To ghost or be ghosted

- in Frågan, In English

Being ghosted can stir up a lot of different emotions; it is essentially rejection without any of the closure. Lundagård investigates how Lund’s students have experienced being ghosted – and why they themselves have ghosted people.

Ghosting, while the term is new, is by no means a new phenomenon. In the complex world of social relationships, people disappearing out of each other’s lives without a trace is all too common.

Julia, a student at Lund University (LU), first met her ghoster at a club in Malmö. A few weeks later she ran into him again and he asked for her number because she had been “so nice and interesting”. But then, radio silence: “I remember thinking ‘why do I care so much about this guy who I’ve just met twice and don’t have a relationship with?’ I guess I felt that if I was really that nice and interesting, then why isn’t he writing to me?”

A month later he did end up texting, and planed to meet the coming Sunday. They texted the morning of, and later Julia tried to finalize both the place and time of their date: “I suggested that we could go for a walk or bouldering or cold bathing, I was open to anything. He didn’t respond at all.”

Julia spent most of the day waiting for him to text, reflecting that “the waiting creates a lot of questions in your head, like ‘why isn’t he responding?’ Maybe, I was too much, and scared him off with all my suggestions? When you meet someone in real life and make plans, you create a sort of trust in that person that they will stick to the plan, and that if something comes up, they will let you know. I’ve been ghosted and ghosted people on Tinder before, but there you’re behind a screen, you don’t feel bad about it, this was different.”

Sexologist Jack Lukkerz seconds this explaining that “As digital fora [digital mediums such as Tinder, Snapchat etc., editor’s note] mean a physical distance; it also means it’s easier to ignore a person without feeling bad or ashamed. It’s the same phenomenon as hate speech online or bullying online, since the person on the other side might be imaginary, abstract, or just on a safe distance without meaning you have to face the person’s reactions.”

Fortunately, Julia’s tale has a happy ending, after waiting in vain she decided to take herself out on a date: “I tried bouldering for the first time. I ended up having a blast and got reminded that I shouldn’t wait around for some guy.”

LU student Valentina had a far worse experience with being ghosted: “Long story short we were best friends but eventually he stopped replying or even reading my messages. I kept reaching out for 1–2 weeks: ‘Why are you not answering me?’ ‘Did I do something?’ ‘Did I say something?’ and eventually he just sent a message saying, ‘I don’t want to be friends with you anymore, bye’ and that’s it.”

The experience of being ghosted was detrimental to Valentina’s mental wellbeing. She explains that it still impacts her relationships:

“I struggled with mental health issues and self-harming. To this day it’s still hard to think and talk about it. I don’t want to say trauma, but when you’re that young and you put so much trust in someone else and then they disappear and push you away, it hurts. So now I’m constantly scared of people leaving me. I’m self-conscious about the things that I say and do because what if it will be the reason they will ghost me?”

These feelings of self-blame that both Julia and Valentina describe are very common. Jack Lukkerz explains: “It may make you feel like there’s something wrong with you, your personality, approach, body, or qualities. I would recommend making a clear-cut line between yourself and the other person. Who are they to judge you? Does it say more about them at the end of the day? Try to analyze your own reactions and emotions and talk to a friend or a professional if it really feels tough.”

But what if the person ghosting you is someone you had an actual romantic relationship with? Anna, another student at LU, has experienced just this. After seeing her ex-boyfriend at a friend’s party for the first time since the breakup, she felt bad about the way things ended. So, under the influence, she ended up texting him a lengthy apology. Three days later she saw that the message had been opened but he did not respond: “I wasn’t angry; but I do think it’s kind of pathetic. It’s not like we broke up just because I was at fault, it went both ways, it just didn’t work out and the fact that I apologized and he didn’t say anything, I think that’s kind of pathetic. So, I was just disappointed.”

Jack Lukkerz suggests that one of the reasons people, including Anna’s ex, may ghost others is because “it doesn’t force you to explain yourself, you don’t have to face any reactions and you can deal with your own fear of conflicts.” Thus, by not replying, the ghoster avoids accountability.

On the other side of the interaction is LU student Kate. Kate admits to ghosting a guy she met at a friend’s party because he became “pushy and creepy”: “He was constantly trying to sext or hook up. He became increasingly desperate to meet up and I told him I couldn’t because I was gone for summer break. He told me to just send him my location and he would fly over to me. At this point we had been texting for like a week and met exactly once. So obviously, I didn’t react positively, it was fucking creepy.”

But since Kate and the guy had a mutual friend, she did not want to be “a total bitch”. She tried to fade out of his life instead by replying less. He didn’t take that well and would question her if she replied that she was busy:

“At this point, I was just like ‘what the fuck. ’If I felt I was being purposefully shaken off, which he clearly did, I would move on. Also, what did he want me to reply, ‘yes, here’s proof that I’m busy’ or ‘no I’m purposefully ignoring you’? I was just really fed up with it all. So yeah, I just never replied. I ghosted him, I suppose.”

Kate also admits that she does not feel particularly torn up about it: “I’m sure I could have handled it in a more mature way, but I was in high school, and he was creeping me out. If anything, I wish I’d stopped texting him earlier, but I felt guilty about it since we had a mutual friend, a stupid reason in retrospect.”

Jack Lukkerz suggests that a better way of discontinuing contact than ghosting would be “Being honest and communicating it. Say it! ‘I don’t think we should be upholding our contact; I think we should break up’ for instance. It doesn’t have to be that hard and maybe it’s even better for you to end a contact in a proper way, which eliminates future complications of any kind.”

As a final thought, Anna, who got ghosted by her ex, adds that she believes communication is key and that ghosting is a cruel way of ending the contact as it can leave the other person questioning their self-worth. Kate however stresses that there tends to be more to a story than may appear. Just remember, as per Jack Lukkerz: if someone ghosts you, it is usually about them and not you.