34 votes

Ghosting isn't as cold-hearted as it seems, say psychologists — but people still hate it

26 comments

  1. Thomas-C
    (edited )
    Link
    I'll offer myself up on this one as I've been on both ends of it and think taking much of an absolutist position on the behavior, in really any way, makes no sense. Behavior isn't always the...
    • Exemplary

    I'll offer myself up on this one as I've been on both ends of it and think taking much of an absolutist position on the behavior, in really any way, makes no sense.

    Behavior isn't always the result of reason and thought. It sometimes comes straight from emotion, before reason and thought have much time to do anything. It's possible to hone in on such behavior and alter how it manifests, too, that's what it is to develop yourself (in part).

    Ghosting can be all of the things people say it is. It is not whatever you or I say it is, so to speak; it's all of it. It can be coldhearted, a deliberate severing of connection with no communication. It can be an anxious response, a stress response, or just an attempt to take the "easy" way out - because it is easy. Just don't do anything, you're done. Understanding the behavior is not just paying attention to the feelings of those subject to it, it's also the feelings of the people doing it, the interplay. I can give you practical examples of both of these:

    Deliberate severing: A woman I'm interested in has been talking to me for a while, but over time and after a few encounters I've decided she really weirds me out. I try to communicate this in the ways I know how, and I get ignored - she misunderstands and believes it means I actually, really want her that much more. I run through my personal rules, my communication tactics, my emotive language, none of it makes the situation different. She ignores it. The why and how of that doesn't matter, because I'm becoming concerned for my own safety/well being/whatever. So I sever the connection abruptly and totally, in the thought that doing that is all that I am left with. Her feelings have become irrelevant to me, because paying attention to them is only bringing me closer to things I do not want.

    Taking the easy way out: I'm tired as fuck and this person won't leave me the hell alone. I haven't communicated this, I haven't run through all my personal rules, maybe I haven't known them very long either, doesn't matter. Point is instead of even trying I can just "not try" and the problem disappears. I'll handle shit later, I'm going to bed.

    I'll give you two in the reverse.

    Hurtful: I talk with someone for a long time and realize they've just stopped communicating at some point. I try to reach out again and get nothing. I run through my memory to try to assemble a picture and that too, leaves me with little. So I hurt, it hurts. It's just me and that instead of me connecting with someone. The best I can do is try to take what history is there, figure out if there is anything to do different, and move on.

    Stupid: I get to know someone a bit and they cut all communication because I said something that triggered something else, but I wasn't given any opportunity to understand that. I can see clearly where it happened, but cannot get any more information. It's absurd, so if anything it's more of an annoyance, a mosquito bite. There was something there but I wasn't given any shot at understanding, so I'm not going to sweat it. It's not ghosting here that really is the issue, it's that person. I blame the person. The behavior didn't mean much at all because there wasn't enough there for it to do that, it doesn't fit neatly within a declaration like "ghosting is always hurtful". It wasn't, this time. It was just a lame thing to do, because it stopped everything before "hurt" could really occur at all.

    There's practically infinite variation on examples like this. Ghosting has its definition - dropping all connection. Then it has its effects - I hurt, I feel little, etc. If the goal is to understand the behavior better, we need to tackle the examples and then fit them into a framework. If we want to talk about feelings, we should talk about the feelings. If we want to be better connected, then it's good to have some rules about whether this is an acceptable thing to do. But there will never be a definition like "ghosting is always hurtful". We can't know what everyone is experiencing. Research, for the sake of having a direction, can temporarily take on a simplified definition like that and just riddle it out, but the results should be understood with much greater nuance, is my point. Else, we just wind up having bickering over the examples, because what we're actually doing is re-experiencing feelings and getting frustrated when those feelings aren't reflected consistently. Going back and forth, "ghosting is bad, no it isn't, well it's ok here and there" is stuff we can do between each other to create connections, but it is damn near useless with respect to understanding what a behavior is and what it means. I get a bit frustrated when the framing of research means discussion like that, because the framing is likely just a temporary set of rules for the sake of learning something, not a declaration of what "the rules" actually are, so to speak. A discussion rooted in comparison rather than reflecting feelings will get us more fruitful results, stuff we can use to augment and reinforce our personal frameworks. I'm not accusing anyone here, just sharing how I take a piece of research like this and try to understand it. I highly doubt the folks conducting the research are thinking they're setting the rules, but a whole lot of the discussions end up like folks arguing over what the rules should be, and that gets everyone nowhere in my opinion.

