For many couples who meet through dating apps, the groundwork of the relationship is often laid through online communication. One of the biggest appeals to online dating is the opportunity to connect with someone in a neutral, non-threatening environment. This format lets individuals learn about a potential partner’s personality, family, educational and employment background, and hobbies and interests, even if both people have busy schedules.
Unfortunately, online dating also entails a certain level of anonymity, making it easy for one person to “disappear.” A couple may meet through a dating app and seem to connect well. Maybe they have similar upbringings, political or religious beliefs, and their personalities click. Everything seems to be going well until one person unexpectedly stops all communication. The individual may go so far as to block the other person’s ability to text them, call, or find them on social media.
This behavior is surprisingly common. In fact, between 13-23 percent of adults in the United States have been ghosted by a romantic partner. In an informal online survey, nearly a third of respondents said that they had ghosted someone. Yet another informal survey conducted by an online dating platform showed that 80 percent of millennials had been ghosted.
Ghosting: A New Name for a Classic Behavior
In 2006, Merriam-Webster began to find the word “ghost” used to mean “abruptly ending all contact with a person.” Today, anyone who has met potential partners online has likely been on one or even both sides of the ghosting phenomenon.
Ghosting may be becoming more prevalent, but it’s not necessarily a new behavior. Suddenly skipping out on relationships has likely occurred since the dawn of time. However, as people have developed different avenues of forming connections, they’ve also created new ways for avoiding those connections.
Just a couple of decades ago, people were limited to dating those who they had met through their immediate social circle, perhaps through a shared hobby, their workplace, or a mutual friend. If it became clear that the relationship wasn’t what one person was looking for, a break-up conversation was much harder to avoid. Unless they intended to make significant life changes, running into their former partner was nearly inevitable.
Ghosting is common not because people have changed but because the dating landscape has changed. Today, it’s relatively easy to hide behind a device and use it to avoid an awkward conversation. Because it’s much easier now to meet someone outside of the individual’s immediate circle, the likelihood of crossing paths with that person after a break-up is much smaller. Blocking someone and hoping they take the hint is much easier than having a difficult conversation, so that’s the route many people go.
Are Certain People More Likely to Ghost Someone?
In most cases, this situation has little to do with the person being ghosted and is tied to the other person’s shortcomings. There may be some personality or behavior traits that make someone more likely to ghost their way out of a relationship.
Narcissism and Ghosting
Those with narcissistic tendencies may be more likely to unexpectedly end contact with a partner. Ghosting itself reflects some classic traits of a narcissist, including low self-esteem, the need to have the upper hand in a relationship, and a lack of empathy for the other person.
Someone with this personality disorder forms relationships based on how they may benefit them. If that relationship challenges them or their ideas about their own character or flaws, they may not consider that relationship to be beneficial anymore and simply end it. Ghosting allows them to maintain their position of power by letting them end things on their own terms and preventing potential rejection.
Social Anxiety and Ghosting
Social anxiety disorder is characterized by fear and avoidance that interfere with healthy relationships. While the individual may have the drive to seek out connections with others, this disorder can sabotage their efforts by causing them to fear the process of building those connections.
In this case, there isn’t any malice or manipulation behind the ghosting. The individual is simply unable to overcome their fear of embarrassing themselves, being judged negatively, or interacting with someone they don’t know. This fear can be paralyzing, and ending all contact may seem like the only solution. The individual may do well while communicating online or over text messaging, only to disappear when it’s time to meet in person.
Depression and Ghosting
Similarly, depressive disorders such as major depression and bipolar disorder can sabotage an individual’s efforts to build and maintain relationships. Depression can be a very isolating experience and make it difficult for the individual to motivate themselves to answer phone calls and texts. In some cases, it may simply be easier to cut someone off than communicate with them when struggling with highs and lows.
Relationship Theories and Ghosting
In some cases, ghosting isn’t tied to a mental illness or personality disorder. Instead, it has more to do with how a person sees romantic relationships. Some researchers categorize relationship mindsets as either growth or destiny.
Someone with a growth mindset believes that healthy relationships are cultivated and developed over time. They’re more likely to believe that if a relationship ends, it’s because one or both people didn’t put in the work necessary for it to grow. Differences are inevitable and don’t necessarily mean the relationship is doomed.
A destiny mindset, on the other hand, believes that relationships end when two people weren’t “meant to be.” With this mindset, differences indicate that the couple is incompatible and that the relationship shouldn’t go forward.
According to two studies, those with a destiny mindset are more likely to use ghosting to end relationships. If they don’t see a future with the person, it may be easier for them to simply cut off communication and continue their quest for the “right” person.
A Single Action Isn’t Enough for a Diagnosis
Being ghosted is a frustrating, disappointing, and painful experience. If one person feels the connection and is optimistic about the relationship’s future, it’s hurtful when their partner unexpectedly cuts off contact. It’s normal to feel betrayed and depressed after being ghosted, and it makes sense to want closure and an explanation for why that relationship came to an abrupt end.
While ghosting can point to a bigger problem such as a mental illness or a personality disorder that needs professional help, it’s not enough to diagnose someone. Personality disorders and mental illnesses are multifaceted. While the individual may have narcissistic tendencies, anxiety, or depression, it’s equally likely that they just wanted to end the relationship and lacked the maturity to do it in a responsible way.
However, if someone knows that they have a pattern of ghosting people, it may be a good idea to seek help from a mental health care professional. Strong relationships are essential for overall health, and self-sabotaging behaviors such as ghosting may point to the need for counseling.
Is It Ever Appropriate to Ghost Someone?
While ghosting is generally frowned upon, there may be times when it’s acceptable or even the best way to end a relationship. Generally speaking, however, it’s a good idea to give the other person a heads-up on why the relationship won’t continue.
When Is Ghosting Acceptable?
If someone receives unsolicited inappropriate content or has reason to believe that continuing a relationship with the other person may jeopardize their physical safety, ghosting may be a perfectly acceptable way to stop communication. Similarly, ghosting is acceptable if the person believes they’re being catfished. It may also be okay to stop communicating if the other person shows a lack of interest by not initiating contact or not consistently responding to phone calls or texts.
When Is Ghosting Not Acceptable?
Aside from a handful of scenarios, it’s generally a better idea to be honest when ending a relationship. Ghosting is immature, and as difficult as it is to have an awkward break-up conversation, it shows consideration for the other person and brings closure to the relationship.