To ghost, or be ghosted? That is the question: Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the confusion and self pity of a snapchat left on delivered, or to take arms against a sea of digital age relationship rules and reveal to someone how you truly feel.

There are plenty of terms that I use and hear in my everyday life that describe the end of a relationship: 

“We broke up.”

“They ended things with me.”

“We’re not together anymore.”

“It’s over.”

“We lost the heart on snap.”

But the one I am most captivated by is:

“They ghosted me.” 

ghosting [verb] : When a person you believed to have developed a relationship with disappears off the face of the earth (aka the realm of social media) and cuts all ties off with you without any explanation whatsoever. The term is also commonly known as the ultimate silent treatment. 

Ghosting really makes you sit on the edge of your seat and question your own sanity. It can be out of nowhere, like ripping off a bandaid. Other times it is a  slow burn of only receiving a response every few hours, until eventually, not at all. 

If it’s happening to you for the first time, you may begin to ponder the usual conjectures: Are they not responding because they broke their phone? Or injured themself miraculously? Or are they actually just ignoring you because you’ve done something wrong? And if you did something wrong, what was it? Your mind begins to race through every past action and stumbled-upon syllable that has flown off your tongue in the past few days. Your thoughts morphed into a full fledged FBI investigation conducted by yourself, on yourself, all because you’ve been left on read. 

Why would anyone freak out this much over someone’s attention, or lack thereof, to them over social media? 

Ghosting has become quite common in today’s relationship norms. It’s a lot easier to notice that someone is ignoring you when we are all so engulfed in each other’s lives throughout social media. Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook allow people to see when their friends have most recently been active. iMessage has a setting to reveal when someone has read their message. Spotify shows what song followers have been listening to last. No matter where we go online, we can see each other’s footprints. 

Today it is common to communicate online or through these different mediums of social media. We can text, Snapchat, direct message and poke each other on Facebook all at the same time with one person and maintain an actual relationship this way. In many ways, the typical dynamics and stages of a relationship have mutated in the digital age. To start, we can send selfies back and forth to someone, with no conversation, and somehow develop a crush. It may sound ridiculous, but many are victims to this, myself included.

We can meet on an app like Tinder, chat there, plan on meeting up, and then never follow through. Maybe we can FaceTime once or twice to try and get to know each other better through the lens of eachothers camera. If the relationship goes sour, like many are bound to, we can block each other. We can literally take away someone’s ability to contact us online with three clicks. Our devices hold so much power and control over our relationships with each other, hence why ghosting — the new hazy gray area of digital age dating — has become so widespread . 

But  if the common method of ghosting someone only takes a few clicks and slight disinterest, then why does it actually sting when inflicted upon us?  

An article posted by Psychology Today says, “One of the most insidious aspects of ghosting is that it doesn’t just cause you to question the validity of the relationship you had, it causes you to question yourself.”

Closure is something that nearly everyone seeks. It allows us to move on and set ourselves free. Ghosting eliminates the ability to have this sense of understanding therefore generating both anxiety and self consciousness. 

The article later goes on to say, “Ghosting is the ultimate use of the silent treatment, a tactic that has often been viewed by mental health professionals as a form of emotional cruelty. It essentially renders you powerless and leaves you with no opportunity to ask questions or be provided with information that would help you emotionally process the experience. It silences you and prevents you from expressing your emotions and being heard, which is important for maintaining your self-esteem.”

And what about the people who are performing the act of ghosting? Are they villains? 

No, because then nearly everyone I know would be considered evil. We’ve all committed the ghostly crime in some sense or another. Maybe we stopped responding to someone because they came on too strong or because we felt like things were moving too fast. Perhaps we stopped responding to someone because it’s easier than having an awkward, but mature conversation. It even could have been that we stopped responding to someone because it would feel weird to bring up a conversation discussing the status of a one time hook-up Snapchat-streak-esque relationship. 

I wanted to investigate the morals and etiquette behind the art, or crime, of ghosting. In search of answers, I did a bit of research, thought back on personal experiences, and informally interviewed friends to round out my understanding of this concept. 

Ghosting can feel like an easy scapegoat from our own emotional discomfort. It’s especially a much easier option to complete when all it takes is just a few clicks. 

