Ghosting is the worst. Here’s a look at an ever increasing, and an ever disheartening, trend in modern relationships.
This year I was working for a company that had a bit of a shorter Christmas closure period, so we only had a week or so off. It was certainly enough for people to get enough of a break from the work calendar, get some things done (I took 100kgs of old junk out of storage to the tip, I feel like such a man), and spend time with people we love. Coming back from break is the usual question of “What did you do over your break?”. It’s the grown up equivalent of show and tell, and listening to everyone’s experiences is always a joy at the start of the year.
A number of my workmates and some fellow colleagues around mentioned some of their dating and romance escapades over the break. Christmas and New Year are certainly good times for love. Or horrible times (which I wrote more about in my Christmas blog for 2017). Luckily for me, it was definitely good times. Unfortunately for many of them, it was a really crap time for love.
Mainly due to the phenomenon recently coined as ghosting.
Ghosting is the act of ending a relationship by ceasing communication. Instead of using a cliche line like it’s not you it’s me, or I’m not ready for a relationship, or I’m just waiting, telling the truth, one or both parties go Casper on the other person or on each other and the relationship apparently evaporates into thin air.
What this looks like can vary depending on the way the relationship was initiated, the duration of the relationship, and the primary mechanism(s) of communication employed by the people involved. Some believe it is sufficient to simply stop talking to someone on Facebook Messenger, for instance, and if that was the way you two were communicating, then it’s over. Others may have been texting and calling a lot, and all of a sudden, messages are not being responded to, and phone calls are mysteriously always going to voice mail, even though in his weekly routine I know he’s finished at the gym right now, or she’s done with her friends.
It can even involve being physically stood up. Given the way technology is now, this is less likely and more difficult to do, but it can really hurt when you see those two blue ticks next to their message on Whatsapp meaning they’ve received and read your message, but they’re nowhere to be found at the place they said they’d meet you. Or every time you go to their house, the door is locked, you see the blinds moving and the aircon is on, but “no one is home”.
Ghosting is the worst. So why do it? And how do you deal with it? Great questions. I’ve had it happen to me a number of times before. I’ve also seen friends and workmates suffer immensely at the hands of it. Unfortunately when I think about it I have witnessed it even in long term relationships and marriages around me, where the relationship isn’t over, but the same mentality is present. I’m sure you’re reading this because you’ve been in, or are in that boat too. Or perhaps you’re reading this because you want to help people through it. So let’s have a look at this horrible thing.
It can be hard to say what’s going on
I think any matter of the heart is difficult for many for us to put into words. Look at how much and how many days/weeks/months/years we may take to express our true feelings to someone and even initiate a relationship. Think about how long you waited and watched in your favourite TV and movie series, waiting for the day when he’d see that she was always the right one for him, hoping that they would somehow find each other. Some movies I really love about these stories are Something Borrowed and Love, Rosie.
We know it can take so long to even get the ball moving. Once you’re with a person, even if you’ve been married to them for 25 years, it can be really hard to say how you really feel. If you’ve been feeling overlooked, or you had your feelings hurt today, or you really really appreciate something your partner did for you but you’re embarrassed to bring up because you know it cost them so much to do. There are all sorts of pressures that make us want to keep our mouth shut.
And so when someone is done or over or unable to process a relationship, it can make some sense that people may be tempted to use the ghosting strategy. Rather than having to put those difficult words together and look you in the eye, many would rather try to forget about it.
In my experience, you never do forget about it. I’ve known victims of ghosting to have moved on over time, but perpetrators of it be absolutely devastated when they find out that person is now with someone else. What did you expect to happen? I guess if your mouth is closed, you aren’t really sure.
They didn’t get closure, but neither did you.
Not wanting to hurt another person
“I don’t want to hurt them”. This can be the mentality of a ghoster. Texting you (cause texting is a fantastic way to end a relationship *shudder*) or calling you or meeting up with you would be too hard, so rather than face you and making you cry or breaking your heart, they’d rather just not. You’ll get the idea…. right?
Unfortunately, ghosting hurts worse than any alternative. At least when someone breaks up with you face to face, you leave with your dignity in tact. I remember one of my earlier relationships (thinking of my own experiences around this), even at a younger age, a woman was able to look me in the eye and tell me what was what of her own initiative. It hurt at the time, but not for as long as other instances where someone went silent or turned on avoid mode. I’ll always have massive respect for her for that – we were around 20 and it really nullifies the “immaturity” argument when someone is 25 or 30 or 40 and we’re still making excuses that “they’re still young”. At least for me anyway.
In talking with other people in that boat, or worse, it seems to be the same phenomenon. The in-person breakup usually has tears on both ends, but you both leave with nothing left to say, your head low but moving in the direction of high, and the moment of finality meaning you can both move on and move on well. I think every big and important conversation in any relationship should be in-person, whether it be around a misunderstanding, to make a big decision about the direction of your relationship, or whatever it may be. But even in cases where face to face isn’t possible, voice to voice at least with clear explanations and reasoning is actually a very healing thing.
