We’ve all been there, when a friend or romantic partner suddenly stops returning your texts, blows off movie night and unfollowed you on Instagram, leaving you wondering what went wrong. In fact, this behavior is so rampant we have a new term for it: ghosting.
In the age of ghosting, we ask that people have the courtesy to tell us when a friendship or romantic relationship is over … but their silence can speak volumes. So why is actual closure so important?
“The ending of any friendship is always a disappointment,” says Irene S. Levine, a psychologist and author of “Best Friends Forever: Surviving A Break-Up With Your Best Friend.” “The closer the friendship was, the worse the hurt if it ends. But it is especially painful when a friendship ends unilaterally without having had the opportunity to participate in the decision.”
But Levine says we only think we need closure. “Often the reason for the breakup has more to do with the other person than it does with them,” she explains. “Or, it may be an issue of timing.”
Of course, some of us deal with ghosting better than others. “People who are more resilient and secure will feel a greater sense of healthy control over the situation, will be able to put any feelings of rejection, betrayal or loss in context, and move on without too much distress,” says Grant H. Brenner, a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and co-author of the book “Irrelationship: How We Use Dysfunctional Relationships To Hide From Intimacy”.
“People who are less resilient, have an insecure attachment style, or a poor sense-of-self [that is] based more on being in a relationship than [on] who they are themselves, will have strong negative reactions to ghosting.”
Here’s how to cope when you’re getting the cold shoulder:
Recognize You’ve Been Ghosted
One of the worst aspects of ghosting is the fact that it might take some time before you realize that you’ve been faded out. While you’re waiting for a response, you’ll question whether the other person got your texts or saw your missed calls. Communication failures happen all the time, so it’s possible your partner thought they responded, but you never received the message.
Make a friendly phone call or send a brief message checking on them and remind them you had tried to make contact. If you still don’t hear from them within a few days, it’s time to accept the fact you’re being ghosted.
Adjust your expectations
You can’t always expect someone else to give you closure. “You can try to contact them to talk, but if they don’t respond or don’t want to talk, it’s time to try something else,” Brenner says. “If they are willing to talk, keep it limited, don’t expect too much, have questions you want to address prepared in advance, set a certain amount of time, and don’t try to get back together with them.” The sooner you accept that they probably aren’t going to call you back, the sooner you can focus on moving forward.
Don’t take it personally
The old adage “it’s not you, it’s me” is often true. The other person may have outside stressors, health problems, timing issues or any number of other reasons to end the relationship that you don’t know about, so don’t assume you did something wrong. “Appreciate the good experiences you had with the person,” Levine says. “Don’t catastrophize and feel insecure about your ability to make and keep friends. Not all friendships last forever.” Sometimes the decision to end a relationship is not about you. Technology makes meeting people easier than ever. Mobile and online dating, provides an endless catalog of available singles. And when you have too many options, it becomes more difficult to choose and be happy about it. Knowing that these choices exist might make it more difficult for people to commit and stay committed to their partner. Ghosting is also common when an ‘on-again, off-again ex’ shows up asking for another chance. Or, perhaps your partner was dating other people and things became more serious with one of them.
These explanations don’t justify ghosting or make it an acceptable way to end a relationship. But, they do lessen your burden. If there wasn’t an obvious disagreement or falling-out that you regret, go easy on yourself, it’s not about you!
If you’re constantly checking their Facebook page or wondering why they pulled a Houdini, Brenner suggests trying a cognitive behavioral technique called symptom prescription. Give yourself a short amount of time each day (maybe ten minutes) where “you not only give yourself permission to obsess about it, but you instruct yourself to do so,” Brenner says. “This can work because it fosters a sense of control over one’s feelings, creating better regulation, and sets a boundary around anxious reactions, creating a sense of safety and containment.”
Focus On You And Don’t Lose Hope
After being ghosted, many people engage in ‘desperation dating’ and frantically search for their next date. Indeed, rebounding can take the focus off of your ghost, but accepting an undesirable but available new partner could be even worse. Instead, focus on being a better you and enjoying your extra time with friends and family. Be single like Prince Harry: happily eligible until someone equally amazing wins your heart.
Disappointment is a natural reaction to the end of a friendship or romantic relationship, Brenner adds, but if you don’t dwell on those negative feelings, they should fade within a few weeks.