Healthy Conflict: How to Let Someone Down Without Ghosting Them

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One Love Heart Blue Written by Writer’s Corps member Jess Costello 

Popular dating app Bumble, which boasted 50 million users in April 2019, has already transformed the dating game by requiring women to make the first move on potential dates. Now, Bumble is on a mission to change dating habits again. The app recently launched its second annual anti-ghosting campaign, reminding users that everyone can reduce the pain of online dating by keeping the hauntings to Halloween.

It might seem ironic, in our hyperconnected, digital age, that not communicating has become the default in online breakups.  But perhaps the convenience and immediacy that our devices bring to our relationships make us value them less? Many relationships begin on apps like Bumble. We can meet with a swipe, carry around our matches, friends, and other important people in our pockets and as life gets chaotic, we only respond to those whom we consider a priority.

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And that is the problem with ghosting. By not responding to someone, you’re telling them that they aren’t important. It’s not like a reply requires a lot of effort. Sending a text takes all of two seconds.

So, what’s the big deal, you might think. Afterall, ghosting is standard behavior on apps, it’s just part of the trials and tribulations of online dating. Well, the way I see it, it runs deeper than that. The way we communicate (or don’t) online may impact the relationships in the rest of our lives. Let’s explore why this digital silent treatment is problematic.

Why is ghosting unhealthy?

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Not Communicating

As someone who has been on both sides of uncomfortable silence, I’m aware that sometimes you really just don’t know what to say. But I also know that this avoidant behavior can cause self-doubt and pain in your potential date.

Avoidance can work in the moment, but it’s an unhealthy way to deal with conflict overall that can cause long-term repercussions. You can know your behavior is veering into unhealthy territory if you use ghosting to toy with people’s emotions or to maintain your dominance in a “situationship.” Ultimately, what shosting really shows is that you prefer not to deal with conflicts and uncomfortable situations head-on, and might not be ready to deal with the major decisions and difficulties that come later on in a serious relationship.

What did I do?

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What do ghosts do? They haunt the living. For the person who gets ghosted, being left “on read” can really mess with their self-esteem. You’re left to question every interaction you had with the ghoster, and might start blaming yourself for their apparent indifference. You might even start telling yourself: “If only I had said this… or if I hadn’t done that, maybe they’d like me more.”

When someone ghosts, there’s no clear, emphatic ending of the relationship. The ghosted person is left thinking that there’s a chance that their ghoster could come back. But if you’re rejecting someone, it’s unhealthy to give them false hope. And, if you’re ghosting as a way to keep the door open, consider this: No one has the right to walk in and out of someone’s life whenever they want to— that’s inconsistency and indecisiveness, not love or respect.

In college, I wrote a mini-thesis on the problems with ghosting and how social media is eroding our capacity for empathy. While psychological research hasn’t quite yet established a causal relationship, there seems to be a correlation between how we treat people in the digital world and how we treat people IRL. This research is especially important for young people who are growing up with technology and can carry out an entire relationship online.

What can we do instead?

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We don’t have to accept ghosting as a part of modern dating and modern life. Let’s change this habit with common courtesy by using these healthy communication tips.

Be clear and direct.

So you’ve gone on a couple of dates with someone, but for whatever reason, you don’t feel like you should continue seeing them. Instead of just drifting out of their sphere and hoping they get the hint, you should let them know that you don’t want to go any further. If you feel like this way early on, it’s still generally acceptable to let someone down over text.

Give them a reason… but only if it’s constructive.

It’s totally okay not to have a concrete reason you don’t want to see someone again. It can be really hard to put your feelings into words without hurting the other person’s feelings. But if you feel it’s something they could work on in the future, such as an irritating habit, the would-be ghosted would probably appreciate knowing about it first. Just remember to be kind when you reach out to them.

Give them a chance to have closure.

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The important thing is that you let them know that the door is closed. Rejection stings, but it hurts a lot less than wondering for days or weeks what you said or did to make someone ignore you.

While some might argue that ghosting is actually a way to spare someone’s feelings by not rubbing their nose in your rejection, that’s only true in the short term. Processing a clear-cut breakup is a lot less harmful to someone’s self-esteem than the second-guessing and self-doubt that your prolonged silence causes.

And—if you’re worried that someone may be ghosting you, I say: Good riddance. Rest assured that ghosting tells you more about them, and what you can expect from a relationship with them than it is a reflection of you.

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