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What Is Ghosting?

When a Friend or Romantic Interest Disappears Without Explanation

Wendy Rose Gould is a lifestyle reporter with over a decade of experience covering health and wellness topics.

ghost someone up meaning

 Verywell / Catherine Song

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  • Why It Happens
  • How to Cope
  • Why You Shouldn't Ghost

Alternatives to Ghosting Someone

  • Is It Ever OK?

Ghosting is a relatively new colloquial dating term that refers to abruptly cutting off contact with someone without giving that person any warning or explanation for doing so.

Even when the person being ghosted reaches out to re-initiate contact or gain closure, they’re met with silence. As you can see, it’s called ghosting because it involves someone essentially “vanishing” into thin air as if they were a ghost.

The term is generally used in reference to a romantic relationship, but it can technically refer to any scenario where contact unexpectedly ceases, including friendships and family relationships.

Signs of Ghosting

Ghosting is often obvious, but it can also be a gradual process. The other person might start by 'soft ghosting,' where they progressively minimize contact over a period of time. Some early signs that someone might be ghosting you include:

  • They regularly bail out on plans to get together
  • They struggle to make commitments
  • They don't like to share personal information
  • They don't want you to meet their friends or family
  • They disappear from social media
  • They rarely respond to your texts or calls
  • Your conversations with them lack depth, and they seem disinterested

If you have made repeated efforts to contact someone and they won't respond, it is a strong indicator that you've been ghosted.

Ghosting can also occur on social media. It involves cutting off all social media contact with another person without explanation. The other person may unfriend, unfollow, or even block you on all social media platforms. They may even go so far as to deactivate or delete their social accounts to prevent all contact.

The History of Ghosting

The term "ghosting" became mainstream about seven years ago alongside the surge in online dating ; it became an official entry in the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2017 . Interestingly, though, the term was actually used as far back as the 1990s. Some pop culture writers and scholars have even used the term to describe ghostwriting in hip-hop music.  

Bree Jenkins, LMFT

The word ‘ghosting’ gained popularity long before [2017] via ‘90s hip-hop, often in the sense of escaping.

Though a new term, the act of ghosting existed well before the digital age. “I think references of ‘going for a loaf of bread and never coming back’ are examples of ghosting," says Bree Jenkins, LMFT , a dating coach in Los Angeles, Calif. "Ghosting used to be leaving a person and moving away or not leaving [them with] your contact information—its earlier origins are even the simple act of leaving a party or social gathering without notice and goodbyes.” 

How the Term Became Popular

So why did the term “ghosting” become mainstream just within the last decade? The argument is that online dating has simply made it way easier to ghost people.

With the higher frequency of ghosting instances, and with more people who could relate/understand being ghosted or doing the ghosting, the term was widely adopted.

Why Do Some People Choose to Ghost?

Ghosting is often seen as an immature or passive-aggressive way to end a relationship. In other instances, it may even be a form of emotional abuse.

There are two primary reasons why a person ghosts another, and often it's a combination of the two.

It's the Easy Route

The first is that some find it's way easier (in the short-term, anyway) to ghost someone than to have an awkward, uncomfortable heart-to-heart about why you’re not interested in maintaining contact.

The person doing the ghosting often wants to avoid confrontation or dealing with someone else’s hurt feelings, so they simply cease all communication and hope the hint is delivered.

Option Overload and Fatigue

“With internet dating comes what may seem like infinite choices as opposed to walking into a bar and having limited options," explains Margaret Seide, MD , a board-certified psychiatrist based in New York City.

"Because there are so many choices, online daters are quick to have the ‘OK, next’ or the ‘Yeah, but what else?’ mindset," says Seide. "Sometimes the person is nice enough, but is juggling a few other people and that person just didn’t make the cut.”

There are also other reasons why people ghost, including being fearful of the other person's reaction to rejection.

How Ghosting Can Impact the Ghosted

As you can imagine (or know from personal experience), ghosting can have a real psychological impact on the person who’s being ghosted.

It’s almost like sudden loss [or] grief, especially the first time you’ve ever been ghosted. You are shocked, and you’re in denial, thinking things such as ‘maybe they didn’t see my text.’ Then you feel anger.

