When someone ghosts you, it is an awful feeling. It happens more than it should. One day you’re a few weeks into a budding relationship, and the next? Radio silence.
Why did they disappear? Did I do something wrong? Is the next person going to do the same?
You do your best to move on, and your phone pings a few weeks or months later. It’s them, and they’ve popped back up with that all-too-familiar “Hey, what’s up?” text.
This behavior is, in equal parts, annoying and disorienting. Where did they go, and why the hell are they back?
- How common is ghosting?
- Can you avoid being ghosted?
- The Psychology of Ghosting: A Quick Breakdown
- Why do ghosters come back?
- What To Do When A Ghoster Comes Back
- Should you ghost a ghoster?
- Ghosters Will Keep Coming Back As Long As You Let Them
How common is ghosting?
Let’s first acknowledge that if you have been ghosted, it is not because something is inherently wrong with you. Ghosting is becoming alarmingly common.
Previous studies have shown that around 30% of participants had experienced ghosting. But another study from The University of Western Ontario showed significantly higher numbers.
Of the 214 study participants, 65% reported ghosting a partnering the past, and 79% reported being ghosted.
These numbers indicate the increasing social acceptance of ghosting and soft ghosting in relationships.
It happens in friendships, too. A 2018 study showed that 31.7% of participants had ghosted a friend.
There are too many ways to ghost people these days:
One theory about why ghosting is becoming so common relates to social media and technology.
With the rise of online dating and changing norms about how we interact with each other, we are less emotionally tethered to people and communities than we’ve been in the past.
Social media and dating apps allow us to connect and bond with people we would have never otherwise met, but there are unintended consequences of that as well.
We can just as easily erase people with a block or unfollow button and never worry about running into them in real life.
This makes it easy to avoid conflict and difficult conversations, which we routinely opt to do. As a result, we behave in ways that show a lack of empathy for others.
And if there are no real social consequences for dodging responsibility and disappearing, the behavior becomes normalized.
But that doesn’t make it any easier to cope with.
Can you avoid being ghosted?
There’s no surefire way to avoid being ghosted 100% of the time, but there are steps you can take to guard against it.
But sometimes, despite our most vigilant efforts, we still get ghosted. And sometimes those ghosters come back around.
The Psychology of Ghosting: A Quick Breakdown
Psychologically, ghosting is a defense mechanism. Against what? Well, a few things, namely responsibility and difficult conversations.
The main goal of a ghoster is to avoid confrontation, emotional entanglement, or simply the discomfort of having to articulate feelings (god forbid!).
For the one left behind, the situation is unnerving and usually evokes feelings of rejection, confusion, and self-doubt. You’re blindsided. You panic.
Did something happen to them? Are they hurt?
Eventually (usually via social media), you realize they did not, in fact, get attacked and mauled by a bear, but now you have to deal with wondering why they disappeared.
And that can’t take a long time to recover from!
Now, imagine putting in all that emotional work to move past the pain of ghosting just for them to re-emerge as if nothing happened.
Why do ghosters come back?
Ghosters come back for various reasons, which we will get into. When unpacking the motivation behind a ghoster reappearing, it’s essential to consider the full context.
How long have they been away? Did you date for long before they ghosted? How serious was your relationship with them?
This will help frame your response if you even bother having one.
So why do ghosters come back, and what do they want?
1. They want sex.
Sometimes ghosters come back because they are looking for a hookup and think they can achieve that by rekindling something with you.
There’s also the illustrious pull of sexual nostalgia.
Your ghoster may feel unfulfilled by their current dating life or life more generally. According to experts, feeling socially disconnected and lonely can trigger nostalgic thoughts of ex-partners.
As dating expert Matthew Hussey eloquently stated, “people will reappear in your life because there is a void in their own.”
Some people try to fill that void with sex and temporary intimacy. Once that itch has been scratched, your ghoster will likely disappear again.
2. They want to know if you’re still an option.
They simply want to know if you are still single and available.
It’s a bit like securing a backup plan, as is the case with monkey branching. It’s not that your ghoster wants to be with you. They simply want to know if they can reach out when lonely.
3. They are bored.
A ghoster may have reappeared because they are bored.
Perhaps the single life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, or maybe they are in a social lull. Whatever the reason, they are using you to fill the void.
Some people do this maliciously, knowing full well they are being manipulative. Others might genuinely convince themselves that they miss you on some level.
Either way, the result will be the same – they will disappear again, and you will be hurt.
4. They’re on the rebound.
If the ghoster ditched you, got involved with someone else, and then got dumped, they may reach out for temporary relief from their broken heart.
Sometimes they know they’re looking for a distraction, and other times they convince themselves they are moving on by reaching out to old flames and “getting back out there.”
5. They want validation and attention.
This is common among narcissists and is known as refilling their narcissistic supply. Narcissistic supply is defined as the constant supply of attention and energy a narcissist needs to receive from other people to feel validated.
If you were ghosted by a narcissist, they might return because their supply is low and their preferred sources are unavailable. It’s also likely they’ve got an entire line up of former ghostees they check in on every time they crave attention.
This is a great opportunity to get your name removed from that list.
6. They’ve just gone through a hard time.
There’s no good reason for ghosting someone, but there are rare occasions when people do it because external circumstances get so bad they disappear.
Maybe they experienced a traumatic loss or major life event that shook their world. Or maybe their mental health took a bad turn, and they ghosted a lot of people, but now they’re getting treatment and looking to set things right with the people they hurt.
7. They’ve changed.
Occasionally, a ghoster might come back because a significant amount of time has passed, and they’ve changed. They want to take responsibility for their behavior and make amends with you.
