It’s that time of year again. The chilly days turn into long eerie nights. The slightest sounds outside your window send shivers down your spine. Children are afraid of their shadows, and every corner they turn, they brace themselves for the sight of never-ending gruesome graveyards displayed in the neighbours’ front yards. It’s a spooky season – the time when all kinds of creatures lurk in the dark. But the worst of them all…ghosts.
No, I’m not talking about the “Casper the Friendly Ghost” type of ghost. I’m talking about the “Lead you on for a while, but then I get bored and don’t care enough to tell you so I just … disappear,” kind of ghost. I was always fascinated by this modern phenomenon, so I did some digging, and here is what I found about the psychology behind ghosting and why people do it.
Urban Dictionary describes ghosting as “The act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone the subject is dating, but no longer wishes to date,” but I find this to be a more extreme case. You can get ghosted even before you’ve dated someone. In some cases, you may be talking to someone for a significant amount of time, but haven’t officially been out with them yet, and that’s when they decide to disappear. This can be done by failing to respond to a text, cutting off all contact with someone, or even blocking them on social media.
The most common reason for ghosting: The person is just not that into you
According to a study done by Buzzfeed in 2019, 81% of participants said they ghosted someone because they weren’t into them; 64% said the other person did something they didn’t like and 26% said they were angry with them.
The truth is, people make time for things they care about, but, unfortunately, they might not feel invested enough to even spend time on a decent break-up. They may feel like they “don’t owe you anything,” licensed therapist Shae Ivie-Williams explains. A way to avoid this situation is to set clear expectations and understand where both parties stand. Honesty is the best policy, even if it may be awkward. Getting ghosted is less shocking when you know what the other person is looking for.
Reason number two: Dating wasn’t a priority
With today’s fast-paced lifestyle, this one isn’t a big surprise. Sometimes life gets very busy, very fast, and if you haven’t already established a strong emotional connection with someone, they fall lower and lower on your priorities list, until one day, they’re off it for good.
I’ve found this to be more common when you’ve met someone online. It’s easy not to get invested, but it’s harder to get to know someone well enough to put in the effort and stay. This can also lead to something called “dating burnout” which, according to Logan Ury, the Director of Relationship Science at Hinge, “Can manifest itself in different ways for different people. You might be feeling hopeless and worry that there’s nobody out there who’s right for you. Or you might want to give up dating altogether.”
Combine that with a busy schedule and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Next reason: The person didn’t see you being “the one”
In 2018, psychologist Gili Freedman, Ph.D., conducted a study to analyze the correlation between people’s belief in destiny and attitudes toward ghosting. According to her research, people who more strongly believed in destiny were 60% more likely to view ghosting as an acceptable way to end a relationship. This means that people who believe in “soulmates” are more prone to abruptly ending a relationship if they feel you may just not be “the one.”
Another factor to consider: Attachment style.
Attachment theory was originally developed by British psychoanalyst John Bowlby during the examination of the distress in young children when separated from their parents. There are four attachment styles in adults, but there are two that can relate to ghosting: anxious attachment and avoidant attachment. According to therapist Ivie-Williams, people who are anxious tend to crave intimacy and feel insecure about their relationships, while others who are avoidant get uncomfortable with closeness and value independence.
Both of these attachment styles may avoid having harder conversations in their relationships because they were never raised to have difficult conversations with their family as children, Ivie-Williams explains.
Finally: The role of online dating
These days, dating has almost entirely become “online dating,” and even more so now, thanks to the pandemic. The reality is, texting and dating apps just feel impersonal. It’s easy to forget that there is a real human on the other side of your screen because we feel detached from the people we are talking to. There are fewer emotions, and therefore, less investment.
There are many more reasons why someone might choose to ghost another, but these seem like the basic pillars of the process. Does it mean someone is an awful person because they may have ghosted someone? Not necessarily. Dating in the digital age comes with its challenges, and this is one we are still learning to navigate. So, if you’ve ever been ghosted, don’t feel too bad––the truth is, it probably wasn’t even about you.