Ghosting: Why Some Romantic Partners Disappear without Warning
My writer friend, Christine Ashworth, called to my attention something I found to be all too common in the dating world. I didn’t realize it had a name and I really didn’t realize that anyone else endured it besides me. Christine pointed out an article about Sean Penn and Charlize Theron that explained the relationship breakup technique called “ghosting,” “icing out,” or “freezing out.” That was in November 2015 that we had this discussion, and now I see it everywhere online.
Me, I’d always called it “going poof,” in reference to short-term relationships that had the potential to go long-term. Ones where men had begun to toy with the idea of some sort of future with me, where they could imagine me in their homes, or them in mine, or vacationing together. Not quite to the marriage standpoint, by any means, but still in those early months of “Hey, something good is going on here.”
And then…and then, the guy just “goes poof.” Disappears. No more messages. No more texts. No more e-mails. No more phone calls. No more dates. Just gone. No explanation.
Why Is Ghosting So Popular Now?
Some say this is nothing new and it really isn’t. But what is new is the level of communication and availability that we have nowadays. Ghosting becomes so much more obvious when you’re in constant contact with someone, texting throughout the day, and then the texts stop abruptly.
I can think of only once that I remember being ghosted during my teen, college, and early twenties years, but in ten years of dating at mid-life, it’s more common than uncommon. Or, at least, it seems that way, thanks to technology. Since Christine pointed out the term to me , I’ve discussed it with several other women who are dating at mid-life and we all agree on how painfully common it is. And it is painful. This isn’t so much shunning as it is just disappearing.
I’m guilty, myself, of shunning people after the breakup. And that’s for my own good because, as am empath, I would hold onto that bond forever, so it’s important to me to sever and let it go. However, for people I have shunned and people I have, as some might call it “ghosted,” they knew well before the shunning and the silence. There was a conversation about breaking up and not being together anymore, not a sudden disappearance akin to faking my own death.
The first time I was single and very young, people didn’t ghost each other. Then again, we didn’t have cell phones or even e-mail at the time. We did have landlines, the kind that plugged into a wall and you had to wait beside if someone disappeared.
Back then, people simply said to each other, usually face-to-face or sometimes over the telephone, “I don’t want to be with you anymore. I’m not interested in you. I’ve found somebody else.” The recipient of that speech was hurt or angry, or both–and then it was over and everyone moved on. Not so these days.
In my ten years of mid-life dating, not including a couple of more serious relationships, any dating relationship to go beyond two weeks usually ends this way. As one woman told me, she’s come to expect it now….and that’s not a good place for her to be psychologically.
In my ten years of dating at mid-life, I’ve dated predominantly well-educated, professional men. I don’t seek them out; it’s just turned out that way. But they are the physicians, lawyers, bankers, engineers, architects, and businessmen, though I’ve not dated professional men exclusively. Also, I have been ghosted by men who didn’t fit this category. These are men who are considered to be respectable and are respected in their professional and social communities. They crave that respect, and yet, when it comes to a breakup or a decision not to go forward with what might become a relationship, they choose to ghost instead–something their 19-year-old selves wouldn’t have dreamed of, back when it was far easier to say, “Hey, I don’t want to be with you, so away,” or “Hey, I don’t want to be with you anymore, so away.”
What Ghosting Is and Isn’t
To someone whose never heard of it, it’s hard to explain what ghosting is.
It’s not what someone does to a crazy-stalker bitch.
It’s not a guy ignoring a woman he exchanged three e-mails with on a dating site, as a preamble to a possible coffee date.
There can be good reasons for doing it or no reason at all. Or even, simply to be mean to someone else–though I’ve rarely found that to be the case.
Ghosting is, essentially, a coward’s way of breaking up without having to face the other person and be a grown-up. It’s for men who can’t say, “This isn’t working anymore” or “I’m a little nervous about where this is going” or even “I’m moving on to someone else, so I’m going to set you free so you can move on to someone else, too, and not pine after me or blame yourself or try to figure out what’s wrong between us or why it didn’t work.”
In my own experience, I was most often ghosted around the two-month mark of a budding relationship. Second to that, around the six-month mark. Any relationship that went beyond six months ended for entirely other reasons. Every time I’ve been ghosted, it has come as a complete surprise, both to me, to my friends who knew the guy, and sometimes, according to ones who’ve come back to try unsuccessfully to take up where they left off, a surprise even to themselves.
Examples of Ghosting When She’s Not a Crazy Stalker Bitch
Here are a few examples from my own life, though other single women tell me that these are typical of their experiences, as well. Perhaps these examples will give you a better understanding of what the term means.
