Ghosted: A Tragic Tale of Falling in and out of Love this Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2024
Valentine's Day Heart Image

Red roses, heart-shaped boxes filled with candy, pink and red hearts everywhere—these are some defining tangibles for a day meant to celebrate love in relationships. Today is Valentine’s Day. On this day, many couples go out to dinner and embrace the excuse to celebrate their undying love. However, there remains a group of people who are staring at the happy couples in disdain. Who is this group, you may ask? Well, this is a tale of ghosts and zombies—those who have been left in the dust without a trace, and those who have risen from the grave (metaphorically, of course). 

Ghosted image

“Ghosting” is a term coined by modern society and refers to the act of one partner in a romantic relationship deliberately withdrawing all forms of communication from the other partner, initiating or implying a breakup. These ghosts, and those affected by them, have become the subject of academic study in recent years.  

One ghost researcher, Mickey Langlais PhD, CFLE, Assistant Professor for Child and Family Studies in the Department of Human Sciences and Design, is conducting research to understand how individuals react to this unconventional break-up method. How does this affect not just their self-esteem, but their physiological responses, like heart rate and blood pressure, as well?    

“In our findings, we noted that ghosting can hinder individuals psychologically and physiologically. As a result of our study’s simulated ghosting, participants were more likely to report elevated levels of anxiety and decreased self-esteem,” Langlais explains. “The body initiates a stress response during a ghosting experience. Some consequences of this stress response include heightened heart rate and increased blood pressure. Both factors can complicate the completion of everyday tasks.” 

The realm of ghosts is a frightening one. However, the land of zombies is seemingly worse. If you are checking to make sure you read that correctly, you did indeed. “Zombies”, as defined by Langlais, are exes who come back looking to rekindle a relationship after the initial relationship failed. Imagine, your ex who broke up with you—perhaps ghosted you—showing up out of nowhere, back from the dead after months or even years. Currently, there is very little known about those who return after a breakup. 

Zombie image

In a follow up to their ghosting study, Langlais’ team interviewed participating students concerning their experiences with a past flame who resurfaced. The team sought to better understand the experience of “zombieing,” the outcomes that follow the attempted reconnection, and the ways that said attempt has affected the subject's psychological health.  

“Overwhelmingly, the results show that zombieing leads to an eventual breakup, but there is a lot of variation in how people resolve a partner ‘coming back from the dead,’” Langlais says. “The goal of this particular study was to understand the consequences of zombieing. There was not a momentous change in psychological well-being after the act. However, when comparing before and after zombieing, there is a huge effect—self-esteem tends to go down.” 

As we celebrate Valentine’s Day and don our shades of red and pink, let us not forget about those who are immersed in the realm of ghosts and zombies. The residents of this realm are real people who are experiencing the psychological and physiological consequences of another person’s actions. So, lend an ear to our friends who have been dragged into this tragic tale of falling in and out of love this Valentine’s Day.