‘Ghosting’ – cutting off all communication and vanishing from someone’s life, like a ghost – is one of the most confusing and hurtful aspects of modern dating.

You’re enjoying getting to know someone, exchanging messages, possibly even meeting and dating for a couple of months and then, suddenly, silence.

They don’t send messages and they don’t reply to yours. They stop calling. They no longer react to your social media posts, and might even block you. It’s over, they’ve gone, and you have absolutely no idea why.

If you’ve ever been ghosted, you’re probably still shaken by the experience, even if it had been only a short-term relationship. Recent psychology research found that ‘indirect breakups’, like ghostings, are linked with greater distress than being told, face to face, that it’s over.

Emma, 49, was ghosted when she began dating again after a divorce in 2018…

“I’d signed up to a dating site and was swapping messages with a few men. One of them, Tony, seemed particularly nice. He lived 2 hours away so arranging a first date was complicated, but he’d send me funny messages during the day, or we’d have long phone calls in the evenings.

I really liked him. We’d just finalised the details of our first date when his messaging seemed to slow down. I assumed he was saving all his news for the date so I tried not to stress. But then the day before we were due to meet, I sent him a couple of messages and he didn’t reply.

I was worried that he’d had an accident, but my teenage daughter told me I was being ghosted. I didn’t believe her until I sent him one last message and it never got delivered. He’d blocked me. I was so confused, upset and angry that it put me off dating for a year. I don’t understand – if he’d changed his mind, why wouldn’t he just say?”

Here, we’ll explore the concept of ghosting, including the most likely reasons people like Tony don’t “just say” – and how to feel better if you find yourself still haunted by a ghost.

How common is ghosting?

How common is ghosting

There’s good news and bad news.

Good news: if you’re over 55, you have the lowest chance of being ghosted

Ghosting is much more common among younger generations. A 2023 survey revealed that 71% of Gen Z daters (aged 18 to 24) and 72% of Millennials (aged 25 to 39) have ghosted a partner.

Bad news: your chances of being ghosted are low, but they’re not zero

The same research found that 34% of Gen X singles (aged 40 to 55) would consider ghosting a partner, as would a surprising 20% of Baby Boomers (aged over 55).

Ghosting is not just confined to the romantic realm

A survey by Indeed found that 75% of UK jobseekers had ghosted prospective employers, either by failing to turn up to scheduled interviews, or not arriving for work on the first day.

You can even be ghosted by your friends

survey by The Thriving Center of Psychology found that 54% of respondents had chosen to end a friendship by ghosting, rather than having a chat.

Why do people ghost?

Why do people ghost

According to psychology research, there are three top reasons why people choose to slink out of a relationship in silence rather than being upfront.

1. The ghoster decided you weren’t compatible

You’re Labour and they’re a die-hard Conservative. You drink on weekends, they’re strictly teetotal. You want to travel the world, while they rarely leave their house or office. There’s a chance they’ve decided you’re not The One and feel there’s no point in discussing it.

Signs this might be why you were ghosted

Think back to the conversations you’d had before you were ghosted. Did you have different views on topics like politics, lifestyles, and fidelity? Were you looking for the same type of relationship?

Was one of you noticeably more demonstrative than the other (most likely the ghoster)? Did they talk about being ghosted themselves, or say previous relationships just “drifted apart”?

Those might be clues they felt you wouldn’t be a good fit long-term but lacked the courage to tell you.

2. The ghoster wants to avoid confrontation

Sometimes, the more someone feels you’ll take the news badly, the more they’ll avoid delivering it in person.

Instead of causing a scene, they’ll go for a slow fade, and hope you’ll get the message when they stop sending messages.

Signs this might be why you were ghosted

Was your ghoster very easy-going, to the point of being passive-aggressive? Did they complain about people behind their backs? Did they seem reluctant to commit to an opinion or to express their feelings? These things might suggest that the ghoster couldn’t cope with upfront, open communication.

Looking back now, Emma noticed signs that Tony was always keen to avoid any type of conflict. “He talked several times about his noisy neighbours. When I’d suggested he go round and talk to them, he made excuses. I realise now that he often stewed on things that were upsetting him rather than coming clean.”

3. The ghoster wasn’t looking for anything long-term

It’s possible that they were looking for an ego boost after a break-up or a fun person to flirt with while their partner was away.

Maybe they only wanted a one-night stand. Whatever their needs were, as soon as you fulfilled them, they didn’t feel a need to keep up communications.