    30 votes
  2. [8]
    zenen
    Link
    Cold-hearted? No. Misdirected and hurtful? Yes.

    Cold-hearted? No. Misdirected and hurtful? Yes.

    32 votes
    1. culturedleftfoot
      Link Parent
      Speaking as someone who has ghosted before and never been ghosted, it's also immature, cowardly, and disrespectful. The only acceptable reason to ghost someone IMO is to avoid/escape a likely...

      Speaking as someone who has ghosted before and never been ghosted, it's also immature, cowardly, and disrespectful. The only acceptable reason to ghost someone IMO is to avoid/escape a likely violent and abusive retaliation.

      46 votes
    2. [6]
      BeanBurrito
      Link Parent
      Knowingly being hurtful is being cold-hearted

      Cold-hearted? No. Misdirected and hurtful? Yes.

      Knowingly being hurtful is being cold-hearted

      28 votes
      1. [5]
        zenen
        Link Parent
        unknowingly being hurtful is human. I'm hoping that most people who do this kind of thing think that they are choosing the less painful approach.

        unknowingly being hurtful is human. I'm hoping that most people who do this kind of thing think that they are choosing the less painful approach.

        7 votes
        1. BeanBurrito
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          I don't think that is true. Ghosting has been going on long enough and has been talked about enough for anyone to know it is a hurtful and disrespectful thing to do. They just don't have the...

          I don't think that is true.

          Ghosting has been going on long enough and has been talked about enough for anyone to know it is a hurtful and disrespectful thing to do. They just don't have the maturity and courage to straight up tell a person they want to move on like a functional adult would.

          I guess it works out for the best.

          You don't want people like that in your life.

          Some people are just bad people.

          10 votes
        2. [3]
          teaearlgraycold
          Link Parent
          There would have to be some mental gymnastics to tell yourself that ghosting isn’t going to hurt the other person.

          There would have to be some mental gymnastics to tell yourself that ghosting isn’t going to hurt the other person.

          10 votes
          1. [2]
            whbboyd
            Link Parent
            I don't think anyone thinks it's not hurtful at all. But surely it's not outlandish to consider whether ghosting might be less hurtful than point-blank saying "I don't want to talk to you...

            I don't think anyone thinks it's not hurtful at all. But surely it's not outlandish to consider whether ghosting might be less hurtful than point-blank saying "I don't want to talk to you anymore"?

            That's leaving aside that the ghost-er might have a reasonable belief that the ghost-ee would take the breakup poorly, in which case I'm not really going to judge them for skipping out on a final burst of abuse from a relationship they are, by definition, already done with.

            19 votes
            1. DefinitelyNotAFae
              Link Parent
              I think of the last point a lot. A friend of mine shared a lot of (anonymous) chats from her dating apps. Mostly of dudes jumping immediately to something sexual which she isn't looking for. But...

              I think of the last point a lot. A friend of mine shared a lot of (anonymous) chats from her dating apps. Mostly of dudes jumping immediately to something sexual which she isn't looking for.

              But she has shared a few where she didn't respond right away (like six hours maybe sometimes this starts in less than one hour) because of her job, or hanging out with her kid, or whatever and the guy becomes enraged. Calling her slurs, insulting her appearance, all the usual gendered sex work insults.

