To All The Boys Who've Ghosted Me
I’m a sucker for a good romantic comedy and if you haven’t watched “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” stop reading this and go watch it. Actually, if you have watched it, stop reading this and go watch it again.
There is something so dumb and predictable and sweet about Rom-Coms. You know everything is going to be ok at the end, it may not give you the complete story but you get a good sense that everything is happy when you finish this portion of the story. It is completely unlike actual dating. In a movie there may be a cringey moment but it’s rarely a guy you have talked to for three minutes on a dating app saying something aggressively sexual. The movie allows the viewer to see all of the plots running in parallel, you can see how they will probably intersect; in dating you only see your plot. In the movies nobody simply disappears; in dating ghosting is very real. And it’s very much bullshit.*
The first time I watched TATBILB it was a Friday night and I was home alone. I had been dating someone at the time and we were getting to the point where things were going to either progress or fizzle out. I wasn’t sure which way they were leaning but I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach that I wasn’t going to like it. That Sunday he came over, we hung out, he left to go to the grocery store and would text me later. Except he didn’t. NBD, life gets busy. I shot him a text Monday night after my class. Nothing. Ok….that seems odd but he had an early flight the next day, it’s probably fine. But then there was nothing on Tuesday. On Wednesday. Thursday I gave in, I reach out again. No response. Ghosted.
I mean, it’s happened before but this time, for whatever reason, I didn’t want to just let it go. My struggle isn’t necessarily with the guy, it’s with the concept of ghosting. And because of who I am as a person, I needed to understand it. So I texted guys I’ve dated who disappeared on me. One had already reached out to me about catching up so I scheduled that, one I hadn’t heard from in a year except when I almost hit him with my car (and that was an accident), one was an on and off thing that is most definitely off now, one I owed an apology.
Shockingly, everyone responded. I had coffee with one, am scheduling something with another, was blown off by one, and had my apology accepted. I haven’t talked to the most recent, the one that started all of it. Will I? Maybe. Probably not. The others I had some space, it felt less vulnerable. But it still wasn’t enough. I started to talk to others about it to understand their experiences. Reasons ranged from trying to drop the breakup hint and they weren’t getting it to “yeah, it was easier for me.” While I’m not quite finished exploring the reasons behind ghosting behavior what I did notice was that everyone who is ghosted goes through something akin to the Five Stages of Grief, or the Five Stages of Being Ghosted:
Denial - This is the part where you justify in your head the first unreturned text or day of radio silence even though it is completely abnormal. “They must be *really* busy” which turns into a few texts or days but it’s totally fine because they have life/work/whatever but in the back of your mind you’re feeling that ghost creeping in.
Anger - The “what in the damn hell” feeling. Seriously? Who does this person think they are? How dare they just IGNORE ME. I WILL NOT BE IGNORED! (except I totally am being ignored)
Reflection - What did I do wrong? We replay every detail of the last interaction or days preceding it. Was there a clue? Did I do something so horribly offensive that this person couldn’t stand to be around me anymore? Why didn’t they just say something? Am I not worthy of an explanation? Do I not deserve that respect?
Sadness - There are two reasons I uncovered for being hella sad in the wake of a ghosting. For some it’s that a relationship that we enjoyed ended. Fairly straightforward and regular breakup protocol is initiated. For some it’s sadness that we did something wrong and don’t know what or that we weren’t worthy respect for us/the relationship enough to have a discussion. That part is a little trickier, it’s more deeply linked to our sense of self and reinforcing the idea that we are not enough. It becomes another piece of evidence in our constant internal trial of worthiness. It’s a to be continued phase that closes in relation to this particular incident but always lurks just a bit.
Acceptance - Just like the end of any relationship we get to a point where it’s no longer at the forefront of our mind. We move on. We resist the urge to message them when we see them on an app to say, “Oh, congrats on not being dead.” Just kidding...that would be wrong. Probably.
Ghosting is a weird, terrible phenomenon that seems to have increased in conjunction with the rise of dating apps and social media. When life happens through a phone, it’s easy to just ignore the message. One of the guys I talked to told me it’s “harder” for the ghoster than the person being ghosted. I’m 99.9% sure I don’t believe that. What I realized in my investigation is that ghosting is really not about the person being ghosted even though it’s incredibly easy to feel like it’s your fault. Ultimately the ghoster is either too selfish, too immature, or too emotionally detached to have a difficult conversation. So while the ghostee has to deal with the fallout and their own emotion the best, but hardest, thing to do is realize that it isn’t your fault. You aren’t to blame. It sucks and you have to work through it but that’s the case with all breakups, this one just has a little less clarity to it.
So to all the boys who’ve ghosted me…thank you. It made it easier to identify the things I value in relationships. But mostly, thank you for helping me realize that it isn’t me, that I didn’t make you not text me back or blow me off. That was your choosing. It is telling of how you handle things, and it isn’t what I want in a partner. Even though it sucks, a lot, on the other side there is something to learn from it.
*Sorry, mom. I know you don’t like it when I cuss.