Is it okay to ghost?

At some point in our lives we’ll find ourselves faced with the decision to end a platonic relationship. Sometimes they graciously fizzle out as a natural part of drifting apart. You stop getting together and communication becomes fewer and farther between until it just… stops.

Other times, an unhealthy relationship requires an executive decision to end it. Depending on the relationship, that executive decision may result in an argument that will make you feel worse, even if you accomplish your goal of severing ties.

So is it worth having that hard conversation with someone, or is it better just to ghost? The answer to this moral dilemma depends on the context of the situation.

When is Ghosting Appropriate?

There are, in fact, times when “ghosting” — completely cutting off all forms of contact and communication — is the right move. However, the list is small. These situations aren’t based on your comfort level, but rather your safety, and whether the other individual is respecting your boundaries and your wishes.

Ghosting is appropriate if:

  • You’ve already directly and clearly communicated that you do not intend to continue forward with the relationship, but they won’t take “no” for an answer
  • You feel physically threatened by the individual
  • The person has been utilizing psychological or emotional manipulation (as properly defined in a textbook) to control you and/or your relationship thus far

That’s it. Anything else deserves an honest explanation. Why? Because ghosting without a genuine and justifiable reason is not only immature, it’s irresponsible and capable of leaving a negative and lasting impact on the individual you cut out of your life without notice.

The Consequences of Ghosting

Ghosting should not be a decision you make lightly. More often than not, the individual finds themselves with unanswered questions and no closure.

If the person you’re ghosting already struggles with low self-esteem, the impact of your actions can be traumatic. In an article on Pyschology Today, psychologist Loren Soeiro writes, “When the person you like stops returning your texts, the emotional consequences can run from unpleasant to severe. There’s a profound lack of closure to the relationship, an ambiguity that makes it impossible to interpret what went wrong. The social cues present in a traditional breakup — reduction of time spent together, lack of eye contact, a change in the tone of interaction — are disorientingly absent… Ghosting causes you to question yourself, which can be devastating to your self-esteem. It deprives you of any chance to work through what went wrong in the relationship. In other words, it’s altogether too easy to draw troubling conclusions when you’ve been ghosted. Some even see it as similar to the silent treatment, which has been described as a form of emotional cruelty.”

“Some even see [ghosting] as similar to the silent treatment, which has been described as a form of emotional cruelty.” — Loren Soeiro, psychologist

While Soeiro references romantic relationships in his article, the same questions and struggles apply to platonic friendships that end suddenly and without explanation. In some cases, the end to a close platonic friendship could arguable be more traumatic than the end of a romantic relationship.

If the individual you’re looking to cut out of your life poses you no harm, a conversation is in order. It may not be fun and it may not be pretty, but ask yourself, “Am I looking to do the easy thing or the right thing?”

How to End a Relationship Properly

First and foremost, know that it’s okay — normal, even — for friendships to end. Not every bond is meant to last a lifetime. If you find yourself growing apart from your friend and you no longer enjoy their company the way you used to, that’s okay.

Recently, I’ve found myself doing a “culling” of sorts within my own life. Over the last few years, I’ve changed dramatically and with those changes came a realization that I was no longer seeing eye-to-eye with certain people in my life. I started feeling drained or frustrated by their company, to the point where I realized, “I can’t do this anymore.” I had to end things.

But in cases like this where that desire to end a friendship is one-sided, how do you do the right thing?

As I mentioned in the beginning, some friendships just fizzle out. It’s the easier scenario, but if you’re trying to end a close or consuming relationship, simply fading out of the picture isn’t likely to work. You need to be more direct.

Ask yourself, “Why am I ending this relationship?”

Make sure you know the “why” behind your actions and that ending the relationship is the right solution. Ask yourself:

  • Are you ending it because the relationship is no longer a positive influence in your life?
  • Can you fix the issue that is preventing your friendship from being fulfilling?
  • If so, do you want to fix the relationship?

If the answer to the last question is “yes,” you need to sit down with your friend and have a heart-to-heart. But if the answer is “no” to either of the last two questions and you’re ready to close the book on your friendship, then… guess what?

It’s time for a heart-to-heart.

Plan Ahead for That “Final Conversation”

Before you reach out to your friend:

  • Choose a discrete location or form of communication: You don’t want to have this conversation in public and in front of an audience. Plan for a more private discussion. It doesn’t have to be in person. You can choose to have this discussion over the phone or via video call. In some cases, texting may be appropriate, too.
  • Plan what you want to say in a direct, but kind, way: It’s perfectly acceptable to tell someone, “You’ve been a great friend to me over the [months, years, etc]. I’m thankful for those memories and I’m thankful to have known you, but I feel like [I am/we are] in different places in our lives now and that it’s caused us to grow apart…” Growing apart is not a crime.
  • Be specific: The first question most people ask when a relationship ends (if they aren’t expecting it) is “why?” Choose your words carefully, but be honest — without over-explaining. You don’t need to justify your decision if someone disagrees with it. Friendships aren’t a contract that require mutual agreement to end. But if your friend has questions, do your best to answer them in a way that is empathetic, but succinct.
  • Try to keep your emotions in check: Yes, it’s challenging, but take a deep breath and try to stay calm throughout the conversation. Emotional conversations run the risk of exchanging words you don’t really mean or ending relationships in ways you don’t want to, so try to keep your composure. Read your friend’s reactions and, if possible, show empathy.
  • Remember this is closure, not a debate: If your friend tries to make a case for why you should give them another chance, but you know that ending things is the right choice, then do not entertain them “making a case” for your friendship. Politely, but firmly, tell them that you’ve made your decision and it’s final.
  • If you harbor no hard feelings toward them, end the conversation by assuring them of this and wish them the best: It sounds cheesy and a bit silly, but feelings often get hurt in this exchange. Reiterating that you’re doing this not out of any ill will and that you wish your former friend only good things in their life ahead may help to provide that individual (and you) a softer departure that lessens any feelings of shame or blame or anger.

Choosing to end a friendship is hard, but so is life. Doing the right thing will give you both closure in the end, so find your courage and know that it’s okay to end a chapter.

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