Imagine this: you go on a first date. Everything seems to go well; you’re laughing, having a great time, and you’re almost certain your date is too. After a night of what you thought was romance and excitement, you go home, eagerly awaiting the next opportunity to see them. But then a few days go by, and…nothing. Not a call, text, email, or even a messenger pigeon has come your way. You try to reach out in hopes of a response; after all, people can get busy. But alas, they still haven’t replied. Your date has gone completely radio silent, leaving you blindsided, confused, and maybe even hurt by their actions. After all, if they didn’t think the date went well, why not just say something?
You may not have to imagine this situation at all; something similar could have already happened to you, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. In the age of dating apps and social media, ghosting, or cutting off all communication without offering an explanation, is becoming increasingly popular. A 2018 study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships revealed that 20 percent of its 1,300 participants admitted to ghosting someone, while 25 percent of that same pool have claimed they were ghosted. More than a third of the study participants claimed to have also ghosted or been ghosted by a friend. With ghosting becoming so popular, it makes you wonder–why do they do it?
Why people ghost
While many would like to assume that ghosters are disappearing out of fear of hurting their ghostee’s feelings, it’s much more likely that they are trying to avoid their own emotional discomfort. Those who ghost tend to have an avoidant attachment style, meaning they like to avoid emotional closeness in their relationships. In addition, meeting someone online means you probably have fewer mutual social connections, making it easier to disappear without any consequences. The more ghosting happens to us or our friends, the more likely we are to be desensitized to it and do the same to someone else, says Jennice Vilhauer, a psychologist at Emory University.
Why does ghosting hurt so much?
When someone is ghosted, it can cause them to feel disrespected, used, and disposable. Knowing the person even longer than a first date can also make the experience more traumatic. When someone you possibly love and trust abruptly severs ties, it can trigger feelings of deep betrayal. Research from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that social rejection activates the same pain pathways in the brain as physical pain. You can even reduce the emotional pain of rejection by taking pain medication like Tylenol.
In addition to physical pain, ghosting and rejection can cause psychological distress. Ghosting not only causes someone to question the substance of the relationship, but also themselves. They may find themselves thinking “Am I good enough?” or “What’s wrong with me?” This kind of self-questioning is actually the result of basic psychological systems within our brain that are in place to monitor our social standing and determine our feelings of self-worth and self-esteem. When rejection occurs, your self-esteem can drop, which signals to your brain that your social standing is low. The more you experience ghosting, the more painful it becomes, and the longer it takes to get over. In a study published in the Oxford Academic Journal, researchers found that those with lower self-esteem have less natural opioid, or pain-killer, released into the brain after rejection compared to those with higher self-esteem.
Being rejected is never easy, but when someone doesn’t even have the courtesy to tell you why they’re ending things, it can make the experience all the more painful. But you shouldn’t let someone else’s bad behavior change how you view your self-worth, or how you interact in future relationships. The best way to handle being ghosted is to keep your heart open, and focus on moving forward.