It was nearly six months before 35-year-old Surabhi met the man she had been chatting with. Seven years older than him, she was excited yet skeptical about their relationship. “I had been disappointed in love before and so I made sure we spoke to each other for a few months before meeting. It made me feel a little more certain of the man’s interest in me,” she says.
Their meeting went better than expected as he turned out to be affectionate and sensitive. They continued texting and calling each other, and met whenever they could manage to be in the same city.
“Then one night he told me he saw me as the future mother of his kids. I didn’t know how to respond, but I realised he truly loved me and wanted to be with me,” says Surabhi.
It had to be true love, right? Why else would a man say something this momentous to his love interest? However, Surabhi was in for a rude shock, when the love of her life suddenly pulled a disappearing act on her. Texts went unread, calls went unreturned. He was always busy at work or travelling. Slowly, after months of soul searching, Surabhi realised she had been ghosted.
Sahely Gangopadhyay, a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist from Kolkata, says ‘ghosting’ is on the rise as social media connections make it easier for people to replace relationships and love interests. “Yes, there may be attraction or even love right now. But when the interest dies down, people simply move on. And that’s the bitter truth,” she says.
We spoke to a bunch of women and therapists to find out how ghosting affects mental health.
Once bitten, twice shy
Ready to settle down, 32-year-old Akhila from Delhi signed herself up on a matrimonial site, where she met a man who was also looking for a long-term relationship. “We were in the same profession, our offices were close by, we had a lot of common friends and his sister was my college junior. There was an instant spark that strengthened during our subsequent meetings,” she says.
On multiple occasions, the man told Akhila assuring things like “we are so similar, I’m glad I met you, we’re probably soulmates”. Each time she felt they were rushing into things, he made it seem spontaneous and perfectly natural.
“I stopped resisting and put my guard down for him. I thought that maybe after a string of bad dates this was the last stop. But his attitude suddenly changed and the day-long texts became shorter, and eventually stopped. My calls went unreturned. He’d text back and say, I’ll call you back, which he never did,” she says.
It has been a few months now, but Akhila still has no clue as to what went wrong. Each time she asked for an explanation, he promised to call and speak to her at length. That conversation never happened and soon she gave up.
This incident, however, has made her more cautious and doubtful of men. “It took me a long time to accept that he’s actually ghosted me and that it’s all over. I kept trying to talk to him hoping for a logical explanation. But that didn’t happen. I fear being ghosted again and have a hard time trusting men I meet now,” Akhila says.
Gangopadhyay says ghosting affects only those who are looking for something serious and stable. “I have observed that men who ghost rarely have any memories of time spent together. For them the connection, which did provide some comfort or excitement back then, is replaceable.”
‘Did I do something wrong?’
Narendra Kinger, a senior clinical psychologist and marriage counsellor from Mumbai, feels online dating has made it easier for people to ‘block’ or ‘delete’ others. “Earlier, it used to take an entire village to build a relationship. There were common friends, families knew all your friends and associates and so did your neighbours! It was impossible to cut ties without it creating a massive ripple effect. Now, it’s just two people, on their phones. No wonder it’s easy to ghost someone.” However, the person who is ghosted does experience the emotional trauma of a failed relationship.
As online dating leaves behind minimal traces of a connection or relationship, it is easier for young men to move on without an explanation. 21-year-old Akansha from Mumbai admits she felt ‘shitty for days’ after she was ghosted. “I had heard of people ghosting each other, but when it happened to me I couldn’t digest it. It made me question everything I had said or done in the relationship,” she says.
Lack of closure kept Akansha on edge for days and she started blaming herself. “It made me feel worthless as I started wondering if I was responsible for his actions in some way. I mean who disappears without absolutely any warning sign?”
Gangopadhyay says she has met women who would rather blame themselves for being ghosted than move on without closure. “A woman needs to understand that a man who is capable of ghosting her, did not respect or love her in the first place. He was probably looking for a temporary escapade or trying to fill a void,” she says.
One too many options
In an age where everyone wants to get to know everyone only via texts, it is taxing to keep up after a point. In the end, ghosting serves as the only way out
to filter conversations and people.
With our busy lives, social media works like a quick drug that offers instant gratification. Since it is a quick fix, its effect is also quick to wear off. “We are constantly on our phones and on dating apps out of sheer habit. It rarely matters who the person on the other side is, as long as there’s someone to fill our immediate void. With such a vast pool to choose from, ghosting actually is not a big deal for most people,” says Gangopadhyay.
31-year-old Ritika from Hyderabad started dating a few months after her divorce. “Maybe I was on the rebound, but back then I thought I was serious about him. However, he was only interested in sex and I failed to see the red flags. When he ghosted me I felt shocked and violated. I decided to seek help, which has now put things into perspective for me.
“Very few people on dating sites are emotionally invested in those they talk to or meet. I don’t hear of instances where men on Tinder ask women about their hobbies or career aspirations! Shouldn’t that ring an alarm bell?” points out Gangopadhyay.
She says it is perfectly okay if the woman is on the same page and is aware that this is an online connection and the man must be talking to a dozen other women. “I ask my clients to be aware of how the online dating world functions, if they want to save themselves from hurting,” she adds.
Fear of abuse
Kinger says women often choose to ghost men rather than face a bruised male ego. “They are afraid of the violent verbal or sometimes even physical reactions that they may have to endure. As a result, women choose to quietly slip away by ghosting. They feel the men may try to pursue for some time and then give up, which does happen in a few cases,” he says.
34-year-old Dipika, a single mom from Delhi, agrees. “I was dating a guy 9 years younger to me. He was amazing to be with, but I realised how different our worlds were. Although he insisted on spending more time with me, I started avoiding him,” she says.
Dipika says she could not picture him as her partner or as a father figure to her child. When she sensed the growing frustration in him, she decided to block his number. “I didn’t have the courage to face him or explain my predicament to him. It was easier to ghost him. I don’t feel proud of what I did, but back then it seemed the only way out,” she says.
Kinger says when ghosted, women and men should allow the process of disengagement to run its natural course and deal with it as a ‘loss of love and loss of a relationship’ and not as ‘there is no love in this world or love is not meant for me’.