Jenkins adds, “Next, the feelings of depression [can] kick in along with feelings of poor self-esteem as you mentally reexamine your relationship and last conversation for possible warning signs."

Ghosting is inherently ambiguous because there is a lack of explanation for why the relationship ended. For the person who has been ghosted, it can lead to significant feelings of rejection, guilt, grief, and shame.

A person who has been ghosted may be left wondering what this type of behavior says about them, but it is important to remember that ghosting says more about the person who cuts off contact than the person who is ghosted.

Working Through Grief After Being Ghosted

The grief cycle may not run that exact course, but being ghosted often triggers a flood of ranging emotions. Thoughts of ‘Not only did the person not want to date me, but I wasn’t even deserving of an explanation’ can make someone feel dehumanized and devalued.

It’s often more painful when it’s a relationship that’s marinated a bit, but the ghosted person can also feel this way if it was a new connection. It can take some time to work through the pain, but with acceptance the person being ghosted can move on.

To gain closure in a situation where you feel you’ve been ghosted, Meide says it can help to send a message by saying something like, “Hey, I haven’t heard from you in a while. I’m not sure what happened, but I don’t want to continue pursuing this. My time is valuable and I don’t want to leave this door open. Best of luck with things.” While the ghoster may not respond, it can help provide closure.

How Ghosting Can Impact the Ghoster

Ghosting doesn't just impact the ghosted; it also is a detriment to the ghoster. The bottom line here is that ghosting is either a passive aggressive way to end a relationship, or it is the “easy way out.” Either way, it’s not doing the ghoster any favors in their ability to communicate with others.

“Ghosting doesn't take into account how you affect other people and it makes it easier for the person to dip out or disengage when things get uncomfortable. There’s no way to have a healthy, long-term relationship without being able to work through problems and use your communication skills,” says Jenkins.

Jenkins adds that ghosters create unhealthy problem-solving patterns for themselves, and that they also contribute to a larger pattern of societal flakiness that increases their chances of being ghosted as well.

Avoiding the easy route of ghosting someone will benefit both parties. Meide says that the best thing you can do when ending a relationship , however long or short, is to treat the other person as you’d like to be treated.

“I usually suggest two spoons of sugar with the medicine in the middle for delivery,” Meide says. “It can sound something like ‘Hey, you seem like a really great catch, but I don’t feel it’s working between us. I respect your time and just wanted to be honest. Warm regards and take care.’

"Or, ‘Hi—it’s been cool getting to know you, but I’ve decided to take a break from dating and don’t want to waste your time or be dishonest. Best of luck with everything.’"

These messages are short, sweet, honest, and end with an outro to signal that you don’t want to have a long and drawn out conversation. It’s possible that you may get a negative or hurt reaction from the other person, but it’s far better to exit the relationship after giving an explanation than to ghost completely.

Is Ghosting Someone Ever OK?

In many cases, ghosting is considered a rude route to take when trying not to talk to someone anymore, or especially when ending a more serious or established relationship. However, there are most definitely exceptions—when further communication can be a bad thing or even potentially unsafe.

Situations in which ghosting can make sense is if you find out the person is married or in a relationship , participating in illegal or unsavory behaviors, or if they display toxic traits.   In such cases, you do not owe that person an explanation for abruptly ending the relationship. 

If you are uncomfortable or feel threatened by someone in any way, remember it's best to follow your gut instinct. You may simply have a bad feeling. In cases like this, you don't need to prove that this person "deserved" to be ghosted—ghosting might be a useful mode of self-protection and peace of mind.

If you feel your best interest would be to completely cut off contact with the person in question, don't let your feelings of guilt keep you from doing what's right for you and what will ultimately keep you safe.

A Word From Verywell

Ghosting has become more commonplace in the digital age, but just because something is easy or common doesn’t mean it’s always the ideal route to take. Consider how ghosting might impact both parties and do your best to treat others with kindness and honesty. If you’re the person who’s been ghosted, it’s OK to feel confused, sad, and angry. Sending a quick note to end the relationship yourself can help you regain a sense of power and confidence in yourself and give you closure.

However, if you feel threatened or deeply uncomfortable by someone, you don't owe them anything. Sometimes ghosting, when used thoughtfully, can be a healthy mode of self-protection and removing yourself from a potentially bad situation.

