There’s no way around it: Being ghosted sucks. Rejection can be difficult enough even under ideal circumstances. But add in the ambiguity of not hearing back from someone? The days or weeks of wondering if they’re just busy or freezing you out?
Well, it can hurt a whole lot worse.
Unfortunately, however, in spite of its emotionally damaging properties, ghosting (the act of breaking off a relationship by spontaneously ceasing all contact and communication without warning someone or explaining it to them first) is something that’s becoming more and more common — not less.
…so why is it such a popular approach? Why do people ghost?
A recent study examined people’s motivations and reasons for ghosting. Here’s what it found.
1. People ghost because it’s easy.
Compared to other ways of breaking off contact, there’s basically nothing more easy or convenient than doing nothing. Even if it’s damaging to the ghostee, ghosting on someone is far easier than taking the time to talk about whether something isn’t working (either virtually or in person).
You literally don’t have to do anything.
And all else being equal, it’s quite tempting for people when presented with two choices to opt for the one that’s easier. Sad fact of life when you’re the one being ghosted.
2. The ghoster doesn’t feel like the connection is serious enough that they have a responsibility to break things off clearly.
Study participants indicated that whether they chose to ghost or not typically hinged upon how serious they felt the connection was. If they were casually dating or in the early relationship phase, people were more likely to ghost than once a relationship had been firmly established, at which time more (but not all) people felt it was inappropriate to ghost.
3. The ghostee has done something completely unacceptable, and they no longer desire any further contact with them.
Other folks recounted situations in which a person’s behavior was so offensive and abhorrent that it seemed highly unlikely that they would respond to any attempts at correction. And besides, why bother? That person is an a^&hole. Onward, upward to bigger, better things.
Where they wouldn’t normally leave someone hanging, these offended parties exited stage left as the ghostest with the mostest.
4. They had concerns about safety in light of direct confrontation.
Still other participants stated that they chose ghosting instead of clear rejection out of concern that the person would go crazy and become dangerous.
People Don’t Just Ghost on Romantic Partners
The study also noted that ghosting isn’t just a behavior reserved for romantic relationships but one that people had used in a variety of social situations, including to end friendships.
Not a ton of surprises here. But not all scientific findings are surprising or counterintuitive. And it’s still always good to establish firm empirical backing even for things we think we implicitly understand.
This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.