              Those are thankfully before she's ever met him, but I think women have been socialized not to directly reject someone (because a no may upset him), not to provide much in the way of reasons (because reasons are something he'll argue with me about), etc. I think we also inherently have friends more involved in our dating lives, which could lead to more "just leave him" advice because we are taught to tell someone who we're going on a date with in case we don't come back. Idk if one gender ghosts more than another (I'd love to see data on queer relationships too) but those are all things I think about in relation to why people might ghost in my experience

              21 votes
  3. [3]
    RoyalHenOil
    (edited )
    Link
    Ghosting seems to be very poorly defined, which always makes me skeptical when people complain about ghosting without describing exactly what they are referring to. For example, there is what my...

    Ghosting seems to be very poorly defined, which always makes me skeptical when people complain about ghosting without describing exactly what they are referring to.

    For example, there is what my great uncle did to my great aunt: After many years of marriage and while she was ~7 months pregnant with their 8th child, he went to work one day and never came back. The whole town tried to find him, but the local police ultimately had to conclude that he was likely no longer alive. Many years later, he was found in Canada married to another woman (for which he was convicted of bigamy, as he never divorced my great aunt).

    And then there is what I supposedly did to a guy.

    We went on a single date together, but because he showed up over an hour late and then proceeded to spend at least 25% of the date tearfully talking about his ex he still had strong feelings for, I assumed he wasn't actually interested. I didn't hold this against him; he must have thought he was ready to start dating again, but then he realized he wasn't. I get it. It sucked a bit that he kind of wasted my time, but it happens. What can you expect from someone in throes of grief? I felt bad for him and wished him well at the end of the date.

    He did not contact me again after the date, and I didn't contact him, either. I figured he was feeling a bit embarrassed about the whole thing, and I absolutely did not want to rub salt in that wound, so I let it be.

    A few months later, he randomly contacted me out of the blue to tell me that he'd spent the last few months positively furious with me, but he was now ready to forgive me for ghosting him.

    28 votes
    1. [2]
      sparksbet
      Link Parent
      THIS. The way people define it so widely that it encompasses anything from normal polite behavior to really intense stuff makes me really struggle to take people seriously when they paint it as...

      THIS. The way people define it so widely that it encompasses anything from normal polite behavior to really intense stuff makes me really struggle to take people seriously when they paint it as universally cruel. There's a huge spectrum of stuff that people call "ghosting" and it varies incredibly in how big of a deal it is and who (if anyone) is in the wrong. And outside of extreme cases, it's often very difficult to know enough details on both sides to paint an accurate picture of how things went for each party.

      I notice a lot of other commenters in here saying things like "It's okay if you fear for your safety, but not otherwise" and it's like... do y'all think the guy who makes his date fear for her safety knows that's why she ghosted him? The purpose of ghosting someone when you're afraid for your safety is to keep that person from knowing that and retaliating to the rejection. So I do wonder how people who insist ghosting is wrong except in that circumstance think they know enough about the feelings of both parties when they criticize particular instances of ghosting.

      fwiw, I've never been in a situation where I ghosted or was ghosted. And given that I'm currently married, hoping to keep that streak up.

      16 votes
      1. DefinitelyNotAFae
        Link Parent
        It's the ever present issue: when we do something that might harm or just irritate someone else we have a good reason for it. When someone else does something that might harm or irritate us,...

        It's the ever present issue: when we do something that might harm or just irritate someone else we have a good reason for it. When someone else does something that might harm or irritate us, they're an asshole.

        See also drivers.

        Ultimately we're not owed closure and that sucks, but if most people are treating each other kindly, most of the time we'll get it.

        13 votes
  4. Baeocystin
    Link
    I've had to ghost people in the past, because some people don't know how to take no as an answer. I would much rather end things with a clear conversation, with no one feeling hurt beyond the ache...

    I've had to ghost people in the past, because some people don't know how to take no as an answer.

