22 Jul 2022

Do you believe in ghosts?

Ghosting somebody means abruptly disappearing from their life by ceasing all contact and ignoring their attempts to contact you. It is a term that has been much used of late, especially in relation to terminating fledgling romantic relationships, and it has been theorised that this sort of conduct, which has always existed, has been greatly exaggerated by the casual anonymity of dating apps, and the relative isolation of modern dating culture, which means that behaviour within relationships is not being monitored by friends and family, making it relatively easy to sever all ties.

Ghosting does not just occur in romantic life, it also spills out into friendships and work relationships. Once the poisonous tendency to terminate contact without a backward glance is unleashed, it can be deployed in many contexts, from cutting off contact with a friend or relation, to simply ceasing to correspond with a client, colleague or consultant without any excuse or elucidation. Many people will have experienced a prime example of professional ghosting, when they are interviewed for a job, receive positive feedback, and then never hear from the employers again.

It goes without saying that this type of behaviour, in all its manifestations, is extremely distressing. The person who is ghosted may well suffer initial anxiety and incredulity, and probably will not fully comprehend what has happened until they have bombarded the ghoster with (unanswered) calls, texts and emails. The dawning recognition that they have been ghosted brings a range of emotions: they will feel rejected and disposable, and – because they have not been given the explanation they are undoubtedly owed –worthless. They may find themselves obsessively trawling through the remnants of their relationship, poring over photos and old correspondence in an attempt to find a rational reason for the rejection.

Ultimately, they will move on, and this will happen because they begin to recognise that it is the ghoster who is worthless – they are unreliable cowards who cannot deal with the emotional repercussions of their decision, who lack empathy and respect for other people.

Ghosting is lazy and cruel. If you don’t wish to see somebody again, simply face up to the situation and tell them so: the initial sting of rejection is far preferable to that person having to endure weeks of uncertainty over the relationship, speculating about what they might have done wrong, or even fearing that you’ve been mown down by a bus without their knowledge.

You might have a clean record when it comes to ghosting in romantic relationships or friendships, but don’t get too complacent. A careless lack of regard for other people’s feelings, a tendency not to follow through, to terminate communication rather than to take the trouble to reply, is increasingly apparent. This may well be a manifestation of our communication revolution – we have so many ways of connecting with each other that we’re beginning to experience a sensory overload, which may well lead to a tendency to simply bow out.

In days gone by, when posted letters were the only way in which people could correspond, it would have been considered the height of bad manners not to reply, within reasonable time (a few days), to any letter. Any failure to do so would have demanded an explanation and an apology.

So why not take a leaf from our ancestors’ book and be meticulous about all your relationships? If someone contacts you with a question or a request and you cannot help them, write a polite note to say so, do not leave them hanging on. If you receive a friendly email from a long-lost friend, acknowledge it, even briefly – you can always explain that you’ll reply at greater length later, but at least you can express pleasure at the contact. If someone invites you to an event, RSVP immediately – if you really don’t want to go, it’s an easy avoidance tactic to put the reply on hold, but it’s very bad manners to do so. And if you’re an employer who is interviewing aspiring hopefuls for a job, don’t leave the rejected candidates optimistically waiting for a response, without a word of explanation.

Most of us will recognise that ghosting people with whom you have had relationships, romantic or otherwise, is cowardly and despicable. But we also need to remind ourselves that if ghosting tendencies are creeping into our everyday lives, they should also be ruthlessly expunged.

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