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Ghosting in Emerging Adults’ Romantic Relationships: The Digital Dissolution Disappearance Strategy


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The purpose of this study is to examine relational dissolution using the technique of ghosting. This qualitative study explores the emerging adults’ dissolution strategies leading up to and through enactment of disengagement through mediated contexts. Participants (N = 99) completed questionnaires about their ghosting familiarity and participation as initiators or noninitiators. The majority of participants reported participating in both roles. Five themes described why initiators chose to enact ghosting, and three themes chronicled their ghosting decision-making processes. Noninitiators illustrated how they realized ghosting occurred through three themes. This exploratory investigation offers a definitive definition of ghosting and a modern discussion of its contents to dissolution, communication, and romantic relationship development.
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Ghosting in Emerging
Adults’ Romantic
Relationships: The
Digital Dissolution
Disappearance Strategy
Leah E. LeFebvre
, Mike Allen
Ryan D. Rasner
, Shelby Garstad
Aleksander Wilms
, and
Callie Parrish
The purpose of this study is to examine relational dissolution using the technique of
ghosting. This qualitative study explores the emerging adults’ dissolution strategies
leading up to and through enactment of disengagement through mediated contexts.
Participants (N¼99) completed questionnaires about their ghosting familiarity and
participation as initiators or noninitiators. The majority of participants reported
participating in both roles. Five themes described why initiators chose to enact
ghosting, and three themes chronicled their ghosting decision-making processes.
Noninitiators illustrated how they realized ghosting occurred through three
themes. This exploratory investigation offers a definitive definition of ghosting and
a modern discussion of its contents to dissolution, communication, and romantic
relationship development.
Department of Communication Studies, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL, USA
Department of Communication, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, WI, USA
Department of Communication Studies, Louisiana State University College of Humanities and Social
Sciences, Baton Rouge, LA, USA
Department of Social Work, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, USA
University of California at Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Leah E. LeFebvre, Department of Communication Studies, University of Alabama, 210-J Reese Phifer Hall,
Box 870172, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487, USA.
Imagination, Cognition and
Personality: Consciousness in
Theory, Research, and Clinical
0(0) 1–26
!The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0276236618820519
ghosting, relationship dissolution, mediated communication, interpersonal commu-
nication, imagined interactions
The ghosting phenomenon gained attention in popular press; however, empir-
ical examinations lag behind current relational dissolution linguistic etymology.
Most individuals forming romantic relationships experience relational dissolu-
tion (Sprecher, Zimmerman, & Fehr, 2014), and the initiator must decide the
dissolution process. Originally posted in the 2006 Urban Dictionary, the term
ghosting gained attention and popularity in verbiage and practice and continued
to gain traction throughout 2014 and 2015 (Hansen-Bundy, 2016). Urban
Dictionary (2006) described ghosting as “the act of disappearing on your friends
without notice or cancelling plans with little or no choice.” Currently, minimal
academic literature on this phenomenon exists (e.g., Freedman, Powell, Le, &
Williams, 2018; LeFebvre, 2017a). Beyond the folklore of Urban Dictionary, a
definition is sought that requires a more developed conceptualization and
Popular press articles mention said practice, as it has emerged on the rela-
tionship forefront in association with technology and dissolution behaviors.
Ghosting may reflect an old relationship dissolution strategy—avoidance;
however, the mediated context offers nuances in its enactments. Popular
press articles (e.g., GQ,Huffington Post,Vogue, etc.) cited in this study con-
sider ghosting a contemporary dissolution strategy. Many people utilize medi-
ated communication to initiate relationships (LeFebvre, 2017b) and thus also
use technology to implement relational dissolution. This study assists to
demystify and consequently define a practice that has yet to be fully under-
stood. This study describes what ghosting is and situates how ghosting fits into
the larger information and communication technologies (ICTs) and mediated
interpersonal communication discussion. This extension further delineates how
previous dissolution scholarship informs contemporary practices while simul-
taneously demonstrating how indirect ghosting strategies function differently
in a mediated context.
Relationship Dissolution
In a YouGov survey, Americans admitted experience with ghosting both as ini-
tiator (or ghoster) and noninitiator (or ghostee; Moore, 2014).
Initiators are
able to vanish in an accessible and highly connected society, thus impacting
noninitiators. Relationship dissolution, the transition from coupling to
2Imagination, Cognition and Personality
singlehood, occurs bilaterally (i.e., mutually initiated) or unilaterally (i.e., self-
initiated or partner initiated). Bilateral breakups indicate both partners share
responsibility for relationship dissolution (without a clear initiator or noninitia-
tor), whereas, in unilateral breakups, one partner initiates dissolution. When
researchers combined breakup accounts from both partners, bilateral breakups
remain rare. Therefore, unilateral dissolutions more frequently exist, and the
postdissolution process reflects distinct breakup roles (Doering, 2010). This
study focused on initiation by one partner and reaction from one partner
to another.
Distress over a breakup depends on the dissolution strategy, time since break-
up, initiator role, relationship feelings, and feelings of betrayal (see Field, Diego,
Pelaz, Deeds, & Delgado, 2009). Baxter (1985) determined that dissolution
strategies vary along two basic dimensions (see Figure 1). The x-axis represents
self- or other-orientation; this dimension indicates the degree to which an initi-
ator protects the partner. The other-oriented approach attempts to decrease hurt
by avoiding embarrassment or manipulation of the partner, whereas the self-
oriented approach displays concern for self at the partner’s expense. The y-axis
represents indirectness and directness; this dimension refers to the extent the
partner communicates the desire to exit the relationship. Direct strategies are
explicit, straightforward, and candid, whereas indirect strategies are implicit,
Figure 1. Baxter’s model of disengagement strategies. See Baxter (1985).
LeFebvre et al. 3
ambiguous, and unclear. The two dimensions combine to form four disengage-
ment strategy categories (for review, see Baxter, 1985; Zimmerman, 2009). This
study investigates indirect disengagement strategies of the initiator and oscillates
between self- and other-orientations applied through technological affordances
surrounding ghosting.
Previously, Baxter (1979) found that withdraw/avoidance tactic is a preferred
strategy for casual or intimate relationship. However, Cody (1982) called into
question the types of strategies individuals employ in order to disengage or
dissolve their intimate relationships. As such, Cody utilized two studies to
derive a five-factor typology of disengagement strategies: positive tone, justifi-
cation, de-escalation, behavioral de-escalation, and negative identity manage-
ment. Positive tone refers to initiators who express grief over the disengagement,
or report caring, liking, or loving toward noninitiators. Justification suggests
initiators provide rationale or reasons for desiring termination. De-escalation
demonstrates initiators request seeing each other less. Behavioral de-escalation
describes initiators withdrawal/avoidance from the target while offering no
verbal statement. Negative identity management pinpoints a strong dislike for
noninitiators or demonstrates a lack of concern for their feelings. Cody found
that greater intimacy led to increased obligation; in turn, greater intimacy was
related to more positive tone, de-escalation, and justification. Conversely,
behavioral de-escalation and negative identity management indicate no explicit
desire to see the partner again or even communicate. As such, these two strat-
egies imply little regard for the noninitiator and that the termination is imminent
(Cody, 1982). In sum, initiators who disengage from their relationships, espe-
cially those with lower intimacy, may feel less obligation to justify their inten-
tions. These implications offer understanding into ghosting practices.
One indirect self-oriented strategy is withdrawal (Regan, 2017) that involves
reducing communication frequency or intimacy without informing the partner
about disengagement reasons (Baxter, 1984). Indirect strategies involve other-ori-
entation—fading away does not require explicit termination, instead the initiator
slowly and implicitly withdraws (Regan, 2017). Sprecher, Zimmerman, and
Abraham (2010) found that direct and other-oriented strategies were kindest,
whereas indirect and self-oriented were the least compassionate. Moreover,
Cody (1982) highlighted behavioral de-escalation and negative identity manage-
ment exemplify initiator-focused strategies that disregard noninitiators. Therefore,
when applying indirect self-oriented methods from face-to-face (FtF), relation-
ships ended without acknowledging partner concern or their feelings.
Emerging Adults
The advent of emerging mediated technologies increased access and opportuni-
ties for relationship initiation (LeFebvre, 2017b) and subsequently dating dis-
solution opportunities. As relationships become more multimodal, people draw
4Imagination, Cognition and Personality
on various interactive media at different access points in their relationships.
Emerging adults (EAs) frequently integrate contemporary technologies to
define, clarify, and communicate relationships (Stanley, Rhoades, &
Fincham, 2011).
Emerging adulthood, a transitional life course period from 18 to 29 years, is
the life stage between adolescence and adulthood (Arnett, 2000, 2015).
Currently, EAs have a high-level technology use, for instance, 97% own a com-
puter and 94% a mobile smartphone (Pew Research Center, 2018). EAs have
been technologically connected most of their lives, particularly throughout ado-
lescence and early adulthood. For instance, popular social networking sites
(SNS) began in the early 2000s with MySpace and Facebook (Digital Trends,
2016), and EAs grew up relying on technology and applications (e.g., Snapchat,
Instagram, Facebook, etc.).
