Ghosting –– it’s the ultimate silent treatment and the way some modern-day relationships come to an end.
The term “ghosting”refers to a relationship phenomenon where communication is severed without reason and one partner ends the relationship by simply disappearing. This leaves the ghostee of the situation without closure, confused as to what went wrong and with low self-esteem.
The phrase first showed up in Urban Dictionary in 2006 and gained heightened attention in 2014 and 2015. Few scientific studies have provided an explanation for how and why ghosting is enacted as the phenomenon gains more traction.
“We know that ambiguity is not necessarily positive for relationships,” Dr. Claire Kamp Dush, an associate professor of human sciences and romantic relationship expert, said. “The ambiguity surrounding the breakup process with ghosting could lead students to be more confused during the breakup…it’s hard to have closure and to move forward when you’re wondering still what happened there.”
Reliance on technology as a means of communication has allowed people to more easily ghost, Kamp Dush said; if one initiated the relationship he or she also feels it is easiest to disappear.
Brooke Nerderman, a fourth-year in zoology, understands why ghosting is an easy alternative to a direct conversation.
“I think that social media allows relationships to be less emotionally attached in the beginning,” Nerderman said. “So much of these relationships are through our devices so when one ghosts another they don’t think as much about the emotions of the other due to these surface relationships.”
A 2017 study by the University of Alabama found that people choose to ghost because of boredom, negativity and, most commonly, because of better alternatives; the hope is that not communicating becomes evidence of a clear relationship end after time.
“Ghosting is definitely disrespectful,” said Charlotte Fore, a second-year in marketing major, said. “To go from interacting with someone often, to completely cutting them off without any warning, certainly isn’t the best way to do things.”
As for the ghostee, recipients will internalize and induce self-blame for the relationship’s end since that is the only information available that can be understood, according to a Psychology Today article.
“When you have this experience that someone is apparently rejecting you and the way you are in the world, you want more information,” Kamp Dush said. “By not getting it, it can lead to negative self-image.”
Having that conversation isn’t always easy, Kamp Dush said, but romantic relationships require a level of respect higher than that of a partner disappearing without explanation.
“Something we would have to worry about is that we are going to have a generation of people who maybe are a little [shy] of relationships, who want to avoid being hurt,” Kamp Dush said. “Part of dating and forming intimate relationships is getting your heart broken.”
For Fore, a clear communication channel is a key component in any relationship, from beginning to end.
“I would definitely prefer a direct conversation when it comes to any sort of breakup,” Fore said. “Even if I’m the one ending things, I would rather have a quick conversation to make my feelings clear up front instead of just ghosting them and hoping they get the memo.”