Signs this might be why you were ghosted

Were your dates often arranged at the last minute, and usually at home? Did the ghoster come on very strong at the beginning, or send sexual messages?

Were there unexplained gaps in their communication or times when they’d be unavailable for several days? Did they only contact you during the day, on their way home, or late at night?

These might be giveaways of someone wanting a casual fling or having another relationship.

However, while we can speculate why we were ghosted, we can never be sure – which is one of the most painful things about it. As Emma says, “I never got closure. Tony just vanished and left me studying every text message for clues.”

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How to cope with being ghosted

Cope with being ghosted

Ghosting is rarely easy to deal with and it’s not uncommon to feel used and let down, and for it to trigger doubts about your self-worth – so it’s important to be kind to yourself during this time.

The good news is that there are some positive steps you can take to help you move forward. For example…

Try not to see the ghosting as a reflection of your value

The most important thing to do is remind yourself as often as possible – hourly, if necessary – that this really is all about them, not you.

Studies have shown that feelings of betrayal contribute to breakup distress, causing brain activity similar to giving up drugs, so be very gentle with yourself.

Postpone sending angry texts

Your mood will probably cycle between sad, angry, confused, resentful, and disappointed. When you’re in an angry moment, you might be tempted to send a furious text to your ghoster, explaining how they’ve let you down.

Instead of sending the message while you’re angry, try sending it to yourself, and reading it the next day – giving you time to calm down and reflect.

Detox your phone

If you’re finding it difficult to move on because you’re spending hours rereading old conversations or looking at photos, consider offloading all the history from your phone into an online storage app.

Again, breakups can feel like you’re going cold turkey, so avoid any triggers or reminders that can set you back.

Change your routine

If you used to get affectionate messages from your ghoster first thing in the morning or last thing at night, it can be helpful to change your routine to distract you from the missing attention.

Perhaps try playing uplifting music on your phone in the morning, or listening to empowering audios or engrossing audiobooks last thing at night.

Change their contact details

Some people find it helps to delete a ghoster’s contact details from their phone, so they can’t send them emotional messages.

If you can’t bring yourself to delete your ghoster completely, maybe change their name to something that minimises their importance. “I changed Tony’s name in my phone to The Invisible Man,” says Emma. “It helped me remember how he’d ignored me, whenever I was tempted to message him.”

Realise you wouldn’t have been happy long-term

People who ghost are displaying high levels of avoidant behaviour, possibly even an avoidant attachment style, which can be challenging in a relationship. In the long term, they might avoid facing their fears by distancing themselves emotionally, ending things, or even being unfaithful.

Even if your ghoster isn’t a true avoidant, they couldn’t give you clear communication and honesty, which are essential in healthy relationships. You’re now free to meet someone who can.

Expand your social circle

Tempting though it might be to hibernate, this might not be the time to hide away. One of the reasons being ghosted is so painful is that we take it as a sign of having ‘low societal value’: a deep-seated fear that we are unlovable and will be abandoned.

Try arranging nights out with friends, or join a friendly message board. You could also try online dating – as this can be a great opportunity to practise talking to new people, see who’s out there, and explore what you might want and need from a partner in future.

If you’re not ready to date, perhaps just have some friends over for dinner. Surround yourself with people who genuinely like you, to remind yourself that you are easy to like.

Have a plan in case they contact you again

Ghosts don’t always stay buried. Some reappear weeks or months later, picking up communication like nothing had happened. This happens so often that there’s a name for returning ghosters: zombies.

When you’re feeling secure, decide how you’ll cope if your ghoster reappears. Would you be happy to see them again? Would you welcome a chance to talk? Would you prefer to keep the connection severed?

Decide on your preference, and perhaps tell a friend. Then, if your ghoster reappears, that friend can remind you of what action you felt was best.

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Remember…there’s life after ghosting

Although hurtful, try to remember that your ghosting experience doesn’t define your life. You’re still as lovable now as you were before you were ghosted, and you can find love again – this time with someone open and transparent.

Emma says, “When I eventually started dating again, I was incredibly wary. But I did start talking to someone nice. Warren was older than Tony, and much more direct. Instead of messaging for weeks, we met up for a coffee really quickly.

“Warren had been ghosted too so we bonded over that shared experience. Warren is always very quick to talk about issues and checks in with me regularly. We’ve been together for nearly three years now and we’re happy.”

Do you have any additional tips on how to cope with ghosting? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.