No more text messages, no more calls, no more news, like that, overnight, without explanation… If this situation sounds familiar to you, you may have been the victim of “ghosting”. Derived from the English “ghost”, meaning “phantom”, this term could be translated into French by the expression “playing dead”. It appeared in popular culture in 2014 and was officially defined by the Urban Dictionary in 2016:
“When a person cuts off all communication with their friends or the person they are dating, without any warning or notice. Most of the time, she avoids phone calls from her friends, social media, and avoids them in public.”
Although the verb “ghost” has recently appeared in everyday language, the phenomenon is not new. Indeed, the tactic of disappearance to break a loving or friendly relationship is an old practice that could refer to the strategy of indirect disengagement by withdrawal/avoidance described by Baxter in the 1980s.
It is difficult to know precisely whether “ghosting” is more common today than 20, 30 or 40 years ago. Nevertheless, this breakout strategy is very common today. The probable increase in this phenomenon is linked, for some researchers, to the use of social media and online dating sites which would facilitate and trivialize this kind of practice. This could be explained by the specificities of online interactions which make it possible to maintain a certain degree of anonymity, to have control over the relationship (and in particular the possibility of postponing one’s answers) or even the fact of not being in face of the person during exchanges, which can encourage avoidance behavior.
If we can all “ghost” a person or be “ghosted”, this practice seems more widespread among young adults (18-30 years old) or emerging adults, a new category that has recently appeared in developmental psychology. In this age group, there are ghosting rates ranging from 25% to 78% ! One of the explanations would be the fact that emerging adults have a frequent use of social media and dating applications but also that breakups are more common in this age group. Note that many people report “ghosting” and having been “ghosted” , which can make it difficult to identify a typical “ghoster” profile.
Breakups are often associated with negative emotions or even real psychological distress. In the case of “ghosting”, the fact that the “ghosted” person does not immediately perceive the absence of news as a sign of a breakup can leave them in a situation of uncertainty and can lead them to feel responsible for the situation. This unilateral stoppage of communication does not allow time to elaborate on what is happening or to have an explanation. This can increase the pain associated with the breakup and lead to mistrust in subsequent relationships, or even the reproduction of this practice where the “ghosted” person will “ghost” in turn. Jérémy Bulté’s documentary web-series “Ghosts”on France.tv’s Slash platform is a good illustration of this phenomenon and how it can affect subsequent relationships.
Author Bio: Marie Danet is a Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Lille