Ghosting people and healthier ways to end relationships

While it can be acceptable, there are better alternatives to ghosting

Illustration of a person looking at their phone against a dark-blue background, illuminated by the light. The person is wearing a ghost-like sheet over their body with two eye-holes, and has their chin propped up in their free hand. There are illustrative text and social media notifications projecting from the phone.
ILLUSTRATION: Aliya Nourlan / The Peak

By: Daniel Salcedo Rubio, Features Editor

I think it’s fair to assume we’ve all either been ghosted or have ghosted someone in our lives. Sometimes, it feels like ceasing any further communication with a particular person is the best way to move forward. Right now, for example, I’m being ghosted by my thesis supervisory committee whenever I try to schedule a meeting. While I’m not particularly fond of ghosting people, I definitely think it’s completely acceptable to not interact further with someone under certain circumstances, especially when their behaviour is coming at the cost of your mental well-being.

Ghosting, the action of cutting off all contact with someone without prior notice, is usually associated with romantic relationships, but it can be applied to pretty much anyone. We live in an era of unprecedented instantaneous availability. Smartphones, social media, email, and whatnot — we are reachable to anyone who has our contact information at any time. This new power of being able to reach out at any time has also brought an incorrect perception that being reachable implies the right to an immediate response. I knew a guy from mutual friends who I had to ghost and completely block out of my life due to unwanted advances and borderline harassing behaviour. It all started as any other normal interaction; we spoke maybe two or three times in person and then he started following me on my socials and reaching out through there. He was clearly interested in something more than a friendship, and I wasn’t. When I started shutting down conversations I wasn’t comfortable with or stopped replying to all his messages, he doubled down and pushed harder — I just blocked him from everywhere at this point. This might be a bit of an extreme example where harassment was involved, but it serves as an example of where ghosting someone can be justified. 

Where I think ghosting is usually unacceptable is when it comes to romantic relationships. Mind you, I’m not talking about that Tinder match you made six months ago and never replied back to. I’m talking about a romantic relationship where there’s some form of emotional investment; maybe you’ve gone on a couple of dates or started to develop some feelings for the other. Ghosting is an easy way to remove yourself from having to deal with those uncomfortable end-of-relationship feelings. In these cases, in all honesty, I think it can be one of the most cowardly things to do. Look, I understand there are certain emotions we would rather avoid feeling and causing to others, but by ceasing all communication you are not avoiding them, you are just avoiding dealing with them. 

Personally, I think it’s way better to be upfront about why you’re no longer interested in the relationship, even if it’s just after only a couple of dates. A year ago I went on a date with a guy I met on Tinder — it was clear to me I wasn’t pursuing it any further. When I got back home and opened Tinder to thank him for the date and say that we weren’t a good match, he had already unmatched me. While I wasn’t interested in him, all I could think at the time was what I might’ve done wrong — what was wrong with me to be so abruptly cut off. Even now, I still think about it whenever I pass by the restaurant we went to. Ghosting someone not only doesn’t magically remove those unwanted feelings, but it also adds uncertainty and anxiety to the ghosted. Being upfront, while perhaps more immediately uncomfortable, makes it clear that the reasoning behind ending it has nothing to do with you.

You can and should prioritize your well-being, but you should also be responsible for the way you communicate and interact with others. Attitudes like ghosting and breadcrumbing, the intentional or unintentional act of feigning interest, have proven detrimental effects on the mental well-being of those on the receiving end. A study from the University of Castilla-La Mancha reported that people who have experienced breadcrumbing and ghosting have a lower satisfaction with life, indistinct of gender, sexual orientation, or age. A study in the Journal of Social Psychology reported similar experiences by the ghosted — a threat to their “self-esteem, belongingness, and meaningful existence.” Ostracizing someone is an awful thing to do; us humans are social creatures and being excluded from social interactions may damage our well-being. If you want to cease communication with someone, and you aren’t under threat of danger or harassment, there are far better alternatives to ghosting. 

Some people are now referring to “caspering,” the practice of gradually ceasing communication, either by taking longer to reply back or responding with increasingly short answers. To me it sounds like ghosting with extra steps, but I can see how doing it gradually could ease some people into accepting the end of a relationship. Another option is to just be upfront — you don’t need to go into details or provide constructive criticism, just be honest and clear. If it was a first date, saying something like, “I didn’t feel a connection, but I wish you the best” would suffice. If you’ve been dating for a bit longer but aren’t interested in moving forward with a committed relationship or want a break from dating, just say so. These aren’t things that anyone should take personally. It might be easier to ghost than to explain, but the pain of being ghosted far outweighs the discomfort of facing the truth.

Remember, it’s your life and no one is entitled to your time or your persona. Someone being able to reach out to you doesn’t make them entitled to an answer, and being reachable is not a right but a privilege you can willfully take away from anyone. If you think going no contact with someone is the best course of action to take, by all means go ahead — especially when your safety is at risk — but don’t take these decisions lightly. Remember that the way we interact in and with society has impacts often unseen by other people, and while you are not responsible for everyone’s feelings, you should take some degree of accountability for how your actions make other people feel, especially when better alternatives are at hand.

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