If you’re dating someone and you decide to end it, there’s a new, heartless way to break up with them. It’s the act of ghosting: cutting off contact with them completely, ignoring their texts and their calls, and not providing an explanation for ending the relationship.
Also known as the “fadeaway” – defined by Urban Dictionary as “quietly disappearing from someone you’ve met on an online dating site” – ghosting has surely always existed, but it seems to be increasingly ubiquitous, in part because social media and dating apps make it so easy to see when the person ignoring you is interacting with other people.
Ghosting has been written about extensively over the past couple of years. It became a highly publicized practice when it was revealed that actress Charlize Theron broke up with Sean Penn by ghosting him. And a lot of normal people are apparently doing it, too: A Huffington Post/YouGov poll from last fall said that of 1,000 American adults surveyed, 11% had ghosted someone before.
Ghosting doesn’t just happen after a single rendezvous, either. Three months into their relationship – having met her parents and after a conversation about their relationship – Michael’s girlfriend, Linda, ghosted him, Huffington Post reported in a story about the breakup practice.
“After his attempts to reach her went unanswered, Michael put on his cute-guy hat and delivered Linda’s favorite cupcakes to her office – only to find out his name had been removed from the guest list at the gate,” The Huffington Post reported.
“I’m glad there’s a term for this; it’s more accurate than ‘dumped,'” a New York Times reader says. This reader was ghosted after 18 months of dating. “After three weeks of silence, I decided someone ought to issue an acknowledgment, and wrote him a note (by hand, sent via the post office) saying I was hurt and confused by his behavior, but had enjoyed good times with him and wished him well. It felt right to offer a sincere closing on my end, even if his actions were rude and immature. Maintaining my own integrity weakened the sting. In a sense, I, not he, was the one closing the door.”
So why do people ghost their significant others? “Sometimes silence truly is the best response,” the Daily Dot’s Nico Lang wrote last month. And, Jezebel argues, “generally a person worthy of ghosting has really done something really, truly terrible.”
Dr. Nicole L. Cromer, a New York-based licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in relationship issues, argues that dating apps like Tinder enable ghosting. “Now that we can hide behind our phones and swipe right on Tinder to find our next date, it’s that much easier to be anonymous and to not take responsibility,” she explained to The Date Report last year.
But at the same time, social media makes it harder to ghost: Your interactions with other people are visible, even when you stop contacting your significant other.
The worst part of ghosting, it seems, is that it sends mixed signals. “If you go on more than three dates, you’ve indicated you’re interested,” Anna Sale, the managing editor and host of a WNYC podcast called Death, Sex & Money told The New York Times earlier this year. “To disappear after that is confusing.”