ghost·ing /ˈɡōstiNG/ noun : Ghosting is what it’s called when you have any sort of established communication with another person (you go on a date or even just text them for a little bit) and then they text you one day and you never respond. Ever.***
I recently read an awesome article about “ghosting.” The author, Sarah Ratchford, says, “Ghosting leaves you in a place where you become unable to connect with people, and eventually, you can’t connect with yourself. Everyone’s self esteem winds up bruised as a result.” I couldn’t agree more.
There was a period of time that lasted from when I was in high school into my second year of college, I made a habit of just not going to dates I had planned. I have been 100% stood-up twice — once when I was 13 and once when I was 17. Like go-to-the-place-and-they-don’t-go-to-the-place-and-don’t-say-anything stood-up, so I never wanted to be that bad. I would wait until the day before or day of and I would say something like, “I’m so sorry, I have to clean my room” (actually a thing that happened) and that would be that. I don’t know why I did this. I don’t want to use anxiety as an excuse, but I can’t really think of another explanation. I had a million reasons why the date was a bad idea in my notoriously over-thinking mind, so I just wouldn’t go.
While it’s not ghosting, I think that was a sort of training for my ghosting habits. I kind of went into dating situations in small steps, looking at it more as free dinner and semi-monogamous hook-up situations, letting my emotions and my heart be the last things to get involved. I know I’m not the first millennial to say that, and I’m sure I won’t be the last. It makes it easier when people let you down, but, as Ratchford points out, it also makes it easier to let other people down. It’s a vicious cycle.
I think I can pinpoint an exact moment in time that I decided that “playing-cool” was no longer an effective strategy for dating because I realized it just meant never actually expressing my human needs to the other person. This moment was with a guy I sort-of dated every November in college. I would hear from him like clockwork, and we would hang out for a little while and then it would fizzle out. The first two times, there were particular circumstances that made it very reasonable that we stopped talking, but by the third time it had just gotten old. I was on the phone with him after he fucked up and I said all the things I wanted to say, including something along the lines of, “don’t call me next November when you’re lonely.” I felt heard. I know I was heard, too, because it’s been about 3 Novembers and I haven’t heard from the chump.
I went almost immediately from this situation into my first and only serious relationship, which as I’ve mentioned in thousands of pieces was basically founded on my constant expression of my apprehensions and anxieties surrounding the whole deal. I developed a level of trust in him to the point that, while there were a lot of things that weren’t healthy about the relationship, I never doubted him. I never felt like he would drop-off the face of the earth never to be heard from again and I never planned on doing that either. But now, as I’ve started “dating” more frequently, I find myself ghosting on the reg.
Most of these are times when I have a fine conversation with someone but I just decide the conversation is over sometime before we ever meet. Sometimes it’s when we go on a date but I know the second I sit down that I don’t want to see them again. Other times it’s a mutual ghosting in that sense, because they don’t want to see me again either. Regardless of the circumstances, it all feels so mundane.
I really like people, or at least I try to really like people. I really want to like people and know them and feel connected to them. When I do feel these things I feel really good. So why do I participate in this activity that is essentially completely void of any connection or compassion?
Most of the time, if I’ve been ghosted, I haven’t really thought twice about it. There was one recent ghosting episode that I do pass time thinking about, but I also know a confrontation with said person would basically lead me nowhere. He’s not a “talker.” So, on a case by case basis, ghosting isn’t that troubling to me. It’s the over-arching issues with it. It’s when you realize that it’s changing the way we interact with each other on a fundamental level in a very negative way. It’s somehow teaching us we have no responsibility of respect to other people because we “don’t owe them anything.”
Obviously, ghosting needs to stop, not just my habit but everyone’s, out of respect for our fellow humans. But honestly, I’ve been thinking about this so much and I feel an overwhelming feeling of melancholy and pure sadness, and I think that’s because I just don’t foresee that change happening. It’s so ingrained now. It’s such a norm in dating culture, at least the dating culture I have experienced. I can vow that I will no longer be a ghost, and that I’ll explain to someone why I don’t want to talk to them anymore, but does that mean other people won’t do it to me? No. Does that open me up to some mean, potentially scary confrontation from “nice guys” who think we’re all out to get them? Yes. I don’t know the answer, but I’m definitely open to listening if someone has one.
***While the lines are sometimes blurry, for the purpose of this piece, I do not consider not responding to someone’s initial message ghosting, especially when their first message is something like, “Hey.”