admit it or be open to discussing it. – Of the dozens of people who responded to our outreach to speak with ghosters, only one man was among them.
- Women are ghosted on more, ghost less and feel less guilty about it, so they are more likely to admit to it and discuss it. – “So many of our sisters have been ghosted, so we can share our war stories,” said Rubin, describing the attitude her female clients have had. Because women are more vulnerable and objectified during dating, many of them perceive ghosting as a justifiable defense.
- Many people ghost after they feel someone is contacting them too often or being “clingy.”
The Big Takeaway: It’s Most Likely Not About You
In most of these stories, the ghoster poofed because of his or her own issues. When it did have something to do with the ghostee, it was clear the ghostee was misbehaving or needed to mature.
If you are thoughtful and considerate and someone still ghosts on you, it’s not about you. It’s because they have issues they need to work on, were too afraid to have the conversation or did not think they had a responsibility to tell you why they wished to stop communicating. And if you are a ghoster reading this, take a moment to think it through before you poof.