Emerging adulthood includes a period of romantic and sexual exploration,
where individuals encounter increased opportunities to consider their relation-
ships and identity (Morgan, 2012). EAs have less structured and scripted rela-
tionship development (Stanley et al., 2011). Prior traditional FtF romantic
relationship searches for a partner relied on places shared in common that per-
mitted persons to meet through closed-field partnering (e.g., church, school, and
employment; see Bredow, Cate, & Huston, 2008). The development of social
networking technology (i.e., Internet, phone applications, SNS, etc.) pushed
relationship initiation beyond FtF contact (Collins & Gillath, 2012; LeFebvre,
2017b). While previous emerging adulthood scholarship discussed first romantic
events and turning points leading toward escalation, minimal empirical research
has investigated how EAs communicate and manage dissolution and how their
relationships dissolve (Morgan, 2012). EAs’ romantic relationships are fragile,
unstable, and often terminate (Fincham & Cui, 2011; van Dulmen, Claxton,
Collins, & Simpson, 2014). Approximately 70% of college students, typically
EAs, have experienced a romantic relationship breakup with many experiencing
multiple turnovers and instability (Knox, Zusman, & Nieves, 1998; Reifman,
2011). Breakups are emotionally painful, frequently cited among life’s most
distressing psychological events (Kendler, Hettema, Butera, Gardner, &
Prescott, 2003; Lukacs & Quan-Haase, 2015). Emerging adulthood represents
a transition time open to learning how to breakup with ICTs (Meier &
Allen, 2007).
Relationship Dissolution for EAs
Weisskirch and Delevi (2013) found that dissolution, as with initiation and
maintenance, is shifting to incorporate more technology, particularly for EAs.
Prior findings indicate that the least caring and compassionate, indirect, self-
oriented, and distancing strategies often involve actions that utilize ICTs: text-
ing, instant messaging, voice mail, e-mail, or SNS (Sprecher et al., 2010).
LeFebvre et al. 5
Texting is utilized most frequently (Weisskirch & Delevi, 2013). Breaking up via
technology may emulate avoidance via distant communication, where individ-
uals separate themselves physically and psychologically from their partners
(Sprecher et al., 2010). ICTs afford individuals easier ghosting ability
(Gershon, 2010). This study explores what ghosting is.
Research Question 1 (RQ1): How is ghosting conceptualized by EAs?
Many popular press articles discussed ghosting as a relational withdrawal prac-
tice, where the initiator ends the relationship with an indirect strategy, and the
noninitiator becomes hurt, lacks closure, and might confront the initiator
(Borgueta, 2015). The authors define the ghoster as an individual initiating the
disappearance or ceasing communication, whereas the noninitiator is someone
who has been ghosted or ghostee. Individuals can enact relationship dissolution
roles as initiator and noninitiator, thereby identifying with both roles. Ghosting
may create ambiguity and uncertainty in noninitiators wherein they are unable
to achieve closure after the indirect breakup. Particularly, if behavioral de-
escalation or negative identity management strategies (see Cody, 1982) are
employed by the initiators. Initiators do not communicate nor explain.
Noninitiators therefore must decide how to proceed when sensemaking the dis-
engagement in an attempt to reduce uncertainty. Uncertainty in this context by
noninitiators constitutes a lack of confidence about how to proceed (Berger &
Bradac, 1982; Berger & Calabrese, 1975). Therefore, this study examines these
roles, initiator and noninitiator, separately to determine how ghosting is enacted
and observed.
This study focused on two stages: avoiding (removing physical connection
and closing off communication channels) and terminating (ceasing romantic
communication and dissolving the relationship; see Knapp & Vangelisti, 2010
for all five processes). The initiator, paired with technology, actively refrained
from contact, and usually the noninitiator experienced uncertainty about what
went wrong. Cupach and Metts (1994) critiqued the relational dissolution
stages, arguing that the model failed to highlight the noninitiator in a unilateral,
one-person initiated breakup. Dissolution research should further examine the
unilateral process for both initiator and noninitiator and their separate process-
es. This study begins to address the gap in dissolution research surrounding the
ghosting experience, especially as many noninitiating partners disapprove of
technological dissolution, whereas initiators may prefer it. The following ques-
tions explore the intersection of technology surrounding the interpersonal dis-
solution process of ghosting for both initiator and noninitiator.
Research Question 2 (RQ2): How (A) and why (B) do EA initiators enact ghosting?
Research Question 3 (RQ3): How do EA noninitiators observe ghosting?
6Imagination, Cognition and Personality
This inductive exploratory investigation offers the ability to understand how
individuals have experienced ghosting. The methodology provides grounds for
constructing meaning through an interpretative process. The open-ended ques-
tions illuminate respondents’ personalized accounts of ghosting, the communi-
cative process for each role, and the emergent implications therein.
Participants (N¼99) were EAs ranging from 18 to 30 (M¼22.16, standard
deviation [SD]¼0.49, Mdn ¼21).
Ethnicities included 86.9% Caucasian,
5.1% multiracial, 4% Hispanic, 2% African American, and 2% Asian
American. Education levels varied: 33.3% high school diploma/GED equiva-
lent, 18.2% associates, 35.4% baccalaureates, 6.1% masters, 1% doctoral, and
5.1% other (e.g., some college, technical degrees, or unidentified). They resided
in 48.5% rural, 38.4% suburban, and 13.1% urban.
Participants identified as 61.6% females and 38.4% males. Participants self-
identified sexual orientations as 92.9% mixed sex, 3% same sex, 3% bisexual,
and 1% unidentified.
On average, participants experienced two relationships
(M¼2.19, SD ¼1.33) in their dating history, which ranged from zero to five
relationships. Relational status consisted of 33.3% not in a relationship, 31.3%
committed relationship (one person), 9.1% married, 10.1% casually dating
(multiple people), 7.1% never been in a romantic relationship, 5.1% casually
dating (one person), 3% separated, and 1% engaged. Participants checked-all-
that-apply for relationship initiation modes through their relationship history:
96% face-to-face, 46.5% mobile dating applications, 18.2% online sites, 13.1%
blind dating, 2% speed dating, and 3% unidentified.
EA undergraduate and graduate students
(N¼18) enrolled in an advanced
interpersonal communication course assisted in data collection to fulfill a
course requirement at a mid-sized mountain university. Following the
University’s Institutional Review Board approval, students received training
on collection procedures. Each student recruited approximately five individuals
utilizing both convenience and snowball sampling strategies. Anyone familiar
with the ghosting phenomenon was eligible;
many participants recruited from
their immediate personal and social networks of EAs with any sexual orienta-
tion. See the next note
for further clarification about the eligibility—inclusion
and exclusion processes.
Participants voluntarily arranged a time to meet with researchers FtF or via
technological media (e.g., Skype, Facetime, etc.) to allow for recordability of
their responses. Participants unfamiliar with ghosting or outside the age
LeFebvre et al. 7
requirements were excluded. Thus, only those participants familiar with the
ghosting phenomenon were eligible. After completing a consent form and demo-
graphic survey, participants were prompted to answer open- and closed-ended
questions about whether they had experienced ghosting as initiator, noninitia-
tor, or both. Those participants who had not participated as initiator or non-
initiator were eliminated from the remainder of the survey.
Participants answered open-ended questions that included: “Why did you
choose to ghost another?” “Why did you choose to ghost rather than directly
indicate your intentions?” and “When did you decide (or at what point) to
ghost?” Then, participants answered questions about ghosting from their per-
spective as a noninitiator. Open-ended questions read, “Why do you think you
were ghosted (in the past)?” “What do you feel are the reasons or motivations as
to why you were ghosted?” and “In what specific conditions (e.g., time of day,
location, etc.) or mediums (e.g., text, Facebook, FtF, etc.) did the ghosting
occur?” Participants were asked one final question, “After completing the
survey, is there anything we should consider about the ghosting experience
that we have not asked you?” Participants could clarify any information.
This study employed thematic analysis and descriptive statistics to analyze the
findings. We qualitatively reviewed participants’ responses for thematic qualities
utilizing analytic induction (Bulmer, 1979). Results identified how participants
conceptualized ghosting (RQ1), why and how initiators enacted ghosting (RQ2),
and how noninitiators observed ghosting (RQ3). All participants were included
in the conceptualization of ghosting to answer RQ1 but not for RQ2 to RQ3.
Only those participants that were familiar with the initiator (RQ2) and non-
initiator roles (RQ3) were included for each question. Initially, the undergrad-
uate and graduate students transcribed screening questions, and then the
primary researcher and a graduate student read through the transcriptions to
ensure clarity and accuracy with the recorded interviews and open-ended
responses. Screening and open-ended survey responses were open coded,
which allowed sharing and discussion of all experiences. This process was first
completed individually by all researchers. Undergraduate, graduate students,
and primary experienced researchers outlined possible responses from that dis-
cussion, whereby groupings started to emerge. From these groupings, we per-
formed axial coding, which helped to identify codes that created linkages
between data and themes, and themes that formulated a coding scheme. After
reviewing the themes and discussing similarities and differences, we ensured that
all data fit into the coding scheme—the primary researcher and graduate student
designed a coding scheme. The undergraduate and graduate students then tested
the coding scheme to ensure all data fit. Some modifications were necessary to
8Imagination, Cognition and Personality
collapse, integrate, and finalize the coding scheme. Grammatical errors in
responses were corrected.
Results and Preliminary Discussion
Results and discussion are intertwined to consider the findings and simulta-
neously interpret their meaning in relation to the larger interpersonal and tech-
nological frameworks. To delineate the findings, RQ1 provides the holistic
conceptualization of ghosting including all responses from participants, RQ2
explores the initiator perspective determining how and why they performed
ghosting, and RQ3 provides the noninitiator perspective.
