The 4 Next Steps When You Think Someone Is Ghosting You
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
It can be super stressful and disheartening when someone you've been talking to regularly suddenly drops off the face of the planet without any warning. If you think you're being ghosted, there are exactly four steps you need to take next: Reflect on whether this situation is actually ghosting, ask the ghost what's up, notice the anxiety you're having over this, and then move on. In that exact order!
Here's the breakdown of what to do when you think you're being ghosted:
1. Reflect and evaluate the situation.
Ghosting stirs up a lot of sensitive emotions—feelings of being ignored, fears of being rejected, and perhaps even hits to your confidence in being someone attractive and worth talking to. There's a lot tied up here, so it's important to pause for a moment and really look objectively at the situation to make sure you really are being ghosted and not just letting your insecurities get the best of you.
"First of all, breathe, because anytime you feel like you've been ghosted, your anxiety is off the chain wondering if they are OK or racking your brain a million ways for things you did wrong," marriage and family therapist Patrice N. Douglas, LMFT, tells mbg. "Sometimes when people ghost us, it's because they are focused on other things or may be isolating themselves because they are feeling depressed. Everything isn't always about us, so we can't panic right away."
Try to think through your last few conversations with the person, Douglas recommends. A few questions to consider:
- Are they heading out of town?
- Did they have a huge event coming up?
- Have they been dealing with some emotional stuff?
It's also important to be objective about whether they've actually disappeared completely or have just been slower to respond these days, according to relationship therapist Shena Tubbs, MMFT, LPC, CSAT-C.
"It's not technically ghosting if they're still communicating with you but haven't disappeared completely," Tubbs explains to mbg. "In this case, I would say they are showing you they are unavailable. In other words, if someone goes from being able to text you daily or a few times every hour to suddenly 'forgetting' to text you back for 12 hours or a day, they are totally communicating they are not an available and healthy partner for you."
Tubbs defines ghosting as when someone is unresponsive to any and all attempts to communicate with them. She adds that you can definitely be ghosted by someone you haven't met in real life yet—it doesn't matter how long you've known someone.
"Ghosting is based on one simple thing: communication," Douglas says. "If you have been talking to anyone—friend, potential mate, whatever—and they suddenly stop responding to your messages without any warning or cause as well as ignoring you, you may have been ghosted."
2. Directly ask what's wrong.
Straightforward, I know!
When you think someone is ghosting you, it's best to just be up-front and ask them what's going on. Tubbs recommends a message along these lines: Hey! I noticed you haven't been as responsive lately. Is everything OK?
If they still care about investing in your relationship, their response will tell you everything you need to know: "Maybe something is going on that it would be helpful for you to know about," Tubbs says. "If it's a legitimate concern and they are interested in you, they will apologize, and things will go back to how they were, or they will apologize and [they] will set new expectations for you so that you aren't left hanging (i.e., 'I can't text during the day anymore because we have a new meeting schedule, but I'll hit you up after work'). They'll also follow through with those expectations."
Douglas says that if someone isn't feeling the relationship anymore or just can't prioritize you right now, ghosting can sometimes just be the result of not knowing how to communicate that information to you directly. One way to suss out if that's the case is to give them an easier way to bring up how they're feeling. She recommends saying you've "noticed communication has changed" between you and then directly asking "if everything is OK and if this relationship is something they want to continue to pursue."
3. Take note of the anxiety you're having around the prospect of being ghosted.
It feels awful to be ignored, whether the person is a close friend or a new interesting somebody you were just starting to vibe with. But if you're having an overwhelming amount of bad feelings around the prospect of being ghosted, it's important to pause and tune into what specific emotions you're experiencing around this. Are you desperately trying not to lose a connection you really value or were really excited by? Or is this about a fear of rejection and feeling unlovable?
"Remember that your difficult emotions are a signal, a teacher with an important message," psychologist Danielle Dowling, Psy.D., writes at mbg. Notice where your anxiety is coming from and what insights you can glean about yourself: Perhaps your level of investment in this particular person's rejection tells you that you really do want a long-term relationship and should invest more time in your dating life. Or perhaps the degree to which you're judging yourself for this rejection is a sign that you have more work to do around self-esteem and self-love.
Once you've collected that information about yourself, it's time to let go of the weight this situation is having on you—because it's really not about you.
"Taking rejection personally is often a subconscious defense mechanism. It puts you in control," relationship counselor Margaret Paul, Ph.D., writes at mbg. "The belief is 'If it's my fault, then maybe I can change, and then this won't happen again. If I can just figure out what I did wrong, then I can fix myself.'"
But Paul points out that in most cases, the person who got ghosted usually didn't do anything wrong. The situation, in reality, is totally out of your control. Monica Berg, spiritual teacher and author of Fear Is Not an Option, says ghosting has so little to do with you and so much to do with the other person's communication issues that it isn't really worth getting torn up about it—in fact, you might as well celebrate.
"The ghost is doing you a big favor," she writes at mbg. "You're getting a firsthand look at how this person, who just days ago was so marvelous, actually handles their emotions, your emotions, and difficult circumstances in general. 'Runs away at any sign of conflict' typically doesn't make anyone's list of dream qualities in a partner, and you got to see that clearly and up front—not years down the road."
4. Let it go.
Make sure to check in with the person at least once, Tubbs says. After that, move on.
"If they aren't interested, they will either not respond (which is your answer right there), or they will respond and apologize, but things will stay the same, and they'll continue to take forever to respond to you or won't respond at all. You just need to cut your losses and move on. Don't try to make it happen."
Douglas says the exact time frame for when it's time to move on might differ depending on the scenario—you might wait a week or two to assess if the situation improves if it's someone you've only recently started getting to know, whereas you might want to spend up to a month trying to reconnect if it's someone you've had a longer relationship with and care deeply about.
But being ghosted is not something to continue to feel anxious about because the underlying causes of ghosting aren't particularly mysterious or confusing. In fact, being ghosted is a great source of information—about the other person's communication style, about their investment in your relationship, and about your own real needs. You should definitely make space to grieve the loss of the relationship, but there's no real need to dwell on what should I do? or what could I have done differently?
"If someone really wants you, they will make time to talk to you and respond to a text. It takes literally less than a second to respond, and you know they are on their phone throughout the day," Tubbs says. "As Maya Angelou says, 'When someone shows you who they are, believe them.'"
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