Today’s column is a love letter to avoidance. Today, we are here to talk about “ghosting.”
To quote Google, ghosting is “the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.” I would like to note that this definition refers not just to romantic relationships, but all personal relationships, and that the definition could lend itself to mutual detachment. And so, I’d argue that the term ghosting can be used to refer to the death of any relationship.
Ghosting is the ultimate act of passive disappearance: a commitment to doing nothing, to ignoring attempts at contact, to completely disentangling yourself from someone else’s life. This is easier said than done on college campuses, but Penn provides an adequate population — roughly 10,000 undergrads — to lose oneself in. It’s easy to be anonymous here. We go out of our way to avoid each other — heads down in elevators, earbuds plugged in as we walk down Locust Walk, eyes fixated on our phones at dinner tables.
I’m here to say that ghosting is maybe the kindest way to end any relationship in the digital era.
I accidentally ghost people all the time; less often on purpose. Many of my friendships at Penn have been transient. All of my romantic relationships have. I wonder, sometimes, what the difference between friends and acquaintances, acquaintances and strangers.
Then again, old relationships must end to make room for new ones. Dunbar’s number states that the number of connections a person can have is finite — a suggested 150 for acquaintances, 6-10 for close friends. I’d argue that social media allows for a perceived artificial inflation of this number, creating the perception of social connection when there is none. After all, it’s relatively normal to have upwards of 800 Facebook “friends.”
In my experience, we deride ghosting as annoying, cowardly, insulting and yet, we all do it to people anyway. It is easier to stop talking to someone than it is to bluntly break up. It’s uncomfortable to state that a relationship that was never defined as a “relationship” is over — because that would mean acknowledging it as a “thing” in the first place. It’s a social faux pas to tell a person that the two of you are not friends anymore, and maybe you were never friends in the first place. Perhaps ghosting is a kindness.
After all, even if you do concretely end a relationship, the chatroom still exists. Their phone number still exists. They might still be a friend of a friend, or a classmate, or you might be living on the same floor as them.
In the past, it used to be harder to communicate. A phone call must be done in real time, with two active participants. A letter takes infinitely longer to send than a Facebook message. The value of the ability to communicate has depreciated. This is far from a bad thing. But I think it, paradoxically enough, dissuades us from communicating and makes us more likely to use the absence of communication to stand in for dismissal.
I submit the proposal that in today’s hyperconnected world, there is no choice but to ghost. Conscious pseudo-disappearance is inevitable because there is no way to truly disappear anymore, because the platform for communication exists long after you have stopped communicating.
Conversely, the potential for communication makes us complacent, prevents us from talking to our peers because, well, the option’s always open, I’ll do it tomorrow. And without due reason to speak — no need to network, no need to ask about next week’s homework — we go silent.
Or maybe ghosting and its derivatives have always existed and Snapchat and Facebook messenger and text messages have only made us hyper-conscious of the communicative trails we leave in our wake.
Ghosting is necessary. It is the best option out of a list of bad options. If the potential for communication can never disappear, then the only thing to do is ignore that potential.
Ghosting can only exist because we have come to accept its alternative as the norm. We expect constant communication from friends and significant others and acquaintances half a world away. And so, nothing can die naturally.
ISABEL KIM is a College junior from Warren, N.J., studying English and fine arts. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “It Keeps Happening” usually appears every other Thursday.
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