Rebecca* met who she thought was a dream guy at a bar: Gorgeous, incredibly sexy, loved museums and great wine, and made her feel like the only woman in the room. He told Rebecca he loved her after only dating for a month and started talking about their future together. She knew deep down that it was going too fast, but it felt good to have someone so smitten with her and so she let herself get swept away, caught in the whirlwind of his plans and promises.
And then four months later, he disappeared. No breakup. No phone call. No text. Just…gone.
And chances are, it’s either happened to you or someone you know. It’s called “ghosting”: when you’re in a relationship with a guy and then—pfft!—he completely disappears without warning or closure, leaving you holding the (emotional) bag. If you didn’t have photos and texts from him to prove it, you’d think you had hallucinated the entire relationship.
The Origins of Ghosting
So why does this happen? And what kind of callous loser would do this? There are a few possibilities. In general, part of the blame may lie in how we communicate and even how we meet people these days. “When you live in a world where most communication is done over text or Facebook, it’s very easy to hide behind that and the more you can give yourself an excuse to be a coward,” says Rachel Sussman, psychotherapist, relationship expert and author of “The Breakup Bible.” “It’s taking the path of least resistance. When a person wants to break up with someone, they’re so used to communicating in an impersonal way to begin with, it’s not a stretch that they can decide to not answer your text—to disappear. And it’s wrong and hurtful.”
Adds Gail Saltz, an associate professor of psychiatry at The New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornel School of Medicine and the author of “Becoming Real: Defeating the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back”: “We’re breeding a dating population where there isn’t an internal taboo over someone just disappearing. It’s ‘I do what I want and I’m done.’ ”
What’s more, ghosting can happen easily when you meet someone new—at a bar, online—and are lacking those six-degrees of separation that would normally hold someone accountable for an ungraceful exit. “If it’s your college roommate’s cousin or you met them from work, he or she probably won’t ghost,” says Sussman. That’s because your mutual friends would give the guy a hard time if he simply ditched you, or because knowing he’ll have to face you at the office forces the guy to end things at least somewhat amicably. Without some level of personal or social accountability, the guy can disappear without getting any grief for it.
But the truth is, it’s really the fault of the phantom, and there are certain personality types that are more inclined to ghost, such as narcissists and commitment-phobes—particularly ones who like the “reeling in” process. “It’s the hunt or the catch that’s what’s fun,” says Saltz. “He’s not able to have a relationship or isn’t looking for one. They really do enjoy the conquest. It could be sleeping with you, but also the seduction—‘I’ve got you, I’ve got all of you.’ ”
And when a seemingly hot-and-heavy relationship ends so abruptly and without any acknowledgement or conversation, you’re left with zero closure. And that can make it really hard to move on. Here’s how you can pick yourself back up.
Create Your Own Closure
Lose his number. However tempted you may be to reach out and find out what the heck happened or just to give him an earful, if you’ve already called or texted once (OK, twice) without a response—stop. “You’re not going to get what you need from that person and you shouldn’t even try since it’s so embarrassing,” says Sussman. “You rarely get closure from anyone anyway.” Put your big girl pants on and delete his number from your phone.
Don’t beat yourself up. It’s easy to obsessively go through everything you said and did to root out what you did wrong. But Sussman points out that when dating consultants do 360-degree interviews with guys about why they broke things off with a woman and then also get the woman’s perspective on why things ended, the consultants find that it’s usually never for the reasons women think it is. “It could be they’re still hung up on an old girlfriend, or once the honeymoon is over, they move onto a another person because they can’t handle the real life stuff,” she says. “Even if it was something you did, if he was a mature, proper person, he would tell you if he wanted to end it and why he’s ending it.” He’s the one who should feel bad about himself—not you.
Know that you’ve dodged a bullet. As much as it may be hard to realize this when you’re in the thick of the hurt, he just did you a huge solid. “You’re seeing someone’s real personality—someone who runs from confrontation and is a coward,” says Sussman. “Couples in healthy, long-term relationships should be able to have difficult conversations and handle confrontations. If you’re doing or saying anything that bothers him, a real man would tell you that and not just disappear.” Adds Saltz: “It’s the less mature person who has said to themselves from a moral compass standpoint, ‘It’s more important to do what makes me comfortable [disappearing] than to do what is right.’ They’re a mental baby.”
Rebuild your self-confidence. Do things that make you feel better—whether it’s making plans with your closest friends and family who adore you or hitting the gym to release your frustration and get a dose of feel-good endorphins. But building up your confidence doesn’t necessarily mean jumping right back into the dating pool. “Dating immediately isn’t always the answer,” says Sussman. Use this time to do a little self-assessment. Were there red flags that you ignored and can watch out for next time? Ask yourself, “What have I learned from this?” suggests Sussman.
Remind yourself that good guys don’t behave this way. You don’t want someone who would ever treat you this way. Period. Focus on that rather than replaying only the fun times in the movie in your head. Best of all, losing this phantom “frees you up to be with the person you are supposed to be with,” says Sussman. “There’s a reason it didn’t work out. When you meet the right person, you’ll realize it.”
* Name has been changed