The Case of the Vanishing College Boyfriend
Ghosting happened only once to me in back in college. A boyfriend I’ll call “Andy” traveled more often than he was home. Some of his jobs took him away for two weeks at a time, but most of the time, he was out of town Sunday night through Thursday night and we saw each other every weekend. Neither of us had planned on it being a serious relationship and it really never was, but each time we saw each other, we got closer. Every time we saw each other was a celebration. Every time we parted, we couldn’t wait to see each other the next weekend. Because of his particular job on an oil rig, we communicated very little during the week.
And, no, he was not married or otherwise occupied. He spent his weeks working overtime for incredibly good money and then playing on the long weekends with me.
He worked an intense and dangerous job off-shore with a male acquaintance of mine. Around the six-month mark, I learned that our mutual acquaintance, who was his best friend, had met a friend of mine and proposed to her a few weeks later. Andy seemed a little concerned, but didn’t want to talk about it. That was the first glitch in our relationship, ever.
The next time he was off work, he called me on a Friday night to let me know that he was at his parents house, an hour away, and needed a quick shower and shave before he headed to our Friday night date. He’d made reservations at my favorite restaurant for 7:00 that night. He called back a few minutes later and asked if we could push dinner to 8:00 because of the thunderstorm that was coming through. I agreed and went to pick out my sexiest date dress. I couldn’t wait to see him. He called back a few minutes before 7:00 and said he was just getting in the car, although the rain was still pretty hard at his house, and he’d see me in a few minutes. That was the last I ever heard from him.
So 8:00 came and went and still no Andy. I tried calling him, but couldn’t get through. I tried calling our mutual friend, but all he knew was that Andy was in town and the friend wanted to know why I wasn’t at dinner with him right then. I even called Andy’s mother, but she hadn’t seen him either even though she knew that he was in town and that he had plans with me for Friday night–something she wasn’t too happy about since she was having to compete with me for his time.
Andy had always been very responsible and he’d never once been late to a date. If anything, he would show up early because he couldn’t wait to see me. It was so unlike Andy to stand me up that I checked with the local hospitals.
By 11:00, I was on the road to his house, cringing at the fact that I was checking ditches for him, but it was one straight back road from his place to mine. If he’d veered off the road in the storm, he would be somewhere between my place and his, in a ditch somewhere, if he hadn’t been rescued already. My mind went to awful places, but his little black sportscar wasn’t in any of the ditches filled with water or lost in any of the brush or woods along the way.
When I reached his house, well after midnight, his car wasn’t there, he wasn’t home, and his front porch light was on. I kept trying to call him, but still no answer. Every message I left went to voicemail. I drove back home, looking all the way for signs of tire tracks or broken bushes, anything that would signal he’d been in an accident. Nothing. I stayed up all night when I returned home, waiting, hoping he’d show up. Throughout the next day, still no answer. No answer on Sunday and no one at home.
The next week, I learned from our mutual friend that he was back at work. No answer, no explanation. No nothing. Shortly after that, our mutual friend dropped out of sight as well. Or, at least, never had any information on Andy or what had happened to him, let alone what had happened that night. To this day, I have no idea where he went or what happened or what made him decide to “go poof.” Andy was unusual in that he waited until the six-month mark to pull his disappearing act. Maybe it would have come sooner had we lived in the same town and had we seen each other all the time. The best guess among those who knew him well was that, with his friends settling down, he suddenly realized the potential for our relationship, and knew it would too easy for us to get “marriage serious” before he was ready.
The Case of the Wealthy Dad Who Went Poof!
In my forties, ghosting became more popular. For a man I’ll call “Claude,” we didn’t make it past two months. But close.
Claud was a wealthy businessman and a pillar of the community. If I mentioned his name to any of my coworkers or neighbors, they would recognize it. He was also freshly divorced after a long and tedious court battle. I won’t say that is was love at first sight, but he and I had one of the best intellectual connections I’ve ever had with anyone. We could talk for hours, often while lingering over dinner. Even before the two-month mark, he had plans to take me home to meet the family and had made plans for a seaside getaway, a hundred miles away, where he wanted to take me for a romantic weekend.
Five days before our planned getaway, he was writing poetry to me. No, seriously: poetry. Poetry!
Four days before our planned getaway, he invited me to his place for dinner–Chinese takeout. Only, when he got to the restaurant and realized that he didn’t know what I liked, he brought home some of all of it so that the dining room table was filled with more to-go boxes than we could’ve eaten in two weeks.
Three days before our planned getaway, we went to see a movie together and held hands through the entire thing. We made plans for our trip, which was definitely meant to take us into the “being in an exclusive relationship” arena. We confirmed plans for an island getaway and what we would pack. He was on his way that night to meet his teenaged daughter, whom I’d just met that day, and said he’d call me after he talked to her. When we said goodnight, he said he would see me the next day.
