Ghosting in romantic relationships and friendships: Causes and consequences for ghosters


Ghosting – an one-sided discontinuation of communication online without giving an explicit reason — is discussed frequently, predominantly with a focus on romantic relationships and from ghostees' point of view. This newly published study sheds light on the phenomenon from the perspective of ghosters in different types of relationships and studies possible causes and long-term effects.

Article by Adriana Sofia Palloks (✉

In a two-wave panel study with approximately 1,000 young adults aged 16 to 21 (around 400 participated at both survey times), possible predictors and psychological effects of ghosting were examined. To this end, participants' engagement in ghosting romantic partners and friends as well as communication overload (feeling overwhelmed with the amount of communicative demands on social media), their self-esteem, and depressive tendencies were measured. The study complements existing research on ghosting within romantic relationships and friendships. "Investigating ghosters' motivations and consequences of their behavior for their well-being is essential for understanding why ghosting occurs and how it affects both involved parties", explain communication scientists Michaela Forrai, Kevin Koban, and Jörg Matthes from the University of Vienna.

Be it within romantic relationships or within friendships – multiple studies have already stated that their participants disclosed having first-hand experience with ghosting. Social media has considerably impacted how relationships are formed, maintained, and ended, and although ghosting has become all-too-common, research in this area is rather scarce.

"The fact that the term 'ghosting' is often understood in different ways was a major starting point for this project: In our study, we do not only consider it ghosting when contact is cut off for good, but also when communication from one side comes to a halt for an unexpectedly long period of time – what is crucial is that this happens without explanation", explains Michaela Forrai, first author of the paper. "We also broaden the focus of most research in this area, which is often limited to studying ghosting within romantic relationships, and also examine ghosting within friendships", she continues.

Approximately 1,000 emerging adults between the ages of 16 and 21 took part in the online survey, which was conducted in the spring and fall of 2021. Respondents were asked about their engagement in ghosting within friendships and romantic relationships as well as their well-being at two points in time, with a four-month interval between surveys (around 400 people participated at both survey times). This allowed for identifying causes and effects of ghosting others in different types of relationships over time.

Ghosting within friendships and within romantic relationships: Two separate phenomena

Causes of ghosting others and resulting psychological effects vary between friendships and romantic relationships, for instance regarding communication overload: While a flood of messages does not necessarily lead to an increased likelihood of ghosting friends, an excessive number of messages can cause a discontinuation of communication among romantic partners. The authors explain this result by arguing that interaction within romantic relationships is often more demanding and time-consuming than within friendships, and ghosting can offer a way to avoid feelings of being overwhelmed. Furthermore, self-esteem does not necessarily play a role: People with high self-esteem are more likely to ghost their friends; however, no relationship was found between self-esteem and ghosting romantic partners. This can be explicated by the fact that higher self-esteem typically comes with more active behavior; since most people have more friendships than romantic relationships, ghosting may be more likely to play a role in deliberately choosing to end contact with friends than with romantic partners. Unlike what the authors had expected, a person's depressive tendencies do not make ghosting others more likely, neither among romantic partners nor among friends. The authors point out that while people who face mental health problems are more likely to withdraw (which makes it seem plausible that they would ghost others), they also look for support in their environment, which makes ghosting others less likely.

Possible effects of ghosting over time

The study also provides insights into possible consequences of ghosting on ghosters' well-being over time. There was no longitudinal relationship between self-esteem and engagement in ghosting. This result supports the idea that ghosting has become a "new normal" in different relationship contexts. Nevertheless, ghosting can also have negative consequences for ghosters: Respondents who stated in the first survey that they had ghosted friends showed an increase in depressive feelings at the second measurement point. "Based on our results, we would like to give an impulse for reflecting on one's own ghosting behavior, especially within friendships – this could reduce negative consequences for oneself and also for potential ghostees", says Forrai.

Publication details

Forrai, M., Koban, K., & Matthes, J. (2023). Short-sighted ghosts. Psychological antecedents and consequences of ghosting others within emerging adults' romantic relationships and friendships. Telematics and Informatics, 80, 101969. doi:10.1016/j.tele.2023.101969

Michaela Forrai is an University Assistant (predoctoral researcher) in the Department of Communication of the University of Vienna since March 2022.


Kevin Koban is an University Assistant (postdoctoral researcher) in the Department of Communication of the University of Vienna since September 2020.


Jörg Matthes is Professor of Communication and Advertising Research as well as Vice-Chair of the Department of Communication at the University of Vienna.