Disappointment

And Then I Never Heard From Him Again: The Awful Rise of Ghosting

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Missing: Man of Finance who goes by the name of Jeremy.  Late twenties, auburn hair, last seen in Chelsea in August 2009. The first man who ever “ghosted” me.

“Ghosting,” the act of disappearing in a phantom-like fashion from someone you are seeing, is prevalent in today’s dating culture and it is objectively terrible behavior. Ghosting can happen after a one-date rendezvous or months of seeing each other – no one is safe from this juvenile phenomenon. Take a horde of singles living in a big city, give them tech devices and dating apps, add a dash of childishness and you’ve got a recipe for relationship disaster stories. For Millennials, “and then I never heard from him again,” is one of the most common endings to great date stories. And we all deserve a happier, non-Sopranos-style ending.

“I think people have been ending relationships badly since the beginning of time,” says Dr. Nicole L. Cromer, a licensed clinical psychologist in New York City. But now that we can hide behind our phones and swipe right on Tinder to find our next date, it’s that much easier to be anonymous and to not take responsibility, explains Cromer, who specializes in relationship issues. But just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it isn’t gutless.

When I met Jeremy at a bar in Midtown on a random Wednesday night, I was incredibly naïve to the New York dating scene.  He was genuinely interested in me ­­– I thought. The idea of feigning attraction in an attempt to get someone in bed was nonsensical to me. He texted me nonstop and we met up twice within days of meeting.  Soon after, the momentum of our communication came to a startling halt.

When I reached out, he made excuses about how work was keeping him from going out.  He was a few years older and worked in banking, so this was plausible. A week later, I thoughtfully asked if he had time for lunch one day soon – a date with a built-in timetable for a busy trader. I blankly stared at my phone, awaiting his response, until eventually I blinked and realized what had happened: I had been ghosted.

Sure, he promised me nothing. I was the one who had the Pollyanna-ish expectation that a few fun nights out together meant he should, at the very least, digitally acknowledge my existence.

More than the difficulty of dealing with the loss of him, I struggle with stomaching the lack of human decency of ghosting. I understand that there’s no future for us, but a simple acknowledgment of an appreciation for the time we did spend together, “Hey, I had a fun few dates with you but I don’t think we’re right for each other beyond that,” would provide so much more closure. It’s always a blow, but you can get over it in a few days. When the ghost disappears, you spend the first few days wondering when you’re going to get a text back and then weeks trying to figure out what went wrong.

Jeremy might have been the first to pull a stunt like this on me – but his actions are certainly not unique.

“Whether you just go radio silent on them, or cancel on them, I definitely know a lot of guys who end things that way and are guilty of it,” explains one New Yorker, named Jimmy. “You had fun, they’re not Ms. Right but it was a good run and you just kind of fade it out.”

Jimmy, 25, says that men, too, are frequently on the receiving end of this. Because the likelihood of running into someone again is slim – and the probability of finding another date within the hour is high, thanks to an inundation of digital dating services – some find this to be a viable solution to ceasing contact with someone.  More than simply being a symptom of living in a transient city, Jimmy believes that immaturity also plays a role, and agrees that ghosting hurts.

Confrontation in this instance is defined not by conflict, but by being upfront and letting the person know, “I’m just not that into you.”

“This scenario [happens] even after four, five, six dates,” said Jimmy.  “They can still be disrespectful enough just to play dead on you. It definitely stings a little.” He notes that this practice can make the ghostee feel like they weren’t even “worthy” of an explanation.

Kristy (some names in this piece have been changed), 25, met John on Tinder. They had gone on a few dates and then one Saturday night last summer, John drove from Brooklyn to the Meatpacking District to meet Kristy and her friend at a club as it neared last call. He stayed for one drink and then took the girls home to Midtown East. John kissed her goodbye and rode off into the dusk.  When Kristy texted him: “How was Philly?” (he told her he was going there the next day), he didn’t reply – ever.