This type of ghoster will acknowledge their mistake and show you with their actions that they’re serious about trying to date you again.
If this is something you are willing to entertain (and you most certainly don’t owe them anything), here are some things you can do to determine if a resurrected ghoster deserves a second chance.
But before we do that, it’s important to note something for anyone wondering if ghosters come back because they are hoping that one will. In most ghosting situations, the ghoster has done you a favor, and this is not somebody you want in your life.
Their ghosting behavior says more about them than you. People ghost because they are making a deliberate choice, and it is 100% on them, and there is nothing you could have done to make this person behave differently.
Let’s discuss what to do if a ghoster comes back and you’re suddenly staring at the dreaded “Hey stranger!” text.
What percentage of ghosters come back?
We don’t actually know! Whether or not someone comes back depends entirely on whether there is something they want from you, that they believe (rightly or wrongly) they can get. But whether the percentage is 1% or 100%, in virtually all cases, you don’t want that person to come back in your life.
So what should you do if they try?
What To Do When A Ghoster Comes Back
First, let’s remember that context is everything.
What type of ghoster are we dealing with here? Relationship expert Mark Rosenfeld categorizes ghosters into three primary buckets: short-term, mid-range, and long-range.
His perspective deals mainly with male ghosters, but women are also capable of the same bad behavior.
According to Rosenfeld, these are the guys you’ve only been talking to or dating for a short time. Initially, they were responsive to texts and making plans. Then, out of nowhere, they ghost for a few days or a week.
When a short-term ghoster pops back up, the first thing you want to do is ask what happened.
Rosenfeld suggests assuming the best rather than jumping to accusations. Did something happen?
See what he or she says.
If nothing happened and the ghoster acts defensive or claims to have just been busy, that’s a huge red flag.
On the other hand, if something did happen and the ghoster opens up to you, it becomes an entirely different discussion.
Let them know in the future that if something is happening, it’s okay to tell you. Don’t just disappear without saying anything.
On this last point, Rosenfeld gives one word of caution – if your ghoster deals with stressful life events by shutting people out, that could be a sign they are not ready for a relationship.
In my personal opinion, mid-range ghosters are the absolute worst kind. These are ghosters who are gone for several weeks or even months. You’ve just started to get over the ghosting, and then (like clockwork) they’re back.
Rosenfeld urges people to call these types out immediately and directly.
If you want to respond to that obnoxiously casual, “Hey, how are you?” text (and you definitely do not have to), he suggests teasing out their reason for contact. You can reply back just as casually.
“I’m fine. How are you?”
What they do next will tell you a lot. If they do not initiate a conversation with you at this point that is apologetic or owning up to the fact they ghosted you, end the conversation.
Imagine, after two months of radio silence, dealing with a conversation like this:
Ghoster: Hey, what’s up?
You: Not much. You?
Ghoster: I’m good. What are you doing?
If it makes you want to tear your hair out and throw your phone across a room, do not continue speaking to this person. Tell them to lose your number. They are not a serious person, nor do they have an ounce of remorse for ghosting you.
That brings us to our final category: long-range ghosters. These are the people who pop back up after six months or more.
Interestingly enough, Rosenfeld had the most optimism for this type of ghoster. There’s been enough time that they may be back for the right reasons.
Of course, context matters a lot. What was the situation between you two before the ghosting? Was it still casual? Had you been dating for long?
When a long-range ghoster comes back, it’s essential to call them out. What happened?
Then listen to what they have to say.
Much like mid-range ghosts, end the conversation if they don’t immediately offer an apology and take full ownership of the ghosting.
But if they show remorse and you’re emotionally up for it, you can consider giving them a second chance.
If you’re looking for more advice on handling this situation, Renee Slansky has a great video on the subject:
Only Allow A Ghoster To Come Back If They Can Do The Following (Unprovoked):
- Apologize for ghosting you
- Express awareness that ghosting you was terrible.
- Take ownership for ghosting you.
- Explain why they are back now.
- Demonstrate a sincere desire to make it up to you.
If they can do those things and you’re interested, the next step is to set clear standards. Let them know:
- You can’t pick up where you left off.
- It will take time to rebuild trust.
- The two of you are starting over.
Take it slow.
You’ll need time to see if this person has truly changed. Can they provide consistency and open, honest communication?
This means letting them take the lead.
They ghosted you. Now it’s their turn to show initiative and prove they are a serious person worthy of your time.
Should you ghost a ghoster?
If your ghoster tries to come back, it might be tempting to play along so you can give them a taste of their own medicine.
Or if you do give them a fair shot and it’s not working for you the second time around, you might be tempted to think, “well, they did it first, so I’ll just ghost them back.”
But do you really want to perpetuate this cycle?
If we’re going to curb the prevalence and acceptability of ghosting, we have to do our part, which means having a difficult conversation or sending that final text to let people know it’s not working anymore.
Ultimately, you have to decide what kind of person you want to be. If ghosting is a fact of life now, and you’re cool with it, then by all means.
But if you’ve been on the receiving end of ghosting and it hurt you in a meaningful way, take the high road. You’ll be better for it.
Ghosters Will Keep Coming Back As Long As You Let Them
More often than not, ghosters are best left in the past where they belong. Ghosting is a terrible thing to do to another person. It shows a lack of emotional maturity and empathy.
Despite that, many ghosters will inevitably try to pop back up in your inbox or messages to say hello.
The good news is you do not have to acknowledge them at all.
If you decide to give a ghoster a second chance, make sure you are examining the situation objectively and setting clear expectations for the relationship.
Your emotional well-being and sanity are precious assets. Protect them at all costs.
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