Conceptualizing Ghosting (RQ1)
Participants conceptualized ghosting and indicated ghosting was avoidance or
withdrawal strategy, primarily enacted using mediated communication. The
ghosting phenomenon remained fairly ambiguous, yet encompassed synonyms
such as avoid, disappear, disengage, exit, separate, or stop.
A 19-year-old
female articulated:
. . . Ghosting is essentially the act of not returning someone’s calls, messages,
essentially cutting off all contact with that person, whether that is in an [old]
relationship or a new relationship. In the end, it just removes you from the rela-
tionship all together.
Participants expressed that ghosting was undesirable or surrounded misunder-
stood behavior(s) online, off-line, or in multiple modalities early in relationship
development. A 21-year-old female expressed, ... You want to have more
control of the situation. You want them to be the person to do it so you
don’t have any regrets . . . Initiators control the exit in ghosting by applying
the use of ICTs.
Participants frequently discussed the use of technology with the ghosting
phenomenon. As a 23-year-old female noted, “I definitely think it’s appropriate
if you like find someone on like Tinder. You start talking for a little bit but
you’re not into it, you can just start ghosting them.” Affordances garnered
through technology provide a new platform for ghosting representing that
someone is there but also not (only a form remains of what was). Ghosting
was enacted through private media (e.g., mobile phone, e-mail, or voice mail) or
public venues (e.g., SNS). Participants utilized mobile communication (texting)
as a frequent medium for ghosting. When partners did initiate communication
or showed a lack of texting, calling, Snapchat,Tinder, or FtF communication,
ghosting became evident. Basically, participants retrospectively noted that ini-
tiators made less time for them or provided no response (e.g., “When I text her
LeFebvre et al. 9
the next day saying that we ‘had fun’ last night and I was looking forward to
seeing her again. No responses for a few days ¼ghosted!”). Often ghosting was
enacted one-on-one in private media. A 29-year-old female described ghosting
as, “When you completely cut off all contact with someone. Whether it is social
media, phone, [or] avoiding them in person.” Ghosting predominantly occurred
through a mediated context, and in rare cases, initiators physically disappeared
(e.g., “Going to bed alone in the apartment we rented for the third time in a
row,” said a 22-year-old male). As noted by another 22-year-old male,
“Ghosting ‘began’ late at night, and all mediums of communication were
impacted, online, over text, and face-to-face.” Throughout mediated platforms,
ghosting occurred at any time, day or night, at the initiator’s discretion.
Initiator’s decided how to enact ghosting and when to avoid or reduce commu-
nication via technological platform—limiting communication both FtF access
and other SNS contact.
Many accounts offered by participants, from both initiators and noninitia-
tors, exemplified behavioral de-escalation and negative identity management
strategies (Cody, 1982) concurrently and sequentially occurring—initiator with-
draws from noninitiator without any verbal confirmation, all communication is
simply cutoff by initiator, and the initiator demonstrates a lack of concern for
the noninitiator. To summarize, in ghosting situations, communication ceased
without warning, either suddenly or via gradual reductions initiated through or
with assistance from mediated contexts. Drawing from the participants’
responses, the authors determined a definition to conceptualize ghosting.
Although the authors recognize the popular use of ghosting, this conceptuali-
zation offers a definitive definition that extends popularized media phenomena.
This definition extends the layperson definition as it brings to the forefront
ghosting initiation that originates through mediated communication.
Therefore, the authors offer this definition for the verb, ghosting.
Ghosting: Unilaterally ceasing communication (temporarily or permanently) in an
effort to withdraw access to individual(s) prompting relationship dissolution
(suddenly or gradually) commonly enacted via one or multiple technological
Participants responded to whether they experienced ghosting as initiator, non-
initiator, or both roles. They reported 29.3% initiator (ghoster), 25.3% non-
initiator (ghostee), 44.2% both roles, and 4% no role. The four (4%)
participants who were familiar with, but not experiencing, ghosting were exclud-
ed for RQ2 to RQ3. The majority of participants (74%) indicated that ghosting
was an inappropriate breakup strategy. Initiators (n¼69) on average had
10 Imagination, Cognition and Personality
ghosted 3.65 (SD ¼2.84) times (range from 1 to 12), while noninitiators had
been ghosted 2.39 (SD ¼1.79) times (range from 1 to 10). Noninitiators (n¼67)
experienced the last ghosting anywhere from 1 week to 9 years ago (M¼26.01,
SD ¼28.25, Mdn ¼12 months). Interestingly, participants’ experiences paral-
leled the genesis and adoption of online dating, mobile dating apps, and 4G
mobile communication.
How the Initiator Enacts Ghosting (RQ2A)
Initiators described decision-making dissolution processes. Three themes
emerged: (a) selecting a medium, (b) choosing the interval to implement, and (c)
implementing dissolution permanency.
Individuals maintained differing medium preferences when ghosting. The
medium involved a strategic choice to utilize a mediated context. A 22-year-
old female noted that “. . . ghosting has occurred entirely on Facebook, which
incidentally, is where we met.” Sometimes the initiation of the communication
or relationship paralleled the dissolution. Another participant, a 27-year-old
male, stated, “I was just talking to her on Tinder and stopped talking to her.”
He had met the potential partner through Tinder and felt no need to continue
communication, thus ceasing the initiation process of a relationship. The lack of
obligation to maintain contact could be a reason why individuals find ghosting
without FtF initiation easier to accomplish.
Participants noted that ghosting occurred along an interval from sudden to
gradual (on a continuum). Sudden ghosting appeared as halting or stopping,
whereas gradual ghosting involved slowing or fading intervals. Sudden ghosting,
represented by a 20-year-old female, “. . . you are going to ghost, don’t text the
person. I would not text the person back, I would drop them completely.” Two
females noted that expedience determined dissolution: “I think you could slowly
drift apart and stop talking but I don’t know if that’s really ghosting. So maybe
it’s more out of the blue and sudden,” or “I think the person decided they
weren’t interested. Instead of letting me know; it’s easier for them to let the
relationship ‘fizzle’ and slowly disappear or stop talking/responding.” Unlike
the sudden ghosting, a gradual ghosting slowly decreases communication over a
period of time and extends uncertainty during the dissolution process.
Ghosting occurred as permanency along a continuum from the short term (i.e.,
ephemeral) to long term (i.e., permanent). Short-term ghosting transpired around
situational factors (e.g., vacations, travel, or inebriation) or less innocuous or
intentional rationale (e.g., distraction or forgetfulness). As one 29-year-old
male stated, “If I ghost them, yeah, it’s like a temporary shutdown just for the
time being.” Technology provides the ability for easy access; however, partici-
pants noted that does not mean they cannot disappear or cease communication as
needed. Long-term ghosting from a 24-year-old male meant, “I would consider
ghosting is going like cold turkey and quit talking to a girl completely, just shut
LeFebvre et al. 11
her out of your life.” Permanent dissolution denies resurrection or the hope that
communication between partners (or relationships) would come back to life.
Ghosting allows initiators to determine, temporary to permanent status, or the
degree for ending communication with the noninitiator. Ghosting primarily
resides at the end points without much latitude between—either without intention
(permanent) or temporary (based on current convenient). Noninitiators did not
often recognize forewarning from initiators along the continuum which created
no ability to decrease uncertainty.
To summarize, ghosting for the initiator frequently occurred as a sudden
action. The action is meant to permanently cease communication between ini-
tiator and noninitiator.
Why the Initiator Enacts Ghosting (RQ2B)
Participants who initiated ghosting discussed why. Five themes emerged: conve-
nience,attractiveness,negatively valenced interaction,relationship state, and
safety. The first theme, convenience refers to participants favoring practicality
of ghosting over other dissolution strategies. An 18-year-old male explained, “I
wanted a way to end the relationship that did not involve anything face-to-face.
It was easier this way . . . . A 22-year-old male said, “Ghosting was easier to do
rather than setting up a time to end the relationship or deal with the emotions of
either myself or the current partner.” Thus, ghosting provided a more conve-
nient alternative than FtF dissolution.
The second theme, attraction refers to the selection process centering on
physical, emotional, or intellectual appeal. Relationship initiation on online
dating and mobile apps facilitates access to more dating and mating opportu-
nities, thereby expanding information available (e.g., appearance, occupation,
interests, etc.) and delaying initial FtF interaction (Bredow et al., 2008). Gate
features help users decide to approach or avoid potential partners (Regan,
2017). A 25-year-old male expressed his ghosting strategy, “When the attraction
to the person becomes nonexistent and you can tell that it is not going to be a
good match.” Ghosting may occur as virtual proximity provides access to
potential partners beyond physical constraints, widening the field, and increas-
ing accessibility (LeFebvre, 2017b; Regan, 2017) but not decreasing the limited
or minimal desire to commit or maintain a relationship. Some participants
described their lack of attraction varying from immediate to gradual—
demonstrating a loss of investment or increased boredom. For instance, a
21-year-old male said, “I chose to ghost because I was no longer interested
and the relationship wasn’t serious enough to warrant a more personal
medium.” Interest did not exist; therefore, avoidance via technological outlets
appeared the easiest exit.
