Ghosting: (noun) the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.

During the pandemic I got ghosted in the most tumultuous way. To my face. Not only was this person no longer replying to any form of private communication, but I also had to see them, twice, sometimes three times a week on Zoom. It was one of the most discombobulating and emotionally wrought experiences of my (so far relatively) calm existence.

What floored me the most about being ghosted was the utter confusion. The back-and-forth between: ‘I am the worst person in the world’ and ‘This person is the worst person in the world’. My time was spent checking their various social media presences, trying to convince myself they were too tired/too overcome by the pandemic/too deeply missing me to be able bring themselves to post or exist. 

But, alas, there they were. Masked and grabbing a coffee. Masked and going on a bike ride. Masked and shopping for boxing gloves. Not masked and taking a selfie at what looked like a new lover’s house. The Instagram stories served as a big middle finger to my series of un-replied-to messages.

Eventually, unfollowing became my only recourse.

Ghosting, previously known as ‘the slow fade’, is something most of us have experienced. As more and more people find friends, sex and love on the internet the ability to simply make like a magician and disappear from someone’s life is far easier than when you had to avoid them at the grocery store, in the club, within social circles or at work. One can simply mute, unfollow or block and the relationship or interaction is done.

One reason some will cite for playing poltergeist is that it is simply the easiest thing to do. Some may suffer from social anxieties of various sorts and not know how to reach out. Some may have lived through unprecedented times and simply do not have the capacity to respond. And some people are simply a donkey’s behind and have no regard for other people’s feelings. The reasons for ghosting are as varied as the people who ghost.

Ghosting, of course, has some close cousins. With communication going past simply sending a text and now stretching into the realms of social media and instant messaging the ways in which one can become a spectre can vary. People are no longer obligated to simply disappear but have the option to lurk, tempt and tease, liking your Facebook statuses, sending midnight messages and viewing your stories.

Cloaking

Ghosting Premium. This takes ghosting further by also blocking the ghosted person on all platforms. (Particularly harsh).

Breadcrumbing

This is based on the notion of leaving a trail of breadcrumbs and refers to when someone leads a romantic interest on. They keep the other person hooked from afar by dropping little bits of attention here and there, just enough to whet the appetite and keep you interested but not enough for a full meal.  It could be a text or Instagram like or comment. Or a ‘U up?’ text.

Haunting

When someone ghosts you but like Casper the (un)friendly ghost continues to roam around your digital home, liking posts and watching stories. They make their eerie presence known but never actually reach out in any substantial way.

More than simply annoying or rude, ghosting can have genuine psychological and emotional effects as being left on read can have genuine effects on a person’s sense of self-worth and mental health. 

One study that surveyed 626 adults about whether they were ghosted or breadcrumbed within the last year showed that participants who felt they had been ‘reported less satisfaction with life, and more helplessness and self-perceived loneliness’.

This is not simply because people need to put down their phones more. Psychological studies have found social rejection works the same neurological pathways as physical pain. 

Being ghosted is a pretty intense form of this, because the person doesn’t even give you the benefit of a vague ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ explanation that was traditionally mandatory for break-ups. An avalanche next occurs, because ghosted people tend to subsequently ghost other people.

In a world that sees people increasingly isolated by continuous lockdowns, curfews and travel bans, online communication is now, more than ever, how we stay in touch, making it that much easier to connect, but also to disconnect. 

Despite being a tempting easy way out, ghosting has harsh and sometimes long-lasting consequences. It doesn’t hurt to give a little communication, even if it is just to say goodbye.

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  • Tiffany Kagure Mugo is the host of the Basically Life podcast and author of Touch: Sex, Sexuality and Sensuality and Quirky Quick Guide to Having Great Sex

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Tiffany Kagure Mugo

Tiffany Kagure Mugo is the host of the Basically Life podcast and author of Touch: Sex, Sexuality and Sensuality and Quirky Quick Guide to Having Great Sex

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  1. “… online communication … making it that much easier to connect, but also to disconnect” - Yes, it’s easier to connect on a superficial level, in which case, being disconnected is no problem. The trick is to avoid misinterpreting a friendly, affectionate approach as a sign of romantic interest. That’s why women often look down at the ground when passing a guy.

    “It doesn’t hurt to give a little communication, even if it is just to say goodbye.” - Giving a little communication can unleash an avalanche of tears and recrimination, so that’s why we don’t do it of course.

    Life is messy. Some problems have no elegant solutions. You are going to lose your dignity multiple times. Learn to accept that you are only human and cultivate the ability to live in the present. Forget being guilty about stuff, just pick yourself up and get on with it.

    Find an easy task to distract yourself from your troubles, for example, give someone a little help and, when they reward you with a smile, you’ll feel encouraged to carry on with the battle.

    “The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer someone else up.” - Mark Twain