If you’re thinking of ghosting, consider how the other person might feel. Graphic by Haley Morkert.
ELLIOTT ROBINSON | OPINION COLUMNIST | firstname.lastname@example.org
Everyone has a dating horror story — whether or not they want to admit it — and mine goes a little like this: last summer, I dated someone for approximately three and a half months. He was a real upstanding guy who decided to wait until I was at a concert several hundred miles away to “ghost” me — by blocking me on all social media without a single word of explanation.
Of course, I hope that not everyone is as unfortunate in their romantic life as I am. But “ghosting,” or the practice of avoiding confrontation by simply ceasing all contact with a person, has become a popular solution for many a sticky situation. Do you want to end a friendship with someone, but don’t want to suffer through the awkwardness that such a conversation typically entails? Are you losing interest in a partner or potential suitor and unwilling to admit it? Or perhaps you’re just receiving too many unsolicited pictures of a frankly disappointing male appendage. But regardless of the details, the block button is a friend to all.
Well, except to the people you’re ghosting, of course.
Let’s face it: confrontation can be excruciating, especially for people who already struggle with anxiety. But navigating relationships as a young adult — whether platonic, romantic or even just casual— often requires some discomfort. And the sooner we accept that, the better off we’ll all be.
Still, we often think of ghosting as something that only happens in the context of romantic or sexual relationships. But the casual dating scene is also rife with serial ghosters: people who disappear after one or two dates, seemingly for no reason at all. And — as much as we might not want to admit it — our friends can be more than capable of ghosting us as well.
For example, Ollie Sykes, a sophomore English and theater double major, shared a particularly formative experience with being ghosted by a close friend.
“I was friends with this person online,” Sykes said. “It was a complicated relationship, but at some point, something happened, and he messaged me, ‘Goodbye.’ And then he would not say anything after that.”
Sykes recounted the anxiety and fear they felt while not being able to contact this person for several weeks. Although they eventually received word that the person was okay, the trauma from this experience continues to affect them years later.
Of course, not everyone ghosts for the same reason. The ability to set boundaries online is essential to maintaining mental health in a digital age. With the amount of personal information that can be revealed simply through someone’s phone number or social media accounts, no one should ever risk potential harm for the sake of social decorum. So if someone is truly behaving in an abusive manner, or refuses to respect boundaries, I can’t recommend the block button enough.
“Anyone who ghosts creeps is justified in my book,” Sykes said.
But creeps aside, ghosting can have powerful, lasting consequences — especially if mental health is involved. Sykes theorized that some people choose to ghost due to anxiety, perhaps hoping to avoid difficult or emotionally charged conversations. However, this strategy only shifts those feelings of anxiety from the ghoster to the ghostee.
As someone who openly struggles with a myriad of mental health issues, my own ghosting experiences have been particularly damaging. Without proper communication or closure, it can be difficult to realize that a relationship is over — even if the other person is already gone. More than once, I’ve found myself waiting for an explanation, unable to move on.
But regardless of mental health status, ghosting can be a painful ordeal for anyone. Junior English major Ashleigh Michaels shared her own traumatic memories of being ghosted.
“I had been friends with this guy since I was 12 or 13 years old,” Michaels said. “And he moved to Arizona to be with his boyfriend, and over the course of a month, we started talking less and less. And one day I asked about the weather because there was supposed to be this really bad heat wave in Arizona, and I was just blocked everywhere after that. I was heartbroken.”
Michaels said that if her friend had just communicated what the problem was, she could’ve worked to improve herself and become a better friend. Or if there wasn’t a problem, she would have appreciated knowing that it wasn’t her fault. But the lack of closure made these things impossible.
Like Sykes, Michaels suggested that people who ghost are afraid of confrontation. But Michaels also refused to accept this excuse, arguing that relationships need communication in order to thrive. If a person isn’t prepared to have difficult or uncomfortable conversations, they have no business getting into relationships where they could hurt other people.
Jade Samet, a junior international studies major, agrees that ghosting can often be a symptom of immaturity.
“If someone doesn’t even have the decency to tell you that it’s over, respect yourself and love yourself enough to walk away,” Samet said.
Samet also offered her own ghosting story, in which a romantic partner ghosted her for almost a month before accusing Samet of lacking good communication skills. This type of deflective, avoidant behavior does seem incredibly immature, though that doesn’t make it any less difficult to endure — especially from a friend or close partner.
But even being ghosted by a casual dating partner can be distressing. While the stories shared by Sykes, Michaels and Samet all involved long-term relationships, there are still plenty of negative side effects when a potential romantic interest seems to drop off the face of the Earth.
Whatever form it chooses to take, ghosting has certainly become an epidemic among young adults today. Despite numerous testimonies from Butler and beyond expressing the harmful consequences of ghosting, the ability to avoid confrontation with just the press of a button is a luxury few seem willing to give up.
But to me, this issue is indicative of a more serious issue in our society. Though Gen Z in particular prides themselves on being emotionally conscious — with cutesy Instagram infographics about self-care tips, and saved TikTok videos detailing the top ten most common symptoms of depression — this sentiment feels less than genuine whenever any real work is required. Sharing information about mental health via social media isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the realities of mental health also include clear communication and uncomfortable conversations.
So with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, let’s try not to be someone else’s dating horror story. I think we can all survive a couple of minutes of discomfort in order to let someone know that we’re just not that interested anymore.