'Ghosting Ambulanz': Berlin's clinic for the dating scene's 'plague'

Twenty fun dates, then sudden silence. All around the dating world, the spectre of ghosting haunts those first few weeks of getting to know each other. One therapy centre specializing in ghosting is now helping victims to overcome the shame and fears they are left with. Christin Klose/dpa
Twenty fun dates, then sudden silence. All around the dating world, the spectre of ghosting haunts those first few weeks of getting to know each other. One therapy centre specializing in ghosting is now helping victims to overcome the shame and fears they are left with. Christin Klose/dpa

"I don't think things are going to work out between us." It's a sentence that seems too final, too absolute. What if my date from last weekend thinks I'm arrogant for writing a text like that?

Instead, maybe not texting or talking to them at all will make things easier. But for whom? Mostly just for the one doing the ghosting.

It can happen to anyone, and "Charlie's Angels" star and talk show host Drew Barrymore revealed in a 2022 interview with People magazine that she, too, had been a victim.

Early in the 2000s, the term "ghosting" emerged in the Western dating scene to describe when someone suddenly cuts off all communication and contact without any warning or explanation.

Ghosting is not the same as a breakup, says psychologist Anja Wermann, who herself was ghosted at the end of 2020.

"When you split up, you usually see it coming, you might have a conversation to end the relationship. When it comes to ghosting, however, the reason for ending things is never given," the psychologist says.

Since 2021 Wermann has been running a therapy centre called the Ghosting Ambulanz (outpatient clinic) for people who've been ghosted.

The majority of her clients are women between their late 20s and early 50s, with some men also coming to seek her advice. Some people find it hard to move on from being ghosted years after the event.

"Being ghosted always hits hard," says relationship psychologist Eric Hegmann. "If there is one phenomenon today that stands for the fear of non-commitment when getting to know someone, it's ghosting."

He also knows the shame people feel after being ghosted. Ghosting is such a "widespread phenomenon" that it is referred to as a "plague" in the dating world, he says.

Even though a short-lived relationship may end this way, the silence leaves its mark on future relationships. "People often complain that being ghosted makes it more difficult for them to trust new people," says Hegmann. And what's more: "I have clients who report severe symptoms such as weight loss, dizziness, physical pain, loss of appetite and insomnia."

This is why ghosting is being talked about more and more in terms of health and mental health. Health insurance companies are providing advice about it, and there are podcasts and social media pages dedicated to the topic.

This makes it clear that the belief that ghosting someone will spare the other person pain is wrong. "It's more the other way round: It takes you longer to get over being ghosted than if you had been given a clear no or goodbye," explains Wermann.

Ghosting may sound like a new phenomenon, but it's really a new name for an old thing. People used to talk about being abandoned or jilted, or that someone simply walked out on them.

There is a difference, however: "It has never been so easy to make contact with other people," says Hegmann. The internet and apps make it possible to meet people you would otherwise never have met. And it's just as easy to disappear without a trace.

This would be different if there was some kind of social control because you know the person from your extended circle of friends, for example. "However, it's never the medium that does the ghosting, but the person," Hegmann points out.

"After I was ghosted once, my perspective changed," says Wermann. "I would now always write: 'I'm sorry, it's not going to work out.' I think clear communication is always better."

For Wermann it also helped her to believe that she might understand the experience in the future. "And in the meantime you try to move on your life and focus on the positive."

Anja Wermann, a psychologist who herself was a victim of ghosting, has set up an outpatient clinic in Berlin called the "Ghosting Ambulanz." Sebastian Gollnow/dpa
Anja Wermann, a psychologist who herself was a victim of ghosting, has set up an outpatient clinic in Berlin called the "Ghosting Ambulanz." Sebastian Gollnow/dpa
To victims of ghosting, every smartphone notification can bring hope - and then disappointment - that the person who cut off all contact has now finally responded. Weronika Peneshko/dpa
To victims of ghosting, every smartphone notification can bring hope - and then disappointment - that the person who cut off all contact has now finally responded. Weronika Peneshko/dpa