But he never did. No call, no nothing. He didn’t answer any of my messages, or calls, or anything. He was just gone. He went poof overnight. No explanation. No reason. Just gone. Whatever the conversation he had with his daughter that night, he never spoke to me again. Iced out.
The Case of the Writer who Iced Out his Muse
Here’s one last example of another fledgling relationship that ended around the two-month mark through the technique of ghosting, though it took another two to three months to actually figure out what was going on.
A writer I’ll call “Arthur” and I had known each other for about a decade and had been good friends when we started hanging out together. We started seeing each other on a regular basis and by all accounts, including his own, he was smitten, and probably much more with me than vice versa. I’ve had a few boyfriends, yes, but I can count the men I’ve been smitten with at mid-life on one hand, but I was rather enjoying his attention and we started to get closer.
Around two months into the relationship, I felt a sudden, distinctive empathic break. Nothing that could be seen and nothing that was evidenced by anything that he did or said or anything that passed between us. But, empathically, I felt the bond break. No explanation, no nothing.
The next time I saw him, it was business as usual. Still, as an empath, I could tell that there was something…off.
What Arthur did after that was another form of ghosting that I call “fading out.” Others call it “icing out.” On the surface, the relationship appears to be the same. It was through social media and electronic communications that he very slowly, methodically, intentionally iced me out. Nothing overnight, no going poof, but a deliberate and steady decline, mostly–I think–to keep me from getting mad at him when he finally disappeared or to keep from being perceived as the bad guy.
We were on the same online forum at the time and that was the first sign, physically, that I was being iced out. We had previously tag-teamed our discussions on there and had for four or five years on that forum. He suddenly stopped commenting on any topic I brought up or sharing my posts. This may seem a bit silly, but this is how it happens. I would comment and he would very rarely respond. If he did, I couldn’t tell for certain that he responded to me and not another forum participant. That was the first line of communication to go.
Next, he broke plans that we had made, but only after I had sent him a text asking if we were still on the day before. He’d been scarce of communication, even though it was an event he’d invited me to join and we’d made the plans together over the previous month.
My intuition was screaming that there was something wrong. So I brought it up. Not his date-breaking or his lack of communication, but in a gentler way. He assured me that there was nothing wrong. Instead, he suggested an upcoming camping trip and a project we’d been talking about doing together. So our plans were back on…or were they?
Week by week, his social media presence lessened to nil, one by one, which I later found out was his way of blocking me on social media by blocking me from individual posts and then, finally, from all posts while having full access to mine. Then his phone calls and texts dried up overnight. And then, suddenly, after months of dwindling, he was gone.
I learned later from a new friend that he’d spent three months raging to them on social media about me and about something that I had said, which, as it turns out, was a misunderstanding. That’s right. Three month of confusion that never needed to happen if he had ever once asked for a simple clarification of something I had said that wasn’t about him or anyone he knew or had even happened within the many years I had known him. I used an adjective that he associated with something in his life that I didn’t know about. That’s what it came down to. I unknowingly said something that was a trigger word.
Why Do Men Ghost?
So, why do men ghost? First of all, it’s not just men and it’s not just heterosexual relationships. The examples I’ve given here are from my own life as way of explanation of how it happens. I can also tell you a few reasons of why it happens. Although some of the men who’ve ghosted me I have not been heard of in years, others have come back, usually to take up where they left off or think they could.
- The reason most often given was that, at the time, they were having doubts about themselves and about the relationship. It was at a point where it could go one of two ways, but it couldn’t continue as it had. We were only going to get more serious or we were going to break up. It was a knee-jerk response to not being ready and, at the same time, being too cowardly to face me and risk hurting me.
- The second most popular reason, which I learned from friends and acquaintances after the fact and occasionally from the man himself years later, was that he’d met someone new or that he was seeing someone else and didn’t know how to break it off with me. In at least one case, the guy was already involved someone else when he decided to stroke his ego by pursuing me and didn’t expect that I would actually *gasp* like him, much less date him for several months. Then he was left with shutting things down quickly before he was found out, either by me or the woman he had a so-called commitment to.
Though I know some people ghost just to be mean, I don’t think that’s the prevailing reason for it. I believe ghosting is, overall, a sign of immaturity and cowardice. Be a grown-up when ending a relationship. Tell the other person you’re ending it…and, tell them why. It may seem harsh of them at the time, but it’s a lot easier than lingering death. If you don’t like her toes, fine, you’ll tick her off but she’ll eventually realize you’re shallow and laugh you off, but at least she won’t list 500 ridiculous and inaccurate reasons a night why you might’ve disappeared. It may not be easier on you, but it’s the compassionate, mature thing to do.