Last year, a friend from school reconnected with me after seven long years. I did not know her very well, we’d been out of touch for years, but, all of a sudden, none of that seemed to matter. We began talking daily, going on trips together, meeting as often as possible, having sleepovers and, if posts on social media were any indication, we were very close. I was there for her when she was going through a rough patch; she was there to comfort me in my time of pain. Life was fun. Then one day she disappeared. She stopped replying to my messages. She stopped answering my calls. She wasn’t even home when my friend and I landed at her house to check on her. As far as I knew, she could be dead somewhere and, as horrible as it is to admit, a part of me wished that were true—at least, there would be a reasonable explanation behind why we never heard from her again.
This was my first experience of being ghosted and, while I was in shock and disbelief, a part of me just resigned to the way things turned out to be because, to be honest, ghosting is no more a rare occurrence; it has become a widespread cultural phenomenon.
What is ghosting?
Ghosting is the act of ending a relationship without saying goodbye, indeed without saying anything at all. The person just vanishes without a trace. No phone calls; no texts; no explanations. Nothing. No matter how many times you call or text, there is absolutely no response. What hurts the most is the fact that nothing prepares you for ghosting. For until it happens, you actually believe that all is well and the other person really cares for you as you care for them.
As a mental health professional, I see an average of four clients a month who have been victims of ghosting. Even though ghosting is common these days, the emotional effects can be devastating, especially to those with an already fragile self-esteem.
What did I do wrong?
I’ve never needed long and fond farewells—as someone who has been constantly on the move, never really settling down in one place or one group for long. So, I was surprised by the extent to which my friend’s ghosting bothered me. After all, I have always taken pride for being a strong person. I wondered for days and weeks what I had done wrong. Had I become so busy with my life that she felt ignored? Did she not like the way I’d “rescued” her from her abusive relationship? Had I played rescuer to someone who didn’t want to be rescued? These questions were a way for my mind to grapple with the shock—I had to tell myself something, otherwise, I felt that I might go crazy wondering what happened.
I remember profusely apologising to my friend, asking her if I’d done something that had ticked her off. I tried reaching out to her in a million different ways but to no avail. My emails, texts, and messages all went unanswered. I was quite distraught with the way it ended because it made me question the basis of my relationship: had we even been friends in the first place? Who are my real friends? Who can I trust? What if someone else ghosts me in the same manner? I know I was reacting too strongly but this is what ghosting does to you—it makes you imagine crazy things and doubt yourself and your world. For a long time, I thought that I had lost my mind. I wished that we’d had some fight and ended things. That way, at least I would have got closure and moved on. I spent a long time trying to figure out what exactly happened but, to be honest, I still don’t have a clue.
And as much as I hate to admit, despite having a somewhat acceptable explanation for why she did what she did, it still bothers me even after all these months. When a seasoned mental health professional like me can have such a tough time with ghosting, one can only imagine what someone who is already battling issues like anxiety and depression might go through if they fall prey ghosting.
What kind of people ghost?
Many clients ask me: what kind of people ghost? The answer is: everyone. It would be easy to point a finger at those who are selfish and concerned only about their own emotional comfort even at the expense of hurting others. But the truth is that in today’s era, everyone ghosts. We live at a time where instant gratification is the norm, and immediacy over intimacy is valued. Thanks to dating apps like Tinder and TrulyMadly, we live in a world governed by left and right swipes. The moment things don’t seem to be going in a favourable direction, we just swipe left and unmatch, instead of talking things over and trying to make things work—and why should we? Ain’t the sea filled with a variety of fish?
How ghosting affects you
The person who has been ghosted suffers a huge amount of pain because at some level they feel used; the experience can even be traumatic for some people. The reason people feel so terrible when they are ghosted is that the social rejection activates the same pain pathways in the brain as physical pain. It also leaves you in an ambiguous territory: you do not know how to react because you have no idea what happened. On one hand, you are so mad and upset; on the other hand, you are wondering if the other person had some freak accident and is lying in a hospital somewhere. In my case, my friend had been unwell for a long time and was busy frequenting doctors until she completely disappeared.
Being ghosted disrupts a person emotionally, and one of the most sinister aspects of ghosting is that it does not just cause you to question your relationship with that person and its validity, it makes you question yourself. How could I not see this coming? I’ve seen her do this to others; how could I be such a poor judge of character? How did I cause this? What can I do to ensure this never happens to me again? All these questions going on in the head are evidence that ghosting just shakes our self-worth and self-esteem. This form of emotional cruelty is nothing more than a passive-aggressive tactic that leaves psychological bruises and scars.
It’s not about your self-worth
If you’ve been a victim of ghosting, remember that it has nothing to do with your worthiness for love. It is only about the person who goes incommunicado. People who ghost their friends and loved ones don’t have the courage to deal with the discomfort of feelings—both their own as well as yours. They also lack the maturity to understand the impact of their behaviour; or worse, it could be that they are narcissistic and just do not care about how you feel. Whatever the reason, the lesson they end up teaching you is that they are not ready to have a real, meaningful, healthy relationship. And, because you deserve better, you should move on. It is important that victims of ghosting not shut down to other relationships. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, do what makes you happy, keep your heart open and focus forward.
And if you are a ghoster reading this post, remember that accountability is the key aspect of every relationship; and if you had the courtesy of saying ‘hello’, it isn’t too difficult to say ‘good-bye’.
What about you? Have you been ghosted? How did it feel? Leave your comments below: I would love for you to be a part of this conversation.
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