Published in the Irish Independent June 8, 2023:
Are you being ghostlit? All you need to know about the latest dating trend
Dating in the modern age can be a disheartening experience. In fact, as more and more “dating trends” take hold, it can sometimes feel downright hopeless.
By now, most of us have heard of gaslighting — the behaviour in which one person uses manipulation to convince their partner that they are wrong.
And chances are, if you’ve ever dipped your toe into the world of online dating, you’ve also come across ghosting — the trend that sees people vanishing into thin digital air after a few dates.
But what happens when the two relationship trends come together in a decidedly toxic cocktail? The result — ghostlighting.
What is ghostlighting?
Ghostlighting is, essentially, the combination of ghosting and gaslighting. First, the person you have been seeing might cut off communication without warning. This is the ghosting phase. Then, as if that weren’t already bad enough, they might suddenly return, only to deny that they ghosted you in the first place, leaving you feeling confused. This, of course, is the gaslighting phase.
Apparently, this toxic combo is becoming more and more popular. “I think that ghostlighting is very toxic, but unfortunately, it is a very common trend these days,” says Laura Rinnankoski, a life and relationship coach based in Dublin.
After all, in the age of online dating, it has never been easier to simply disappear into cyberspace rather than facing an in-person break-up. To make matters worse, it can also be hard for people to own up to their actions out of guilt or even a misplaced hope they can protect your feelings — hence the tendency to gaslight after ghosting.
Three signs you’re being ghostlit
Ghostlighting can be a difficult habit to spot, especially in a new relationship.
1. Your partner is evasive
The first sign of a ghostlighter is evasion. Whether you want to arrange a date or discuss why they never reply to your messages, they avoid the conversation. This might mean they turn off read notifications on WhatsApp or they try to leave the in-person conversation.
2. Your partner responds defensively or even angrily
If you do manage to raise your concerns about their tendency to ghost you, their first response may be a defensive one. They may become angry and deflect your questions. They might even start shooting back their own accusations.
3. You leave conversations feeling doubt
After you speak to your partner about what you think is ghosting, you may find yourself feeling more confused than ever. If you leave these conversations doubting yourself (even though you’re not quite sure why you’re doubting yourself), this may be a case of ghostlighting.
The toxicity of ghostlighting
Being ghosted or gaslit are both unpleasant experiences that can leave you filled with self-doubt. Did I do something wrong? Was I too needy? Maybe they just needed some space, you may find yourself wondering.
However, according to Rinnankoski, it’s best to trust your emotional instincts when it comes to ghostlighting.
“It’s very important to remember that what somebody does is a reflection of them and not you,” she says.
“In any kind of relationship, whether you are dating or in a long-term relationship, it is very important to be honest with each other and have good communication. If something is not working, you should talk about it openly, instead of just disappearing.”
Ghostlighting is a manipulative tactic that can leave you questioning your perception of reality. So if someone goes radio silent, then refuses to acknowledge their disappearance, trust yourself.
As Rinnankoski explains, you should always be able to communicate with your partner — and if they are constantly disappearing and negating your feelings afterwards, communication is bound to break down pretty quickly.
So you’re being ghostlit — what next?
Ghostlighting can be a particularly difficult pattern to break — both for the ghostlighter and the ghostlit
The worst part about it is that immediately after being ghostlit, you might convince yourself that the ghosting phase never actually happened.
However, Rinnankoski stresses that it’s important to stick to your instincts and cut ties rather than letting things stretch out.
“When a person ghostlights someone, they are probably feeling guilty about how things got left… but don’t fall for the trap,” she warns.
“If a person ghosts you or ghostlights you once, the chances of them doing it again are very high. At this point, it’s very important for you to love yourself more and walk away from this toxic behaviour.”