Relational Thinking

Relationship Accountability and the Rise of Ghosting

“I’ve been dating a woman for three weeks, but after we had sex for the first time, she’s stopped texting me back. WTF?” – Edward, 36

Rejection has always been a part of the relationship landscape. But are the new trends of ghosting, icing and simmering increasing our acceptance of ambiguous ends?

Last month, I spoke about modern love at a conference with 2,500 millennials. There, I was introduced to these new norms of intimate relationships and the corresponding vocabulary (we made you a chart, written by my friend Adam Devine).




These tactics of maintaining unclear relationships and prolonging break-ups all produce what I call stable ambiguity; too afraid to be alone, but unwilling to fully engage in intimacy building — a holding pattern that affirms the undefined nature of the relationship, which has a mix of comforting consistency AND the freedom of blurred lines.

We want to have our cake and eat it too. We want to have someone available to cozy-up with when it’s snowing, but if something better comes along, we want the freedom to explore.

In this relationship culture, expectations and trust are in constant question. The state of stable ambiguity inevitably creates an atmosphere where at least one person feels lingering uncertainty, and neither person feels truly appreciated or nurtured. We do this at the expense of our emotional health, and the emotional health of others.

It’s time to bring back relationship accountability.

In situations like Edward’s, the ghostee hopes the ghosted will just “get the hint,” as opposed to having to communicate that he/she is no longer interested. However, inaction has causality. At first, Edward runs the gamut of reasons he hasn’t heard back: She must have a really busy work week. She lost her phone. She doesn’t want to seem too eager. At first, relaxed and patient, Edward tries to be understanding, but his attempts at insight soon morph into uncertainty and self-doubt. Am I bad in bed? Did I say something to offend her? Am I unlovable? In the absence of information, he will fill the gaps, and what he imagines is most likely worse than reality.

Ghosting, icing, and simmering are manifestations of the decline of empathy in our society — the promoting of one’s selfishness, without regard for the consequences of others. There is a person on the other end of our text messages (or lack thereof), and the ability to communicate virtually doesn’t give us the right to treat others poorly.

I encourage you to end relationships respectfully and conclusively, however brief they may be. Act with kindness and integrity. This allows both people to enter into his/her next relationship with more experience and a clear head, rather than filled with disappointment and insecurity.

Ideas to incorporate into a final conversation:

  • Thank you for what I’ve experienced with you.
  • This is what I take with me, from you.
  • This is what I want you to take with you, from me.
  • This is what I wish for you, henceforward.

Of course, duos dancing in the stable ambiguity zone don’t always end in a breakup. Sometimes this state is the training wheels period needed for one or both parties to realize he/she wants something more. This is normal for a brief, beginning phase, but not as the defining mode of a relationship.

Check Out My New Podcast

"Where Should We Begin?"

Episode Guide

Recent Articles





Letters from Esther #12: How Your Relationships Will Change

My monthly newsletter and free workshop series is meant to inspire you to reflect, act, and develop greater confidence and relational intelligence in all of your relationships. This month's theme is: How Your Relationships Will Change.

View Article




Feeling Alone in a Relationship? You’re not alone.

Loneliness isn’t new, but it’s also no longer just about being socially isolated. Over the last decade, we’ve experienced a new type of loneliness—the loss of connection, trust, and capital while we are next to the person with whom we’re not supposed to be lonely. Read more about feeling alone in a relationship, how it's intensified in the  midst of crisis, and what you can do to reconnect.

View Article




Letters from Esther #11 - Change is in the Details

Letters from Esther is my monthly newsletter and livestream to inspire reflection and action in areas that are important for your relational intelligence. This month's theme is: Change is in the Details.

View Article




A Look Inside Couples Therapy: How a Podcast Turned into a Global Mental Health Resource

Hearing others’ experiences can help us with our own. Read more about how Where Should Begin? came to be and what you can gain from listening to the stories and struggles of other couples.

View Article