In the world of modern dating, you’re very lucky if you don’t encounter at least a certain amount of douchebaggery (technical term) at one point or another.
I’ve had my fair share of weirdos and oddballs: the controlling men, the sexual deviants, the convicted criminals, the married ones. Looking back, my dating history is a veritable A-Z of ‘What Was I Thinking?’.
But recently, I’ve noticed something new. Something I thought that, as a thirty-something woman dating men my age or older, I would have been able to avoid. The Ghoster.
Ghosting is a verb used to describe the act of ending a romantic relationship by cutting off all contact, ignoring the other partner’s attempts to reach out. And, though it’s an act you may expect from a twenty-something naïve or oblivious to another’s feelings, increasingly it’s something I’ve seen happen to women just like me.
I’m no angel myself and have definitely toed the line when ending relationships; it’s never easy to hurt another’s feelings when you like the person but just not in that way. But ignoring someone, leaving them feeling hurt, confused and bewildered, to save an awkward five minute breakup conversation? Not cool.
My first experience of ghosting was also my first experience of a long-distance relationship – if you could call it that. Which I did, because 4 months of flying backwards and forwards from New York MEANS SOMETHING, OK? I spent a blissful summer flitting across the Atlantic, spending weeks either lovesick or jetlagged. It was intense, and it was devastating when upon my return from one trip there was only… silence. Total silence.
What had before been daily phone calls became tight one-line excuses via text of why speaking on the phone was impossible. A cold, too tired, work.
I felt awful: confused at the silence, worried I’d done something wrong, ashamed I was that much of a bad person to warrant silent treatment. What had suddenly switched to justify it?
A clever Social Media snoop soon uncovered the real reason why he wouldn’t speak to me; a blonde twenty-something who he’d been seeing her at the same time as me and, when he’d claimed a bad cold, was accompanying her on the dates he’d once promised to take me on.
I was ravaged by the situation, but at least that one ended with a bunch of air miles.
My next ghosting experience was when dating a 28 year old, which at 31 was something that felt thrillingly different and exciting. It was never going to be a big love story but hey, he was an ex-professional athlete and looked brilliant naked. This peep show ended rather abruptly after six weeks – one day I asked him how his hangover was and four months on I’m still wondering.
It must have been terrible.
My most recent ghoster was perhaps my most galling. In his early 50s he should have really known better: he sent a message over WhatsApp while out of the country, 5am my time, “for various reasons I don’t think we should see each other any more. We should end contact now”. He then swiftly blocked me, leaving me unable to respond (I tried!). After six good dates, and following a dinner invitation from him the day before, I was really confused. Notwithstanding the fact we’d discussed such bad behaviour on our early dates, scoffed at grown-ups being so oblivious to other people’s feelings, and yet this… my feelings were hurt, for sure.
Looking back, I suspect he had something going on. Whether that was a marriage, or another relationship. Who knows? The warning signs were there but I was having such a good time I chose to ignore them. Something that seems to be a common thread in relationships that have ended in ghosting.
I wish I could say this was a rare phenomenon, but it’s something my friends have also experienced. And, in the case of Susie, it happened not in a romantic relationship but with a close friend. She says: “a good friend of mine had a history of being flakey, always pulling out of plans, and the last straw came when she cancelled on me moments after I’d had bad news from the doctor.”
“This small situation escalated into an argument, ending in us both crying over coffee and apologies, agreeing our friendship was more important than a little row. And that was the last I heard of her.”
“She blocked me on every form of social media – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – and got her boyfriend to do the same, also blocking me from WhatsApp and email. It remains to this day one of the weirdest things that’s ever happened to me. At the time I felt criminally awful, automatically thinking I was a terrible person; I couldn’t wrap my head around what the hell I could have done to require someone to so drastically erase me.”
“However, looking back I feel I’m better off, I always felt like she had all the power in the friendship and we only saw each other on her terms. It was a painful and harrowing experience to go through, but I now think us not being friends is for the best.”
Realistically there’s nothing we can do about those who ghost us. I imagine that if someone close to them, or the ghosters themselves, went through the experience they’d be horrified. It’s not a nice situation to be in.
In researching advice on how to deal with a ghoster, the advice was consistent: get over it. Move on.
But my favourite quote on the subject was this, from professional matchmaker Alessandra Conti, “It is important to understand that ghosting is not a testament to how gorgeous, witty and lovely you are. You deserve better. Every woman deserves a man who is excited to contact her no matter how busy work or life gets. You deserve a man who will treasure his interactions with you and will look forward to your texts as much as you look forward to his. You deserve a man who incorporates you into his daily life with no prompting or plotting on your part.”
Amen to that.