I’m not going to glorify ghosting as something wise or anything. I’m also not set out to change the tides; this is something humans have always done to each other, it is just now much easier to notice and track. One little thinkpiece on the vast internet isn’t going to make the world wake up and communicate effectively one hundred percent of the time going forward.
Ghosting is immature, cruel, and dysfunctional to do to someone. And it doesn’t just hurt the ghostee — it reinforces poor adaption and mutually insecure connections. That is to say, if you ghost someone you’re just making it harder on yourself later for the next person that comes along.
However: ghosting is something you can conquer. It does not have to devour you and leave you cold and hollow.
For the ghostees out there, I’m going to bless you with a little extra nugget of validation: ghosting is subjective. If you feel like what happened to you what ghosting, it was. There’s no minimum date-encounter or snap-streak threshold.
If you felt a genuine connection with someone at any point in your relationship and they left you high and dry, wondering what happened and as though it was your fault, that’s it. You’re ghosted. If you feel abandoned, you get to identify and validate that, because you cannot heal it if you don’t assess the wound, and certainly, your ghost isn’t going to do that for you. Isn’t emotional labor fun?
I’d like to share two stories here: one where I wasn’t ghosted but constantly feared I would be; and another time I was ghosted when I genuinely believed I wouldn’t be, and what I did about it.
Let’s take a quick glance at me in late 2018. Emotionally and mentally, I was a mess. I was also in very serious like with someone. It was more than limerence but not quite love, and I wanted to figure it out, and by “figure it out,” I really mean “let him make all the decisions because I wanted to be the cool girl and was terrified that asking for what I wanted would scare him off.”
Due to a number of other factors outside of our little bubble, some mental health issues took their toll. I saw them coming well in advance and warned my little situationship partner that something might change and if I fell off the face of the earth for him not to worry and just to email or text me. He responded kindly, related to my situation, understood where I was coming from and promised to keep an eye out.
The hammer did fall about a month later. I blocked him and pretty much everyone I spoke to on my list and deleted a couple of apps, but not my accounts. What happened had nothing to do with him exclusively, but I did project many of my fears and anxieties onto our relationship that he was too afraid to acknowledge was real, even though he was the one who would push it further. I wasn’t leaving him, I just made good on the promise I’d hinted at before.
He emailed me that night and pleaded his case. Mistakenly, he thought I was ghosting and dumping him. In reality, I just needed a breather and was having a mild mental health episode. I truly believed he wouldn’t notice, as I was constantly waiting he would do to me what he thought I was doing to him: abandonment. I told him that, and also that I needed to be more than an option if he truly wanted me around. Benefits had officially dried up and he needed to pony up the premium to retain coverage.
In the end, after some make-up sex and heart to hearts, I gave him exactly what he asked for, and he promptly dumped me. Where I feared abandonment, he feared love. But that final exchange of emails and genuine openness in our final weeks ended up providing a model for me that has only improved with time. We were dysfunctional and insecure, but I see now that I wasn’t the only one trying.
Arjun* was the first person after Zeke that I was truly excited about seeing. Our first date was objectively not great. Brunch was a 2-hour wait without reservations when both of us should have known better when it comes to Sunday mornings in Pasadena. We instead went to grab coffee and the fire alarm went off at the cafe. So we wandered and talked for a few hours. The conversation was a little stiff but we circled Old Pas twice before we realized how well it had gone. He was more nervous than a Chihuahua in a stilt-walker parade but I found it charming. Sparks didn’t fly but he was kind, genuine, handsome, and I felt we had a good mix of things we could relate to in each other but also healthy differences to learn from. I wanted to give us both a second chance.
I’m so glad I did.
The second date was phenomenal. Plans changed again, and we ended up at an Israeli restaurant where we had to have the menu explained in full and adjustments made for my meatless diet, but the wine and conversation were so good. We both dug deeper and laughed from deep in our guts. We made out in the car like teenagers and I made myself stop because he was even better than I expected. Earth girls may be easy, but I’m from Neptune.
We set up plans to confer about a third date for a Sunday. He texted to ask if it was okay to call on Saturday night and we talked for 20 minutes about our plans for bowling.
The next morning, I saw a hit on one of my websites for a part of town near his neighborhood, but I never heard from him again. It didn’t take long to figure out that he bailed.
Although I genuinely didn’t expect Arjun to ghost me, I was more surprised that it didn’t hurt. I was disappointed, definitely, but not wounded.
But, I decided to do something about it. I’m an assertive, communicative person. To me, there are few things that should remain unsaid (though that doesn’t mean how they’re said is irrelevant). So, I texted him.
“Hey! Hope everything’s okay. Since we were in touch just Saturday night, I’ll err on the side of caution that whatever happened was an emergency or some technical issue like loss of phone (I’ve been there!) So if that’s the case, all’s well and feel free to reach out when things get resolved. If it’s a ghosting, that’s a little disappointing but better it happened now and I won’t bother you further.”
I did close with “have a great day!” following a logistical detail on my end, and that’s that. A few weeks later, his private Instagram account snooped on my public story, but I’ve otherwise seen neither hide nor hair from him since.
Arjun is not the only person who has ghosted me in the past year, but he was the first that I handled this way, and boy, it felt so good that I’ve recommended it to all of my friends struggling with dating and finding emotionally secure partners. I don’t mean in a way that glorifies revenge or animosity. Though none of the people I dated this past year are ones I’m still seeing, I enjoyed my time with them and don’t think poorly of any of them at all, Arjun included.
But ghosting is so passive and a selfish way of dumping all the emotional responsibility of it on the person being abandoned. Despite my mental health issues and all-consuming fear of abandonment, I’m still too direct to sit with that and just take it, and finally: both parts of me have teamed up. Now, If someone ghosts me (as a deliberate act on their behalf, not a situation where someone disappeared or had an emergency), I hand it right back to them.
It’s metaphorical, of course. Arjun had already made that decision, and that’s fine. I won’t beg him to un-make it. The message was not to inspire or guilt him to come back or reconsider his decision because frankly, I’d rather not be with someone like that. It helps me figure out early on that he wasn’t right for me, either. But sending that message does allow me to acknowledge the situation for what it is and close that chapter appropriately.
Where I would have previously felt powerless and alone, and maybe even bitter, I instead accessed my own confidence without mucking through the mire of “what if” and “why me?” I handed that responsibility right back to the person who chose to do what they did without any expectation: he can do with it what he pleases because his cold feet aren’t my problem.
When someone ghosts, it says so much more about them than it does about me. Arjun was the first person with whom I truly understood that from the outset, rather than later down the road after nursing a wound that someone didn’t care they inflicted.
*all names have been changed.