My breakup story: Morgan Givens thought he was going to be with his college girlfriend for the rest of his life. That changed after she moved to Vermont. (Erin Patrick O'Connor/The Washington Post)

You send an innocuous text — something as simple as, “hey, how was your day?” or “my plane just landed.” One hour passes, then two, three, four. Funny, you think, they usually don’t take this long to respond. At first you assume the explanation is innocent: Maybe their phone died. Maybe they went to bed early.

A day passes; you send another note; maybe leave a voicemail. “Are you okay?” you say, more concern in your voice than anger.

The silence continues. In the meantime, you peruse their social media accounts and see this person you’ve been trying to reach is indeed alive and very well. They’re just not getting back to you.

Cool, maybe they just need some time to themselves, you think. You could use some space, too.

But as the days stretch into one week, then two, reality sets in: You’ve been ghosted.

Being ghosted after months or years of dating can be hard to take. There are no answers, no closure, only questions. The big one being: Why?

Although I don’t specifically know why you may have been ghosted, I spoke to a few experts who have some ideas on what might have happened.


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1. A person might ghost because they’re scared of confrontation.

There’s a lot of research about people who experience rejection, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher tells me, but very little on the person who does the rejecting.

“My guess is the vast majority of people who do the ghosting feel guilty about it,” Fisher says. “I think they’re probably scared of the conversation, of why they’re going. … They’re afraid of drama and accusations. They’re embarrassed.”

2.They sense the other person is dangerous.

This doesn’t happen often, says Susan Kolod, a psychologist in New York who specializes in relationships and sexuality. But it can be a reasonable response to fear, when a person is worried they’ll be stalked, for example, and the safest way to exit the relationship is to say nothing at all.

3. They lost track of all their budding relationships.

Dating coach Laurie Davis says she sees singles ghosting inadvertently — simply because they’re juggling so many people that a few might fall through the cracks.

“Sometimes I don’t think people mean to ghost, but they do,” Davis says. “Maybe it’s a time thing.”

In the early stages, when daters aren’t exclusive, it’s easy to miss a text or email, Davis says. “Then people feel like it’s too late at some point to reach out to you. Another relationship starts going fast and they forget to wrap things up with you.”

Fisher mentioned the time crunch as well — dating more people means less time devoted to cutting things off. “We live in a time where everyone is short on time. Generally the person who’s doing the ghosting hasn’t built a long, strong, deep relationship with someone, so they might not feel any long-term value that they can get out of having a big discussion. They probably don’t feel they owe very much.”

4. They want to avoid inflicting pain on someone.

“Oftentimes what I hear from people is that they feel like they don’t want to hurt the other person, or that it would be kinder to not say these hurtful things to another person,” Kolod says.

Kolod says she often has clients who want to avoid making someone angry or disappointing them — so they’ll do indirect things to avoid that, and ghosting is one of those tactics. Sometimes she sees a certain kind of cluelessness among ghosters; they believe that it’s kinder not to engage. If you’re on the other side of that, however, “it feels like a complete annihilation of your existence,” she adds.

5. They’re dealing with depression or trauma.

Sometimes a depressed person will just withdraw from everybody in their lives, Kolod says. “You get paralyzed and you can’t act. You get overwhelmed. It’s another subset of avoidance, but it has more to do with paralysis.”

Kolod tells her clients who’ve been ghosted that “you don’t really know what’s going on with that other person” when they disappear. Therefore, “you have to not take it as an assault on you.”

Easier said than done, of course. For some, getting ghosted “has a cumulative effect — making them feel bitter and pessimistic” about dating in general.

To withstand the ghosting that is common in online dating, “you have to have a strong sense of self-worth,” she said, adding that “some people are very resilient.”

 

READ MORE:

15 reasons he’s not texting you back

It’s not all tears and loneliness. The positive side of breaking up.

I thought I was going to marry her. After we broke up, here’s how I coped.