There’s another type of ghost haunting the students of Colorado State University this Halloween: the ghost of relationships past.
They blink out of someone’s life in an instant in a phenomenon called “ghosting,” and they are doing more damage to students’ psyches than many realize.
The ultimate expression of apathy, ghosting is defined by Urban Dictionary as “the act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone the subject is dating, but no longer wishes to date…in hopes that the ghostee will just ‘get the hint’ and leave the subject alone, as opposed to the subject simply telling them he/she is no longer interested.”
In a generation where Tinder, Bumble and OkCupid are ubiquitous, ghosting is commonplace, but oftentimes that doesn’t make it easier to handle.
Nick Rizzo, a sophomore electrical engineering student, has seen the effects of ghosting in several friends.
“It’s at the expense of another person’s emotions,” Rizzo said. “It’s definitely a selfish thing. If you have any consideration for the other person, then you shouldn’t do that.”
Junior mechanical engineering student Collin VanTilburg cannot understand the reason for ghosting either.
“If you’re in a relationship, it’s not something that you can just ‘oh well i’m just going to ignore this person,'” VanTilburg said. “I feel like in that case it would be silly.”
Chloe Wright, a doctoral psychology intern with CSU Health Network Counseling Services, explained that people have many reasons for dropping communication with a potential partner rather than providing an explanation for their disinterest, but oftentimes it’s a matter of passing emotional discomfort onto someone else.
“In the short term, that can feel easier and less stressful than letting someone know you just aren’t into them or don’t want to continue dating,” Wright said in an email to The Collegian. “In the long term, I think that can set the ghoster up to continue avoiding conflict and could prevent them from learning the skills to navigate that in a healthier way.”
The social media dating culture of college students everywhere trains people not to put all their eggs in one basket, since vulnerability can lead to heartbreak with one left swipe. This is not a new phenomenon, but one that perhaps becomes more problematic the more engaged people become with their phones rather than with others.
“I worry about (the effect) the over usage of social media and these dating apps will have on people’s ability to engage genuinely, honestly and comfortably with those around them,” Wright said. “I get afraid that we’ll stop paying attention to and knowing how to respond to body language, eye contact and tone of voice, which to me are the subtleties of what it means to be a human across from another human.”
Does connecting genuinely with another require a detailed explanation of why “he’s just not that into you?” Or is it better to simply let the emotions fade away? What if the explanation would do more harm than good? Perhaps the pain of hearing your flaws regurgitated back to you can be more intense than the confusion when someone simply doesn’t text back.
“For folks that may not have been engaging just fine in the relationship and got ghosted, they may suffer from not getting feedback about the reasons why the ghoster didn’t want to stay in that relationship, and they really may have benefited from the feedback,” Wright said.
In other words, it’s not always a bad thing to hear what you’re doing wrong in a relationship if it’s going to prevent a future instance of heartbreak.
Regardless of peoples’ reasons for ghosting, it can cause some serious psychological damage if it’s done too late in the game. Wright says it’s important to think about why people let themselves be hurt by ghosting.
“I think it can be important to be reflect on where a person is getting their worth,” Wright said. “Relationships are deeply important, (but) I tend to believe that we have to hold our worth on our own, not through another person. Gaining our worth through others rather than through ourselves can allow someone to take that worth away. This isn’t to say that we should be cold, distrustful, or distanced in relationships. What I am saying is that by holding our own worth, when relationships end we’re shaken, not broken.”
Collegian reporter Casey Setash and Matt Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @caseylovesbirds and @latvatalo.