Losing love is never a clean break – and if it is, it probably wasn’t love in the first place. Though it can often feel like a singular moment in which something between you fractured and couldn’t be repaired, losing someone you love is a gradual fadeout, like the last time your parents picked you up, or the last time you went outside to play with your friends. You don’t quite remember it, but there was, at some point, a last time.
Right before someone ghosts on you, there is a last. There is something that cues them to cut ties, and there’s a reason it seems less exhausting to ignore a few texts than to try to explain why they’re suddenly not interested.
In behavioral psychology, an extinction burst is what happens when a behavior is being eliminated, and the brain makes one last effort to preserve it. It’s why when we try to change a habit, we assume it will be a gradual fade-out, and are always surprised when it flares up more strongly than ever.
There’s a similar phenomena that people experience when they know that they are dying. Right before the end, they will have a resurgence of energy, they’ll start talking about all of the trips they want to take and things they want to do. They’ll eat again, they’ll sit up, their bodies will try one last time to preserve the life within them.
It doesn’t mean they’re coming back. It only means something is ending, and they don’t want it to.
What you have to understand that someone who ghosts you was on the fence about you in the first place. The illusion of closeness that they were creating was a way to “try you on” before making a commitment. There was something about you, about the timing, about the relationship, that didn’t make them instinctively jump in. But there was enough that was right about it to keep them interested, to keep them coming back for more.
So they talked to you as though you were together. They made plans, and referenced meeting their parents. The last hookup was the most intense. The final hangout was a last ditch effort to see if your passions would align.
When a person ghosts, they are eliminating a behavior. They are breaking a bad habit, and that bad habit is using you. They are no longer able to continue keeping you close enough to feel wanted and yet far enough to feel safe. They are no longer able to explain why they feel so strongly, and yet not strongly enough to make it real. There lacks a flow, and an inherent knowing, but passion and alignment and amazement seem to supplement that, and you begin to confuse lust for compatibility.
When someone is about to ghost you, it’s not a sudden decision. It only seems that way on the surface.
Subconsciously, they know they aren’t going to commit, they know that they are actually seeking something from you that isn’t reciprocal companionship. For them, you are an itch than needs to be scratched and a habit that they need to kick. You are not the person they’re going to be with, and yet somehow, you are the person they think they would like to be. When someone leaves suddenly, there’s a long buildup behind it. People aren’t that erratic, their behaviors are only confusing until you understand what’s driving them.
It’s not a coincidence that the people who ghost us are the ones who seem most interested, most charming, most in love. It is not surprising that the relationship seems to crescendo right before it dies out. For many people, love is a means to an end, and using people to get there is common. When they trip up and find someone who makes them think twice, they get close though they know they shouldn’t.
And after they’ve coached themselves for long enough on why they really need to be fair to you, and let you go, and not lead you on anymore, their extinction burst flares up and makes it seem like they’ve never cared more. There could be nothing less fair when you’re on the receiving end, but sometimes, the light is brightest just before it’s about to burn out.