You’ve just met someone and are filled with the lighthearted, excitable energy that comes with a new romantic connection. They send you flowers at work. You talk every day, and your conversations are both meaningful and easy. You’re approaching your third, fourth, fifth date and—suddenly they’re gone. You call and leave a message. Nothing. Maybe you text or email. Silence.
Oh no. You were ghosted.
I was just introduced to the concept of ghosting after a woman I know experienced a ghost of her own. After a few weeks of what seemed like a real connection, the man in question completely disappeared. It left her feeling confused, heartbroken, and slightly obsessed with figuring out what happened. Was it something she said? Didn’t say? Should have done? Should have done less? It was going so well, so she must have done something to warrant his total disappearance, right? Regardless of the reason, he up and left, and now she’s left with nothing but unanswered questions and a bruised heart. It’s an awful reality of a new dating world. Even I was heartbroken for her.
The New York Times recently published an article all about this phenomenon of modern dating that has unfortunately become a part of modern life. Ghosting job opportunities, friendships, even coffee orders—basically any commitment, no matter the size. Yet, growing apart, losing interest, and changing your mind are all understandable aspects of life. It is okay for relationships to fizzle, for friendships to end, and for jobs to not work out. But the way to let go of these things matters—and disappearing is something that is incomprehensible.
As a writer, I pride myself in searching for words to articulate my thoughts and feelings in a way that helps people relate, understand, and grow. Ghosting avoids this process entirely. It does not feel good on the receiving end, and I imagine the ghost is feeling pretty transparent.
However, ghosting completely disregards the feelings of others. This lack of vulnerability and compassion can be incredibly damaging and wanting to avoid witnessing someone’s moment of disappointment serves the further blow of disrespect. So, what gives? What happened to our compassion and empathy? For us as a society, this terrifies me.
Dr. Jennice Vilhauer, the former head of Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Medical Center psychotherapy program, explains that we, as a society, have lost our ability to deal with our more difficult emotions and, therefore, situations we judge to be difficult. “Ghosting has a lot to do with someone’s comfort level and how they deal with their emotions,” she added. “A lot of people anticipate that talking about how they feel is going to be a confrontation. That mental expectation makes people want to avoid things that make them uncomfortable.”
What it comes down to is a fear of vulnerability which is, ironically, the number one ingredient in creating intimacy with others.
So, what happens if you’ve been ghosted? How do you deal with the inevitable feelings of rejection?
The first way is to understand that it says more about them than it does about you. In that way, the ghost is actually doing you a favor. You’re getting a firsthand look at how this person who just days ago was so marvelous actually handles their emotions, your emotions, and difficult circumstances in general. “Runs away at the sight of conflict” typically doesn’t make anyone’s list of dream qualities in a partner, and you get to see that clearly and up front—not years down the road.
Secondly, you can use the pain of being ghosted to reexamine the ways you’re showing up to the relationships in your life. How do you meet challenging relational moments? When you feel compelled to shortchange the intimacy by sidestepping your own vulnerability, rethink your approach. Offer the compassion and courage that you would have wanted and be open and honest with the people in your life. Even those who you are letting go of, turning down, or drawing boundaries with.
And lastly, Tylenol. That’s right. Rejection is one of the most painful and powerful emotions we experience, and being ghosted is rejection in spades. If you find yourself at a total loss, in intense emotional turmoil, and levity is a place you can no longer access, Tylenol is a shortcut to get your emotions on stable ground. I’ve written about this before but is still a tried and true (by those I know at least) method for easing the pain of rejection. A study published in Psychological Science back in 2010, along with a growing body of evidence that has accumulated since then, points to a range of subtle psychological effects attributed to acetaminophen. The main effect being a dulling of our emotional responses, easing the sting that comes from an experience of rejection or abandonment.
Being ghosted is never going to be fun but it doesn’t need to be a purely negative experience either. Finding the positive in even the most negative of experiences is a spiritual tool that, when honed and strengthened, can create beautiful experiences no matter the landscape. Let these moments of pain and confusion motivate you to rise above, to further your own growth, and to course-correct in the direction you truly want to go in. Let it inspire you to offer even more empathy every day, to connect with the people you love in even deeper ways, and to take advantage of every opportunity to turn toward intimacy instead of away from it.
Ghosting is an act born of fear. Showing up as your authentic self no matter what is an act of real fearlessness.
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
If you have been ghosted, it was definitely them, not you. Look for ways you can turn it around by reconnecting with the people in your life. If you have ghosted someone, look at where and why you may be afraid to really show up and make a new commitment to show up next time.