There are a lot of things to complain about when someone ghosts you. Whenever a person I dug suddenly dips out of my life, I tend to lament over the amount of time I took getting ready for the date, traveling to the date, and then actually being on the date, and realize I could have been spending all of that time watching old episodes of Seinfeld and eating pizza on my couch. While this tends to be my biggest complaint lately, there was something else that used to get me so angry that I’d see red. Once I realized I’d been ghosted, and I’d crawl out of the pit of pity the experience had left me in, I’d immediately think: Why won’t this punk just come out and tell me he doesn't like me?!
I know I’m not alone in this thought. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with friends about the same exact thing. My inbox is filled with anecdotes that always end with a similar line: Why wouldn’t they tell me what was wrong?
I understand the impulse to “know.” Looking back on my past single self with slightly clearer vision, I can see that my desire to quiz my dates on why they dumped me had more to do with me and less with them. I figured that if they were able to tell me what was wrong with me, I could diagnose and cure the problem, making me “better” for the next person who came across my Bumble feed. This obviously wasn’t ever a constructive conversation. But the fact of the matter is that it’s still one that a lot of people want to have after a person they were dating casually dumps them. The question is: Are we owed explanations by the people we date, even if we’ve only met them once or twice?
For the people who’ve been ghosted, the answer tends to be a resounding, hell yes. But oftentimes, when those same people want to end a casual fling themselves, they give every excuse in the book to avoid confronting the issue with the person they’re dating. “We barely dated,” they’ll say. “They don’t actually want to be told I don’t want to see them anymore, right?” How convenient.
None of us are bad people for expecting other’s behavior to follow a standard we don’t keep for ourselves. That said, it’s important to notice this behavior in yourself and realize why this disconnect exists. A lot of the time, we simply don’t believe the other person will care if we never hear from them again. But, for the most part, that’s not a call we can confidently make.
Once, I went on a second date with a guy, and we ended up dancing drunkenly to Justin Bieber at a dive bar. He ultimately failed my naked test, so I decided I didn’t want to see him again. He texted me after the date, but never asked me out again, so we just kind of let the inevitable fade out happen organically. Flash forward three months, and I bumped into him on the street in SoHo. We chatted a bit, and then he said, “Why did you ghost me?” I was totally shocked, because I’d read the fact that he’d never set up a third date as evidence that he was just as apathetic about the situation as I was. When I told him as much, he said he’d actually wanted to go out again — he just figured I would have mentioned it if I did. Sure, I didn’t outright ignore his texts and officially ghost him (in my opinion, at least), but if I knew that I wasn’t interested in him, it wouldn’t have killed me to send a quick text telling him I’d had fun but don’t see a future for us.
See how fraught this situation is? We never really know what’s going on in the heads of the people we go out with. What I’d read as apathy was actually this guy waiting for an opening to ask me out again. I’d completely misread his texts, and I realized that had the situation been flipped, I would have wanted an excuse from him, too.
Now, I handle situations like this by asking myself how I’d want to be treated if I were on the receiving end. And a lot of times, I’d like a text — just so I don’t start considering whether or not they’ve died and if that means I’m on the hook to send flowers. So I fire off a version of a “Dear John” text message: Hey. It was so nice to meet you, and I had a nice time getting to know you. But I don’t really see us working together. Thanks so much for the drinks, and be well! It takes five seconds of my time, and sends out a little bit of good karma so that, when the shoe is on the other foot, I might get a text message explanation, too. There is one exception to this rule, though: If the person was a total jerk to me, or made me feel unsafe in any way, then his karma is being ghosted forever.
So much of my growth as a single person has happened during moments when I realize I’m being a huge fucking hypocrite and try to figure out how to fix it. I’ve begun realizing that relationships aren’t just happening to me — they’re partnerships that involve another human with feelings, and I need to be a responsible, active participant. And, surprisingly, this has helped me stop taking the whole dating game so seriously. Sometimes you click with a person, but a lot of the time, you just don’t. That’s part of the journey of finding someone. But if you try to treat the people you date the way you’d like to be treated, you’ll have done your part in making this “game” a little less maddening.
After being raised on a steady diet of Disney movies, I expected to meet someone and fall passionately in love — but wound up collapsing under the pressures of modern dating. Luckily, I eventually realized that there's no "right" way to date, and that I need to find happiness within myself, no partner needed. It’s Not You is where I write to calm the voices in my head — and hear from all of you. Follow me on Twitter, on Instagram, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.