Navarro R, Larrañaga E, Yubero S, Víllora B. Psychological Correlates of Ghosting and Breadcrumbing Experiences: A Preliminary Study among Adults . Int J Environ Res Public Health . 2020;17(3):1116. doi:10.3390/ijerph17031116

Anderson HE. No Bitin’ Allowed: A Hip-Hop Copying Paradigm for All of Us . 2011.

 Vilhauer J. When Is It OK to Ghost Someone ? Psychology Today . 2019.

By Wendy Rose Gould Wendy Rose Gould is a lifestyle reporter with over a decade of experience covering health and wellness topics.

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How to Ghost Someone

Last Updated: December 21, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Sarah Schewitz, PsyD and by wikiHow staff writer, Hannah Madden . Sarah Schewitz, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist by the California Board of Psychology with over 10 years of experience. She received her Psy.D. from the Florida Institute of Technology in 2011. She is the founder of Couples Learn, an online psychology practice helping couples and individuals improve and change their patterns in love and relationships. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 132,763 times.

Why ghost someone? If you’re a conflict-avoidant person or you’ve been seeing someone casually, ghosting might sound like a great option when you just aren’t feeling it anymore. While ghosting itself is pretty simple, there are a few different ways you can break things off with someone depending on the outcome you want. In this article, we’ll tell you exactly how to ghost a friend or a potential date without feeling bad about it.

Cut off all contact.

In order to ghost someone, don’t reach out to them at all.

  • Ghosting works best if you haven’t made concrete plans with this person. If you do have plans together, let them know that you have to cancel before you ghost so they can free up their schedule and make new plans.
  • Cutting off contact is a good option if you're in an on again/off again relationship with someone.

Expect some backlash for your ghosting.

The person you’re ghosting might get upset when they don’t hear from you.

  • If you’re ghosting a long-term partner or friend, they’re probably going to make a lot of attempts to contact you. However, if you’re ghosting someone you’ve only known for a little bit, they might not be super hurt by your decision to ghost them.
  • The backlash for ghosting really depends on the type of relationship you had with the other person. If you ghost someone after a single date, you probably won't get much backlash. However, if you ghost someone after a month of dating, it's a whole different story.

Send one last message to ghost nicely.

Sending a final message is called caspering, or the friendly way to ghost.

  • “It was really nice to meet you, but I don’t think this is going to work out. I wish you all the best.”
  • “I had a really nice time hanging out with you, but I didn’t really feel a spark. Hope life treats you well.”

Wait a long time before replying to ghost slowly.

Soft ghosting sends the hint that you don’t want to talk anymore.

  • This method works best if you don’t have any time-sensitive plans coming up. However, if you’re still trying to figure out when and where to meet up next, this is a good option.
  • Ghosting timelines vary since every relationship is different. However, waiting around 3 days before responding is usually a good indicator that you’re trying to ghost someone.

Make up excuses to ghost over a long period of time.

Saying you can’t hang out over and over might be enough of a hint.

  • “Sorry, work’s been crazy lately. I don’t think I can hang anytime soon.”
  • “My schedule’s pretty packed. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to see you next.”

Unfollow them on social media.

Remove any outlets for communication so they can’t contact you.

  • If they keep messaging you online, you can always block their social media accounts , too.

Block their number if you need to.

Some people are persistent, and they won’t take your ghosting lightly.

Never contact that person again.

Stick to your ghosting decision so you don’t confuse the other person.

  • If you ghosted someone and feel bad about it, you can send them an apology message if you’d like to. However, it doesn’t mean they’ll forgive you, and you may still never hear from them.

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  • ↑ https://www.gq.com/story/ghosting-guide
  • ↑ https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dating-in-the-digital-age/202104/is-there-such-thing-friendly-ghosting
  • ↑ https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/22/smarter-living/why-people-ghost-and-how-to-get-over-it.html

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4 Reasons Why People Ghost

... and how personality predicts who's most likely to do it..

Posted November 29, 2021 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan

  • Ghosting is a passive break-up strategy where people disappear in order to end (typically) short-term relationships
  • People may ghost due to convenience, a loss of attraction, negative impressions, or fears of safety.
  • People higher in narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy tend to view ghosting as more acceptable.