I spoke with a close friend of mine, Sylvie, 19, about this concept and we ended up discussing how labels can freak people out. As young adults , many people fear any sort of commitment; therefore, when a relationship begins to form, all types of vague lingo come to avoid the word boyfriend, girlfriend or dating all together. 

“We’re a thing.”

“We’re hooking up.”

“We talk.”

“Friends with benefits.” 

“We have the heart on snapchat.” 

Sylvie described how her mother would always ask her if she was dating anyone, meaning going on dates with someone and Sylvie would violently go into denial and shock that her mom would think anything of the sorts. To her mom, dating was casual. Yet to us, dating feels like a loaded word, full of commitment and emotional honesty. Terrifying.

I am on the same page as Sylvie. It’s not that I’m terrified of commitment, but I do feel strongly that term dating today seems to carry a lot of weight. You have an option on Facebook to alert every friend you have when you actually start to “date someone”,  and if you are dating someone, the only way to end it is to break up.

Part of my reasoning around this is if you avoid the act of actually dating someone, instead you can just “talk”, “snap”, or “hang out”. Therefore, ghosting is a much easier solution to ending things with someone. This somewhat cruel tactic of the silent treatment can still feel justifiable because you two were never dating in the first place. 

To put that into somewhat of a simplified statement: Our generation has become desensitized to ghosting, yet instead are sensitized to actual commitment and emotional discomfort. 

One of the questions that I posed to my friends was, “Would you rather be ghosted or told directly that someone is no longer into you, even if it’s harsh?” 

Eight out of nine people I asked explained that they would rather be told directly. Most of them went on to add that they wouldn’t want to be left wondering. 

The one anomaly, Adam, 19, explained that he’d rather be ghosted because of the action’s childish, petty nature, making it easier to move on. “It shows how immature they are and that they’re not worth your time.” He explained. 

I was surprised by this answer but liked the thought process behind it. It felt like some sort of self reverse psychology. If this person is going to hurt my feelings in an immature way, then good riddance.  Although, this is easier said than done. 

I then asked my friends when it is okay to ghost someone. How long do you have to be talking or hooking up until it becomes unacceptable? 

I received an array of conditional responses describing “okay scenarios” to ghost: 

“If you only snap,” 

“If you’ve only hooked up once or twice,” “

“If the digital relationship is toxic,” 

“If you only hung out like two times,”

“If they are annoying,”

“If talking to them is labor.”

The general consensus around the time limit for ghosting was commonly described as ‘if you talk often or hookup more than a few times’. Although this may sound vague, everyone I spoke to seemed to have the same overall understanding.

I then asked for my friends’ personal experiences with ghosting, or being ghosted. 

Abby, 20, shared, “I ghosted someone last summer because he came on too strong so I didn’t talk to him for a week and then told him I dropped my phone in a lake. He believed me.” 

Another friend, of whom preferred to stay anonymous, explained, “I kissed this girl like twice and she ghosted me. But then four months later I learned that she ghosted me because I didn’t text her saying I was glad she spent the night one time. I also learned that she was still into me and has been in love with me the whole time.” 

Alexa, 19, stated, “I ghosted someone because they snapped my best friend.” 

And finally Matt, 19, contributed, “I’ve never been ghosted.” 

Okay, Matt. Lucky you.

From my investigation deep into the inner mechanisms of ghosting, I learned that the concept really is a two-way street that nearly everyone can relate to. It’s the daunting feeling of uncertainty and the sadness of a relationship ending with no explanation. It cuts into our ego and leaves us questioning our self-worth. However, when we are on the other side of things, it’s an easy escape with little to no emotional discomfort. 

Perhaps the more that it is done to us, the easier it becomes to do to someone else. 

I don’t hate ghosting or think it’s this terrible crime, although it definitely hurts. I just think it’s a new and weird generational aspect to relationships that can be laughed at, cried about, and most of all, psychoanalyzed. 

And as we move forward with the digital age of dating, it’s important to not get caught up in the power of our phones. Hiding behind them only creates hazey misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Although it’s much easier to ignore emotional discomfort and leave it on read, remember how it can feel to be on the painful side of ghosting. I can imagine that from now and into the future, ghosting will only adapt into something even more digital and toxic. If it does, and you find yourself caught up in it with a broken heart, I urge you to remember that you’re not crazy for thinking the worst of them, and your feelings are always valid. Most likely this person isn’t worth your time or commitment. 

Also, can someone please ghost Matt?

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