Back in the day, there was no such thing as “ghosting.” If you were to abruptly stop talking to someone, which is what ghosting is, you’d be considered rude and passive-aggressive. It just wasn’t done.
People had empathy and followed the “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” rule. We understood that ghosting could hurt someone’s feelings. It could trigger feelings of abandonment, and we didn’t want to inflict that harm.
Today, cutting off contact with someone without a conversation or explanation is done so routinely that we have a name for it – “ghosting.” So, what happened? Is it okay now? If so, when is ghosting okay?
In this article, I am going to talk about what changed, why it’s okay to ghost people now, and when is ghosting okay.
Three things changed to make ghosting more prevalent. The first was the relaxation of social standards. Television shows like Jerry Springer and Maury normalized dysfunctional relationships. Movies with over-the-top sex, violence, and cursing made rudeness commonplace. So, acting out became more socially acceptable. Things you’d never do in public before became common.
The second thing that helped to create a culture of ghosting was intergenerational trauma. As a generation of people with unhealed trauma had children, they were unable to teach those children the social skills and coping skills that they didn’t have. They passed down their dysfunctional ways of relating. Those kids married other kids with the same unhealthy skills and had kids.
Now, our schools are overflowing with children who supposedly have ADHD, anxiety, and other labels that are hiding undiagnosed trauma and the lack of a healthy developmental environment. Our roads are crammed with people who are afraid to change lanes due to anxiety, drive with road rage because they let their unexpressed anger out on strangers while driving, and slow down to let in oncoming traffic due to people pleasing. Intergenerational trauma shows up in all aspects of our lives, big and small.
Another symptom of intergenerational trauma is not being able to accurately read other people. This is an emotional intelligence skill.
When I was young, a guy didn’t have to ask to know whether or not it was okay to kiss me. He could read the room. Guys weren’t 100% accurate, but it was pretty high. We have to ask for permission now because lots of people can’t read social cues. They don’t know when they are talking too much, taking up too much space, not realizing that it’s time to go, or getting too close. This causes a lot of boundary violations.
The third thing that happened is the internet and cell phones. The easy access to other people means that we don’t have to date local people. We don’t need introductions. We don’t even have to get to know people before we become emotionally involved. So, it’s easy to become overcommitted too fast.
Easy in. Easy out. All you have to do is ghost them.
So, not learning social skills due to intergenerational trauma, the relaxing of social standards, and the ease with which we can connect to people sets up the perfect landscape for ghosting to happen.
Why Is It Okay to Ghost Now?
We can’t turn back the clock and undo what is done. We are where we are. We have to adapt. This is why I say it’s okay to ghost someone now- within reason.
When is ghosting okay? Here are _____ situations where it might be the best approach.
When Is Ghosting Okay?
Serious Boundary Violations
If someone crosses your boundaries in a grievous way, you don’t owe them a conversation, a way out, or an explanation for cutting off all contact. In fact, if you give them this opportunity, they are likely to exploit it and turn it to their advantage. So, ghosting someone who has seriously violated your boundaries is not only a wise choice, it’s probably the best way forward.
Some examples of “grievous” boundary violations: sending a dic* pic; sleeping with a friend or family member; gaslighting; breaking into your house; taking something that belongs to you without your permission; looking at your phone, email, or other private things without your permission; spying on you; continuing to touch you when you have said to stop; stalking; making unwanted sexual comments; using threatening language; violence of any kind; restraining you.
Manipulation is a form of emotional abuse. When someone distorts your reality to make you believe what they want you to believe, it’s a way to control you. Talking to them about it could shine a light on the issue and help them to stop. However, if this feels futile or dangerous, it’s not worth the breath. If it’s a choice between you and them, save yourself. Someone who lies to you probably isn’t ever going to be a great friend or lover.
Abuse should never be tolerated. I’ve talked about some forms of abuse above, but if you see someone abusing others, this is another reason to cut off all contact without a conversation. They are not likely to be able to hear you, and it won’t benefit you to stay.
Learning Scary Information About Them
At the end of the day, we’re all flawed humans who have made mistakes. It’s great to be compassionate and open. However, if you hear information that is scary, save yourself the future trouble and get out while you can. Someone who has abused their children, beat up their ex, or has a lot of pending charges for fraud has probably not changed enough to risk pursuing a relationship with them. Relationships take time, and yours is likely better spent on someone who is further along in their personal development.
They are Strangers
Talking to someone once doesn’t obligate you to continue talking to them. Neither does going out on a date with them. Being a casual acquaintance or friend of a friend does not entitle anyone to access to you. It’s perfectly fine to not talk to that person ever- especially if you have a gut reaction that isn’t favorable. Trust yourself.
When a Conversation is Futile or Likely to Be Unproductive
Sometimes we ghost long-time friends or are ghosted by them. Maybe we outgrow them. Maybe we have had the same issues with them for years and nothing changes. Maybe we’re just tired of not being heard.
Just because we’re long time friends doesn’t mean we owe them one more conversation. If you’ve been down that road before and don’t think it would make any difference, it’s okay to tap out. It’s all about being effective. If it’s more effective to let something go than to rehash it again, let it go.
Generally speaking, ghosting is not the greatest communication strategy. It may be passive-aggressive, immature, cowardly, and tends to be hurtful. Everyone’s got a fear of abandonment. It’s programmed into our DNA to belong, so ghosting is not the most pro-social thing to do
However, there are times when it’s wise and effective. Times have changed. We can’t have reasonable conversations with everyone. When that happens, ghosting might be the best strategy forward.
Not Ready to Ghost Yet?
If ghosting seems drastic, and you’re not ready to break off contact, ask for a break. Take the time to consider your future together without that person’s presence influencing you. It may help you to get clear.
Talk out the situation with someone you trust. Put yourself in their place. Explore it and see if there are other options. Relationships are precious. If they can be salvaged, why not put in the effort?