You’ve been dating someone for a few weeks, a few months, a few years. You like this person, and you’re pretty sure that this person likes you too, until one day you text them and they don’t answer. You call them: no answer. You try a couple of more times before you eventually give up. You’ll wonder what happened, but you’ll never know. You’ve been “ghosted.”
Ghosting is a phenomenon that involves cutting off all communication with someone, seemingly at the drop of a hat. Often this refers to ending a romantic relationship by becoming a brick wall of silence, but you can also ghost on friends or family members. This break-up tactic was thrown into the spotlight over the summer by Charlize Theron, who apparently broke off her engagement to Sean Penn in early June by refusing to answer his calls and texts. This breakup prompted a rather comprehensive evaluation of the phenomenon by the New York Times and seemed to prompt discussion about people’s own experiences with ghosting.
This is a bit of a no-brainer, but ghosting on a relationship is not a relational way to end things. In fact, ghosting might be the exact opposite of being relational. The first step to quality interaction is, after all, actually interacting. Telling someone that you don’t want to see them again is a difficult thing to do; as Jenny Mollens told the New York Times in an article on the phenomenon, by ghosting someone “you never have to deal with knowing someone is mad at you and being the bad guy.” You emotionally cushion yourself to the detriment of others.
When having a difficult conversation, like one that precedes a break-up, being relational can help facilitate that conversation. The first step, if you’re the type of person to whom ghosting is appealing, is to gather the strength to actually have the difficult conversation with someone. In order to be relational, do not have the conversation through text or email. It is also better not to have the conversation on the phone. Sit down with your partner face-to-face and explain why you feel the relationship needs to end.
During this conversation, remain grounded. Be receptive to what the other person has to say by being engaged and releasing your ideas of how things should be. If you clearly and openly explain what’s been bothering you to partner, you may find that they had no idea that it was even bothering you in the first place. They may be willing to make some real changes and meet you halfway. They may have things that have been bothering them about you and haven’t felt supported enough to vocalize those issues. Your engagement, openness, and groundedness will help them to re-examine their own behavior just as it will help you re-examine your own actions.
You may find that after having an honest, open conversation with your partner that the two of actually want to stay together. Or maybe you’ll still feel as though it is best for the two of you to separate. Regardless, you have made a more informed decision about the relationship. You’ve also been much kinder to your partner by explaining your decision and allowing them the chance to use that information to grow in future relationships.
Ghosting may be a great way to keep yourself from feeling like the bad guy, but by doing so you neglect your partner’s capacity to grow and sabotage what could be your last shot at salvaging the relationship. When all of that is at stake, it’s best to put your own fear and discomfort on the back-burner and be relational instead.
About the author:
William Senft (Baltimore, Maryland) is co-author of ‘Being Relational: The Seven Ways to Quality Interaction and Lasting Change’, as well as an attorney, CPA, teacher, youth sports coach, mediator and ordained minister in the Catholic Church. He formerly served as a public high school English teacher and also taught Negotiation Ethics to graduate business students at Johns Hopkins University and Loyola University of Maryland. At Washington & Lee University, he was managing editor of Law Review, and is an experienced author of magazine articles and speeches. He preaches regularly at masses, funerals, weddings, and baptisms at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, a large congregation and seat of the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He is a co-founder of the nonprofit ORANS: The Campaign for Relational Leadership, created for the purpose of developing leaders who will transform conflict effectively through quality dialogue and create lasting positive change. Married for more than 30 years to his wife and co-author, Louise Phipps Senft, William also is the father of five children.