what is semi-ghosting and how to deal with it
Relationships

How to tell if you’ve been “semi-ghosted” – and what it means for your relationships

Fed up of flaky friends and on-off relationships? You could be the victim of “semi-ghosting”. Here’s how to tell.

There are two things in life that we know to be absolutely true. One, relationships require maintenance and two, not everyone in our lives will be prepared to keep them oiled and running smoothly.

We all have those friends, co-workers or even family members that we vow to catch a drink with, but deep down we know the plan will never materialise. And when it comes to dating, there’s really nothing more crushing than watching a sparkly date fizzle into unresponsive WhatsApps and unreturned Instagram likes.

Studies suggest that 23% of adults have experienced ghosting in romantic situations, but it’s likely that even more of us have experienced “semi-ghosting” in other aspects of our lives.

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What is semi-ghosting?

As Preston Ni, author of Communication Success with Four Personality Types and How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People writes for Psychology Today, “semi-ghosting” describes when a formerly close relationship is still superficially in place, but the frequency and depth of contact are so lacking that the relationship is barely exists. Think strings of unanswered messages, periods of lost contact and constant flakiness when it comes to plans.

Social media has also undoubtedly made it easier for us to ease out of relationships we no longer wish to maintain. But as anyone who has been on the receiving end of ghosting knows, just because it’s not an awkward IRL “I don’t want to be your friend anymore” conversation, doesn’t mean it’s painless.

Unlike “complete ghosting”, the more traditional method we may have experienced, semi-ghosting feels elongated and therefore all the more painful. There is something agonising about constant flip-flopping, never quite getting closure at the end of a relationship, and always finding yourself reeled back in. 

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“Whereas it’s pretty obvious if you’re being ghosted by a romantic partner or friend, being semi-ghosted can leave you feeling frustrated and confused,” agrees Kristina Morton, head of matching at Ignite Dating.

“Maybe the dates, phone calls and regular messages have dried up, yet there is still occasional contact, leaving you wondering where you stand and even if you’re in a relationship or friendship at all.”

Why do people semi-ghost?

Morton says that semi-ghosting is often an attempt to maintain power within the relationship or friendship.

“Semi-ghosting is bound to have a negative impact on your self-esteem and you may be wondering if your partner or friend is no longer interested in you or if you’re purely being used as an occasional distraction,” she tells Stylist.

“If you bring it up with them, they’re likely to respond with the excuse that they’re very busy, which may well be the truth. Alternatively, they may have other issues they haven’t told you about, they may be annoyed with you about something or, worst of all, they may be trying to have their cake and eat it; keeping you hanging on until they want you again.”

Indeed, semi-ghosting could also be a sign that they’re unsure about the relationship.

What is “semi-ghosting” – and why does it hurt more than the real thing?

“If they think that you want to move the relationship forward in a way that they aren’t ready for, they might semi-ghost as a way of slowing things down,” agrees Jessica Alderson, co-founder and relationship expert at So Syncd.

However, not all motivations are malicious.

“Sometimes people semi-ghost because they are genuinely busy,” Anderson reminds. “We all have periods in our lives when it’s hard to stay on top of everything and they may just be prioritising other things for a while.”

We all know that life can throw some pretty sharp curveballs, and we don’t always get the time to prioritise the people in our life as much as we’d like. Sometimes, there truly aren’t enough hours in the day to give our loved ones the attention they might need.

“Semi-ghosting is the result of a whole range of situations so don’t jump to conclusions if this is happening to you,” she confirms. “Being semi-ghosted can feel like being rejected in a lot of ways but even though it can come from a selfish place, it’s important to bear in mind that this isn’t always the case.”

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How to tell if you’re being semi-ghosted

In his Psychology Today piece, Ni identifies five key signs of semi-ghosting:

  1. The semi-ghoster rarely keeps in touch or initiates contact
  2. When contacted, the semi-ghoster may take a long time to reply
  3. Occasional contacts are brief and superficial
  4. Occasional contacts lack the sincere interest, personal inquisitiveness, and mutuality of concern necessary for a meaningful relationship
  5. When asked about the lack of communication, the semi-ghoster may claim to be busy, preoccupied, or moving forward in a different direction

However, these points can be simplified to a single question: is the other person making you a priority, or is the relationship veering towards becoming one-sided?

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The realisation that someone you care about doesn’t value you in the same way is always going to be a difficult one. A text, like, or voicenote might seem like an insignificant gesture, but the absence of these small deeds quickly becomes apparent.

“To be treated purely as an additional option, a safety net or an additional distraction devalues your worth and destroys your self-esteem,” continues Morton.

“It’s important to express how you feel and ask the other person to explain the real reasons for their behaviour towards you. You may not like the response but at least you then know the truth. What you do with it is up to you, but you should consider whether your emotional – or even mental health – would be better if you took back control and ended the connection between the two of you to allow you to move on and find someone who would truly want to be with you and would make you a priority in their life.”

What is “semi-ghosting” – and why does it hurt more than the real thing?

How to handle being semi-ghosted

So you find yourself always being the one to reach out but continually being left on read – but what can you do?

First things first: if you are being semi-ghosted right now, avoid sitting around overthinking things. Now is the time to decide if you want to allow the relationship to drift, or if approaching the problem head on might be a workable solution.

“If you’re semi-ghosted by a friend, you should have an open and honest conversation with them,” advises Anderson. “You can say that you sense things have changed between you. The next step is to ask if they feel the same and to understand why the semi-ghosting is happening.”

However, it’s important not to let any raw feelings get the better of you in the heat of the moment.

“If you approach the situation from a place of empathy and give them the benefit of the doubt, you’ll have a much better conversation,” she adds. “After talking through how you both feel and why they semi-ghosted you, you can make a better-informed decision about what to do next and if you want to stay friends.”

What is “semi-ghosting” – and why does it hurt more than the real thing?

If you are open to reconciliation, Anderson explains that it is possible to rekindle a relationship with a semi-ghoster but that you might have to let them come to you.

“You have to accept that you aren’t in control of their decisions and you can’t force them to talk about why they are semi-ghosting you,” she says.

If someone who previously ghosted you does reach out, she advises being cautious, but also open and receptive. “This signals that they have a safe space to talk things through if they want to. It might be hard, but you should do your best to be at peace with the fact that they might disappear completely. Continue living your life and they can lead the rekindling if they choose to,” she adds.

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