Today, ghosting—the act of suddenly cutting off all communication with someone, usually after they’ve expressed romantic interest—is no longer considered remarkable. The explanations behind this behavior generally vary, although there are common symptoms: the ghoster is busy, has lost interest, or perhaps has overlooked the idea that a real person is taking the time to type up the messages that pop up on their screen.
Admittedly, the concept of ghosting isn’t new. Even so, getting ghosted feels all the more afflicting in our day and age because technology has made it so much harder to accidentally lose touch with someone; when someone suddenly becomes unreachable, it often seems like they’ve deliberately chosen to create that distance.
The tricky thing with ghosting is that there are no “rules” to it. At the end of the day, you don’t owe anyone a sign of life. However, most share the conviction that abruptly cutting off ties with someone is morally questionable. In some way, the stigma that surrounds ghosting acts as a glimpse of hope for human compassion: it holds the empathetic stance that ghosting shouldn’t occur the second we don’t want to interact with someone anymore.
After all, most of us have been told since we were young to “treat others the way you would want to be treated.” Following this mantra made my younger self decide that she would never engage in ghosting. I also gave a lot of importance to the romanticized idea of closure, wherein some symbolic act or conversation gives a soft and peaceful end to otherwise enduring hostilities. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that satisfying this need to obtain answers and precisions doesn’t actually provide much solace anyway.
More importantly, I’ve learned that closure isn’t something you can rely on others for. I’m sure we’ve all been in a situation where we’ve yearned for a logical explanation of the way someone has treated us—or hoped someone would randomly change their behavior.
Now, I’m not here to tell you to clear your conscience if you’ve left someone undeservingly hanging out of laziness or boredom. The guilt we feel when we aren’t giving someone the explanation they’re entitled to is completely justifiable. As ghosting has become commonplace and exponentially recurrent, though, more of its intricacies are becoming clearer. In the ongoing debate of social media’s possible effects, ghosting exemplifies the damage online platforms can yield on relationships. I think the phenomenon is a result of people neglecting their sympathy in favor of a better connection they could potentially make with someone else. But I also think our common disdain for ghosting—especially when you’re the ghostee—dismisses the complexity of relationship dynamics.
Unfortunately, respectful communication isn’t always a realistic expectation to have. I’m the first to admit that I wish my younger self would have had the strength to stop entertaining high school bullies, toxic friendships, and relationships that constantly plunged me in self-doubt and a negative mindset. It took many crossed boundaries for me to realize that ghosting can actually be a healthy way of dealing with hostile individuals and situations.
Regardless of how deep the “talking stage” has gotten or even (God forbid) how long a romantic relationship has been lasting, it’s perfectly acceptable to stop speaking to someone who consciously oversteps your limits and consistently neglects the concerns you voice.
I’m a strong believer in the idea that allowing people who are more draining than uplifting to stay in our lives doesn’t only stunt our personal growth; it may even infect our social circle. As we accept mediocre behavior and lower (or worse, forget!) our standards, we let outsiders know how reprehensibly we would allow them to treat us. In short, keeping a toxic person in our lives merely to avoid loneliness isn’t worth it.
People who unequivocally condemn ghosting seem to forget that serene breakups are rarely attainable when healthy dialogue cannot occur in the first place. Perpetuating this fear of not being “too mean” (especially for us, ladies) results in essentially pressuring others to maintain potentially harmful ties. So I say fuck it. It’s time to start contesting this unbending expectation to prioritize politeness over our own well-being. There’s no use justifying people who repeatedly treat you like a disposable asset. It’s time that we all stop fearing our ghosts—especially when a relationship is already dead or rotten to begin with.
By Irène Schrader
Illustration by Damien Jeon