The next theme, negatively valenced interaction summarized participants’ dis-
interest after unfavorable behaviors from the noninitiator. Commonly, the
12 Imagination, Cognition and Personality
initiator expressed negative interactions that caused anger, frustration, or tox-
icity. These interactions produced the tendency for the initiator to desire with-
drawal leading to dissolution and no further communication. A 22-year-old
male said, “A change in someone’s feelings towards the other person, maybe
an embarrassment or a sudden distaste for another person that they’d rather not
actually, like, discuss or confront,” justified the decision to ghost. Ghosting
afforded an acceptable strategy to avoid uncomfortable or negative interactions.
The fourth theme, relationship state refers to the type (e.g., romantic partner,
friends, or acquaintances) and length (e.g., amount of time). Ghosting occurred
across a variety of relationship types rather than acknowledging the end or
change to relationship status (e.g., romantic to platonic); sometimes initiators
opted to neglect the relationship outright. Transitional changes included shifts
in relationship type, from an acquaintance or platonic relationship to a romantic
relationship, which often led to ghosting rather than a difficult define-the-
relationship conversation. When initiators enacted ghosting, they considered
the time investment and involvement in the relationship. For example, a 27-
year-old female said, “I chose to do it because I had only been on one date and
did not wish to continue to lead him on but felt awkward having that conver-
sation so I instead just stopped talking to him.” She used a singular interaction
(a date) to define what she believed to be the appropriate amount of time to
ghost a potential partner. A 21-year-old male expressed:
I mean if you get someone’s number on a Saturday night and you start talking to
them and then by like Wednesday they’re being a little weird. I guess that’s fine to
stop talking to them but I mean I think if you’re actually going to date someone for
awhile, then at least have the common courtesy to say hey I don’t want to do
this anymore.
This participant refers to an appropriate time line for ghosting. A brief period of
communication was not considered a significant enough amount of time to
require a formal breakup and thus ghosting was the chosen dissolution strategy.
Alternatively, when a relationship had formed and a couple dated for an
amount of time, ghosting was no longer considered a fitting dissolution strategy.
The proper time depended on the relationship type and length and fluctuated
depending on the medium in which the interaction originated.
The last theme, safety involved questions surrounding security, dangerous
situations, self-protection, or personal well-being. Ghosting allows individuals
a practical, easy way to ensure safety. One 21-year-old explained, “fear of the
person going crazy,” warranted the decision to ghost especially “if somebody’s
being like inappropriate, creepy, or weird” (female, 18-years-old). Another par-
ticipant indicated that when personal safety is threatened, ghosting was suitable.
Ceasing communication through technological media provided a feeling of
LeFebvre et al. 13
safety that in-person interactions did not. Overall, initiators provided ration-
alizations for enacting ghosting.
How the Noninitiator Observes Ghosting (RQ3)
When experiencing ghosting, noninitiators emphasized how and when they
knew ghosting had occurred, and whether they were forewarned. Three
themes, modified communication, lessening interest, or change in relationship
status emerged.
The noninitiator recognized modified communication patterns through three
potential sources: absenteeism in communication, inadequate reciprocity, and epi-
phanic communication. Noninitiators’ discussion of enacted ghosting time line
varied greatly from one to multiple nonresponses on one medium or several
media. The time spanned over hours, days, and months. Participants expressed
understanding that ghosting may involve multiple communication forms. Most
often, the initiator ceased communication. For instance, absenteeism in commu-
nication is where initiators become absent in all media and communication. In
addition, initiator communication may decrease gradually rather than abruptly
creating inadequate reciprocity in communication. Noninitiators realized disso-
lution changing from normative to irregular communication patterns. A 22-
year-old female expressed, “They would not make an effort to start conversation
and would give me one-word responses. They would also only sometimes
respond to me or text me.” Another noninitiator, a 29-year-old male, indicated
the dissolution was not clear:
I was not sure initially. This young woman was very quiet, introvert (seemingly), so
when I didn’t hear anything for a day I wasn’t too concerned. But thought after a
day when I didn’t hear from her that it was a strange that she didn’t respond. Even
with a quick text, “Yeah that was fun and we will talk soon/I will see you soon.”
After nothing for 48 hours, he figured it was over. His partner decreased in
reciprocity until none existed. Modified communication stimulated either imme-
diate or retrospective insights or epiphanic communication. A revelation retro-
spectively identified relationship dissolution. Retrospectively, noninitiators
realized the initiator communicated an intention—because noninitiator mes-
sages were unanswered and ignored. A 25-year-old female said, “I knew from
the moment that I received his text and then I never heard anything from him
again. I never got a reason for why he wanted to end things . . . Modified
communication patterns prompted uncertainty, leaving noninitiators to navi-
gate the consequences.
Contrarily, noninitiators observed lessening interest to various degrees.
Relational de-escalation may forewarn the termination. One 25-year-old
female described, “I had to buy my own drinks after dinner,” while a 21-year-
14 Imagination, Cognition and Personality
old female stated, “We talked about how our relationship was not going any-
where . . . Participants did not anticipate indirect technological withdrawal or
ghosting—the forewarning was not exclusive to mediated communication rather
transpired through multiple mediated and FtF communication. A 20-year-old
female said, “I knew that he was not entirely happy with the speed of the rela-
tionship, so I knew something was bound to happen. I did not expect ghosting,
though.” Without explicit forewarning, noninitiators were unlikely to expect
ghosting but felt the decrease in intimacy, connection, or attentiveness.
Noninitiators discussed instances where no forewarning occurred; partners van-
ished without trace from technological media and physical forums, often
Noninitiators experienced indirect notions of ghosting through partners’
change in relationship status on a mediated platform. EAs exploring dating
may have one or more relational partners, pursuing other options before
making a longer term selection. Therefore, ghosting may easily dissolve relation-
ships with multiple partners through noncommunication. Several participants
noted that the previous partners’ relationship status changed from “single” to
“in a relationship.” Only “When they got into a relationship with someone else,”
did a 22-year-old female realize she had been ghosted. Ghosting became trans-
parent when the noninitiator, via a public technological venue, became aware of
a commitment to another person.
Summative Discussion
Ghosting describes a relationship dissolution strategy enabled through mediated
communication. Nuances afforded by emerging social networking and technol-
ogies alter the means and methods for interpersonal communication; as many
relationships start via technology, the ability to dissolve via the same medium is
desirable for EA initiators.
In this section, we expand the results by offering larger contributions and
implications. To begin, we delineate how ghosting intersects with two theoretical
frameworks, relationship dissolution theory and imagined interactions. From
these discussions, a conceptual distinction is offered to highlight unique differ-
ences embodied in ghosting. We answer questions about how ghosting deviates
from relationship constructions and meets interpersonal communication con-
ceptualizations. Last, we offer practical and relationship implications, limita-
tions and future directions, and conclude with the discussion of the digital
dissolution disappearance strategy.
Relationship Dissolution Theory
Ghosting resembles withdrawal and avoidance dissolution strategies, although it
exclusively focuses on indirect strategies through mediated channels.
LeFebvre et al. 15
Specifically, Baxter (1984) outlined the relationship dissolution theory that
includes the complex path for both partners. She identified six features: timeli-
ness (i.e., sudden or gradual), role (i.e., initiator or noninitiator), action (i.e.,
direct or indirect), negotiation (i.e., rapid or protracted), repair ability (i.e.,
present or absent), and outcome (i.e., continuation or termination). She later
connected the features to disengagement strategies (see Baxter, 1985). Similarly,
Cody (1982) expanded on Baxter’s (1979) understanding by offering behavioral
de-escalation and negative identity management strategies that indicated little or
no regard for noninitiators. Drawing on previous scholarship, this study con-
nects ghosting to previous dissolution theory and strategies. Previously, Baxter
(1985) examined both initiators, direct or indirect orientations, while Cody
(1982) offered a typology to better understand the distinctions between initiators
and noninitiators. The present findings narrow in on the indirect disengagement
strategies from the initiator’s perspective. Ghosting strategies operate only in
indirect quadrants, as ghosting uses specific media to formulate four specific
indirect ghosting dissolution strategies.
We concentrate on two new indirect dimensions that combine to form four
ghosting disengagement strategy categories (see Figure 2). The new x-axis repre-
sents permanency (short term to long term) indicating the degree or time period in
which dissolution exists. Short term, or temporary ghosting, appears to operate
Figure 2. Indirect ghosting disengagement strategies.
16 Imagination, Cognition and Personality
based on the initiators’ desires (e.g., self-oriented), whereas, in the long term,
initiators chose to terminate the relationship without providing any lingering
hope or leaving an opening to rekindle the relationship with the partner (e.g.,
other-oriented). These orientations take into consideration Baxter’s (1985) self-
and other-oriented quadrants. The y-axis overlays the execution (indirectness to
directness); specifically, it represents the interval initiators who choose to dissolve
from sudden to gradual. The sudden strategy is closer to a direct strategy,
although initiators do not specifically communicate to the noninitiator. The grad-
ual strategy applies an indirect approach, opting out of any confrontation, by
slowly de-escalating the quality and quantity of communication.
This extension further delineates how previous dissolution scholarship
informs contemporary practices while simultaneously demonstrating how indi-
rect ghosting strategies function differently in a mediated context.
