It is an all-too-familiar occurrence that happens, or has happened, to many of us: You have a romantic relationship, or a good friendship that you think is going well. Then one day you come to one or more inescapable conclusions: For some time (let’s say, three weeks) you have been the only one who has reached out to the other to make plans or just chat.
Or else you find you’re the only one texting (or calling on the phone, for those who still do that) or visiting the other one. And you further realize that it has been quite some time since the other person called, texted, or visited you.
It’s likely you have been ghosted, a relatively recent term with which most people are familiar. I did not know it was a “thing” until a read a book by Aziz Ansari about “modern dating” a year or so ago. Ghosting, in my mind, is another way of saying someone faded out of your life. Or simply disappeared off the face of the earth, never to be seen nor heard from again.
Depending on the relationship, being ghosted can really suck. Maybe it’s just my anxiety disorder talking, but I personally would like to know why someone is choosing to exit my life ever so subtly. Maybe I have some toxic habit, or quirky mannerism, or character defect which I really should examine. Wouldn’t we all want to know?
Sometimes people who have been ghosted express impatience or anger at the person who disappeared on them. They say it would have been nice to know why the relationship ended so they could have “closure.” True, it often would be better to know why some people just walk off into the sunset without explanation or a backward glance.
But closure isn’t always necessary or welcome to some people. For others, it’s almost impossible to give another person because some individuals are raised “to be nice” all the time and not say anything that might be considered “mean” or negative or unflattering.
These people who have a tendency to fade out of others’ lives, or ghost others, are displaying a passive-aggressive behavior pattern. This is when people who do not like (or fear) confrontations and they go out of their way to “be nice” or at the very least, to not raise a fuss.
One definition I found on Google says passive-aggressive is “a type of behavior or personality characterized by indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation, as in procrastinating, (or) pouting.” One behavior of these people is ghosting, which gives them a nice, non-confrontational “out” to a certain situation, such as a relationship.
In an article on the Psychology Today website, “common signs’ of passive-aggressive behavior “include refusing to discuss concerns openly and directly, (and) avoiding responsibility.” Thus, the sweeping of issues under the rug in an attempt to not deal with any not-so-pleasant feelings.
The article says further, “Passive-aggression often stems from underlying anger, sadness or insecurity, of which the person may or may not be consciously aware. Passive-aggressive behavior may be an expression of those emotions or an attempt to gain control in a relationship.”
People are literally trained to be passive-aggressive in their families of origin (or in other institutions) so as to avoid “rocking the boat,” or in other words, disturbing the family/relational dynamic.
They are taught to avoid unpleasantness to the point of ignoring it and not dealing with it because it might reveal an underlying emotion (as noted above) such as anger or sadness.
News flash — ignoring “unpleasant emotions” won’t make them just go away.
Similarly, avoiding (ghosting) a friend or romantic partner in the hopes that he/she will “just go away” is not “nice” at all but rather a sign of emotional immaturity.
People who are passive-aggressive do not have the stones to be assertive and speak out honestly about issues because they want to be seen — falsely, as it were — as “nice” all the time.
This often means they sidestep “negative” emotions and ignore them. Though they may not be exactly lying about something, they might just be avoiding talking about various subjects. One example would be why your relationship with them is “on the rocks” or rather, might be all over except the shouting/crying/hysterics/etc.
Maybe the passive-aggressive ghosters were raised as I was: “If you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all”, which on the surface is fine advice. But there sometimes comes circumstances when it would be nice to hear a little flat-out honesty from the significant people in our lives, even if it’s not exactly positive, or what one person thinks the other wants to hear.
So those who ghost others are displaying passive-aggressive behavior. I know I’ve been dealing with it my whole life, and also see patterns in my own self that I’m trying to change Because I think it’s better to deal with stuff head-on (such as break-ups, etc) than passively avoid talking about it.
I admit it: I’ve ghosted a few men. However, in my defense, it was decades ago. Nowadays I prefer to say to their face, “This isn’t working out because …” I’ve also perhaps ghosted a few friends (from a long time ago) as well. Nowadays I think honesty is indeed the best policy and if you care for someone — or at least respect them as a human being — it is better to tell the truth.
Even if you don’t really care for someone (let’s say it’s a person you’ve only had one date with) it is still the more mature option to be directly honest. Even if it hurts, you’ll get over it and the other person will probably also get over it and, hopefully, everyone will move on.
I remember all too well feeling like I was “hanging by a string” because some guy wasn’t calling or texting because (I see now) he was being passive-aggressive. My anxious mind would race, wondering “What did I do? Was it me? Am I unlovable? Or is it him and he’s just an immature jerk?”
This makes it easier to understand why people ghost others: They want to be seen as “nice” while at the same time doing some “not nice,” such as sabotaging or breaking up your relationship. They think they’re being nice by not being directly honest but, in actuality, it doesn’t feel too nice to have this done to you.
It is my hope that other people who are wondering why they’ve been ghosted will read this and have an “aha!!” moment. Perhaps understanding the probable underlying cause of ghosting — that is, the person who ghosted you is passive-aggressive — will help take the sting out of it, at least a little, when people leave our lives without a trace.
Note: as a survivor of domestic violence, I understand that is one instance in which ghosting is appropriate. Slipping out in the middle of the night without a word sometimes is the safer and preferred action in that case.