Reflection: Who You Gonna Call?


In 1984, and again in 2016, the movie Ghostbusters came to theaters. First with a group of courageous ghost-chasing men, and then with a group of fearless ghost-fighting women.

And the soundtrack, by Ray Parker, Jr., and then revamped by Missy Elliot and Fall Out Boy asked the question: when the ghosts show up, Who You Gonna Call?

And as I continue my exploration of toxic behaviors, outlined in Australian psychologist Karen Young’s article “Toxic People: 12 Things They Do and How to Deal With Them.” (, today I want to ask that question in a different way.

When a person you value ghosts you, just ceasing communication without explanation, who you gonna call?

When the person you like, love, or are attached to shuts you out, whether suddenly altogether abandoning communication with you, or disappearing in a hundred little ways, what do you do?

Young highlights the person who will leave a conversation unfinished – and then go offline.

And there are several words that describe this and similar types of behavior. The terms and technology may be new. But the tactics are not.

There is microghosting, “gradual declines in responses, or a distancing of language, selective inclusion, or patchy correspondence.”

There is soft ghosting, “when someone you’re chatting to disappears without a trace – but rather than entirely vanishing into thin air, the object of your affection just likes your message.” They stop engaging you at the level you have established, suddenly, generally intentionally, and without explanation.

Breadcrumbing “communicates frequently enough to keep the other person interested (aka leaving ‘breadcrumbs’) but not enough to form an actual relationship,”

Paperclipping, as described by illustrator Samantha Rothenberg is “when someone has you on the back burner and feels like you're about to go cold. They'll reach out — not in attempt to see you, or move things forward — but to re-stoke the flame and make sure you're still an option”

Benching describes “the act of putting someone on the bench because they may have done something you don’t like or that has upset you—and keeping them on time out until further notice.”

Young highlights the person who suddenly stops answering the phone, texts, or emails, leaving you obsessing over your last conversation wondering if something bad happened, what you did wrong, and where you stand now. At its most benign, it is thoughtless, as it leaves you feeling bad, and takes no effort to resolve any conflict that led them to disengage. At it’s worse it is cruel. And it demonstrates a level of commitment that is probably less than yours. They are declining conflict resolution for any number of reasons.

So the question is, what are the reasons? Why do we ghost? 

This article, at, offers eight explanations:

This article, at, offers four:

I’ll just highlight a few.

Comfort: In the words of psychologist Jennice Vilhauer, “People who ghost are primarily focused on avoiding their own emotional discomfort and they aren’t thinking about how it makes the other person feel.” For one person, it’s a clean break. For the other, however, it’s the beginning of a million messy questions. Did I do something wrong? Should I do something more? Are they going to call soon? Are they ok? How do I fix this? They’re going out to eat. And you’re going out of your mind.  

Control: Soft-ghosting relies on the breadth of available responses to a text. If I can go from speaking, to “liking”, I gain the upper hand. I’ve technically responded to you, but offered you nothing. So now it’s up to you to text me again, and potentially appear desperate. It also makes it easier for me for me to go silent for awhile, and then completely, and exit the chat slowly. This practice is described at length here: ( 

Convenience: Much of modern life happens digitally. We confidently say ugly things becasue we don’t have to look anyone in the face. Likewise, we comfortably do unkind things because we don’t have to witness the hurt we cause. If our relationships are app-based transactions, on some level we don’t feel like we are breaking hearts. We’re just cancelling orders. It’s not friendship, or romance. It’s Uber.

Insensitivity: Communication gaps may not be spiteful at all. They may come from a person with low emotional intelligence, who lacks empathy, and doesn’t understand how they impact you. 

Mental Health: They may come from a person struggling with their own depression or anxiety. Silence may be a trauma response.

Fear: Here, the practices get murkier. Sometimes a person is afraid of hurting your feelings by being honest about theirs. Sometimes, however, fear is justified, healthy, and wise. If you have been involved with someone who is abusive, unstable, or otherwise unsafe, you may need to simply break ties with them. On the other hand, if you just don’t want to deal with their emotions, it’s worth asking how much you loved them, or what love looks like to you.

This topic humbles me a bit. 

I can think of a few friends, over the years, that I may have ghosted because they felt emotionally unsafe, and since I didn’t have the tools to handle their manipulations, I chose to step back. And with a few decades of experience, I might have handled them differently. 

But I know being on the receiving end is baffling and hurtful.

I can also think of professional moments in which I didn’t yet have an answer for somebody, so I didn’t say anything. And then the topic got back-burnered by incoming projects, leading to a longer delay. 

But being on the receiving end of that practice drives me crazy.  

If we are honest, we can probably all find moments in which our conduct fell beneath our values for treating people. And we can far more quickly find the times people’s conduct fell beneath our standards for being treated.  

On the other hand, I cannot think of a time I ever approached a relationship with the type of chess master intentionality that some of these interactions demand. It’s possible, but I don’t think you can do it without affecting the health of your soul.

I pray, today, that we would look for one place we can treat people with the same respect we expect.

I pray that we would consider our conduct, and how we can become safer to the people in our lives.

I pray that we would heal from the self-worth issues that have caused us to accept emotional crumbs. I pray we would see ourselves as God sees us: beautiful, even in brokenness, and headed for healing, not usefully wounded.

There should always be someone trustworthy in your corner.  

There should always be someone you can call. 

(Photo Credit: Pixabay)


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