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Recently I came upon this term in a context I was unfamiliar with and quickly learned that it has become painfully common. “Ghosting” aka “avoidance” is when someone you’re dating ends the relationship by cutting off all communication, without any explanation. It translates into the ultimate silent treatment after several dates, or even when you’re in a committed relationship. While it generally applies to romantic relationships, it’s worth noting that ghosting can also happen — no less painfully — in platonic friendships as well.

My immediate reaction was to focus on the general avoidance of difficult conversations, knowing when it’s time to end a relationship but not having the courage or the tools to do so. Even in a smaller context, most of us are uncomfortable with speaking the words to someone who we once cared about, perhaps still do, but no longer want to be connected to them. The immediacy of on-line communication makes it even harder to step away and disconnect appropriately.

“According to anthropologist/psychologist Robin Dunbar, Ph.D., he and his colleagues proposed that a person can handle the following number of relationships, including family members.”

150 – People in a social group (the ones you’d send a holiday card to)

50 –   Friends (the ones you’d invite to a party)

15–    Close friends (the ones who listen to your problems)

  5–    Confidantes (the ones with whom you share your secrets)

Martha Beck puts it more succinctly, “ Confrontation is actually an intimacy skill, a way to resolve issue with people you really want in your life…so in important relationships, you have to develop the courage to confront….You are not obligated to offer this level of effort to every co-worker, acquaintance or stranger who follows you on Instagram.” The sheer number of people in a typical on-line world would make for another full -time job of relationship management.

So, how do you detach without simply disappearing and offering no explanation? It takes practice to be honest with respect to your level of commitment. Sometimes polite excuses work nicely but sometimes you just have to shut it down and move on.


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