    I would much rather end things with a clear conversation, with no one feeling hurt beyond the ache that comes with the end of any relationship. But that simply isn't always a possible option. And the general entitlement that folks feel over other people's time and attention has definitely increased as we've become ever more available via our mobile devices, and I don't think that it's a good change.

    18 votes
  5. [4]
    lou
    (edited )
    Link
    I once read a comment addressing a poster that didn't participated in the discussion as "ghosting the thread". To me this highlights how differently people use that word. In the context of...

    I once read a comment addressing a poster that didn't participated in the discussion as "ghosting the thread". To me this highlights how differently people use that word. In the context of romantic relationships the word "ghosting" is more aptly defined. The article mentions that "ghosters" may not disappear out of malice but rather to avoid difficult conversations and sentiments. I have been in a position where I may have been called a "ghoster" but things are often more complicated. For example, one may avoid a final conversation because their partner is prone to verbal or physical aggression. I went through many breakups and I seem to have become worst at it with time. I am certain that, given the option, some of my exes would retroactively choose to be ghosted instead of being on the receiving end of my upsetting brand of ultra sincerity. But the most upsetting part, to me, was being called a psychopath because I do not express emotions in neurotypical fashion and time. People get aggressive when they assume the interlocutor is a robot. That can be hurtful and traumatizing.

    15 votes
    1. [3]
      GunnarRunnar
      Link Parent
      I don't see what's the big deal. Sure it's disrespectful and so on, and increasingly so depending on how deep your relationship is but at the end of the day we all are free to disengage. Before...

      I don't see what's the big deal. Sure it's disrespectful and so on, and increasingly so depending on how deep your relationship is but at the end of the day we all are free to disengage. Before everyone was available 247 it was a lot easier and there definitely were people who just "disappeared".

      16 votes
      1. [2]
        GenuinelyCrooked
        Link Parent
        There is a point in a relationship where the assumption switches from "they don't want to be around me anymore" to "something terrible has happened to them". I've only heard of people ghosting...

        There is a point in a relationship where the assumption switches from "they don't want to be around me anymore" to "something terrible has happened to them". I've only heard of people ghosting after that point on reddit, where you can't believe anything, but if that's happening, that's really unconscionable. Your partner deserves to know that you're safe and chose to leave. If you live together or you've been together for years, or you're engaged or have shared responsibilities, for example.

        8 votes
        1. GunnarRunnar
          Link Parent
          Yeah, when it's someone who's teetering on becoming a family member or is one, abandoning them is a different story. But ghosting is used so casually like the example of ghosting a thread or...

          Yeah, when it's someone who's teetering on becoming a family member or is one, abandoning them is a different story.

          But ghosting is used so casually like the example of ghosting a thread or someone you maybe once went on a date with or just chatted on a dating app it's not that big of a deal.

          And different personalities and whatnot, some people just get attached more easily than others. But it's healthy to remember that we're only the main characters in our own stories, we aren't owed an explanation for every missed connection.

          7 votes
  6. [8]
    BeanBurrito
    Link
    Maybe it isn't "cold hearted" as in feelings still being involved - the people who do it are afraid of being awkward or feeling guilty for rejecting someone. It is still hurtful to the person...

    Maybe it isn't "cold hearted" as in feelings still being involved - the people who do it are afraid of being awkward or feeling guilty for rejecting someone.

    It is still hurtful to the person ghosted on.

    It is also childish.

    Don't want to date someone again? Just don't ask them out. If they ask just send one of the standard messages along the lines

    "Hey I had fun on our date, but I don't think we are right for each other. Good luck on your search".

    No ghosting, zero disrespect involved.

    Handling things like an adult.

    14 votes
    1. [4]
      sparksbet
      Link Parent
      I agree that's handling things like an adult, but there are absolutely people who would call even that ghosting.

      I agree that's handling things like an adult, but there are absolutely people who would call even that ghosting.

      4 votes
      1. [3]
        BeanBurrito
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        They can call it what they like, that doesn't mean they are using the term correctly. According to Mr. Wikipedia

        They can call it what they like, that doesn't mean they are using the term correctly.