Imagined Interactions
These findings offer distinctions between how initiators enact and noninitiators
observe ghosting. Ghosting offers a sequential process, especially in mediated
asynchronous communication; the delay may offer cognitive space between ini-
tiator and noninitiator exchanges. Imagined interactions (IIs) may inform pro-
cesses between intrapersonal and interpersonal communication in this context
(Honeycutt, 2003, 2019). In IIs, proactivity and discrepancy represent social
cognitive and communication conversational characteristics. Proactivity illus-
trates the intrapersonal communication prior to an anticipated experience
(Honeycutt, 2003, 2010), whereas discrepancy describes how closely intraper-
sonal communication aligns with the actual communicative outcomes or the
incongruence (Honeycutt, 2003, 2010). Although other IIs characteristics also
describe IIs, these two characteristics inform the anticipation of an interaction
and the disappointment from the discrepancy.
For instance, noninitiators may perceive the communication progressing
toward a relationship. Again Figure 2 begins to offer initial distinctions between
the types of ghosting. From these distinctions, this figure could determine how
the level of distress may vary for initiator and noninitiator. For noninitiators
who may have already begun to engage in proactive IIs, their outcomes might be
highly discrepant as the initiator may have prematurely ended the relationship
without the noninitiators knowledge. IIs help create relationship expectations
and can keep relationships alive, especially by replaying prior emotions and
conversations or rehearsing anticipated encounters. Noninitiators’ expectations
build from intrapersonal communication and may help maintain the notion of a
relationship through inadequate reciprocity, lessening interest, or absenteeism
that does not exist.
Specifically for noninitiators, the anticipated imagined interaction regrettably
continues as an intrapersonal dialogue. Thus, noninitiators may develop
LeFebvre et al. 17
discrepant IIs through unrealized and unresolved communication developed in
proactivity without interpersonal communication.
Conceptual Distinction—Communication or Relationship
In the conceptualization of ghosting, we implicitly assume the existence of a
relationship and what constitutes the minimum standard for being a relation-
ship. Unlike previous scholarship which often posits relationship dissolution as
withdrawal and avoidance posited within a relationship context. Relationship
dissolution scholars have focused on interpersonal relationships and communi-
cation practices within the relationship without specifically asking what consti-
tutes a relationship. Thus we ask: Does the use of ICTs afford opportunities for
interpersonal communication without a relationship? We argue yes. Dissolution
does not mandate a relationship rather only interpersonal communication.
When considering our findings, interpersonal scholars must further specify the
quality and quantity of communication exchanged. As participants’ interactions
suggested, ghosting occurred frequently in shallow relationships or those with
low-level intimacy and a short time length from the initiator’s perspective. The
initiator and noninitiator may differ as to whether a relationship existed partic-
ularly when ghosting occurs in the early initiation stage. Interpersonal commu-
nication occurs prior to ghosting, but the perception that a relationship has been
dissolved may differ depending on the perspective. When further conceptualiz-
ing ghosting, merit exists to better understand whether a relationship existed or
rather only interpersonal communication. Miller and Steinberg (1975) suggested
that relationships progress along a developmental continuum from noninterper-
sonal to interpersonal. Often relationships begin noninterpersonally, imperson-
ally, or nonintimately, and only social interactions qualify as interpersonal
(Miller & Steinberg, 1975). Relationships are locatable at a particular stage of
development because of discernable ways of communicating, even during the
initiation process at impersonal, shallow, or low-level commitment to more
interpersonal intimacy and established higher level commitment. Ghosting ques-
tions whether a relationship is locatable in its absence. Although the establish-
ment of a relationship may still be in question, this does not discount ghosting as
a dissolution strategy. Thereby, clarifying these conceptualization distinctions or
determining different levels within initiation and developing processes may war-
rant when ghosting is culturally inappropriate. Furthermore, further distinctions
may provide practical recommendations for mediated ghosting implementation
and practices.
Practical and Relational Implications
Ghosting may cause uncertainty and pain for both initiators and noninitiators,
as ghosting is a form of social rejection. The subsequent romantic breakup can
18 Imagination, Cognition and Personality
be emotionally distressing (Kendler et al., 2003). Meanings people derive from
their communication help determine their understanding of relationships and
simultaneously their associated uncertainty.
Ghosting can hurt and help both partners. If individuals are unable to direct-
ly confront their partner, Sciortino (2015) offered a differentiation between
ghosting and soft ghosting, which occurs when an individual disappears in a
relationship but with reasonable forewarning (as reflected in the indirect other-
oriented strategy, fading away). Forewarning may be a secondary option to
direct confrontation, as indirect forewarning still provides at least some retro-
spective behavioral justification for noninitiators. Relationship partners do not
always accurately report their dissolution initiation; however, initiators may
consider how best to save their partner’s face (Sprecher et al., 2014).
Ambiguous loss refers to uncertainty without finality or resolution that
remains unclear (Boss, 2007). Individuals use communication as a means of
acquiring information and decreasing uncertainty. Ghosting lacks guidelines
on how to react, as the noninitiator does not always know why the initiator is
not responding. Questions may arise, in which noninitiators wonder why they
became victims and what caused the sudden quiet treatment, such as: “What did
I do to cause this?” “What is wrong with me?” and “Why was I unable to read
the situation?” Noninitiators do not obtain closure or the ability to learn from
internal inadequacies or situational contexts and are no longer with a partner
rather possibly experiencing abandonment and ostracism. Ghosting creates
ambiguity and uncertainty in the noninitiators denying closure after the indirect
breakup (LeFebvre, 2017a). Ambiguity freezes the grief process. Previously con-
ceptualized, ambiguous loss refers to physical absence with psychological pres-
ence or psychological absence with physical presence (Boss, 2007); ghosting now
enables physical and psychological absence with technological presence
(LeFebvre, 2017b).
Limitations and Future Directions
Advent of new and emerging technologies increases generational differences and
gaps in relational experiences. Current EAs appear to have less structured and
scripted relationship development patterns (Stanley et al., 2011). Emerging
adulthood is a training ground for navigating interpersonal relationships and
determines how individuals communicate their relationship understanding
throughout their lives and applies technological etiquette (McDaniel &
Coyne, 2014; Veksler & Meyer, 2014). Future research should further examine
the dissolution strategies per generational partitions by illuminating how the
ghosting phenomenon has changed with current EAs versus people from gen-
erations prior to the Internet and SNS. In addition, this study uses a specific
population derived from a convenience community sample. Participants may
change their ability to apply ghosting strategies depending on life span
LeFebvre et al. 19
variations (e.g., socioeconomics, sexual orientation, location, etc.). Ghosting
may be an emerging adulthood term; hence, the frequency and prevalence
may change. Future research should examine the experiences beyond romantic
dissolution contexts.
Individuals experiencing ghosting are often left without closure and ask
themselves questions about the ended relationship. As technological dissolution
lacks immediacy, individuals often have few options to seek information and
reduce their uncertainty. Future studies should examine the uncertainty of non-
initiators experience, specifically how uncertainty determines noninitiators’
experience in the dissolution process. Mutual friends or overlaps in social net-
works are limited and do not enable individuals to find evidence supporting
assumptions and diminishing lingering emotions. Future research should exam-
ine the information-seeking following ghosting as a means to adapt to the uncer-
tainty and IIs discrepancy. Furthermore, the uncertainty ghosting prompts may
cause internalized noninitiator self-blame. Future research should explore how
perpetual uncertainty functions through blame and internal attributions.
Multiple noninitiator experiences may result in perpetual uncertainty leaving
individuals with psychological distress. Retroactive IIs may cause people to
relive conversations or mitigate reminiscence on communication that never
occurred through IIs (Honeycutt, 2019). Further research should explore asso-
ciations between uncertainty and attributions, and how noninitiators recover
from ghosting, the effects on future relationship initiations, and impacts of
subsequent ghosting. In addition, further research should explore mediating
factors in the previous state of the relationship (e.g., commitment, length, inten-
sity, investment, trust, etc.) to determine antecedents and outcomes of ghosting.
This study indicates new terminology (albeit not a new process) for indirect
disengagement processes within relational scholarship scripts; however, future
research should examine the previous conceptualizations associated with disso-
lution and differentiations for variations of ghosting. Individuals rotate through
relational stages with the same person repeatedly, as with on/off relationships.
On-again/off-again relationships are relationships where multiple transitions
occur that include breakups and renewals as well as other turning points
(Dailey, Brody, LeFebvre, & Crook, 2013). Similarly, ghosting alludes to rela-
tionship temporary dissolution, which may resemble on/off relationships, or
referred to as—haunting. For others, ghosting often does not allow for further
interaction with a previous partner but may allow for a persistent mediated
presence and continued communication with less investment via technological
interaction. This practice ultimately enables the ability for initiators to resurrect
a relationship when convenient or zombie-ing. These extensions of ghosting
have not arisen in common and popular media vernacular surrounding ghost-
ing. The nuances between permanent dissolution (i.e., ghosting), recurrence (i.e.,
haunting), and possible relationship resurrection (i.e., zombie-ing) should be
examined in conjunction with the dissolution and reinitiation time line
20 Imagination, Cognition and Personality
(see Guardian by Haynes, 2017, or Cosmopolitan by Smothers, 2017). Future
research should continue to explore nuances from and to dissolution scholarship
and assess the construct in which ghosting differs from interpersonal avoidance.
The ghosting phenomenon involves avoiding and disengaging from a relation-
ship as initiated first through mediated forms. Ghosting became the term that
EAs use to describe their modus operandi of mediated relationship dissolution.
