Virtue Vibes with Jarrod Blair

#9: The Ethics of Breakups - Should We Ghost Them?

August 16, 2023 Jarrod Blair Episode 9
Virtue Vibes with Jarrod Blair
#9: The Ethics of Breakups - Should We Ghost Them?
Show Notes Transcript

Should we ghost people? Or should we explain why we're breaking up with them? We'll probably never see them again, so why not just disappear? Why go through the hassle of explaining? In this episode, we think through the ethics of ghosting, and try to develop good rules of thumb to help us know how to ethically dump people. 

Outro music: "Good Night" by FASSounds on Pixabay

Intro music: "Lofi Heavy Chill Bass & Keyboard" by Phill Dillow on Pixabay

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Welcome back Virtue Vibes listeners! I’m your host, Jarrod Blair, and today we’re going to talk about ghosting. For those of you who’ve never heard that term before, ghosting is when you’re dating or in a relationship with someone and then you suddenly cut off all forms of communication without giving any explanation of why you’re doing so. And that last piece is key. I really want today’s topic to be about the lack of explanation that goes along with the abrupt cutting off of all communication, rather than just the cutting off of communication itself. Also, ghosting can happen in non-romantic relationships too, but today I’m just gonna focus on romantic ones, although many of my points would still apply to non-romantic cases.  

There are a couple reasons why I think it’s worthwhile to address this topic. First of all, being ghosted is quite a common experience. This happens all of the time in today’s dating scene. Chances are that you yourself or someone close to you has been ghosted, perhaps even multiple times. Since ghosting is such a common occurrence, it's exactly the kind of relevant topic I like thinking about here on Virtue Vibes.  

Another reason for addressing this topic is that it’s so easy to ghost people instead of having those tough break-up conversations. You’ll probably never see them again, so why bother explaining anything to them? That’s such a hassle... Why not ghost ‘em? This is such a tempting line of reasoning, which means you’d need an even stronger reason to do otherwise. And I don’t think simplistic reasons like “ghosting is rude” or “it's not nice” are clear or understandable enough to motivate us to not do it. We would need to really understand “why not?” if we’re gonna be motivated to do anything differently... 

That’s the challenge I want to take up in this episode. So without further ado, let’s get into it.  

 

---interlude--- 

 

Jack fell for Jill right away. They met on a dating app, and their first date was the stuff movies are made of; the chemistry was palpable. She was fun to be around, she had similar tastes in music and movies, and she laughed at all of Jacks jokes, which made him feel great. Things were going great for a few months, but then things took a turn for the worse. Jack slowly began to realize that Jill was quite a gossipy person, and she would constantly talk trash about people behind their back, even about close friends and family. It was mildly annoying at first, but one day Jill said some pretty nasty things about one of their mutual friends, thinking that Jack wouldn’t mind, but he did. Jack had been feeling worn down by the way Jill tore down others, but this was the last straw. Jack had had enough. Without warning, he cut off all communication with Jill, and blocked her on all social media platforms.  

Jill, on the other hand, thought things had been going well. She even bought him a gift for his upcoming birthday. After being ghosted, Jill was devastated at first, and then grew bitter. She burned all of their pictures together in a firepit, along with his birthday gift, and talked with her friends about how all men are such assholes. But this was just façade; a tough exterior put on to hide her sadness. “What was it?” she wondered... “Am I not good enough? Not pretty enough? Not smart enough? Why would anyone like me in the first place...” 

Jack and Jill are fictional characters, but stories like this are quite real. People ghost each other for a variety of reasons, and then the person being ghosted, the “ghostee” you might say, is left wondering why. And when you combine general breakup sadness with a feeling of confusion about the reason why they were ghosted, you’ve created a perfect recipe for harmful self-talk, where the voice in their head fills in the gaps by taking stabs at their biggest insecurities.  

Or maybe this depressive spiral doesn’t happen. Maybe Jill has a strong sense of self-worth, and can brush of being ghosted. Even so, Jill would still be worse off than if Jack would have communicated why he was breaking up with her. This is because she could have been given the opportunity to hear what was the problem, and to decide if it is something that she should work to improve. As things stand, she might just continue her trash-talking ways, and inadvertently push away other suitors.  

This brings me to my first point, which is simply this: ghosting someone without providing any explanation is both hurtful and unhelpful. It’s hurtful because it leaves them in a confused state, one where their mind is left to fill in the gaps with often misguided self-criticism and self-doubt. Ghosting is also unhelpful, because by leaving them in the dark about what went wrong, they will be unable to think about the issue and potentially improve the quality of their future romantic endeavors. This is one reason why I think that we should try not to ghost people. Although there are some notable exceptions, which we will talk about later, it seems best to confront our former romantic interests and explain why we are ending things. Adhering to this rule of thumb helps us to prevent harm and promote good within the people we’re parting ways with.  

