Ghosting isn't just for dating anymore and it could be more harmful than we think

Ghosting has become increasingly more common over the last couple of years and is even seeping into the workplace and pop culture. But it could be more damaging than we think.

Ghosting is causing distrust and a lack of critical communication skills, says a relationship therapist

Wikipedia describes "ghosting" as breaking off a relationship (often an intimate relationship) by ceasing all communication and contact with the former partner without any apparent warning or justification, as well as ignoring the former partner’s attempts to reach out or communicate. (Shutterstock)

The term "ghosting" typically describes certain dating experiences. It happens when a person cuts off communication with another person without explanation or warning. It's become increasingly more common over the last couple of years.

"I've been on both ends of it," said university student Aceel Hawa. "It's so prevalent nowadays because we have the comfort of hiding behind our phones and hiding behind a screen. You don't ultimately have to face the person."

Fellow university student Gabbi Leon says it can be hurtful if you've been on a few dates with someone and then never hear from them again.

"At the end of the day, you can send that text and never see them again and it doesn't put you in an awkward situation," said Leon. "So you might as well send the text. But people don't cause ghosting's easier, I guess."

University students (from left) Sarah Kwajafa, Gabbi Leon and Aceel Hawa know all too well about the culture of "ghosting." (Jason Osler/CBC)

Hawa's friend Sarah Kwajafa admits to ghosting someone in the past.

"It's a last resort when you're in a situation and you don't want to continue relations with someone," she said. "I've heard of people not showing up for interviews and stuff like that."

Ghosting on the job

While it hasn't been quantified in any meaningful way in Canada, stories like Kwajafa's job interview observation are emerging online as ghosting becomes more common and accepted and seeps into the workplace and pop culture.

Just Google "workplace ghosting" and you'll find plenty of anecdotes from ghosted employers and recruiters.

An excerpt from an article on LinkedIn titled "People are 'ghosting' at work, and it's driving companies crazy," explains how human resources professionals are feeling.

"HR teams are bemoaning the emotional rollercoaster they've suddenly found themselves on, dealing with the kind of 'what just happened?' situations once reserved to those on the dating circuit."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's also seeped into pop culture. This Halloween, Party City is selling a costume that speaks to the ghosted generation.

Party City is selling a hooded white dress designed to look like a ghost with a series of unanswered texts on the front. The Halloween costume sells for $29.99. (Party City)

"If someone's blowing up your phone, ghost them in a Ghosted Costume for women," says the product description on the Party City website. "The costume is a hooded white dress designed to look like a ghost with a series of unanswered texts on the front. Eager texters will know not to bother you in this Ghosted Costume."

The online reviews seem to approve. "I can't stop laughing," said one four-star review. "Such a creative and fun idea in our world of dating!" wrote another reviewer.

'You're dealing with people's emotions'

Winnipeg relationship therapist Susan Wenzel doesn't find any humour in the act of ghosting.

"I think we're not taking it seriously and some people may think it's funny, but it is not funny because you're dealing with people's emotions," said Wenzel.

She says ghosting has become a communication norm and its something she hears about all the time in her practice.

Susan Wenzel is a certified sex therapist, relationship expert, clinical sexologist, and psychotherapist with years of experience working with individuals and couples and leading seminars and workshops. (Scott Carnegie)

"The way we do one thing in one place is the way we do everywhere else, so I am not surprised that that's going down to other areas of people's lives and now into employment and it affects both sides."

The way it affects both sides isn't acknowledged enough according to Wenzel.

She says it's obvious how being ghosted can make someone distrusting of others. But for the person doing the ghosting, they are avoiding crucial communication skills. Wenzel says smartphones have undoubtedly exacerbated the problem.

It's easy to be cold and distant or it's easy to not put a lot of effort in it.- Susan Wenzel, relationship therapist

"It's easy to separate yourself from the other person when you're texting," she said. "You're not seeing the actual person, so it's easy to be cold and distant or it's easy to not put a lot of effort in it."

But that effort matters, says Wenzel, because it helps us all become better people.

"People need to learn those skills to communicate even when they feel awkward because they will do them well later on in their own relationship," said Wenzel. "Communication is one key that improves all relationships: at work, in your romantic relationship, with your children."

About the Author

Jason Osler

Jason Osler is the national 'trends' columnist for CBC Radio.