‘Ghosting,’ an emerging trend in millennial relationships, and may affect their communication skills

Ashley Torres

The ability to instantly communicate through modern technology brought major changes to the dating scene.

“Ghosting” is a new phenomenon amongst the millennial generation where one abruptly ends a romantic relationship with no explanation at all. However, the term — which has rapidly popularized on social media — is affecting our communication skills.

Shaiquille Smallwood, a junior digital media production major, admitted to being ghosted and using the technique on women before.

“It varies on the person. For the most part, I get busy and forget to reply, or I know the situation isn’t the best for me so I back away,” he said. “If I don’t want to see someone, I can avoid them.”

For millennials, this usually coincides with unfollowing and blocking. However, ghosting isn’t a new concept; people have disappeared from each other’s lives for decades. Whether it was giving the wrong number to someone, not calling someone back or simply ignoring someone, there are various ways to ghost people.

The difference nowadays is people will talk and text for weeks, sometimes months, making the disconnect for millennials harsher.

Aaron Bacue, an assistant professor of communication, said the main reason ghosting happens is that people want to avoid confrontation.

The interpersonal communication field has something known as “positive face.” According to Bacue, this is “how we want to be seen by other people as good people, as valuable; we have our stuff together.”

“I think that if I’m going to break up with you and I ghost you, it’s because I don’t want my face called into question; And if I tell you how I’m really feeling, it would threaten your face,” he said.

Bacue explained, despite ghosting being inappropriate, it’s arguably done to protect the person being ghosted because the other individual doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

There’s a false notion that if there’s no conflict in a relationship, then it’s healthy. When in fact, there’s a gap in communication because people aren’t comfortable discussing the problems faced in the relationship, whether it’s personal or professional. Not confronting the issue wastes time, which eventually affects health and self-esteem, according to the Harvard Business Review.

Senior public health major Alyssa McKula says she’s experienced the other side of ghosting. McKula downloaded the dating apps Bumble and Tinder and was talking to various men for short periods of time. After they would make plans to meet in person, the men would disappear.

“I think they’re either talking to someone else at the time and find them more interesting. Or, you’re scared to meet them in person. They get cold feet,” she said.

One of the men who ghosted McKula on Bumble ended up matching with her on Tinder. She took the high road and sent the first message, leading them to discuss the situation which resulted in an apology.

“He wasn’t comfortable meeting someone off the internet,” she said.

For senior communications major Maura McGough, she ghosted her Tinder match after she felt extremely uncomfortable when the two grabbed coffee at a local Starbucks her sophomore year.

At first, the two shared an interest in sketching, then McGough learned about her date’s passion for eagles. He even had an eagle tattoo. The discomfort came when he suggested they meet each other’s parents after the second date.

“At this point, I am freaked out because I believe that meeting parents is a big deal,” she said.

The date ended after the two went for a drive down the “creepiest roads that didn’t have any lights.” McGough felt “too scared” to admit she wanted to go home.

After this, she stopped responding to his messages and ghosted him. He messaged every day for two weeks after.

“I never had the courage to tell him it was the worst date I had ever been on,” she said.

Either way, honesty is the best policy McKula said.

“You can tell someone, ‘I’m just not feeling it.’ All you have to do is be honest,” she said.

Honesty is not always easy if a person feels the need to please everyone and isn’t confident letting someone down easily. Those are skills adopted over time and with experience.

“I’m sure he would feel a little bad. But if that’s his personality, he shouldn’t feel bad,” McGough said.

However, McGough described herself as a “yes person” and didn’t voice her opinion on how she felt. This goes back to “positive face.” People don’t want their actions to be called into question. Now, McGough would handle the situation differently.

“I probably would have at least told him that meeting his parents wouldn’t be a good idea right now,” she said.

Eventually, it will affect self-esteem and people will question their self-worth, Bacue said. A notion McKula agrees with.

“I ask myself, ‘Oh, was I not interesting enough,'” she said.

Since then, she’s gotten good at laughing off ghosting situations because she knows there’s nothing more she can do about it.

“Have a good sense of humor about it. You’re not going to get along with everyone,” she said.

The next piece of advice is to “be true to the situation,” he said.

Don’t offer an explanation unless the person asks for one. It can make things messy and creates unnecessary communication. When explaining the decision-making process, use a positive tone, and try not to sound accusatory; don’t focus on the other person’s flaws, because that will increase tension.

Take ownership of the situation. Use “I feel” because no one can assume another individual’s feelings.

In taking ownership, it’s also important not to offer an insincere friendship. In most cases, it takes half the time of the relationship for someone to move on.

At the same time, modern-day technology allows people to strengthen relationships because it allows for all-day interactions, whereas before people had to write letters and wait for communications. Relationships are maintained more.

Though technology has its positives, it leaves room for misinterpretation. Too often, emails, texts and social media are expected to substitute for in-person interaction. 

Misinterpretation affects the way people communicate on a daily basis, Bacue said. Everyone says things differently, and without the context of the words behind the message, it’s hard to always correctly guess the tone behind an electronic conversation or message, eventually negatively impacting communication.

“I suppose it could make someone more paranoid,” Bacue said.

Ashley Torres is a feature writer. Please contact her at [email protected].