In ghosting, the relationship dissolution process involves vanishing without
notice, which equates to avoidance. EAs must decide to enact ghosting by
direct or indirect strategies, FtF, or via technology. This study aimed to further
clarify the connections to previous relationship dissolution literature—although
ghosting is closely related to previous scholarship, novel distinctions exist.
Ghosting commonly leaves the noninitiator with questions or uncertainty,
while the ghoster or initiator disappears. Conceptualizing the ghosting phenom-
ena in romantic relationships demonstrates evolving relationship processes while
adapting to emerging ICTs that offer digital affordances to escape unwanted
relationships without ever having to breakup.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publica-
tion of this article.
Leah E. LeFebvre
Ryan D. Rasner
1. Ghosters and ghostees are colloquial terms used to refer to initiators and noninitia-
tors. Moreover, the use of popular culture terminology parallels other relationship
dissolution literature (e.g., Doering, 2010) where initiators are coined dumpers and
noninitiators are dumpees.
2. The sample fits within the purview of qualitative interviews and thematic analyses.
Sandelowski (1995) argued for the sample size to be small enough to manage material
and large enough to provide nuanced understanding of the experience. This sample fits
the large category for screening interviews (6 to 10) and moderate category for
LeFebvre et al. 21
participant-generated text (greater than 50) for thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke,
2013). Thereby, small for quantitative analyses, yet appropriate for this exploratory
qualitative study.
3. The authors assessed gender identity and sexual orientation. Blair (2014) recom-
mended that relationship researchers become more inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual,
transgender, and queer populations by including sexual identity (gay, lesbian, straight,
queer, bisexual, etc.) and sexual orientation (mixed sex, same sex, bisexual, queer, or
other). The authors added inclusivity using mixed sex to avoid the gender binary used
with opposite-sex linguistics.
4. The authors utilized the same recruitment strategies utilized in a previous study’s
methodological approach (e.g., Myers, Goodboy, & Members of COMM 201, 2013).
5. Participants (7.1%) reported never being in a romantic relationship. Ghosting only
occurs in the context of a “relationship,” these participants were still included as they
only needed to be familiar with the phenomenon, even if they did not experience
it firsthand.
6. The inclusion criteria or screening helped determine eligibility for study participation.
The survey included detailed specifics about ghosting for each role. If the participants
had no knowledge of the ghosting phenomenon, they were excluded.
7. Ghosting terminologies do not exclusively refer to relationship dissolution; our par-
ticipants acknowledged other meanings for ghosting exist. A small minority of par-
ticipants (<5%) who described ghosting differently (i.e., bathroom behavior,
paranormal phenomena, party leaving, or vaping) were excluded.
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Author Biographies
Leah E. LeFebvre PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of
Communication Studies at the University of Alabama. Her research focuses
on communicative intersections on romantic relationships and emerging tech-
nology. Specifically, she explores the proliferation of online, recordable technol-
ogies that influence past, current, and future communication, relationship
processes, and memory. Her scholarship has been published in Journal of
Social and Personal Relationships, Social Media+Society, Mobile Media &
Communication, Personal Relationships, Communication Monographs, Health
Communication, Journal of Language and Social Psychology, and
Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.
Mike Allen PhD, is professor of Communication at University of Wisconsin-
Milwaukee. His work primarily involves the application of meta-analysis to
issues in social influence and he has published more than 150 meta-analyses.
LeFebvre et al. 25
His recent work examines such issues as technological innovation, sex guilt, self-
disclosure, and social networking. He is the editor of the Sage Encyclopedia of
Communication Research Methods and former editor of Communication
Monographs and Communication Studies.
Ryan D. Rasner MA, is a doctoral candidate in the Department of
Communication Studies at Louisiana State University. His research focuses
on observational modeling of relationships, relationship development, evolu-
tionary communication, and cognition. His scholarship has been published in
Journal of Intergenerational Relationships and Handbook of Communication
Science and Biology.
Shelby Garstad BA, is a master’s student in the Department of Social Work at
the University of Wyoming. Her focus of study is sexual education. Her research
has been presented at International Communication Association and Western
States Communication Association Conferences.
Aleksander Wilms BA, is a master’s student in the Department of
Communication Studies at the University of Alabama. His research focuses
on the utilizations of technology in romantic relationships. His research has
been presented at the Rocky Mountain Communication Association and
International Communication Association Conferences.
Callie Parrish MA, is a doctoral student in the Department of Communication
at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She examines interpersonal com-
munication and the various ways they intersect with technology, mental health,
and wellbeing. Her research has been presented at the International
Communication Association and National Communication Association
26 Imagination, Cognition and Personality
... Ghosting is a unilateral digital strategy to terminate relationships. It consists of quitting all communication with a person without explanation (LeFebvre et al., 2019). Ghosting is enacted through technologically mediated platforms and usually perpetrated in the context of romantic relationships (LeFebvre et al., 2019). ...
... It consists of quitting all communication with a person without explanation (LeFebvre et al., 2019). Ghosting is enacted through technologically mediated platforms and usually perpetrated in the context of romantic relationships (LeFebvre et al., 2019). Hence, victims of ghosting are forced to cope with an ambiguous experience of interpersonal rejection and sense of loss (LeFebvre et al., 2019). ...
... Ghosting is enacted through technologically mediated platforms and usually perpetrated in the context of romantic relationships (LeFebvre et al., 2019). Hence, victims of ghosting are forced to cope with an ambiguous experience of interpersonal rejection and sense of loss (LeFebvre et al., 2019). On the contrary, a direct breakup entails explicit communication to terminate a relationship (LeFebvre et al., 2019). ...
Ghosting is a type of interpersonal rejection involving a unilateral communication interruption without explanation, using technological channels. Vulnerable narcissism and borderline traits can increase sensitivity to interpersonal rejection and reduce tolerance to ambiguity, whereas grandiose narcissism is related to low rejection sensitivity. Yet, the influence of narcissism and borderline on responses to ghosting is unexplored. We examined the influence of pathological personality traits on psychological reactions to direct breakup and ghosting (i.e., ambiguous breakup) in a sample of 604 young adults (mean age = 22.4 ± 2.74). After measuring borderline and narcissistic traits (grandiose and vulnerable), participants were randomly assigned to one of two scenario-based conditions: direct breakup or ghosting events. Negative emotions and state paranoia were assessed after the experimental manipulation. Participants experienced greater negative emotions and state paranoia in the ghosting condition compared to direct breakup. Individuals high in vulnerable narcissism and borderline traits anticipated higher negative emotions and state paranoia. Grandiose narcissism was unrelated to such reactions. Unexpectedly, pathological personality traits did not moderate the effect of breakup ambiguity on individuals' psychological reactions. Findings suggest that the impact of pathological personality traits is reduced in front of such a socially painful stimulus as an ambiguous rejection.
... Researchers have attempted to refine LeFebvre et al.'s (2019) definition of ghosting, some choosing to narrow the definition, and others choosing to broaden the definition. Based on their qualitative online survey of MTurkers who had experienced a romantic breakup in the past 5 years, Koessler et al. (2019a, p. 33) concluded that ghosting specifically occurs within a romantic relationship: ...
... Other researchers have disagreed. Kay and Courtice (2022) argue that both LeFebvre et al.'s (2019) and Koessler et al.'s (2019a) definitions suffer from major weaknesses. Both include jargon that requires "27 years of schooling" according to the Flesch Kincaid Readability Test (p. ...
... 392), which is problematic when asking participants to self-report their experiences with ghosting. LeFebvre et al. (2019) used snowball sampling, a biased recruitment method, for the study through which they developed their definition. Koessler et al.'s (2019a) study was biased towards romantic relationships and their definition accordingly required ghosting to occur within a romantic context. ...
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Ghosting has become commonplace beyond romantic relationships. Therefore, we aimed to broadly understand ghosters' (i.e., people who ghost others) experiences including the process of ghosting, reasons and attributions for ghosting, feelings and behaviors associated with ghosting, and attitudes toward ghosting. Thirty‐four undergraduates (65% Latinx, 15% Asian, 12% Black, 8% Other ethnicity) who had ghosted another person were interviewed in‐person about their ghosting attitudes, ghosting behaviors, and a memorable ghosting experience. Inductive thematic analyses informed by grounded theory yielded eight themes: A Clear Cause, Avoidance of Confrontation, Short‐term Orientation, Ghostees as Socially Inferior, Ignoring then Blocking, Attempts by Ghostee to Reach Out, Mixed and Evolving Feelings, and Recognition of Harm. Our findings indicate that psychological consequences for ghosters should be further examined.
... El ghosting, o efecto fantasma, se puede definir como la estrategia para terminar una relación (ya sea de amistad o de tipo romántica) de manera unilateral, sin dar explicaciones e ignorando cualquier intento de comunicación por parte de la otra persona, para evitar discutir el estado de la relación y la confrontación directa (LeFebvre, 2017;LeFebvre et al., 2019). Es una práctica que se da tanto de forma online, por ejemplo, a través de ignorar llamadas telefónicas, no responder mensajes, dejar de seguir o bloquear al otro en redes sociales, como de manera presencial (Navarro et al., 2020;Pancani et al., 2021). ...
