Message sent. Online. Message read. Blue ticks. Offline. In the world of social media, ghosting and being ghosted have become our second nature. While in face-to-face conversations, most of us would not dare to look the other person in the eye and simply turn away without any reaction, ignoring someone’s messages online is as simple as it can get. Whether it comes to dating or friendships, a two-day long fling, or a five-year-long friendship, leaving someone on read can quickly lead to the end of a relationship. Why do we assume that ignoring someone online is somewhat more acceptable than doing so in person? Or, maybe, do we just look for the easiest way out regardless of the consequences for the other person?
Ghosting – a sign of insecurities
Of course, when ghosting someone on social media, one does not know the other person’s reaction. And it’s astonishingly easy to pretend that your lack of a response does not hurt the other person – thus, you’re not responsible.
As a person having been ghosted before – and no, I’m not embarrassed to admit it, after all, I believe that many of us have been in this situation before – I can say that your responsibility for your actions (or non-actions) is valid both online and offline. And more often, the person on the other side will be hurt – or at least left wondering what he or she did wrong.
First of all, to anyone who has been ghosted, here’s my opinion: Whoever did that to you, he or she must have major insecurities that prevent him or her from facing you in real life and owning up to their decision of cutting you out of their lives. Because a real-life conversation is the less comfortable alternative. And as frustrating as it is to be left without an explanation, that person must figure out their own issues before being ready to enter into a friendship or a relationship with you. That’s not your problem.
Now, for those who have ghosted or are planning on ghosting another person, you may wonder: “Where is the difference? He or she will be hurt anyway so why make it worse by telling them to their face that I don’t want to spend time with them anymore?” It’s not that simple. Because not knowing why someone decides to ignore you can leave detrimental effects on one’s self-esteem and sabotage one’s self-worth. Entering into a relationship or a friendship – even at its beginning stages – means making yourself vulnerable. Opening yourself up to others means sharing elements from your life which others may not know about. And regardless of whether you have talked to that person in real life or chatted online, the more you open up, the more the other person starts trusting you with their lives and the more both of you have to lose. This is one of the reasons why many of us don’t want to risk building a deeper connection with another person in the first place – but that’s a different topic to discuss at another time.
True intimacy online?
Ghosting, of course, has become a major topic only once social media and thus online dating and online friendships have emerged. Are those relationships automatically too superficial to reach deeper trust? Is this why leaving the other person without a response has become the norm?
In the 21st century, many of our conversations take place via our smartphones, regardless of whether we know the other person in real life or not. In the field of communication research, it remains disputed whether online relationships can reach the same level of intimacy as face-to-face conversations. Many would argue that the lack of nonverbal cues and often hateful language pose threats to the development of online relationships.
Other theories suggest that we can build even more meaningful connections online, forming so-called hyper-personal relationships. One reason for this seemingly stronger bond is the sender’s selected self-presentation: it’s easy to present one’s physical and psychological traits in the most flattering light possible. Additionally, when we form relationships online, we tend to over-attribute the other person’s image and rely on the fact that the impression formed in our minds is an accurate representation of their identity. In other words, being perfect online is not achievable but believable. And the more perfect the other person seems to be, the more likely we believe the reason which led them to ghost us in the first place must have been one of our own fatal flaws. The more you idealize your partner or friend, the more likely you’ll assume that you were the one who pushed them away- because you were not perfect enough.
Now that we’ve learned to pretend to be perfect online, more and more people try to keep up that image in real life. Chatting online or in person, we think we’ve created a strong bond with our counterparts. But the truth is intimacy is not built through false perfection and pretense. Intimacy relies on mutual vulnerability. Why mutual? Because when we don’t open up to someone who may already consider us an important person in their life, we never actually let them into our lives. And kicking them out by not replying to a message becomes the most natural way out.
Personally, I would rather live in a world where friendships and relationships last longer than the 24-hour time span of an Instagram story. Naively or not – I think that despite the Internet, true friendships are still possible. But only if we learn to make ourselves vulnerable and respect the other person both online and offline rather than trying to be perfect.
A simple “I’m sorry but this relationship does no longer benefit me” is not that difficult. And it’s definitely better than leaving the other person in the dark.
Edited by Quynh (Stephanie) Bui