Alternatives to ‘ghosting’

16 June 2020

Social media has brought a whole new range of opportunities and insecurities to relationships.

On the ‘down side’, those who date and have grown up with social media face the likes of ‘ghosting’.

For those lucky enough to not have experienced it, ‘ghosting’ is when someone you’ve been seeing suddenly cuts off all contact, seemingly vanishing off the face of the earth without explanation.

Has the other person stopped replying because you just said something weird? Have they met someone new? Do they not actually like you?

It’s enough to make you feel paranoid.

But as if that’s not enough, ‘orbiting’ is the latest trend. Said to be the next iteration to ‘ghosting’, orbiting takes it a step further.

That same person who ‘ghosted’ you keeps watching all of your Instagram and Snapchat stories, retweeting your tweets, and even leaving the odd comment on your photos – all while ignoring your direct texts or messages. And they may carry on doing it for months, or even years.

Anna Iovine, who coined the phrase, says ‘orbiting’ is so-called because the person doing the ‘orbiting’ is keeping you “close enough to see each other; far enough to never talk”.

Which, if you’re hoping the relationship may be rekindled, or you’re looking to make a clean break, can be really frustrating.

So why do people do it?

People may do it to keep their options open. It’s a way of them showing you: ‘Hey, I’m still here’, but not getting into a relationship again. They keep lines of communication ever so slightly open, just in case they decide they want to start things up again.

Or they may have FOMO. What? Fear of missing out. They feel like maybe they’re missing out on you and your amazing life by not pursuing a relationship.

While it’s easy to dismiss ‘orbiters’ as game-players, this kind of behaviour can be really debilitating for the person being ‘orbited’. It’s the worst kind of mixed signal, because the ‘orbiter’ ignores all attempts at getting in touch in a meaningful way.

And some people get badly affected by it and obsess over ‘orbiters’, analysing their own Instagram stories to figure out why that person has been watching them.

Of course, one way out is to hit the block button – and not look back.

But sometimes we’re flattered by attention, even sometimes from those we’d rather keep at arm’s length.

Options to ‘ghosting’

We often don’t explain our reasons for ending a relationship because it can feel impossible to know what to say. How do you reject someone kindly? What if they reply? And is there a non-awkward way to do it?

Assuming face-to-face is out of the question, what’s the best message to send someone?

Jean Twenge, professor of social psychology at San Diego State University, suggests: It’s been fun hanging out lately but I don’t think we’re meant to be a couple.

‘To be honest’ is a good way to deliver unwelcome news, she says, while: ‘I don’t think we’re meant to be a couple’ is more gentle than some alternatives.

Today’s younger generations are very interested in emotional safety and don’t want to upset others – that’s one of the reasons they ‘ghost’ in the first place, says the professor.

“If they do send a break-up text, they’ll want it to be as gentle as possible. One thing I would add is, if this relationship has gone beyond, say, three dates, a text isn’t enough – it deserves at least a phone call.”

Relate counsellor Peter Saddington, suggests: Hi, hope you’re good. I really enjoyed getting to know you but if I’m honest, I’m not feeling a real connection between us. It was lovely meeting you.

“If you’re ending a long-term relationship, we’d suggest talking face-to-face,” he says. “But if you’ve just been on a few dates, then it’s probably acceptable to do it by text.

“Sending a kindly worded but clear text is likely to make you both feel better.

“Most people don’t find it easy to end a relationship or to take responsibility for the decision, which is why they end up ‘ghosting’. We tend to avoid difficult situations because we don’t want other people to think badly of us.

“If you want to end things in a good way, it’s better to talk about yourself. Say: ‘I’m not feeling a connection,’ rather than blaming the other person and picking out faults in them.

“This example is honest and takes ownership, but also emphasises that it was good getting to know the person. It doesn’t suggest staying friends – and I’d avoid saying this unless you’re genuinely interested in a friendship with that person.”

Celebrity dating expert Lady Nadia Essex suggests: I wanted to say that I really enjoyed us chatting and I would love to see you again, but for me it would be as friends. Not sure if you would be keen for that?

“I actually received this text from a guy recently, and it was the best rejection I’ve ever had! I wasn’t angry or upset,” she says. “I respected him for having the balls to say it – rather than just ghost me – and it was so eloquent I was fine with it.”

Scientist Sameer Chaudhry, University of North Texas, suggests: I feel we aren’t compatible and this relationship isn’t working for me. So I’d like to end all further communication and wish you the best in the future.

“A short, matter of fact note is best,” he says, “leaving no suggestion you’re open to changing your mind and making it perfectly clear these are your choices and you’re happy to own them without further debate.

“While nobody likes rejection, knowing where you stand is better in the long run.

“Saying things like, ‘I enjoyed the date and thought you were a nice person’ might suit some people, but it can create uncertainty and leave them with unanswered questions: ‘If I’m so great, why isn’t she into me?’ or ‘Maybe he’ll change his mind.’

“Make sure you do it privately, never on public social media, and remember they can always share whatever you write to them, so be careful what you say.”

Dating coach Hayley Quinn suggests: Hey [name] thanks for meeting me yesterday. I’m pretty sure you feel the same, but I didn’t feel a romantic connection. Always awkward to be the first to say, but didn’t want to be one of those ghosts.

“This message takes full responsibility and makes it clear you don’t want to see them again, rather than something like: ‘Maybe we can meet again at some point.’

“It suggests the other person feels the same, which helps save their pride (and most of the time they will feel the same). But it’s also playful and fun, which is important, especially if you’re sending it after a first date.”

If you’d like to talk about any of this with one of our counsellors give our friendly appointments team a call on 01604 634400.

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