- Due to the normalization of ghosting and other noncommittal behaviors, we tend to dismiss or minimize our reactions to this type of loss.
- We might be conditioned to dismiss a friend's reactions to being ghosted, advising them to "not take it personally" or to "get over it."
- A friend may be grieving what is known as ambiguous loss. Listen, validate, and allow them time to process.
Ghosting—the deliberate act of disappearing from someone's life—has now, unfortunately, become a common way to end a relationship. If we’ve been ghosted, we’re trying to adapt to a world of increasingly normalized noncommittal behaviors.
“There’s no doubt that online dating and dating apps have transformed the way we initiate, form, and end romantic relationships,” reports Martin Graff, a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of South Wales. “The convenience and abundance of choice in online dating perhaps encourages a culture of disposability—being able to ‘trade up’ in the dating market and abandon a current partner more easily.”
A 2019 study found that almost 25 percent of respondents had been ghosted by a partner, while 29 percent admitted they had ghosted someone themselves. Further, 74 percent stated they thought ghosting was an appropriate way to end a relationship.
It’s alarming that ghosting is showing up more often in our professional as well as personal lives. A 2022 Robert Half Survey revealed that the pandemic has played a significant role in the increase of ghostings by employers and candidates: "4 in 10 employers report a rise in candidate ghosting."
It’s common to find online experts advising us to just brush off the ghosting and not take it personally. We’re supposed to get over it and move on. But I’d argue that this one-size-fits-all advice to be like Teflon may discourage us from being honest with our values and feelings—and further, make us dismissive of our friends and loved ones who've been wounded by a ghosting. In short, we’re not really listening to our friends, let alone our own feelings, when we just brush it all off.
Depending on the closeness of the relationship and the hopes and dreams we invested in that bond, being ghosted can leave us hanging, disappointed, or downright shattered. When someone we’ve trusted, counted on, or loved just disappears with no goodbye, no explanation, and not even a single word, we can suffer a kind of grief known as ambiguous loss. Pauline Boss, Ph.D., pioneered the study of this concept in the 1970s, describing the unresolvable loss in our lives when we’ve survived events such as war, pandemics, climate disasters, genocide, infertility, abuse, and other losses “rife with ambiguity.” In her recent book, The Myth of Closure: Ambiguous Loss in a Time of Pandemic and Change, she explains how we can compassionately learn to live with this inexplicable loss that has no closure.
Being ghosted by someone, even a colleague or employer, is an ambiguous loss, with common feelings of helplessness, confusion, self-doubt, sadness, sleeplessness, agitation, and other grief reactions. Our grieving can range from mild irritation to more serious forms of depression and anxiety. If we have friends who’ve recently been ghosted, they’re likely coping with grief responses to an ambiguous loss. We might be wondering what we could say or do to show we care. As a former rehabilitation counselor who has facilitated grief support groups for 17 years, I would like to offer some effective ways to put our compassion into action for a friend who’s been ghosted.
7 Helpful Things to Say and Do
1. Acknowledge the loss of the ghosting, and express your sorrow or shock to hear the news. Your friend may be truly grieving a significant loss.
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“I’m sorry this happened to you.” “Just move on; it's not worth your time.”
“I’m sad to hear this.” “Don’t get hung up on this. Let it go.”
“I am shocked.” “People do this all the time these days.”
2. Validate your friend’s reactions and feelings. Use words that show your validation (acceptance) of painful feelings rather than dismissing or minimizing their reactions, even if you mean well and want to cheer up a sad friend. Stay open and avoid making assumptions about what your friend should be feeling.
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“That’s awful.” “Don’t take it so hard.”
“No one deserves that.” “Don’t take it so personally.”
“This might take some time.” “You need to get over it.”
“It’s just wrong; how unfair to you.” “You need to be positive.”
3. Ask how your friend is coping and listen closely. By sitting down and listening without distractions, tune in to your friend’s story. Learn about your friend’s particular experience rather than jumping in to assert that you already understand or “get it.” Show your friend that you want to understand more deeply rather than rushing them to “sum up” the story.
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“Tell me more; I’m interested.” "I already get it; been through it.”
“How are you getting through this?” “I already know about this.”
4. Allow your friend time to think and problem-solve without offering advice right away. This could be difficult for us if we believe we know what our friend should do. For example, our friend may be torn between confronting the ghoster with an email or text, or just letting it go. We could be eager to discourage our friend from confronting or contacting the one who committed the ghosting. But patiently listening will help them examine a complicated predicament and choose the best path forward. After your friend has reviewed different options and is leaning towards a solution, then you could ask to share your own observation coming from your own experience (if your friend hasn’t asked already).
5. Recognize your friend’s integrity and moral character. It helps to point out that you’ve noticed how your friend has held onto their values and integrity despite the selfish acts of others in the past. You can be a witness to your friend’s standards of being honorable, kind, and respectful. This recognition of their inner strength and integrity gives your friend something solid to believe in and hold onto through the loss and grief.
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“You've held on to your standards.” “You care too much.”
“I believe in you, and in your integrity.” “You shouldn’t try so hard.”
“You’ve tried to keep your word.” "Why bother?” (Nice guys finish last.)
6. Offer your warmth and kindness in ways you are comfortable being comforting. Your comfort can come through in hugs, meals, smiles, greeting cards, handmade gifts, tickets to a ball game or concert, cleaning out their cat’s litter box, chocolates, flowers—and more.
7. Invite your friend to share some time with you in the near future. One of the most comforting things to offer a friend who’s been ghosted is an invitation to meet for an upcoming event or visit. Any shared time with you is reassurance that you care about your friend who still might be feeling insecure and lonely after the rejection of a ghosting.
Case in Point: A Tiny Story
One great comfort after the shock of being ghosted by a trusted colleague was my friend’s invitation to meet on her patio during a fresh June afternoon. She tried to listen closely to my story’s tragic details, although her dog, a rescue greyhound, kept licking my ankles—perhaps trying to comfort me. We burst into laughter. It struck me that the solutions to being ghosted were not as important as being cared for and listened to by a dear friend and her happy dog. I was seen, heard, touched, and not invisible.
The last thing we want after being ghosted is to feel invisible—as if we’re just a ghost ourselves. Indeed, a good friend can see us. Our friends and loved ones can see us, hear us, and more. That is healing. Period.