Rewire Logo
A nonprofit journalism
website produced by:
Twin Cities PBS Logo

Ghosted? Here's How to Find Closure

Find ways to process your split, without a formal breakup.

by Gretchen Brown
May 27, 2020 | Love

Nearly 80 percent of millennial singles have been ghosted at least once. I'm in that camp.

Like many polite Midwesterners, I find confrontation to be difficult, especially when the other person didn't do anything wrong in particular. So I understand why ghosting happens.

Ghosting — abruptly cutting off all contact with someone — has likely existed for as long as dating has, but it's been made easier over the past decade by technology. 

The problem with getting ghosted is it doesn't leave you with any closure. It's harder to learn what went wrong and harder to completely close the door on that person.

As I've written about before, the grief you go through after a breakup is true grief; the same kind you experience after a death.

So when a relationship ends via ghosting, you're grieving, but you don't have a meaningful way to process it. 

"Non-death losses are equally as painful as death losses," said Diana Anzaldua, a licensed clinical social worker in Austin, Texas. 

"Not allowing yourself to process these emotions or cope safely can lead to mental breakdowns and depressive states."

It doesn't matter whether the relationship was formal. Anzaldua said it's vital to process that grief so you don't keep carrying it with you to future relationships.

Fill in the gaps

One of the reasons ghosting hurts so much? You're not walking away from the relationship with a narrative in your mind.

"Closure is so important because it means you and your partner have agreed on a story — 'We want different things,' 'the timing is wrong,' 'this isn't what I'm looking for,'" psychoanalyst Claudia Luiz said.

A man looks at his phone after being ghosted. REWIRE PBS relationships ghosted
It doesn't matter whether the relationship was formal. It's vital to process that grief so you don't keep carrying it with you to future relationships.  |  Credit: Adobe

"But without a good narrative, you're only left with fantasy and self-doubt. What did I do wrong? Why didn't he/she like me?"

Instead, you have to fill in the gaps and guess what went wrong.

In 2015, Vice columnist Alison Stevenson actually contacted some of the men who ghosted her over the years to ask why they did it. 

Aside from just plain bad communication, she found that some of them thought the end of contact was mutual, when it wasn't. Others said they actually regretted not texting back.

"Talking to these guys made me realize that so many of our actions in dating are based off assumptions," she writes. 

"Rather than say what we feel and letting each other know our intentions, we assume that we're all on the same page about everything."

Luiz recommends finding your own takeaway from the ghosting, even if you're not up for contacting all your old flames like Stevenson did.

Like maybe you'll reveal yourself more slowly to the next person you date before diving all in. Or you'll focus more on the other person to make sure they're a good fit. Or you'll realize that rejection is not always personal.

If you take the rejection as an opportunity to learn something about dating, or yourself, you'll be closer to closure. 

Write it all down

Whenever I've been ghosted, I've been embarrassed about the fact that those rejections even hurt me at all. In an effort to play it cool, it's easy to push feelings aside.

But it's important to work through all those feelings — confusion, sadness, relief, you name it — however conflicting.

"Downplaying the validity of your feelings may prolong you from getting over the person," said Tori Autumn, a certified relationship and self-love coach

"Or you might give attention to someone you're not that into just to fill a void."

Autumn recommends journaling as a way to process the loss. Write in a way that works for you.

You could write a letter to the person describing your feelings — with no intent to actually send it. Toss it when you're done, or keep it if you'd like.

If you love lists, write a list of reasons you're grateful the relationship has ended. Or, if you prefer a stream of consciousness, just vent into your diary. 

There are no real rules. Whichever way you do it, writing allows you to actively process your feelings.

If talking is more your thing, you can set a chair in front of you and actually talk to it as if it's your ex.

"It may sound silly, but experientially working through what the person did to you can really help to process and resolve the hurt feelings you are left with," clinical psychologist Jennifer Barbera said.

Tell your imaginary ex how you feel about the way they treated you and what you wish they would have done instead.

Maybe this would have been the break-up talk you would have had if you had gotten the chance.

You can't change the way they treated you, but you'll feel better about the end of the relationship.

Gretchen Brown
Gretchen Brown is an editor for Rewire. She’s into public media, music and really good coffee. Email her at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @gretch_brown.
Are you here? So are we!
Rewire LogoFor a better life and a brighter future
A nonprofit journalism website produced byTPT Logo
©2022 Twin Cities Public Television.Privacy PolicyTerms of Use