You meet someone. They're attractive, fun, and...totally annoying. You have a couple of good times but you know this isn't for you, and you want to move your attention elsewhere. What do you do? How do you end this early-stage thing that you could barely call a "relationship"? Do you meet up over coffee, send a text, or pick up the phone? Do you do nothing and just wait until they stop reaching out?

Ghosting is often used to end short-term relationships

For many people " ghosting " is a reasonable option. Ghosting is a quiet means of ending a relationship, and while it has been around for a long time, ghosting has stepped into the limelight given the ease by which people can ghost in the digital age.

To ghost is, simply, to disappear. You're there one minute (answering texts, taking phone calls, available to meet up) and then suddenly, you give no responses. Texts are ignored, phone calls silenced, and any invitations to meet up are left unanswered. You vanish and the other person is left confused, uncertain, and alone. By some estimates, about 60-70% of emerging adults have ghosted someone else (LeFebvre et al., 2019; Timmermans et al., 2020).

Ghosting generally happens in short-term relationships, characterized by low commitment and low closeness (LeFebvre et al., 2019). Indeed, people consider the timeline of a relationship when thinking about appropriate strategies for ending a relationship, and short, minimal interaction relationships are sometimes the context for enacting ghosting strategies.

Ghosting motivations range from convenience to safety

People generally disapprove of ghosting as a way to end a relationship (LeFebvre et al., 2019). Yet, people still take this approach. Why?

  • Convenience. Sometimes, what's easy is prioritized. Having more direct conversations to end a relationship can be unpleasant, takes energy and time, and can require managing emotions. Ghosting is easier.
  • Faded attraction . People's reasons for ghosting are sometimes based on boredom , loss of interest, and a decrease in romantic attraction. Getting out early, without much effort, can seem like an appealing approach to ending the relationship.
  • Undesirable interactions. People sometimes ghost a new relationship partner when that person offends them or does something off-putting. Feelings change from attraction to repulsion, or in other ways from positive to negative. A new dislike or disgust can make the idea of a direct let's-end-this-relationship conversation highly unappealing. Better to ghost than to talk.
  • Safety . People might step into a relationship and quickly notice that it may not be in their best interest to continue talking with another person. If someone becomes "creepy" or "weird" ending all communication abruptly, and without explanation, may be critical, and an important strategy to ensure safety.

People's reasons for ghosting are thus varied, yet these reasons are only among people who are willing to ghost. Ghosting is like vanishing, cutting off all communication with someone with whom you had previously been connecting. Are some people more likely to do this disappearing act?

Personality traits predict views on ghosting

If you're high on the Dark Triad traits, you may be more apt to choose ghosting than other, more direct — and arguably more empathetic — ways to end a short-term relationship (Jonason et al., 2021). The Dark Triad includes narcissism , Machiavellianism , and psychopathy (Jones and Paulhus, 2014). Narcissism refers to an inflated sense of self, a grandiosity that tends to correspond with using others for one's own social status or other benefits. Machiavellianism is a tendency towards manipulation, self-serving calculated social strategies, and game-playing. Psychopathy reflects a lack of impulse control and meanness (i.e., callousness).

Recent research by Dr. Peter Jonason and colleagues (2021) suggests that the acceptability of ghosting is linked to Dark Triad traits. In a study that included 341 participants, people with higher levels of the Dark Triad traits were more apt to find ghosting acceptable. Men in particular, for narcissism, saw ghosting as a reasonable way to end a short-term relationship.

This is theoretically consistent with what it means to have higher Dark Triad traits: We would expect people with higher Dark Triad traits to be more self-interested, less empathetic, and undisturbed by the prospect of hurting someone else's feelings. This fits with ghosting. Surprisingly, while the Dark Triad can help us understand ghosting a bit, it did not account for much variance in ghosting acceptability (only 4%; Jonason et al., 2021), suggesting other factors are necessary to understand the basis for ghosting judgments. Research is still growing in the area of ghosting, but there is some suggestion that taking a "destiny" view on love (i.e., believing in soulmates, and that relationships either work or don't work) is associated with more positive views on ghosting and more ghosting behavior than holding "growth" beliefs (i.e., believing relationships take work; Freedman et al., 2019).

ghost someone up meaning

Not all ghosting is ill-intended

Ghosting can create a sour impression (Timmermans et al., 2020). The "ghostee" often assumes that the "ghoster" is immature, rude, or inconsiderate; if the ghoster is lucky, the ghostee might make benign attributions that the ghoster was too busy or uninterested to talk.

