By Praditya Fulumirani
“It kinda just happens,” David Gonzales, a journalism student, laments about the numerous times he has been “ghosted” in his 19 years of living. “You think it’s going good, you think you’re just talking to whoever it might be, whether…in a romantic sense or just a friend sense and…you just get dropped.”
Gonzales’ story isn’t uncommon among his generation. The 80s had Ghostbusters, Generation Z has “ghosting.” Unlike what the term suggests, ghosting doesn’t have anything to do with actual ghouls and goblins. Urban Dictionary defines it as the instance when “a person cuts off all communication with their friends or the person they’re dating, with zero warning or notice beforehand.”
This is a disturbing trend — no, “trend” is too soft a word to describe ghosting. Call it what it is: an epidemic. According to a mashable.com article published in 2016, the dating app PlentyofFish conducted a ghosting survey that discovered out “of the 800 participants in the U.S. and Canada ages 18-33 who responded, nearly 80 percent reported being dumped by someone who cut off all communication abruptly without any explanation.”
Of course, some relationships may grow so unhealthy to the point that people don’t even want to say goodbye, they just want to leave. Yet, considering how widespread this phenomenon is, it’s safe to assume not all ghosting stems from such circumstances.
Purposely ignoring someone may not be exclusive to the current generation, but the saying used is fairly new. An article on mic.com claims the term gained traction around 2015 when mainstream media began mentioning it. The New York Times explains that it didn’t take much for “ghost” to be turned into a slang expression: people simply started using it as a verb instead of a noun. Eventually, ghosting transcended from being just another Internet idiom when the Merriam-Webster Dictionary added the term into its catalog back in 2017, Time Magazine reports.
Why don’t people just talk it out? One could point to laziness as an example, yet even ignoring someone takes a bit of effort. Generation Z could be ghosting out of fear.
“When people can hide behind a screen, it removes some of the most basic accountability measures that human beings have with each other,” says Michael Leach, a COC communications professor. “Electronic communication creates a barrier where a person is not as apt to feel for the other party because they’re not experiencing how that rejection, e.g. ghosting, feels for that person….In essence, we hide from each other.”
Leach concludes that ghosting is part of a bigger issue and speaks volumes about codependency with electronic devices.
However, to some, ghosting may be the only option available. They’ve dug themselves into a hole and, ironically, it may be because they simply can’t bear setting things straight. As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
“Because, when you give an explanation, most people try to be like, ‘let’s like, work this out, let’s figure it out.’ But…I never wanted to like, text you in the first place, I was just trying be nice,” says Nina Kwon, a COC sociology student and serial ghost.
“I don’t think you should ever feel bad for ghosting someone because it’s like, if you wanna text them like, you’ll text them,” Kwon adds. “So don’t feel bad for not texting them. ‘Cause if someone’s bothering you like, then they’re not really entitled to your time.”
“There are many reason that a person may ‘ghost’ another. One of the most common reasons is that they lack the courage to have a mature and responsible conversation,” says Tammy Mahan, a COC psychology professor. “They don’t want to be seen as the ‘bad person’ or see the pain they are causing…so it is easier for them to just cut communication….However there are other reasons to consider: It is possible this person wasn’t that ‘into you’ to begin with.”
While ghosting is universal, the reasoning behind why a person would do it isn’t necessarily the same. For people like Kwon, at least there’s a comprehensible rationale. But that’s not always the case.
“This winter, my best friend that I’ve known since seventh grade stopped talking to me and our other best friend,” says Angie, a COC student employee who asked to not have her real name disclosed. “At first we thought he just needed time to himself….But then we saw him on Snapchat and stuff, hanging out with other people and we realized it was just us he was not talking to and had like, cut off contact with.”
Eventually, Angie took matters into her own hands and decided to finally question her friend. When he was asked about the situation, the truth was laid bare. It turned out, he had all these problems with Angie — problems he’s never voiced throughout their almost decade-long friendship.
In the process of trying to not hurt others and evade conflict, ghosting may in fact do more harm that help. Yes, ghosting may provide with initial relief: you get to avoid what you’ve been wanting to avoid. But is it worth it? Because your issues don’t really get solved. They exacerbate, and when you’re forced to deal with it, it may be too much to handle. We also have to take into consideration the effects on not just those who ghost, but also those on the receiving end.
“Ghosting harms both men and women in many ways. It can leave them haunted by wondering what it was that they did wrong….They can often feel like they are not good enough and begin to take the rejection personally,” Mahan elaborates. “It is psychologically damaging and leaves the victim constantly questioning their self-worth. In some cases the victim may have initially worried that something had happened to the ghost….Are they hurt? Are they okay? What happened? Mental cruelty. It makes the victim feel like they were never enough.”
Perhaps the underlying issue is an unwillingness to talk things through — the failure to communicate. Of course, every now and then it’s inevitable that certain relationships will fall apart. Sometimes, people you talk to end up being downright horrible and you just don’t want them in your life, period.
“If the other person becomes threatening, there are always blocking measures you can initiate, and contacting the authorities, if your physical safety is being threatened,” Leach says.
Nonetheless, for many relationships — romantic or platonic or otherwise — it’s not so black-and-white. There are problems that could be easily dealt with communication.
“If there’s been any type of sustained contact and you don’t wish for that to continue. Say it,” Leach suggest. “Be nice. Be professional. Treat the other person how you would like to be treated….We need to always remember that there’s another person with feelings on the other side of the screen.”
Regardless of your stance on the issue, the impact ghosting has on individuals is undeniable. Mahan explains that “it simply just takes a lot of time” for ghostees to heal.
“They might also find that it is really hard to move on from the ghost because they keep waiting for them to come back,” Mahan deduces. “Or wishing that they would explain what happened.”
“As I’ve been thinking about cell phones and our modern world, I think we have developed new languages and ways of interactions that go hand in hand with these,” says Michael Nitzani, a COC sociology professor. “These phones are omnipresent in our lives and thus, the new generation of people have learned new norms and ways to interact with these digital devices. For example, being left on ‘read’ and sliding into dm’s have become part of this generation’s lexicon.”
Nitzani believes ghosting is merely a byproduct of the rapid development of technology as of late — a natural progression. Emails were once thought as being peculiar, too. Perhaps there’s no deeper meaning behind the phenomenon. Perhaps all it does is show the adaptability of this current generation. Because how different is it really, ignoring a call or not responding to a letter with blocking someone on social media?
“We intermediate our world with our digital devices,” Nitzani says. “And with our ability to instantaneously connect with one another, we also have the tools to block one another, and have thus, have woven digital filtering into the fabric of our social worlds.”