 

---interlude--- 

 

The first reason I gave to not ghost people, and to explain why you’re breaking up with them, had to do with the wellbeing of that specific person. But I think there’s all sorts of other subtle ways in which ghosting harms the world. One of the ways this happens is the effects that ghosting has on you yourself. When you ghost someone, you're training your mind to approach confrontation in this way, rather than in a more direct, straightforward, and honest way. You begin to think, “Wow, that was easy. Next time I’m in a similar situation with family or friends or another romantic interest, instead of communicating my frustrations and intentions I’ll just disappear.” You can probably see why this is pretty bad habit to develop. Alternatively, by not ghosting people, and clearly communicating why you are cutting things off, you train yourself to become someone who can clearly and honesty communicate their frustrations and intentions, which will greatly help your relationships down the road. In short, your character itself can be either strengthened or weakened by your breakup practices.  

Another way that ghosting harms the world is the example that it sets for dating culture. When you ghost someone, even though you’ll probably never see them again, you’re contributing to making that a normal thing to do in your society. Friends and family of both people involved often hear about what happened, and if they hear about stories like this enough, then they might start thinking that this is just a normal part of dating. Your example could even inspire them to resort to ghosting in their own dating lives. This is how culture develops and is reinforced, so it’s worthwhile thinking about what kind of example you are setting. Furthermore, the people you know and love also have to deal with this same culture. Your children might one day be left crushed and confused after being ghosted in the same way that you have done to someone else. Sure, it’s not a direct line of causation, but it's clear that the example you set in this area has a small but real influence on the dating culture that we all have to deal with. So, although it sounds strange, try to break up with people in the way that you would want other people to break up with the people you love.   

 

---interlude--- 

 

So far I’ve only provided support for thinking that we shouldn’t ghost people, but this is only a good rule of thumb. This is because even though in most cases it’s best to take time to explain why you're breaking up with someone, there are some notable exceptions. The first, and perhaps clearest exception is in cases involving severe violence or abuse. In episode 5, titled “Encountering Homelessness with TJ Reed,” we talked about a woman who was in a physically abusive relationship, one that she should have gotten out of sooner. In this case, I don’t think that she had any responsibility to explain why she was leaving. In fact, I think telling her abuser about her intentions to leave could have put her in even more danger, because abusers like that tend to dial up the intensity of their physical and emotional abuse when they sense that they don’t have stable control over their partners. Instead, she probably should have ghosted this person asap, cutting off all forms of communication and potential ways of locating her, like social media, and escaped to a friend or relative’s house or a battered women’s shelter. I'm sure you’d agree that the benefits of securing her personal safety far outweighed any harms of ghosting. 

Another, less clear case has to do with people who can’t handle criticism or rejection, the ones who will likely snap at you when you have this conversation. The reactions I have in mind are stronger than the sadness and frustration that is to be expected when being dumped, but not quite as clearly threatening as the abuser mentioned earlier. The hard part about these cases is that you have to weigh your own mental health and wellbeing against the overall good you can do by explaining yourself clearly and honestly. The sad part about these cases is that people who react in this way are less likely to ever recognize and work on their faults, because their strong reactions disincentivize others from being honest with them. But there’s also a real cost to the person trying to break up with them, because you’re likely to endure small but subtle forms of abuse when confronting this person. For these reasons, I think this is a real judgment call, which will differ from case to case. But I will say this; try to be honest with yourself. Do you genuinely have a good reason to ghost somebody, or are you simply doing it because you’re afraid of confrontation? If it’s the latter, you should probably reconsider.  

One last consideration I’ll mention has to do with the type of relationship we are talking about. If you just met this person on a blind date yesterday, then I don’t think there’s too much to explain. Perhaps even a simple “I’m not interested” is good enough. Heck, you hardly know them, and although it’s possible, it’s hard to really develop meaningful feedback in such a short amount of time. And sometimes things just don’t click, even though you can’t explain why. But when you’re breaking up with someone further down the line in a relationship, and you’ve had time to understand more about your partner and to think about why things aren’t going to work out, I think a fuller explanation makes more sense.  

So that’s about all I have for you today. In summary, as a rule of thumb, I think we shouldn’t ghost people, and we should do our best to explain why we are breaking up with somebody. Doing so helps them to understand exactly what went wrong, which gives them an opportunity to decide if it’s something they want to do differently to improve future relationships. Explaining ourselves also helps us to become clearer and more honest communicators, and it sets a good example for dating culture in general. There are some notable exceptions to this rule of thumb, such as cases involving violence or abuse. And there are other cases where you’ll have to judge whether to ghost or not by the specific details of that situation. But we should always be honest with ourselves and make sure we have a good reason for ghosting, instead of being merely lazy or afraid of confrontation. With this being said, I wish you all the best in your romantic endeavors, and may you only dump and be dumped in the best of ways for the rest of your days.