Regardless of how the ghostee might interpret the ghoster's behavior, in general, ghosting has adverse effects on the ghosted person, and is associated with feelings of rejection, anger , and poorer mental health (Timmermans et al., 2020). Despite this, sometimes people ghost because they want to protect the other person from the uncomfortable "I don't like you" kind of break-up conversation that would have to ensue if a break-up were more direct (Timmermans et al., 2020). This fifth reason for ghosting is not of callous intent. Sometimes, ghosters believe they are being thoughtful by ghosting. Does that justify the ghosting?

Facebook image: tommaso79/Shutterstock

Jones, D. N., & Paulhus, D. L. (2014). Introducing the short dark triad (SD3) a brief measure of dark personality traits. Assessment, 21 , 28-41.

LeFebvre, L. E., Allen, M., Rasner, R. D., Garstad, S., Wilms, A., & Parrish, C. (2019). Ghosting in emerging adults’ romantic relationships: The digital dissolution disappearance strategy. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 39, 1 25-150.

Jonason, P. K., Kaźmierczak, I., Campos, A. C., & Davis, M. D. (2021). Leaving without a word: Ghosting and the Dark Triad traits. Acta Psychologica , Advanced online publication.

Freedman, G., Powell, D. N., Le, B., & Williams, K. D. (2019). Ghosting and destiny: Implicit theories of relationships predict beliefs about ghosting. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36, 905-924.

Timmermans, E., Hermans, A. M., & Opree, S. J. (2020). Gone with the wind: Exploring mobile daters’ ghosting experiences. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Advanced online publication.

Theresa E. DiDonato Ph.D.

Theresa DiDonato, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and a professor of psychology at Loyola University Maryland.

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COMMENTS

  1. Ghosting: What It Means and How to Respond - Verywell Mind

    Ghosting is a relatively new colloquial dating term that refers to abruptly cutting off contact with someone without giving that person any warning or explanation for doing so. Even when the person being ghosted reaches out to re-initiate contact or gain closure, they’re met with silence.

  2. When Is It OK to Ghost Someone? | Psychology Today

    Ghosting is defined as cutting off all communication and dropping out of someone’s life without an explanation of any kind. There are many situations when cutting off communication with someone...

  3. 7 Essential Psychological Truths About Ghosting | Psychology ...

    Ghosting is sometimes referred to as a form of cowardice: the refusal to acknowledge one’s own misconduct. And cognitive dissonance may play a role as well. Our brains naturally focus on...

  4. Ghost someone - Idioms by The Free Dictionary

    TheFreeDictionary ghost someone ghost slang 1. To ignore someone until they stop pestering or trying to get in touch with one, rather than directly expressing one's disinterest. Typically used in reference to failed or would-be romantic connections.

  5. Ghosting: What It Is, Why It Hurts, and What You Can Do About It

    What it Means to Ghost and Be Ghosted? What to Do If You're Ghosted You’re in a relationship. Suddenly, and maybe without any warning at all, your partner seems to have disappeared. No calls, no text messages, no connection made on social media, no responses to any of your messages.

  6. Ghosting (behavior) - Wikipedia

    Ghosting, simmering and icing are colloquial terms that describe the practice of suddenly ending all communication and avoiding contact with another person without any apparent warning or explanation and ignoring any subsequent attempts to communicate. [1] [2] [3]

  7. How to Ghost Someone Kindly: 8 Ways to Disappear Quickly

    1 Cut off all contact. Download Article In order to ghost someone, don’t reach out to them at all. That’s the definition of ghosting. If they text, call, or message you, don’t respond. Eventually, they’ll get the hint that you don’t want to talk anymore, and they’ll stop reaching out. [1]

  8. 4 Reasons Why People Ghost | Psychology Today

    Ghosting is a passive break-up strategy where people disappear in order to end (typically) short-term relationships People may ghost due to convenience, a loss of attraction, negative...