After six months of what seemed like a happy relationship, single mum Julia Hasche was stunned when her boyfriend vanished without so much as a text message.
The now 36-year-old says the "ghosting" followed what had seemed like a very minor disagreement over, of all things, a banana.
"I dropped him and the kids off afterwards, we kissed goodbye, everything was fine and then that was the last time I ever heard from him,' says the Sydneysider.
After he failed to return phone calls, text messages or emails, there wasn't much Hasche could do.
But she began to worry about the father of two, a widower.
"I thought he was dead, I thought he'd been hit by a car or a bus or something because it was so weird."
What is ghosting?
According to the Urban Dictionary, ghosting is "the act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone the subject is dating, but no longer wishes to date".
It notes that the receiver – or in this case, non-receiver – is expected to take the hint and move right along. Apparently, ghosting is "not specific to a certain gender and is closely related to the subject's maturity and communication skills".
Tip: if you find yourself suddenly searching the obits, or wondering if your beloved is in a coma, you've been ghosted.
Craig Parker, principal psychologist at Melbourne's Evolve Psychology, says a big part of ghosting is avoiding dealing with the uncomfortable situation of saying you don't want to see someone any more.
"Some people get really anxious about it; some people just can't be bothered with it because they don't care about that person enough," says Parker.
Damien Diecke, head coach at Sydney dating coaching service School of Attraction, says some people simply have a lack of relationship experience and believe ghosting is the normal way to end things.
But most likely, a ghost has been enjoying someone's company without seeing a future together – but then feels guilty admitting that, he says.
The easy way out
Diecke, 35, admits there was a time in his early 20s when he'd see a girl for a few weeks and then just break contact.
"It was the easiest thing to do, because it was too hard to explain 'I'm not looking for anything more long-term and I don't want to go any further'. I feel bad about that when I look back, because these were good people."
Writer Patrick Allan, 31, also has some form in the ghosting department, though mainly only did it after one or two online dates in.
Sometimes he'd just not respond to a follow-up message after a first date. "If things didn't feel right, it was just easier to not reach out to them again or ignore their follow-ups," he says.
"It was wrong and I regret it now because it's cowardly and can be hurtful. It's so easy to tell someone you're not feeling a connection."
He says it probably came down to avoiding an awkward situation or "not wanting to be framed as the bad guy".
Like many blokes, Allan has also been on the other end, and that's part of why he decided to change his departure style.
"When I would get ghosted, my mind would go to some dark places - constantly wondering what about me was so unlovable," he says.
Another time, after what seemed like a successful first date, and talks of a follow-up by the woman, he was surprised to hear only radio silence, and worried something terrible had happened.
"More likely she just wasn't feeling it anymore, and that's totally cool. I just wish she had let me know."
Surviving the fallout
Craig Parker says ghosting can have a huge impact on the other person, depending on the level of emotional investment.
"My clients are always talking about they just don't feel like there's been any closure."
Sometimes, being ghosted by someone you've never even met can also really sting, as 'Ava', now 23, discovered when she began communicating with a man online.
Ava says they just seemed to click, and she thought he was the "epitome of awesome". He seemed to feel the same.
But when she began talking about meeting in person, he vanished. "Just like that. Chat gone, thousands of messages gone in an instant," says Ava.
Completely turned off by the experience, Ava says she has since given online dating the heave-ho.
As for Julia Hasche, she eventually got a chance to speak to her former flame – but only after phoning him from a private number about six months later.
She says he expressed some regret at the way he ended things, but wasn't overly empathetic.
In the end, she says that conversation gave her a chance to say her piece, which helped her move on.
As for ghosting, she believes it's never kind to be cruel.
"That person that you're in a relationship with deserves the respect of a conversation," she says. "If you've met, you definitely owe someone some words."