You know how it goes: After months of lackluster swiping, you’ve finally (finally!) met someone who lasts more than one mediocre date. The chemistry is apparent, the vibes sublime. Flying sparks are giving you the green light to start investing real emotions.
Maybe you’re weeks shy from a DTR talk, but the texts don’t lie: it’s all starting to feel like a vibrant, blossoming relationship. Cue Beyoncé, your walls are tumbling down.
Then it happens.
The communication halts, and you feel a little anxious.
At first, you berate yourself. “Play it cool!” you think, “Maybe she forgot to charge her phone. Maybe he just forgot to hit send. Whatever, just chill.”
So you play it cool. Days pass as you wait and wonder, as you give them “space” so the burgeoning relationship can “breathe.” But then a week passes, and you wonder if they were hit by a car, and if you should call a hospital.
You feel foolish, you feel betrayed, you feel angry — and above all, you just feel sad. What’s worse is how you’re starting to second-guess everything, including your instincts. Random phone notifications stop your heart, electrifying you with false hope, all while you begrudgingly prepare yourself for the let-down that’s become all-too-common in this dating-app age. You try to convince yourself you don’t care, but you know you do.
Boo, you’ve been ghosted.
Take a breath, this is normal
While “ghosting” has certainly increased in recent years, by no means is it a modern thing. Just pick up an old book. The idea of a perfect suitor (Mr. Bingley, anyone?) suddenly disappearing isn’t exactly new material. Still, despite it being easier than ever to contact someone, the issue has only gotten worse.
“As technology becomes more intertwined in our daily lives, it’s easier than ever before to simply ignore and halt a digital conversation. This is just the way relationships have evolved,” explains Nicole Artz, a licensed marriage and family therapist who serves on the board at Family Enthusiast. Dating used to hinge on reputation — people connected through a friend-of-a-friend or a mutual acquaintance. Reputational risk isn’t exactly a struggle anymore.
Furthermore, “the more it happens, the more people justify doing it. … It’s established a sense of normalcy around it that wasn’t there 10 years ago,” explains Andrea Bonior a Washington Post piece called Ghosting is normal now. That’s completely bonkers. Still, just because it’s increasingly normal doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect us.
“The reason ghosting is such an awful way to end things with a person is that it does not give the ghosted a sense of reason,” says Chris Seiter of Ex-Boyfriend Recovery. “It leaves them not only hurt that they essentially have been dropped, but it affects their self-esteem, confuses them as to what has gone wrong… You are left with no sense of rationale.”
Essentially, when a person is ghosted, they’re left with what Bonior calls “emotional labor.” And if you suffer from abandonment issues, or have an anxious attachment style, these issues are often exasperated.
So, what do we do? While there’s no fool-proof way to keep your dating-life ghost-free, there are certainly some ways you can minimize your chances, and gain some perspective if it does happen.
Try some straight-shooting vulnerability
I’m not saying you need to open up the closet filled with all your fears and anxieties on your first date (in fact, please don’t do that) — but if you’re meeting up with someone you know you’ll know you want to see again, it might be an opportune time to give the burgeoning relationship a framework of expectations.
Lori Gottlieb, Los Angeles psychotherapist and author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone shared a powerful anecdote in the Washington Post. Instead of crossing her fingers and hoping ghosting wouldn’t happen again, one of Gottlieb’s patients actually told a new date that she was on the mend from someone who disappeared without a word. She told him, “If for any reason this isn’t working out, I need you to tell me because I don’t want to go through that again.” Turns out, he was hurt by ghosts in his past too, and was just that more tuned in to his date’s emotional needs.
Gottlieb said that this “set up a framework that it was okay to talk about tough things more generally and not avoid them,” all while reminding them to treat each other with basic dignity. Oh, and they’re married now.
Know that “closure” probably won’t make you feel better
“If you’re ghosted, it’s best to work towards a sense of acceptance for the situation,” explains Artz. Far too often, people become obsessed after being ghosted — after all, they’re just trying to find closure. According to Artz, however, “closure is such a misunderstood desire. Even when we receive the closure we desperately want, we still often feel dissatisfied, and we still tend to have just as many questions.”
After all, relationships are messy, and breakups are even messier. While we can psychoanalyze why it didn’t work for hours, it’s worth asking the question: Will that make us feel any better? “Most of us seek closure because we think closure will somehow eliminate the painful emotions we feel,” explains Artz. “But emotions don’t work that way. Pain is a part of the healing process.”
Focus on what you can control
Once it’s clear that you’ve been ghosted, pause — and don’t reach out. “By saying nothing, they’re saying something, and whether you like it or not, harping on the issue rarely makes sense.”
That’s a tough reality to accept, but it’s here where it’s important to stay strong: lean on those who love you, and focus on the life that’s in front of you. Consider other relationships — romantic or otherwise — and find ways to enliven those. “Focus on building healthy communication habits… Model upfront conversations and sharing your feelings with others,” shares Artz. In other words, use this anger and frustration as fuel to treat everyone in your life with respect.
If you absolutely must reach out, have a stock message you can send. Keep it brief and unemotional, and don’t expect any sort of clarification if you magically get a response. Ultimately, you’re sending this message on behalf of your own mental health. Something simple like: “Hey, I haven’t heard from you in a while, and it’s a little confusing. I hope you’re okay. I wish you the best.”
Note your own patterns to understand yourself better
We know that ghosting isn’t really about you — it’s about them and their inability to communicate. But if you’re finding that this is constantly happening to you, it might be a good time to re-examine the types of people you’re inviting into your life — and just as importantly, your reactions to them.
So take a step back and try to look at your dating history objectively. Talk to a friend, or even a therapist, to see if there are any habits that keep putting you in this position. Perhaps you’re a sensitive soul who is getting attached a little too quickly, or maybe you’re just settling for bad behavior that culminates in leaving the scene.
Whatever the cause, be gentle with yourself. You’re a human being worthy of love and dignity — and sometimes the best dating advice is to truly take that knowledge to heart.