Dating, always fun at first, often starts with a flurry of romantic text messages, frequent pinging of sweet sentiments, followed by in-person meetings. But more and more, it ends in silence — when one person disappears.
The modern phenomenon known as “ghosting” continues to grow, yet research on this breakup trend and how will it influence people’s future relationships is scant.
In a recent study, Dr. Royette Dubar, assistant professor of psychology at Wesleyan University, and Jhanelle Oneika Thomas investigated the definition, motivation and psychological impact of ghosting in the age of social media and hypervisibility.
The qualitative study, titled “Disappearing in the Age of Hypervisibility: Definition, Context, and Perceived Psychological Consequences of Social Media Ghosting,” followed 76 college students, primarily female, in focus group discussions.
From this research, social media ghosting is defined as a dissolution strategy in a platonic or romantic relationship captured by a sudden or gradual decision to cut off all online and/or in-person communication with someone without a clear explanation.
While social media is not a requirement in ghosting, it does play an integral role as it maximizes the communication within the relationship through different outlets.
Dubar and Thomas found that both the ghostee — the person being ghosted — and the ghoster experience negative consequences from ghosting that result in internalized emotional conflict.
For ghostees, the impact primarily has come from the lack of closure in the relationship, leading them to “spiral” into internalized self-deprecation and paranoia, Dubar says.
“It becomes a lot of self-doubt at first. I think a lot of personal insecurity comes out when you don’t have the answers, so you question yourself and you blame yourself,” a 19-year-old female participant in the study said.
While the ghostee faces theses negative consequences, Dubar says “it is possible for the ghostee to come out on the other side feeling more positive, more resilient and even more confident over time.”