        According to Mr. Wikipedia

        Ghosting, simmering and icing are colloquial terms that describe the practice of suddenly ending all communication and avoiding contact with another person without any apparent warning or explanation and ignoring any subsequent attempts to communicate.

        4 votes
        1. [2]
          sparksbet
          Link Parent
          Your markdown link formatting is being weird. In any case, a particularly bitter or sensitive person could totally believe that the normal response of "Don't want to date someone again? Just don't...

          Your markdown link formatting is being weird.

          In any case, a particularly bitter or sensitive person could totally believe that the normal response of "Don't want to date someone again? Just don't ask them out." counts under this definition. Someone in another thread mentioned that exact thing happening to them. People using the word for stuff like that makes it difficult for me to really care when people complain about ghosting in general.

          5 votes
          1. BeanBurrito
            Link Parent
            Fixed the link. I see the cultural ( American northeast ) expectation is that just because someone asked you out once, is not a reason to expect further contact. It is a take it or leave thing on...

            Fixed the link.

            I see the cultural ( American northeast ) expectation is that just because someone asked you out once, is not a reason to expect further contact. It is a take it or leave thing on their part. I concede the expectations could be different for some people. However, per Wikipedia ghosting is unilaterally cutting off contact. If someone asks someone out, decides not to do it again, and replies to a contact from that person if they are interested ( or not ) in going out again they aren't ghosting. They have not unilaterally cut off contact.

            Rather than "ghosting" I guess you can say they did a fast fade.

            6 votes
    2. [3]
      Grasamucor
      Link Parent
      yea agreed. I dunno about all the mental gymnastics going on in this thread... This is all that needs to be said. If they try to say anything beyond that statement you give them that isn't "ok I...

      yea agreed. I dunno about all the mental gymnastics going on in this thread... This is all that needs to be said. If they try to say anything beyond that statement you give them that isn't "ok I understand" or "ok I see, good luck to you too" or other such closing reply, THEN you have all rights to ghost them.

      It's very simple, actually.

      3 votes
      1. [2]
        BeanBurrito
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        I wasn't defending ghosting on anybody - quite the opposite. Maybe I am misunderstanding your reply. If you mean someone creating drama after a message like this, I don't even agree with ghosting...

        I wasn't defending ghosting on anybody - quite the opposite. Maybe I am misunderstanding your reply.

        If you mean someone creating drama after a message like this, I don't even agree with ghosting then:

        "Hey I had fun on our date, but I don't think we are right for each other. Good luck on your search".

        I would reply back that I am sorry they feel that way and let them know I will not be participating in conversations with them. That is not ghosting. Ghosting is unilaterally cutting off communication without notice. I would give notice to a problem person in my life.

        The only time ghosting MIGHT be justified is if the other person is dangerous. That isn't most situations.

        2 votes
        1. Grasamucor
          Link Parent
          I was agreeing with you, and then just adding myself that -- in my opinion -- if after the mature response you give someone, if they continue to create drama or won't go away, then its fine to...

          I was agreeing with you, and then just adding myself that -- in my opinion -- if after the mature response you give someone, if they continue to create drama or won't go away, then its fine to ghost them after that point. You told them what's what, you don't really owe anything to them after that point (unless it was a longer term relationship, then that would be pretty low to ghost someone without further talking about it).

          5 votes
  7. Captain_Wacky
    Link
    Sure, the intent to harm may not be there, but it still denies the ghosted any opportunity at constructive criticism and growth. On the other hand, I'm sure there's cases where ghosting is...

    Sure, the intent to harm may not be there, but it still denies the ghosted any opportunity at constructive criticism and growth.

    On the other hand, I'm sure there's cases where ghosting is acceptable. There's some batshit crazy people out there and if you have to isolate them from yourself ASAP then I can see ghosting being a legitimate option.

    7 votes