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Are you being 'ghosted'?

Jane Murphy / 03 February 2017

Ever had a relationship that just fizzled out after he stopped returning your calls? It's happened to 64 per cent of us – but that doesn't mean it's acceptable...

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Has a match suddenly vanished?

He said he'd call 'in the next few days' – and that was more than a week ago. Your last two text messages have gone unanswered. So now you're weighing up whether or not to send a third. Maybe he's had an accident or been unwell. Perhaps he's lost his phone. Or then again, maybe he's just not that into you.

Rest assured, you're not alone in your experience. Nearly two-thirds of daters have been 'ghosted', according to research by eHarmony Australia. This is when a date goes quiet and ignores all communications in a bid to avoid an awkward conversation or full-on break-up. But is this the coward's way out of a relationship? Or is it an acceptable way to let someone down gently? It seems the jury's still out.

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Is it ever acceptable to ghost someone?

'You could argue that ghosting works for both parties, as it's a gentle way to break things off without having to tell the other person what you don't like about them,' says life coach Olga Levancuka. 'It may also speed up the emotional recovery period – encouraging the “out of sight, out of mind” approach.'

'The problem, though, is you can never be sure about its emotional impact on the other person if you simply “disappear”. That's why I strongly believe that if you've been in a relationship with someone for any period of time, they deserve an explanation as to why you want to break things off.'

A lot depends on the length and intensity of the relationship, of course. 

If you've met once or twice for a drink but sensed there was no real spark, chances are you won't be too hurt if you never hear from him again. But if you're suddenly met with a wall of silence a few weeks or months into your romance – particularly if you'd become intimate and were starting to develop strong feelings – it can be upsetting, confusing and demoralising.

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How to recognise the warning signs

So at what point can you be pretty sure you're being ghosted? 

'Not receiving an instant reply to your messages doesn't necessarily mean it's over,' says Levancuka. 'He may simply be busy. But if you don't hear back within a week, it's pretty safe to assume you won't be hearing from him again.'

However, ghosting doesn't always involve being ignored completely. 'Some people can be so subtle that you can end up being ghosted without even realising,' warns Levancuka. 'Flakiness, vagueness and not honouring plans are key warning signs to watch out for. He might keep making excuses not to meet without offering an alternative date, for example.'

If you're being ghosted, you're faced with one of two choices: engineer a confrontation or give up and move on. 

Levancuka's advice? Stick to the latter: 'Not knowing why you've been rejected can dampen your self-esteem and make you feel unimportant or disposable. A confrontation may sound like a good idea, but think of all the fun things you could be doing instead. This man probably did you a favour by getting out of your life. He wasn't right for you, and now you have space to find someone who will make you truly happy.'

Are you about to ghost someone?

And what about if you're the one doing the ghosting? Be fair and honest, and think how you'd feel if the boot were on the other foot. 

If the other person deserves an explanation for your decision to end the relationship, do the right thing and give them one.

Finally, it's worth bearing in mind that we can all sometimes end up accidentally ghosting someone we've dated a few times, simply because life gets in the way. 

'Something unexpected happens – maybe a relative died or you have to go away at short notice – and you don't have time to deal with everything and everyone,' says Levancuka. 'You have to focus on putting yourself first without feeling guilty. Being selfish isn't always a bad thing.'

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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