The age of "ghosting:" How technology changed breaking up

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Technology has altered so many aspects of how we live our lives. It’s made finding restaurants more convenient, staying connected with old friends easier, and getting a ride home as simple as the tap of a button. Many of us are glued to our smartphones at all times, living our lives through a brightly lit screen.

It’s also changed how we start – and end – relationships.

The advent of texting has made it easier to cut off communication without any warning. The phenomenon is called “ghosting,” where one person in the relationship calls it quits by simply not responding to texts, Facebook messages, phone calls, or any form of communication at all.

A Vancity Buzz reader in her mid-twenties (we’ll call her Katie) told us about her experience with this unceremonious method of uncoupling. Katie was dating a man she knew through mutual friends and everything seemed to be going swimmingly – he met her parents, she met his – and then one day, he became too busy to text her back.

“He used being busy as his excuse – and apparently in this day and age, we accept that no texting means a break up,” Katie said.

“People don’t actually have to break up, they can just stop texting and hope the other person gets the point.”

And the problem is becoming more common.

“I’ve had clients come to me saying that’s happened to them. I’d say it’s happened to almost every single girl,” said dating coach Deanna Cobden, founder of Date Works.

“Ive had a client actually say to me ‘how can I get a guy to actually call me to break up with me?’ It’s such an upsetting thing for us not to have that closure,” Cobden told Vancity Buzz.

While Cobden acknowledges this happens to both men and women in heterosexual relationships, she believes it’s harder for men to have those conversations than it is for women, leading them to the less than desirable option to “ghost.”

“Guys don’t want drama and they typically don’t need closure the way we do. If they decide that it isn’t working for whatever reason, they just don’t want to have that uncomfortable conversation. They can just disappear.”

Women tend to ghost potential mates as well, but it often happens earlier on within the first couple of dates, according to Cobden, especially if they met online, whereas men will do it after dating for a few months.

“If a girl’s been seeing a guy for a few months, she will usually give a reason and definitely won’t disappear.”

Whether you think it’s more of a problem for one gender or the other, the fact remains that technology and online dating are changing the scope of how we meet and interact with future lovers. Apps like Tinder give the average person an opportunity to meet people outside of their usual circles, but it might prove to be too many optionssaid Cobden.

“It makes it almost harder to connect in a way, because you have so many choices. With online dating, you have one date, and you think that person is great, but when you get home, there are five other messages waiting for you and you get distracted,” she said.

Avoiding the problem.

People in general tend to avoid confrontation, but especially when it comes to relationships and, in particular, ending them. Vancouver Registered Psychologist Dr. Lorraine McCulloch said ending relationships brings up a whole host of emotions that are easier to avoid than confront, which might be why ghosting is becoming more common.

“People want to avoid feelings of discomfort,” McCulloch told Vancity Buzz.

“If they are the ones who want to break up with the person, they might want to avoid seeing that person upset and they might want to avoid acknowledging or taking responsibility for the impact of their actions.”

According to McCulloch, it’s also possible they’re trying to avoid their own feelings of guilt by simply not facing the situation head-on and she’s had many clients who have been broken up with via ghosting.

McCulloch believes online dating can be complicated – you get a sense of someone’s personality through texting before you even meet in person, and it can have negative consequences.

“Sometimes they have a sense of intimacy without having built a foundation of really knowing the other person.”

While McCulloch is hesitant to make sweeping generalizations about a group of people, she, like Cobden, believes men tend to be guiltier of ghosting than women, especially when the relationship is months old.

“Women are socialized to be more attuned to emotions and feelings, so they may know what their feelings are earlier on,” McCulloch said.

“Men are socialized with more of a focus on action and less of a focus on emotional communication.”

And while online dating has brought a whole host of new issues that previous generations haven’t had to deal with, both Cobden and McCulloch mentioned technology can also be a great tool to strengthen and fortify developing relationships through daily check-ins and constant conversations – as with anything, you just need to take the bad with the good.

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Lauren Sundstrom Lauren is a Staff Writer and Projects Assistant at Vancity Buzz. She is a graduate of BCIT's Broadcast and Online Journalism program. She loves reporting on breaking news and lifestyle content. If you feel like you have a story that needs to be told, fire her a tweet.
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