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5 Signs That Someone Is Semi-Ghosting in a Relationship

3. Occasional contacts are brief and superficial.

Key points

  • Semi-ghosting can occur in romantic, social, family, and work situations.
  • The reasons for semi-ghosting can be varied and complex.
  • Semi-ghosting may contain elements of passive aggression, narcissism, or breadcrumbing.
Source: edw/Shutterstock

The Cambridge Dictionary defines ghosting as “a way of ending a relationship with someone suddenly by stopping all communication with them.” In our rapidly changing and technology-driven society, ghosting has become a prevalent occurrence. In one research study, 19 percent of respondents admitted to being ghosted in the last 12 months.[1] Other studies suggest that up to 23 percent of adults experience ghosting in romantic situations.[2][3]

In additional to “complete ghosting,” in which a relationship disconnects entirely, there is also the phenomenon of “semi-ghosting,” in which a formerly close relationship is still superficially in place, but the frequency and depth of contact are so lacking that, for all practical purposes, the relationship is barely or non-existent. Semi-ghosting may occur in romantic, social, family, and work situations. Below are key characteristics of semi-ghosting, with references from my book How to Successfully Handle Passive-Aggressive People.

Signs of being semi-ghosted

  1. The semi-ghoster rarely keeps in touch or initiates contact.
  2. When contacted, the semi-ghoster may take a long time to reply.
  3. Occasional contacts are brief and superficial.
  4. Occasional contacts lack the sincere interest, personal inquisitiveness, and mutuality of concern necessary for a meaningful relationship.
  5. When asked about the lack of communication, the semi-ghoster may claim to be busy, preoccupied, or moving forward in a different direction (strong relationships prioritize making time for one another).

Why people semi-ghost

Change in life circumstance. One of the most common reasons for semi-ghosting is a change in life stage, such as graduation, marriage, having children, job transition, or physical relocation where, from the perspective of the ghoster, the life change itself is sufficient justification for semi-ghosting a relationship. This may not seem reasonable or sociable, but is a frequent occurrence in our highly individualistic, transient, and self-centered society.

“Now that I’m married, my husband and I mostly hang out with other married couples.” — Anonymous

“We were so close in school, but I stopped hearing from him after graduation—except for the occasional emoji.” — Anonymous

“After her child was born, she treated her childless friends as if they were barely worth acknowledging.” — Anonymous

Unpleasant or incompatible interaction. The semi-ghoster may have issues with the semi-ghosted, which make social and emotional distance necessary. Semi-ghosting may also be an attempt to establish boundaries.

“When certain members of my family argue about politics, they usually stop speaking to each other for months.” — Anonymous

Hidden or undisclosed friction. There may be unspoken tensions between the semi-ghoster and the semi-ghosted, which result in social dissonance. In some instances, the act of semi-ghosting may be interpreted as passive aggression (e.g., covert anger and the inability to discuss issues openly).

Undisclosed personal issues. The semi-ghoster may have unrevealed challenges they’re dealing with which cause them to isolate themselves.

“My friend suddenly stopped keeping in touch. It was later that I learned he’s struggling with depression.” — Anonymous

Ulterior motives. The semi-ghoster may be keeping the relationship minimally alive to potentially get something out of it in the future. Examples include promiscuous dating, casual hook-ups, opportunistic friendships, and transactional networking. In this case, semi-ghosting may contain elements of narcissism (self-absorption) and breadcrumbing (leading someone on).[1][4]

Regardless of the reasons, semi-ghosting is often perplexing and distressing to those on the receiving end. The semi-ghosted may be left wondering, “What happened?”; “Why is he (or she) almost never in touch?”; “Is it because of me?”; or “Did I do something wrong?” In this way, the semi-ghoster leaves behind many unanswered questions in a quasi-abandoned relationship.

For tips on how to handle ghosting and semi-ghosting, see references below.

© 2022 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.


Ni, Preston. How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People — 2nd Edition. PNCC. (2006)

Ni, Preston. How to Successfully Handle Passive-Aggressive People. PNCC. (2014)

Ni, Preston. How to Successfully Handle Narcissists. PNCC. (2014)

[1] Navarro R., Yubero S., Larrañaga E., Víllora B. Ghosting and Breadcrumbing: Prevalence and Relationships with Online Dating Behaviors Among Young Adults. Cyberpsychol. J. Psychol. Res. Cybers. 2020.

[2] Freedman G., Powell D.N., Le B., Williams K.D. Ghosting and Destiny: Implicit Theories of Relationships Predict Beliefs About Ghosting. J. Soc. Pers. Relatsh. 2019.

[3] Poll Results: Ghosting. [(28 December 2019)];…

[4] Navarro R., Larrañaga E., Yubero S., Víllora B. Psychological Correlates of Ghosting and Breadcrumbing Experiences: A Preliminary Study among Adults. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020.

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