Kristy said she initially questioned herself: “What did I say that clearly made him think that I’m nuts? What was said to turn him off?”

Her confusion then turned to anger as she realized she hadn’t even liked him that much to begin with: “Why does he think he’s too cool to not call me back?”

This internal reflection is common.

“When someone is deciding to not communicate with you, it’s harder to see that it’s really about them and not about you,” explains Cromer. “All kinds of insecurities are likely to come up in that space.”

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The choice to end a relationship in this manner reflects more on the ghost than the now-confused former love interest. When ending a relationship, depending on one’s personality, they’ll likely take one of two approaches: avoidance (ghosting) or confrontation. Confrontation in this instance is defined not by conflict, but by being upfront and letting the person know, “I’m just not that into you.”

According to a study on preferred relationship termination strategies conducted in the 1970s by Leslie A. Baxter and Jeffrey Philpott, when one party chooses to end a relationship through avoidance, it is likely to trigger more anger and hurt – and lead to confrontation.

Ghosts: you’re not as smooth as you think you are – and more importantly, you’re not doing yourselves any favors when you pull a vanishing act. You, too, would benefit from being upfront and honest about whether or not the relationship has run into a cul-de-sac on the road to love.

The study found that avoidance oftentimes causes so much frustration that it leads to an encounter initiated by the recipient. In the case of ghosting, a face-off is the last outcome one hopes non-action will have – and ends up being more detrimental overall.

“Delayed confrontation is more likely to be destructive for the parties than is initial confrontation; [it] compounds the reasons for termination with the additional frustration and anger over how the other party has reacted thus far in the termination effort,” explains the study. “Even if the other party passively accepts the avoidance action, the terminator faces the lingering cost of knowing that he or she took the coward’s way out of the relationship.”

So rip off the Band-Aid. Own up to your feelings, or lack thereof.  We will all receive the necessary closure and resolve as a result.

Denise Abatemarco, a psychotherapist in New York City, says many of her single clients – who happen to be smart women, with successful careers – have had men “end” relationships with them through avoidance. Because these men sidestep addressing their feelings head-on, she sees women falling into a trap of blaming themselves to derive some sort of understanding.

Until we can all live in a world of honest dating, Abatemarco suggests paying attention to red flags that are typically overlooked or dismissed as normal – like when someone does not respond to texts and calls consistently, or is particularly guarded. Try to find out about someone’s relationship history and what they are looking for; if they’re not willing to divulge that information, it can be telling, she says.

There are always signs, but we’re usually willing to make excuses, wishful that this time, this person, will be the exception. Recently, I had been going out with a man for a couple of months before he had a bit of an emotional breakdown one night – let’s just say tears were involved. Before, his texts came frequently, but a week passed and I was genuinely concerned about his well-being.

Swallowing my fear, I sent the first text. Minutes, then hours, then days went by and there was no response. Of course, my mind went to extremes – was he okay? Was he institutionalized? (That seemed rational at the time).

As Abatemarco points out, there were several glaring warning signs that suggested I should stay away. But I felt the need for an explanation.

“It’s really shitty to just disappear and think someone…me…won’t notice or care. Just concerned that you’re ok,” I typed. In a way, I wanted him to know that, if he was ghosting me, I was onto his exit strategy.

Texting him prompted a quick response, apologies, excuses and one more hangout where everything seemed fine, only to lead to the same outcome: another relationship that evaporated into the thin New York City air.

The truth of the matter is, had he let me know that he just wasn’t feeling it, whatever his reasons were, I would have been okay with it. Misconnecting is common, and oftentimes, I already know he’s not the one for me and I’m just not seeing the red flags, as Abatemarco suggests.

Like the experts say, it’s not you, it’s them – time is better spent moving on to the next.

In the words of Belle & Sebastian: “hovering silence from you is a giveaway.” And so we let the ghosts haunt someone else.

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