- Increased and emerging research on ghosting can help debunk myths and misconceptions about this troubling behavior.
- Ghosting is increasing in all areas of life: from the workplace, to friendships, to family, and to the dating world.
- When we ghost someone else, are we also ghosting ourselves?
As research on ghosting increases, we are gaining more understanding and clarity on this troubling behavior that has, unfortunately, become more socially acceptable. And along with the recent research come ways to tackle common misconceptions and biases about ghosting that pop up in comments throughout social media. I'd like to offer some fresh, useful perspectives with updated research—although no one has the last word on ghosting in these fast-changing, fluid, and uncertain times.
For the past two years, we have relied on online communication more than ever before to stay in touch, and it’s no surprise that ghosting and other flaky, selfish, or not-so-transparent behaviors are increasing along with our on-screen habits.
It all comes down to this: It’s easier to slip away and disappear when you won’t ever be seen by that person (again) in real life.
Myths and Realities About Ghosting
1. Myth: Most people agree on the same meaning for the term.
Reality: In different studies over the past 10 years, the meaning of ghosting has slightly varied across the different populations surveyed. Given the increase in the use of social media, finding an empirical definition for ghosting has been even more complicated and nuanced. For example, does ghosting mean to simply ignore someone’s attempts at contact, or does it mean to deliberately block contact (on social media) with that person? In a study this year, a workable, universal definition was developed by 499 participants in Canada. "One way that people can end a relationship is by ghosting. Ghosting is when one person suddenly ignores or stops communicating with another person, without telling them why."
2. Myth: Ghosting mostly happens in the dating world.
Reality: Ghosting has been increasing in all facets of our lives—with employers, colleagues, friends, and even our relatives. The Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact, as more people resorted to using online ways of communicating, including an increased use of social media. Job interviews, for example, are now more frequently conducted online, rather than in face-to-face meetings, and this has played a part (among many other reasons) in the increase in job candidates ghosting potential employers.1
3. Myth: Employers are ghosting job candidates more than candidates are ghosting employers.
Reality: Employers and candidates are ghosting at nearly the same level in the past two years. Given an uptick since the pandemic and The Great Resignation, candidates are more frequently ghosting employers. Robert Half's studies show that candidates and employers are almost equally doing the ghosting.2
4. Myth: Ghosting is never the right thing to do.
Reality: Research shows that ghosting is sometimes used as a safety measure by a ghoster. Someone may ghost a person who might become violent, abusive, or unreasonable when faced with rejection. This would particularly be the case for someone leaving an abusive situation, or who fears the potential for violence, according to a recent study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
5. Myth: People who ghost are basically selfish.
Reality: Emerging research is now examining the traits of those who ghost others. Some studies show that those who find ghosting to be acceptable are more likely to have dark triad personality traits (psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism). Other studies show that an increasing number of people who ghost are avoiding the discomfort of a conflict, awkward misunderstanding, or an emotional reaction. Some adults who ghost are not equipped with the communication skills to effectively end a relationship, so they exit through an “escape hatch” rather than face the anxiety-producing ordeal of breaking a bond. It was also found that people who have been ghosted are more likely to later ghost someone else.
As a former rehabilitation counselor and educator, I believe our society does not teach us (and undervalues) the essential skills for having “hard conversations” that are awkward, messy, and unpredictable. Unfortunately, ghosting is becoming more normalized and 'acceptable,' even though certain personality traits are a factor in initiating ghosting behavior. Hopefully, future studies will help us understand more about the role of personality traits in ghosting behaviors.
6. Myth: The pandemic is the main cause of the increase in ghosting.
Reality: By 2019, ghosting had already become more normalized due to social media and the creation of more dating and meeting apps. Indeed, the increase in social media use has been found to be the main cause of the normalization of ghosting and its cousins, breadcrumbing, orbiting, and other non-committal behaviors. But the pandemic did force us to turn to more online communication, which played a role in the increase of ghosting.
7. Myth: Ghosting hurts more than breadcrumbing.
Reality: Ghosting may hurt in different ways than breadcrumbing—but both are emotionally damaging. Some research shows that breadcrumbing may be more damaging than ghosting, and yet a recent study published in the Journal of Social Psychology reported that “Ghostees also experienced more of a threat to their fundamental needs—control, self-esteem, belongingness, meaningful existence—than ghosters.”
Ghosting is not only harmful because it causes self-doubt, confusion, and uncertainty when someone just disappears. It can also shatter our sense of belonging with others as a human being. It can hit hard, and yet, unfortunately, many of our peers and professionals tell us to be like Teflon and brush it off, "don't take it personally."
Michelle Drouin, Psychology Today blogger and professor of psychology at Purdue University-Fort Wayne, states, “Ghosting actually hits us at an even greater point of vulnerability: Our desire to belong and be loved. Ghosting is a big red flag that we might be losing someone we love or someone we wanted to love.”
In short, ghosting can be devasting, especially if someone we have loved and trusted has suddenly left us without a word. I am relieved it's being taken seriously and not treated as just one of those nasty things we must "get over."
The more we become accustomed to ghosting, the more we must question whether this behavior is acceptable. It becomes a personal, moral decision whether to ghost or not. I worry if when we ghost someone out of convenience, are we actually ghosting ourselves? We are not showing up to ourselves—our integrity, our standards, our moral courage—as well as not showing up to the real person we need to face. Must we lower our standards and give in to the transactional behaviors around us? I find this is a sad way to ghost ourselves. I hope we can stand up against these trends and show up to others as well as ourselves.
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