You actually hurt the person worse by not saying it. They’re always left wondering. I know people who even 5 or 6 years after a relationship breakup are still wondering about that boy from back then, or that girl who disappeared from their lives.
People have value. You have value. They have value. Instill a sense of value and dignity in people by talking to them and treating them with the respect they deserve.
Whose line is it anyway?
Sometimes ghosting can occur simply because the other person actually did think they’ve said all they needed to or wanted to on a subject or a relationship. Maybe you haven’t realized that you’re actually the ghosting one because you’re waiting for them but they’re waiting for you. Well, why can’t they just do it? They may be wondering the same thing about you.
So you have an emotional stalement, a tug of war with the silent treatment as the rope. This is an insidious thing because this can actually happen in the midst of a relationship. As I’ve read more and more and listened to people as they have spoken about their ghosting or ghosted experiences, the more I recognize this is actually behaviour people use when dating or married as a weapon to try to get what they want. Using silence as a mechanism of revenge or torture or blackmail.
Holding the person’s heart hostage.
John Burns always says that silence is never silent in relationships. Silence screams. And it always screams against the value and identity of the other person.
Is it actually your turn to say something? Are you saying what you need to say in moments you need to say it? Do you have a ghosting scenario in your active relationship? Or one you think the other person is breaking off?
The real issue here is closure. It’s like losing a loved one while they’re travelling overseas. You weren’t there. You didn’t see it happen. And it’s possible you may never even be able to find the body.
It honestly illicits the same feelings in people. Just look at the acts of violence people will carry out in response to being ghosted. It cuts deep and doesn’t allow a person to properly mourn or close the door.
If you’re the ghoster, or you regularly use the ghosting tactic, maybe have a think about the sorts of feelings you’re leaving people with. Life has a way of giving you what you’ve been giving others and it’ll eventually catch up to you.
But if you’re the ghosting recipient, you have to do the brave thing and have the funeral anyway. They didn’t say goodbye, they didn’t close the door, they didn’t say what you would have hoped for, but like a soldier who has been Missing In Action for 30 years, you may have to accept that it is likely a death you need to mourn.
And yes, have a funeral if you need to. Have a little ceremony by yourself, do the eulogy, bury/throw away the reminders or pain points, say goodbye to what was. Close the door. While your link to the past remains, nothing else will ever be able to take its place.
Alternatively, you need to call this person out on what they’re doing. A lot of us don’t like confrontation, but it really is a necessary and healthy part of life. Have the conversation if you can. If you can’t, you know you’ve done all you could.
Here’s the even more real issue. Ghosting is the worst because it makes you feel worthless.
“You’re not worthwhile” is the heavy and lingering thought left by ghosting. “You’re not even worth the effort of the goodbye”.
Friend, if you’ve struggled with this, know that your value is not based on the actions of someone who couldn’t finish a relationship with respect. It could be immaturity, it could be difficulty, it could be whatever, but the behaviour is not a reflection on you – it’s a reflection on them.
You have to ask yourself – if this person was willing to ghost you this early into the relationship, or at this stage of the relationship, whatever stage it was – do you really want to attach yourself to someone who doesn’t know how to have an important conversation and face their issues?
Well, maybe you do. In truth, all of us are going to stuff up and keep quiet at times we should have spoken up. Maybe they are worth some extra effort. But even so, you need to remember that this isn’t about you. This is about them. They don’t know how to face it. They can’t bring it up. Whatever it is.
I find more and more that people who ghost once are usually repeat offenders. It is commonly their primary coping mechanism and an extreme form of conflict avoidance. Such people aren’t just doing that to you, they’re probably also doing that to their friends, their loved ones, their children, their cousins and their colleagues. Such behaviours are never just used once. You may find some freedom just even thinking about if there are any other cases you know of where they’ve done that to others.
You are so valuable. You are so worth loving. You have so much to give. That’s half your frustration, isn’t it? You know you have so much to give, but this action is making you feel like you can’t give it. If this person won’t receive it, you will find someone else who will. Or perhaps after finally having that difficult conversation, the barriers of silence will come crashing down and you’ll be able to live in the fullness of human love that you know you’re called to.
I do honestly believe love is a calling. All of us are called to it. I believe in the love of God and I believe this is the source of all love that we could ever give to anyone else. I am valuable in the eyes of God first, and that makes me valuable anywhere I go.
But I also believe that human love isn’t something we should try to spiritualize or ignore. If it’s beating in your heart, I think it’s as important as a calling to serve or help people. Perhaps even moreso.
Because I could speak the mysteries of heaven, but without love, I would be nothing more than a clanging symbol.
Ghosting is the worst. It really is. I’m not sure if you found anything helpful in my little musings and reflections on my own experiences and the experiences of those around me. But I hope you did.
And my hope for you is that this year would be a real year of fulfillment in the area of love in your life. I believe we are called to live in great love, and that it is one of the paramount human experiences here on this earth when it is done right. And I believe it is the desire of heaven for you to live it out.
How about you? Do you think ghosting is the worst? How have you dealt with it if you’ve faced it before?