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En la actualidad, las Tecnologías de la Información y Comunicación (TIC), así como las redes sociales, son parte importante del día a día de las y los adolescentes y adultos jóvenes, pues permiten el desarrollo de una gran parte de la vida social de las personas a través de la comunicación e interacción fácil e inmediata entre familiares, amigos y la pareja, con la finalidad de compartir ideas, intereses, gustos, etcétera, a través de datos en formato de voz, imágenes, fotografías, videos, entre otros. En ese sentido, la versatilidad de los diferentes dispositivos de comunicación como los teléfonos móviles, las tabletas y/o laptops han generado el auge de las redes sociales, el cual ha influido de manera significativa, pues tiene repercusiones en las relaciones interpersonales, desde las que son de carácter lúdico hasta las relaciones afectivas. Sin embargo, el mal uso de estos medios de comunicación ha favorecido el desarrollo de la ciberviolencia, principalmente en las relaciones de pareja, es por ello que en el siguiente capítulo se abordarán las principales características de las TIC y redes sociales, y su relación con la violencia. En ese orden de ideas, es importante considerar que la ciberviolencia ha generado interés no solo por las consecuencias hacia sus víctimas, sino que una de sus características es que se puede ejercer en cualquier momento y lugar a través de Facebook, WhatsApp u otras redes sociales, y que su difusión y perpetración se realiza de una forma rápida debido a su fácil acceso, sin olvidar su alta prevalencia tanto en varones como en mujeres, además que este tipo de violencia se puede ejercer de manera bidireccional. Finalmente, es importante considerar otras manifestaciones de violencia que se ejercen a través de las TIC y redes sociales, tales como el ciberacoso, el sexting, la pornovenganza, la sextorsión, el ciberbullying, el grooming y el ghosting, que si bien, pueden estar relacionadas entre sí, cada una de estas implica características que las hacen diferentes; hacer una correcta distinción de cada concepto permitiría su fácil identificación y creación de programas de prevención e intervención.
... El ghosting, o efecto fantasma, se puede definir como la estrategia para terminar una relación (ya sea de amistad o de tipo romántica) de manera unilateral, sin dar explicaciones e ignorando cualquier intento de comunicación por parte de la otra persona, para evitar discutir el estado de la relación y la confrontación directa (LeFebvre, 2017;LeFebvre et al., 2019). Es una práctica que se da tanto de forma online, por ejemplo, a través de ignorar llamadas telefónicas, no responder mensajes, dejar de seguir o bloquear al otro en redes sociales, como de manera presencial (Navarro et al., 2020;Pancani et al., 2021). ...
Full-text available
RESUMEN El presente libro ha sido generado en el seno del Grupo de Investigación: “Análisis de Relaciones Interpersonales: Pareja, Familia y Organización” (Facultad de Psicología, Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla) y el Centro de Psicología Integral (Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla) el cual aborda un fenómeno con gran prevalencia y numerosos estragos, la problemática social de la violencia que se ejerce hacia mujeres y hombres en las parejas de jóvenes. Es así como a lo largo de sus trece capítulos se presenta: 1) la contextualización de la adolescencia y adultez emergente, 2) la caracterización de la pareja, 3) las principales características de la violencia en las relaciones de pareja, 4) las principales teorías explicativas del fenómeno, 5) las diferentes tipologías de la violencia, 6) la ciber violencia de la pareja, 7) los principales factores de riesgo, 8) así como los principales factores de protección en la violencia de pareja, 9) el fenómeno de la violencia de pareja en la comunidad LGBT+, 10) la prevalencia de la violencia en las relaciones de noviazgo, 11) algunas dificultades conceptuales y metodológicas asociadas a su estudio, 12) la prevención de la violencia de pareja en estas edades y, finalmente, 13) algunas consideraciones científicas y prácticas en el abordaje de esta problemática. Alejado de apasionamientos ideológicos o intereses personales o de grupo, cada capítulo ha sido revisado (sistema peer review) por al menos cuatro especialistas contribuyendo así a elevar su rigurosidad académica,teórica, técnica y científica brindando así al lector interesado en la materia una obra confiable para su consulta; ojalá que cumpla con su cometido. Palabras Clave: Violencia en el noviazgo, revisión sistemática, prevención, intervención, adolescente, joven, mexicano. ABSTRACT This book has been generated within the Research Group: «Analysis of Interpersonal Relationships: Couple, Family and Organization» (Department of Psychology, Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla) and the Integral Psychology Center (Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla) and addresses a phenomenon with great prevalence and numerous ravages, the social problem of violence against women and men in young couples. Thus, throughout its thirteen chapters it presents: 1) the contextualization of adolescence and emerging adulthood, 2) the characterization of the couple, 3) the main characteristics of violence in couple relationships, 4) the main explanatory theories of the phenomenon, 5) the different typologies of violence, 6) the cyber violence of the couple, 7) the main risk factors, 8) as well as the main protective factors in couple violence, 9) the phenomenon of intimate partner violence in the LGBT+ community, 10) the prevalence of violence in dating relationships, 11) some conceptual and methodological difficulties associated with its study, 12) the prevention of intimate partner violence in these ages and, finally, 13) some scientific and practical considerations in addressing this issue. Far from ideological passions or personal or group interests, each chapter has been reviewed (peer review system) by at least four specialists, thus contributing to increase its academic, theoretical, technical and scientific rigor, thus providing the reader interested in the subject with a reliable work for consultation; hopefully it will fulfill its purpose. Key Words: Dating Violence, Systematic Review, Prevention, Intervention, Adolescent, Youth, Mexican
... El ghosting, o efecto fantasma, se puede definir como la estrategia para terminar una relación (ya sea de amistad o de tipo romántica) de manera unilateral, sin dar explicaciones e ignorando cualquier intento de comunicación por parte de la otra persona, para evitar discutir el estado de la relación y la confrontación directa (LeFebvre, 2017;LeFebvre et al., 2019). Es una práctica que se da tanto de forma online, por ejemplo, a través de ignorar llamadas telefónicas, no responder mensajes, dejar de seguir o bloquear al otro en redes sociales, como de manera presencial (Navarro et al., 2020;Pancani et al., 2021). ...
Embedded within the sociocultural context of romantic relationships are features such as race, culture, neighborhoods, the legal system, and governmental policy. Due to the inherent difficulties with studying large structures and systems, little work has been done at the macro level in relationship science. This volume spotlights the complex interplay between romantic relationships and these structural systems, including varied insights from experts in the field. In turn, more diverse and generalizable research programs on the social ecology of relationships can be developed, helping to facilitate advances in theory. Scholars and students of relationship science in psychology, sociology, communication, and family studies will benefit from these discussions. This title is part of the Flip it Open programme and may also be available Open Access. Check our website Cambridge Core for details.
Building on the extant research, the current work outlines a comprehensive model of post-dissolution distress (CMPDD). The model integrates the previous research and includes both distal (static; e.g., controllability of breakup, relational anxiety) and proximal (dynamic; e.g., desiring reconciliation, coping, quality of alternatives) factors in predicting both initial distress and change in distress over time. Potential mediating mechanisms are also proposed. We conclude with a discussion of several ways the model could be potentially refined with empirical research to generate a more specific and parsimonious theory of PDD. Ultimately, testing and refining the model will provide insights on identifying those who will be more distressed following a breakup and highlight the factors that could be altered (e.g., contact with the partners, coping strategies) to best alleviate distress.
Background: Applying for a job can be a stressful experience. When a potential employer chooses to not move forward with a candidate, they can either directly tell them or cease communication altogether—known as ghosting. Ghosting has harmful consequences, such as lower basic psychological needs satisfaction than direct rejection, and there has been an apparent increase in this phenomenon by potential employers. The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of being ghosted after submitting a hypothetical job application. Methods: An international sample of unemployed people ( N = 554) completed an online job application task and were randomly assigned to receive no (i.e., ghosted), impersonal, or personal feedback. Results: While our manipulation was perceived as intended, there was not an effect of condition on needs satisfaction. However, exploratory analyses suggest that ghosted participants have greater self-esteem and control than those that received personal feedback. Thus, the effect of being ghosted during a job application may not be as clear cut as previously thought. Conclusion: Although the current study did not find evidence that applicants feel worse after being ghosted than being directly rejected, such an experience can still hurt, and more research is needed to understand the long-term effects of being ghosted by a potential employer.
Günümüzde her yaştaki insanın akıllı telefon ya da bilgisayar üzerinden çeşitli uygulamalara erişim kolaylığına sahip olması bazı riskleri de beraberinde getirmektedir. Teknolojik araçlar romantik ilişkilerin başlamasını, sürdürülmesini, partnerle iletişimde kalınmasını kolaylaştırdığı gibi ilişkinin sonlandırılmasını da kolaylaştırmaktadır. Romantik ilişkilerin yüz yüze iletişimle değil de teknolojik araçlar aracılığıyla bitirilmesi ise her geçen gün daha sık karşılaştığımız bir durum olarak karşımıza çıkmaktadır. Bu çalışmayla romantik ilişkinin tek taraflı olarak sonlandırılması anlamına gelen ghosting kavramı açıklanmıştır. Ghosting iletişimi geri çekerek bir ilişkiyi sona erdirmeyi amaçlayan popüler bir ortadan kaybolma stratejisi olarak tanımlanmaktadır. Çok fazla bilinmeyen ancak yeni yeni popüler olmaya başlayan bir kavram olarak görünmektedir. Ghostinge maruz kalmanın bireylerin ruh sağlığını olumsuz olarak etkilediği bilinmektedir. Ghostinge maruz kalan kişi yaşananlara anlam verememekte, hayal kırıklığı, şaşkınlık ve kafa karışıklığı yaşamaktadır. Ghostingin bireyler üzerindeki olumsuz etkileri de göz önünde bulundurulduğunda bu kavramın açıklanması ve sonuçlarının ortaya konulması gerekliliği ortaya çıkmaktadır. Bir dijital flört şiddeti olarak ghostingin anlaşılması, önleyici adımların atılması ve olumsuzlukların etkisinin en aza indirilmesi açısından önemli görülmektedir. Bu kapsamda ghostingin iyi anlaşılması açısından kuramsal çerçevesinin iyi bir şekilde ortaya konulması gerekmektedir. Bu bağlamda bu çalışmayla ghostingin ne olduğu, olumsuz etkileri ve ghosting uygulayan ve maruz kalan kişilerle yapılmış araştırma sonuçları derlenmiş, ghostinge temel bir bakış açısı oluşturmak amaçlanmıştır.
