We Need To Talk About Ghosting
Ghosting is when someone breaks up with you by effectively disappearing off the face of the Earth. They don’t text, they don’t call and they don’t answer their door when you drunkenly hammer at it at 3am. The ghost does not give an explanation of any sort, leaving the ghosted wondering where he or she went wrong. My word, how cruel! This phenomenon isn’t new, of course daters in the good old days sat by their curly-corded phones waiting for their ghosts to call and assumed that call must have come when he or she was out of the house.
When we need to break up with someone, there’s a temptation when faced with the prospect of acknowledging a partner’s position and how we might be impacting them, to just dodge the conversation altogether. Some people feel this way but face it anyway. Some people drop hints in the hopes that by hinting at issues or behaving badly, that the other person will do their dirty work. And some people disappear or what is commonly referred to as ‘ghosting’.
Over the last few months, I’ve heard from an increasing number of people who referred to ‘ghosting’ or being ‘ghosted’ and it’s important to get something clarified right off the bat: Ghosting is not a form of breaking up nor is it the same as No Contact. Ghosting is disappearing. Breaking up is when a person ends the relationship and No Contact is for after a breakup when it becomes apparent that healthy boundaries are not possible and that remaining in contact is destroying sense of self and the ability to process the loss and move forward. Disappearing isn’t exactly a display of courage and is most likely to be done by someone who is not that emotionally mature or emotionally available.
It is uncomfortable to let someone down, to admit that this isn’t what we want anymore or that our feelings have changed. It is also necessary. People who ‘ghost’ learn nothing because they edit and erase themselves out of relationships without confronting anything. It is not even necessarily about doing things from a ‘bad’ place (although there are some incredibly shady people who employ ‘ghosting’ so that they never face consequences and instead press the reset button); it is about doing things from a place where fear, cowardice or excessive concern about how we look or our discomfort trumps integrity and compassion very time.
Many ghosts reason that they didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the ghosted. Really? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that whilst feelings get hurt in a breakup, disappearing sucks. What a ghoster fails to acknowledge is that they cut and run because they don’t want to hurt their own feelings. They end up throwing their partner under a proverbial bus so that they can box away their feelings and draw a line under things on their terms.
It’s about control, as in attempting to feel in control of the situation in their head rather than having to deal with an unpredictable foreign object like another human who they’ve made plans, promises, exchanged bodily fluids with, and inferred all manner of things via the interaction. They’re in control of the story because disappearing means that the ghosted does not get the chance to talk back with their version of events. Additionally, it means that they don’t have to be interacted with. I couldn’t help but analyse this phenomenon further and I noted the following about ghosters:
- They tell you what they think you want to hear, which in their world means “Don’t tell me anything bad”, forgetting that you’ll take the truth over the lie or disappearing, any day.
- They keep things to themselves and store it up, all while giving you their show face and then next thing, boom–they’re gone. In their head, the ‘issues’ have been going on for a long time and couldn’t be resolved, but you found out at the end and didn’t get a chance to resolve.
- They might set tests that you don’t even know you’re taking. e.g. I’ll know I should stay if they _______ today or they say _____. If they ________, then that seals it for me. I’m off. If you pass, they set another test.
- They have negative associations with conflict and criticism and so either don’t argue or discuss, or they do but it’s limited because they’re not in the present.
- They often reason that not talking about feelings or what’s bothering them means that no feelings are being hurt in the running or breakage of a relationship.
- They often have someone else lined up. It might just be interest, it might be an ex, it might be an emotional affair, or it might be a full-blown one but they’re the type who don’t leave unless they think (or know) that they have somewhere else to go to.
- They might gas-light you. Whether it’s unintentionally (and they’re on thin ice there) or deliberately, the net result is the same: because they dismiss your concerns, tell you everything is OK, say one thing, do another, and even make out as if you’re being a drama queen/king and you don’t know your up from your down. Hell, some will even sleep with you before they check out of your life.
If you’ve been ghosted, what I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty is that it’s not about you or that you did something to deserve such treatment. It is not about whether you’re “good enough”. It is about that person’s own journey with conflict, criticism, rejection and disappointment. No, it isn’t nice what they’ve done and yes, the decent thing would be to give an explanation, but their inadequate style of ending a relationship doesn’t reflect an inadequacy within you. The one who is in danger of seeing right through the facade of a ghoster (who does not want to see themselves) is the one who will get the disappearing act.
Many people wear masks. Courtesy demands that others treat us with integrity, honesty and merit; enough to overcome personal fear and insecurity. The least anyone deserves is information. The problem with a ghoster is that they have become so good at hiding their feelings and opinions from others and putting up a front that they’ve forgotten the lie is a lie. You may or may not have been aware of their mask (hindsight gives 20:20 vision) but disappearing means that for you, you have to drop the mask from the picture that you hold of them. They haven’t gotten off scot-free. You can run but you can’t hide from your feelings and life will find a way to bring the disappearing acts into the light for resolution.
Don’t disappear on yourself in your haste to blame you. The lesson here, if there is one might be to perhaps observe and listen to your intuition. To be vigilant without being wary requires delicate balance, an equilibrium developed over years of listening to the self in wordlessness. Honing a sense of the self enables us to sense a true or false connection and attunes to the presence of another sentient being yet unknown. This charged awareness and clarity allows us to assess safety or danger. Buddha proclaimed it beautifully. Suffering, though inevitable, is minimised in the mindful. And happiness is freedom from delusion; when we open ourselves to all that can be known. Even ghosters can teach us something about ourselves.