Modern dating is often conducted through technology. Sometimes that can have benefits, like the increased selection of partners found in online dating and dating apps. Nevertheless, relationships mainly conducted online or over the phone are also easier to end—simply by unfriending, unfollowing, blocking, and not responding.
As a result, modern daters are also more likely to get “ghosted” when a potential partner cuts off communication without warning or discussion. In fact, according to recent research by Powell and associates (2021), 28.5 to 47.0 percent of daters have been ghosted by a partner (while 26.1 to 38.9 percent of daters have ghosted a partner). Furthermore, those who get ghosted are left feeling excluded, out of control, and unfairly treated (Pancani et al., 2022). This, in turn, makes many modern daters more anxious about future dating interactions (Powell et al., 2021).
Research on Ghosting
Fortunately, research by LeFebvre and associates (2019) offers insight into why daters choose to ghost a partner—and shares some of the warning signs to see it coming. The team surveyed participants about their experiences with being ghosted, both as a ghoster and a ghostee, In general, they found that 74 percent of the participants believed that ghosting was an inappropriate breakup strategy, although 29.3 percent of the group admitted to using it anyway.
Beyond that, ghosters shared some interesting insights. First, they offered reasons why they chose to ghost a dating partner. Those reasons fit into the following categories:
- Convenience: It was easier, took less time, and avoided emotional situations.
- Lost attraction: They were no longer motivated to maintain the relationship because they had lost interest.
- Relationship status: They did not feel the relationship was serious enough to require a more personal breakup.
- Negative interactions: An exchange that caused anger or frustration led to them wanting to avoid future interactions.
- Safety: They were concerned for their own safety and wanted to avoid an angry in-person interaction.
Second, ghosters initiated the process of ghosting in three main steps. To start, they selected the types of contact they were going to reduce over time (eg, on dating apps, social media, phone, text). Next, they decided on a time frame, either cutting things off quickly or more gradually. Finally, as ghosting progressed, they decided whether to permanently end all contact or resume interacting with that partner.
That uncertain process left those partners being ghosted in a frustrating and confusing position. Nevertheless, individuals did identify some ways of knowing they were being ghosted:
- Modified communication: Partners noticed when a ghoster stopped talking to them on specific platforms and devices. For example, if they stopped video chatting, talking on the phone, or responding on social media, then it was a sign that they might be ghosting.
- Lessening interest: Partners also noticed when a ghoster was less interested or less invested in the relationship. Perhaps they called or responded less frequently, were less interested in face-to-face meet-ups, or spent less time or money. This, too, suggested a withdrawing from the relationship.
- Change of relationship status: Finally, some partners saw that the ghoster changed their relationship status on social media—either back to “single” or in a relationship with someone else.
How to Handle Being Ghosted
Given the above, although ghosting seems like a sudden change for an unsuspecting partner, it is often a more gradual process. Therefore, some of the shock can be taken out of the situation by paying attention when a dating partner starts to withdraw, invests less into the relationship, or reduces communication. From there, you can take steps to find out why they are withdrawing, decide whether you are still interested in them, and then either rebuild the relationship or end it yourself. Let’s look at those steps in more detail:
1. Find out why: A partner may reduce contact for many reasons. So, when you notice them closing off or avoiding you, ask them about it. Build some rapport and ask in a way that is genuine, empathetic, and warm. Perhaps, something like, “I noticed that we have not been talking as much lately. Is everything OK?” Some of the reasons they might discuss (or hint at), can include:
- They are genuinely too busy, which can lead to commitment problems.
- They are not ready for a commitment in general.
- They are trying to make themselves scarce to seem more attractive.
- They have had negative interactions with you or have been hurt in past relationships.
- They are not attracted enough and are trying to stick you in the friend zone, or friends-with-benefits zone.
2. Make a decision: If you do not get a response to your question, or get some shrug-off response, then your decision is easy. Clearly, they lack the conscientiousness to be a good partner and it is time to move on. Similarly, if they are too busy for a relationship or have commitment issues, then you might be better off looking for a more compatible partner elsewhere. If they are acting scarce, put off by bad interactions, or simply not attracted enough (yet), however, then there are ways to possibly fix those situations. The only question is whether you and they are still willing to put in the effort to make things work.
3. End things..or mend things: If you have decided to end things, then take the initiative. Be proactive and end the relationship yourself, in a compassionate way. It can even be something as simple as a text saying, “We seem to be drifting apart. I’m moving on. I wish you the best.” That will help you take some control back and break up fairly. Otherwise, work together to trust each other, become more attractive, and create more rewarding interactions to move the relationship forward. Beyond that, being selectively hard to get and encouraging your partner to invest more might be helpful in some cases.
© 2022 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, MA, MSW, Ph.D. All rights reserved.