THE BLOG

Is Ghosting an Appropriate Way to End a Relationship?

08/24/2015 05:21 EDT | Updated 08/24/2016 05:59 EDT
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Actors Sean Penn, right, and Charlize Theron pose for photographers as they arrive for the screening of the film Mad Max: Fury Road at the 68th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Thursday, May 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Vianney Le Caer, Pool)

In June of this year, Charlize Theron broke off her engagement with Sean Penn. That's not news in Hollywood, as relationships between actors or other celebrities seem to have an inevitable, early expiration date.

What was interesting was the news that Charlize engaged in ghosting, which is the act of completely cutting off contact with the other person.

In this era of being super-connected through our technology, the most shocking thing we can do today is to totally disconnect from another person.

It's impossible to know why Charlize chose ghosting as her way of dealing with Sean, or even if that's actually what she did, but it makes me think about the whole idea of making a clean break from someone in a world that's all about connectivity.

In the old days, when we no longer wanted to have contact with someone, we'd stop returning their calls and hope that eventually, they'd figure out that we were done with them.

Today, it's impossible for someone to misunderstand things when suddenly, they've been unfriended from Facebook, deleted from someone's contacts or unfollowed on Twitter and Instagram. It's unambiguous.

Ghosting isn't new. It's been around for a long time; it just didn't have a name. Today, it's become a "thing" because of how inter-connected we all are.

If we decide to engage in ghosting with one of our friends, all of our other contacts will be aware of it. It's that much more hurtful and humiliating to the person who's been cut off.

So, is ghosting good or bad? To me, it depends on the reasons for doing it. I've heard many stories from people who couldn't understand why a supposedly close friend suddenly stopped communicating with them. They never did find out why it happened.

Sometimes, ghosting is the easy way out for someone who hates confrontation and would rather delete a person from their contacts than get into an awkward discussion with them.

Sometimes, ghosting can be a spiteful act; a way to punish someone or get back at them.

Neither of these reasons are valid. It's really painful not to know why your friend or romantic partner has gone silent, and it also deprives you of the opportunity to learn what you might have done wrong.

There is one good reason for ghosting, though; it's when you're dealing with someone abusive, unreasonable or unstable.

Sometimes it's clear that any attempts at communication will be futile, or even dangerous, and the best option is to totally withdraw from the other person. In these cases, it's done as much for safety as for anything else.

I can also see that ghosting would be a reasonable choice when our friend or partner has done something so unacceptable or unforgivable that we're justifiably outraged and offended.

In this case, either we see no point in trying to discuss what happened, or we're too upset to talk to the other person, ever again.

Ghosting can be the natural and appropriate consequence of someone's very bad behaviour. So, although it's extremely painful, it's always a good idea to look within and ask ourselves if perhaps, we might have done something to deserve it.

Unfortunately, being completely cut off can make it impossible to ever know what we did wrong.

So, if Sean Penn did do something to cause Charlize Theron to ghost him, he might be able to figure out what he did to offend her, but then again, maybe not.

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