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A Sociocultural Perspective on Ghosting

Posted on 2018-10-29 By Joanna


“Ghosting” is a modern description of disappearing out of someone's life without saying a word. It also includes not replying to their messages, not picking up the phone, or avoiding meeting them up. Basically, it's a process of reversing a relationship back to zero and treating the person being ghosted on like they don't exist.

Although it's often associated with the dating behaviour, it's not strictly related to just romantic relationships – many ghost on their friends and acquaintances too.

For some, ghosting seems like a normalised part of the culture. For others, it's perceived as a really unkind behaviour, leaving the other person pretty confused and maybe even hurt. Have I done anything wrong? Is there anything I said that hurt them? Am I a terrible person?

Such doubts are obviously justified. But one thing to realize is that ghosting is rarely about the person being ghosted on. There might be many reasons behind such behaviour: personality disorders (such as schizoid PD), social anxiety, or even cultural influences. Would understanding ghosting help us with building resilience to it? Would it provide us with an alternative to cutting people out of our lives without a word of explanation?

My initial intention of researching this subject was to understand it in a context of schizoid personality disorder. I was almost certain that the metaphorical 'door slam' or cutting people off your life is strictly reserved for certain personality types. Oh, how wrong I was after finding out that ghosting has become a normalised, standard behaviour in our culture. Are we all becoming schizoid?

The paper on the schizoid culture that I've read a while ago pops into my mind. Just as on the individual level we all have different behavioural peculiarities, so the collection of individuals and their behaviours which form the society will also manifest certain collective peculiarities. Jung wrote about psychotic culture and I don't think he was that far from his estimations.

Let's take a look at ghosting from this broader, cultural perspective. Consider for a moment the influence of the internet on our relationships. Many people use the internet to date and to look for various relationships. Communicating with our current friends or acquaintances is also done primarily through internet – texting, email, Facetime, etc. Do you think it's possible to develop the same quality of attachment to someone by using the internet as a primary mean of communication in comparison to meeting them regularly? Keep this in mind as we consider other factors contributing to ghosting.

In the past, it might have been more difficult to maintain various relationships than it is now. You had to call your friend/acquaintance on a landline, visit them, send them a letter or a telegram. That obviously required much more effort than picking up a smartphone and sending a text message. Because of the effort spent (time + energy), losing a relationship would equal a significant loss of resources – both parties would suffer. And so, we could conclude that having various relationships was perhaps treasured more because of the effort invested.

Also, in many ways it would have been much more difficult to just ghost on someone. If you didn't phone them or send them a letter, they could simply visit you.

Compare it to modern days. Since we've made ourselves available on social media, finding a date can take less than 10 mins. We can even share the pictures of all our bodily parts with someone we've never met (yuk...). We can get in touch with almost anyone we want in a blink of an eye. Perhaps we could even say that we don't need long-lasting relationships because it's so easy to talk to anyone whenever we want. As a result, people don't get as attached to others as older generations did because the effort and the investment is much lower.

Adding to all that, our culture revolves around superficiality. The values which surround the Western society include looks, material goods, career, sex appeal. What about virtues, character strengths, compassion, relationship with nature? Ouhhh.. these are too heavy subject to discuss for an average person. Too deep and too far from our narcissistic ego.

Our relationships revolve around our values. And so, if our values revolve around superficiality, our relationships will be also superficial. Because of this, it's quite easy to conclude that the quality of our attachment will be affected by the values dominated in that relationship, that is, superficiality. Isn't superficial attachment actually of a low quality? It's much easier to replace a superficial friend with another superficial friend than to distance ourselves from a friend we are deeply attached to.

Certain social phenomena, such as ghosting, paint an interesting picture of our Western society. We can see a shift of values – from treasuring relationships, politeness, treating people fairly, to preferring superficial relationships, individualism and self-interest, and perhaps even apathy. It's all about the priorities.

If we take a look at most self-help books and resources, precisely these individualistic values are most often emphasised: developing good boundaries, self-interest, reducing our responsibility for how others feel. In a general sense, such values are actually helpful in maintaining good mental health. However, since anyone can be a self-help guru these days, people are free to twist and sell their ideas however they want which might result in taking these values to an extreme without providing a throughout explanation of them.

On the more individual level, ghosting is quite context-dependant. If, for instance, a woman is constantly harassed by unwanted messages despite clearly stating her discomfort, ghosting might seem like the only logical choice. Or if we find ourselves in a situation where an individual becomes somewhat abusing towards us – again, ghosting might seem like the best option. However, what about ghosting on a friend we knew for months or years? What about ghosting on our partner? Or on a guy we've been on a few dates with? In such situations, are we really feeling so entitled that we can't see that a few words of explanation could ease the situation off? Or are we, perhaps, trying to avoid discomfort which could be triggered by stating our needs? Or maybe it's simply about the inability to say 'no'?

Could we say that many people are simply unaware of the consequences of their actions? Or do they choose to ignore these consequences? Since ghosting is simply a choice, I will let you to develop your own answers.

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