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Since 1960, the lives of young people in their late teens and twenties have changed so dramatically that a new stage of life has developed. In his provocative work, Jeffrey Jensen Arnett has identified the period of emerging adulthood as distinct from both the adolescence that precedes it and the young adulthood that comes in its wake. Arnett's new theory has created an entire thriving field of research due to his book that launched the field, Emerging Adulthood. On the 10th Anniversary of the publication of his groundbreaking work, the second edition of Emerging Adulthood fully updates and expands Arnett's findings and includes brand new chapters on media use, social class issues, and the distinctive problems of this life stage. Merging stories from the lives of emerging adults themselves with decades of research, Arnett covers a wide range of other topics as well, including love and sex, relationships with parents, experiences at college and work, and views of what it means to be an adult. As the nature of growing up and the meaning of adulthood further evolve, Emerging Adulthood will continue to be essential reading for understanding ages 18-29.
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This chapter examines the recent emergence of the ghosting phenomenon. The practices and strategies employed during ghosting have existed since new interactive technologies emerged. The terminology dates back over a decade and remains widely used in popular culture’s common vernacular. Therefore, this chapter initiates an overdue investigation of ghosting in relation to interpersonal dissolution communication and behaviors. Within this chapter ghosting is defined as: unilaterally ceasing communication (temporarily or permanently) in an effort to withdraw access to individual(s) prompting relationship dissolution (suddenly or gradually) commonly enacted via one or multiple technological medium(s). Practices employing ghosting strategies have existed since the introduction of new interactive technologies yet scholars have yet to thoroughly explore the phenomenon. In this chapter, we further conceptualize ghosting, discuss ghosting in relation to relationship dissolution strategies, and speculate on the emergence of ghosting and its outcomes for initiators and non-initiators. Then we offer conceptual implications that extend previous relational dissolution strategies applications, and provide practical suggestions for initiators and non-initiators. We conclude with a short section on future directions that explicates ghosting in interpersonal communication on social media. Overall, this chapter provides a springboard for future studies and challenges scholars to critically evaluate the implications and effects ghosting have on interpersonal dissolution strategies.
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Tinder, a mobile dating application (app), facilitates the initiation of new, potentially romantic relationships and promotes itself as a social discovery platform dominating the U.S. with 1.4 billion swipes per day. This exploratory study investigates how people engage in relationship initiation behaviors through Tinder and highlights how interpersonal relationship initiation, selection processes, and strategic pre-interaction behaviors are evolving through contemporary-mediated dating culture. Participants (N = 395) were recruited from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to complete an online survey about their Tinder usage. The study employed descriptive statistics and thematic analysis to analyze reasons for selecting and deleting Tinder, pre-interaction processes, swiping strategies, and Tinder hookup culture. The prevalent view that Tinder is a sex, or hookup app, remains salient among users; although, many users utilize Tinder for creating other interpersonal communication connections and relationships, both romantic and platonic. Initially, Tinder users gather information to identify their preferences. Their strategies show clear implications for explicating the relationship development model and associated information pursuing strategies. Overall, this study argues that new emergent technologies are changing how interpersonal relationship initiation functions; the traditional face-to-face relationship development models and initiation conceptualizations should be modified to include the introduction of the pre-interaction processes apparent in mobile dating applications such as Tinder.
Two studies examined how implicit theories of relationships are associated with ghosting (i.e., ending a relationship by cutting off all contact). Previous research on implicit theories of relationships has identified two types of beliefs, destiny and growth, and the present research examines how these implicit theories are associated with ghosting perceptions, intentions, and behaviors. Study 1 was an exploratory study conducted on Mechanical Turk that focused on romantic relationships (N = 554). Study 2 was a confirmatory study conducted on Prolific Academic that aimed to replicate the romantic relationship findings and extended the research to friendships (N = 747). Stronger destiny beliefs, compared to weaker destiny beliefs, were positively associated with feeling more positively toward ghosting, having stronger ghosting intentions, and having previously used ghosting to terminate relationships. Stronger growth beliefs, compared to weaker growth beliefs, showed the opposite pattern with perceptions of acceptability and intentions to use ghosting. Taken together, the present research provides an important first step in understanding how implicit theories relate to relationship termination strategies and, specifically, the process of ghosting.
"Explore the intricacies of human mating relationships with this one-of-a-kind text. The third edition of The Mating Game: A Primer on Love, Sex, and Marriage is the only introductory text about human mating relationships aimed specifically at a university audience. Encompassing a wide array of disciplines, this comprehensive review of theory and empirical research takes an integrated perspective on the fundamental human experiences of attraction and courtship, mate selection and marriage, and love and sex. Strongly grounded in methodology and research design, the book offers relevant examples and anecdotes along with ample pedagogy that will spark debate and discussion on provocative and complex topics."
The literature on emerging adulthood (EA), which emerged after Arnett's (2000) influential article, is now entering its second decade. However, inquiry into the implications of EA for close, romantic relationships is still quite new (Reifman, Colwell, & Arnett, 2008). The purpose of this opening chapter is threefold: (1) to provide a brief introduction to EA; (2) to examine how EA reflects, and perhaps has an impact on, various societal trends; and (3) to suggest some initial conceptual linkages between EA and romantic relationship processes and why EA is important for the study of romantic relationships. Possible socio-demographic considerations in the study of EA and close relationships are briefly discussed in a fourth section. BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO EMERGING ADULTHOOD Emerging adulthood is the period from 18–25 years old (or perhaps older), the tenor of which is captured in the following quote from Arnett (2000, p. 469): “Having left the dependency of childhood and adolescence, and having not yet entered the enduring responsibilities that are normative in adulthood, emerging adults often explore a variety of possible life directions in love, work, and worldviews.” Thus, at its core, EA is a time of exploring, of believing that many possibilities and opportunities are available in life, of feeling in between adolescence and full-fledged adulthood, and of making the transition to assuming greater responsibility for oneself (Arnett, 2004). Stress, anxiety, and instability are also thought to accompany these features of EA (Arnett, 2004; Robbins, & Wilner, 2001).
This chapter offers a very brief orientation to the construct of emerging adulthood and introduces the reader to the remainder of the book. WHAT IS EMERGING ADULTHOOD? In contemporary western society, adolescence begins earlier and adulthood (e.g., marrying, becoming parents) comes much later than in prior generations (Arnett, 2000, 2004). Today's young people leave home at about age 18 or 19, but most do not marry, become parents, and find a steady job until much later in their twenties. For most young people, the late teens to mid-twenties is a time with “both excitement and uncertainty, wide-open possibility and confusion, new freedoms and new fears” (Arnett, 2004, p. 3). Consequently, this period has been proposed as a unique and important developmental stage that is distinct from adolescence and young adulthood. Arnett (2000, 2004) referred to this period between ages 18 to 25 as “emerging adulthood” and described it as having several distinct features. First, it is a period of continued identity explorations. During this stage, emerging adults become more independent of their parents than they were as adolescents, but have not yet committed to adult roles and responsibilities. In the course of exploring possibilities, emerging adults clarify their identities by answering such questions as “What kind of person am I?” and “What kind of person should I find as a partner through life?” Second, emerging adulthood is an age of instability, with emerging adults shifting between choices in love and work and moving from one residence to another.
Cohabitation has become a common element of the path that emerging adults travel as they navigate romantic relationships before settling down into marriage. There has been an explosion in the practice of cohabiting before marriage, and many emerging adults now cohabit regardless of marriage intentions. Along with the wide availability of birth control and the increased likelihood of nonmarital sex, cohabiting reflects fundamental changes in how men and women date and mate. This chapter describes this growing trend, including how individuals during the period of emerging adulthood view cohabitation and how they can be affected by it as they pursue their romantic relationship and family goals. LIVING TOGETHER OUTSIDE OF MARRIAGE: A NEW NATIONAL TREND Many changes have occurred in family demography in the United States over the past several decades. One of the most significant changes is an increase in the number of couples who live together without being married. The U.S. Census now inquires about romantic partners sharing a household, and the last report indicated that unmarried couples were living together in 4% to 6% of U.S. households. This upward trend in cohabitation is likely linked with many other changes in recent decades, including the diminishing number of U.S. households that involve married couples and, most significantly for the focus of this book, the trend toward delaying marriage until the late 20s.