Breaking up is almost always tough, but with evolving technology and etiquette, getting dumped can now be downright confusing.
In the 1999 movie Office Space, Peter Livingston’s girlfriend breaks things off through his answering machine, while Carrie Bradshaw, star of the millennium sitcom Sex in the City, is surprised when her boyfriend calls it quits with a sticky note. But these days, phones and apps are making it easier for couples to end things. Some are turning to a quick exit strategy – “ghosting.”
After Charlize Theron famously ghosted then-boyfriend Sean Penn last year, The New York Times defined the term as an anecdotally pervasive act in which one dater ends a relationship by simply disappearing. The ghost, on the other hand, does not give an explanation of any sort, leaving the ghosted wondering where he or she went wrong.
“It is clear why people choose to disappear – it’s easier,” says Dr. Gabrielle Roberts, a clinical psychologist at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. “The growing phenomenon reflects a lack of care and respect for the feelings of others and a decline in manners and social skills, all of which are very unfortunate for us as a society.”
Dr. Kevin Krippner, a clinical psychologist with Advocate Medical Group at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill., adds “that it is becoming increasingly more common for ghosting to occur, but it is rarely the ideal way to end a relationship.”
In an electronic poll given to people 18 to 39 years old, 13 percent of respondents admitted that someone they were dating had ghosted them. On the flip side, 11 percent shared that they have ghosted someone they were dating.
“Technology has already enabled us to distance ourselves from emotionally charged situations, like arguing with someone over text messages versus face-to-face,” Dr. Roberts says. “Ironically, while technology increases our opportunities to connect with others, the physical distance that it offers seems to have removed some of the emotional connection, which may lead to a lesser sense of responsibility for how we interact with others.”
Engaging in ghosting requires very little human engagement and allows for others to run away from any sort of confrontation by adding someone to their “ignore” list on their phone or tapping “unfollow” on a social network, she explains.
If a person is ever faced with ghosting while dating, Dr. Roberts offers some recommendations.
“The decision really comes down to what would feel best for you,” she says. “Some people may seek out the other person in an attempt to hold them accountable for their actions and find closure in their relationship, while others might find it best to heal without involving the other person.”
Dr. Krippner also shares that giving someone closure is the respectable thing to do, as it allows that person to be upfront and honest about what’s going on.
“Hopefully, people will end relationships using the Golden Rule and treat others as they would like to be treated themselves,” he says.
Dr. Roberts also suggests leaning on a reliable source of support, such as friends, family or even coworkers.
“But most importantly, do not be afraid to start dating again,” she says. “It may seem bleak, but there are still more humans than ghosts out there.”