Oh Great, A New Toxic Dating Trend. Your Guide To Ghostlighting

Ghosting: You know it, you hate it, and it's probably happened to you. You've maybe even done it yourself, a time or two, but you're hopefully not proud of it. One of the hallmark crimes of today's dating scene, ghosting occurs when a partner suddenly drops all communication without explanation. They stop answering texts, won't pick up your calls, and slide back out of your DMs as if they'd never been there. It's not only hurtful, but also confusing — not to mention cowardly.

Ghosting is arguably one of the biggest social faux pas of the digital age, with all the rude abruptness of hanging up on someone mid-conversation. Now, there may be a few exceptional cases when it's okay to ghost someone. But most of us can agree that suddenly and inexplicably cutting off communication with anyone, especially a romantic partner, is a no-no.

Unfortunately, ghosting isn't the only toxic dating trend out there. The proliferation of technology has made modern dating into a Wild West of chaotic communication and mannerless misbehavior. For proof, look no further than the internet's latest twist on ghosting: ghostlighting.

That's right — as if ghosting couldn't get any worse, it's now spawning equally terrible sub-variants. Hip hip hooray. But as much as you may hate to ask, it's important to know: What does ghostlighting entail, and what should you do if it happens to you?

What is ghostlighting?

A pithy portmanteau of ghosting and gaslighting, ghostlighting takes all the uncertainty and ego damage of being ghosted and adds a delightful helping of self-doubt. Essentially, ghostlighting occurs when a romantic partner stops talking to you out of the blue, then later reappears in your life and denies their behavior — first ghosting, then gaslighting.

If you try to ask about this vanishing act, a ghostlighter might challenge your version of events with misleading arguments. For instance, they might claim they had a good reason for going quiet, which you should have known about. Or, they might act like you're exaggerating the amount of time or number of unanswered messages. Some particularly cheeky ghostlighters might even suggest that you're actually the one who ghosted them.

That's right — they disappear on you and then refute that it ever happened, trying to gaslight you with claims that you're misremembering or even making up drama. It sounds outrageous, but when a ghostlighter is persuasive or charismatic enough, even the most self-aware victim might start to question their own understanding of events.

So how can you be sure whether you're really being ghostlighted, and if so, take steps to nip it in the bud? Manipulative ghostlighters are counting on your desire to think the best of other people — and, possibly, the worst of yourself. But there are ways to sidestep the confusion and handle possible ghostlighting with grace and clarity.

How to handle ghostlighting

If you think you're being ghostlighted, first deal with the initial blow by employing healthy ways to cope with being ghosted. Remind yourself that you've done nothing wrong, and it's not your fault a partner went AWOL. Call up a few reliable friends to make alternate plans, and keep your social life active. If necessary, you can even vent a few choice words into your journal. Overall, just be kind to yourself.

If the ghoster then returns with excuses, there are a few definite signs that they're ghostlighting you. For one thing, they won't properly apologize or take any blame for the lapse in communication. Instead, they may try to place all the responsibility on you. "If they didn't have the confidence or nerve to be straight with you in the first place, their first instinct might be to deny everything," relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW, points out to Women's Health. Look out for defensiveness, as well — they may overreact to your questions and play the victim card as if you're attacking them.

When these behaviors occur, your best strategy is to stay calm and stand your ground. If a ghostlighter thinks that you don't believe their lies or evasions, they will likely escalate their accusations or vanish again. Either way, you'll be able to see their manipulative tactics more clearly.

Above all else, don't be afraid to cut off the conversation from your end, this time. If a ghostlighter is harassing you, making you feel unsafe, or even just bringing too much negativity into your sphere, you're under no obligation to put up with it. Instead, give them a taste of their own medicine and block any ghostlighters so you can go live your best life without the hassle of their mind games.