Gabriella Nissan, Psy.D.
Ghosting in the Age of Online Dating
With the advancement of technology and increasingly hectic schedules, dating apps have become more and more popular. While dating apps open the door for more opportunities to connect with others we may not have otherwise encountered, it also makes us more vulnerable to being ghosted. Ghosting refers to suddenly discontinuing all forms of communication, without giving any notice, and typically refers to the context of online dating.
The anonymity that dating apps provides us emboldens us to act in ways we wouldn’t typically act in face-to-face encounters. When communicating through dating apps, we operate without the social cues, such as facial expressions, which usually trigger empathy and reminders to keep our behaviors in check. In a live interaction, these social cues typically hold us back from walking away from someone mid-conversation, even when we lose interest.
From a psychological perspective, ghosting can be conceptualized as a form of avoidance. When faced with discomfort, we are usually inclined to do whatever we can to avoid the source of discomfort. For example, if someone has a fear of elevators or airplanes, they will likely avoid these places in order to prevent the discomfort brought on by these experiences. Similarly, if someone feels uncomfortable expressing their thoughts or emotions associated with a potential romantic partner, fears commitment, or has lost interest in their partner, they may have an urge to avoid confronting this discomfort by resorting to ghosting. Upon escaping discomfort, we experience an immediate, albeit fleeting, sense of relief. This feeling of relief is very rewarding and reinforces similar behaviors in the future which achieve the same feeling of relief.
Ghosting has an impact on both individuals involved in the interaction. Upon ghosting someone, the ghoster may learn that avoiding discomfort is an effective coping strategy that can be used in other areas of his or her life. Furthermore, it may reinforce the belief that the individual is not capable of effectively handling challenges. It may even result in devaluing relationships or seeing them as something that can be discarded. With regard to the ghostee, the aversive experience of being ghosted may teach the ghostee that they have no control over their environment or future relationships. This, coupled with other aversive life or dating experiences, may contribute to an overall sense of helplessness or hopelessness. Furthermore, the ghostee may anticipate more negative experiences in the future, which may manifest itself as anxiety surrounding dating.
If you have been ghosted, it may be helpful to recognize that this is more a reflection on the ghoster than it is of you. While undoubtedly upsetting, being ghosted does not mean that your future relationships will necessarily go the same route. It may be helpful to seek support from friends or family, or to engage in good self-care and self-compassion. If you find that you have a tendency to ghost others, it may be beneficial to reflect upon why this pattern has emerged in your life. You can also explore the consequences of ghosting on yourself and others to examine the workability of this strategy. You may benefit from confronting your feelings and being open and honest with others. You can facilitate this process by preparing yourself for, what might be, a difficult conversation, being direct and gentle, and focusing on describing your thoughts or emotions.