Being Ghosted Put Me In Therapy

Artwork by Anna Jay.
The very first time I went on a date with Harry* we had a chat about ghosting. We were several gin and tonics in when he asked me why I was single. 
"Why?!" I thought that was quite a weird thing to ask. It was as if he thought you could just reach out and press a button. Single or not single. On or off. 
If you could decide not to be single, wouldn’t most of us? 
Of course, being single is a legitimate lifestyle choice, in which I am currently actively partaking. Having been firmly single for the last few years, I have loved sleeping without anybody snoring next to me, without having to go to in-law family functions that are really nothing to do with me in obscure parts of the UK when I’d much rather be at home watching Celebrity X Factor and trying to figure out what Simon Cowell has done to his face. 
But seriously, Harry, why the hell would I be drinking gin and tonics at 3pm on a Wednesday with a guy I’d met on Hinge the night before if I actually wanted to be on my own forever?
"I just haven’t met the right person yet," I told him, cringing at the cliché. "And anyway, the last person I met ghosted me after a few dates, because that’s apparently what people do now instead of texting to say they’re not into it."
I knew that I sounded bitter when I said it, but I didn’t care. I was a bit drunk, and I was being honest. Certainly more honest than the guy who had brutally ghosted me a month before, after cancelling on me when I was leaving the house to go and meet him, in full makeup and literally locking the door behind me. 

Why the hell would I be drinking gin and tonics at 3pm on a Wednesday with a guy I'd met on Hinge the night before if I actually wanted to be on my own forever?

Harry gawped at me and told me that he thought ghosting was disgusting. It wasn’t something that he had ever done, he told me. He agreed when I said that people should just be honest with one another – that honesty is a basic, basic thing, and that if you don’t want to see someone anymore, it takes 30 seconds to send them a text and set them free from the endless misery of waiting for a message that never comes.
It turned out that Harry was recently single after a very long-term relationship and that I was only the second girl he had been on a date with from an app. Ever. I was weirdly impressed by this, I suppose. I wondered if maybe he hadn’t developed some of the shittier habits that people are prone to on dating apps. 
Maybe, I thought, I had met a good one.
Harry was a slow burner. I spent quite a lot of time texting my best friend at the beginning, telling her that I couldn’t deal with how nice he was being to me. 
"I’m used to people playing games and then ghosting," I texted her. "How do I handle this really sweet man, being decent?" 
She told me that I had to just go with it, that I deserved more than the treatment I had received earlier that year, and so I did. I was happy when I stuck with seeing Harry. He was considerate – one night he came over and looked after me when I had food poisoning and was running off to puke all the time. On International Women’s Day he messaged me to say "Happy Women’s Day" before correcting himself: "It should be every day of the year." 
Looking back that line was cheesy as hell, but it worked. After years of recycling exes when I was bored, and getting ghosted when I tried to meet new people, I found myself dating someone who seemed straightforward and kind. We spent several months hanging out, texted nonstop, and when he started staying at mine a couple of times a week (it was always at mine), it felt comfortable and natural. I would be lying if I didn’t think that we were moving into relationship territory. 
When Harry started to disappear, it wasn’t a clear-cut ghosting. It was more of a haunting, because he was still there in the background for a bit. He kept promising that he wanted to see me, explaining that his summers were always crazy with work, that he wasn’t getting to see his friends either. He reassured me while being incredibly vague. He kept me on the back burner.
It was the mixed messaging of someone who was intent on coming across as a good guy but was actually quite a prick. Harry didn’t want me to be able to call him out for being shit, so he kept me hanging on, for weeks on end. It was hell. 
Because we hadn’t broken up – we’d never been official in the first place – I felt like I couldn’t confront him. I didn’t want to scare him away now, did I?

When Harry started to disappear, it wasn't a clear-cut ghosting. It was more of a haunting, because he was still there in the background for a bit. He kept me on the back burner.

Still, I felt like I was in the midst of a break-up. I felt sick a lot of the time, I was constantly furious. I found it hard to be around anyone in couples, which felt like everyone. Getting back on dating apps was out of the question because I thought I’d see Harry at some point soon. 
Of course, I never saw Harry again. He did finally ghost me. The last time I saw him, he was late to meet me because he’d been to comfort a female friend who had just been dumped on text after a couple of months with her boyfriend. I remember Harry telling me this, saying it was the height of bad manners. And then, when it came to me, I didn’t even get a text. 
It was weird. He went on holiday, we’d spoken about hanging out when he was back and then he disappeared entirely and I never heard a word from him again. He was gone. It still doesn’t make any sense to me – why would someone who was so emphatic that ghosting was a shit thing to do then go and do it themselves? Why couldn’t he just tell me the truth? 
I was already having cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for generalised anxiety disorder when I started seeing Harry but my anxiety had been improving, until he ghosted me. 
I told my NHS therapist that I was finding life tricky because I was going through a break-up. As I said the words, I felt like a fraud. After all, there hadn’t actually been a break-up. 
How could I sit and explain to my therapist that I’d been dumped but that the person doing the dumping couldn’t even be arsed to inform me of it? It was too embarrassing. Instead I mumbled that I was having a hard time with a guy I was seeing, and struggled through my session, unable to concentrate because I felt so sad about what had happened with Harry. 
After a few months’ break, I decided to give dating a go again. Clearly not ready to be back out there, I found myself crying when I got home from one very lacklustre date. The chemistry I’d had with Harry just wasn’t there, and I was still so incredibly angry with him – and myself – that all I could do was weep. 
I spoke about this at my next therapy session. My therapist asked me if I would like to go on the waiting list for counselling. CBT isn’t really an emotional therapy – it’s more a practical one for coping with everyday anxiety and stress – so I said yes. It’s probably the best thing I can do, besides texting Harry and telling him what a terrible person he is. But I deleted his number a long time ago in case I got the urge to do just that. 
Ghosting leaves you unable to make sense of events, even months on. I will never know what was going on in Harry’s life that meant he decided to disappear on me, because he wasn’t able to be honest with me. That feeling – of not being worthy, of constantly worrying that I had done something wrong, that I was at fault – cut me up. 
Behavioural psychologist Emma Kenny says this is understandable. "Ghosting someone is a really powerful way of reaching someone without taking any responsibility for it," she explains. "It’s the ultimate in disrespect. The ghoster is exerting full control and removing any opportunity for the other person to have a say – for the person receiving the ghosting, they have no warning. The ghoster isn’t just saying, 'I don’t want to see you again'. They’re actually saying, 'I want nothing to do with you at all'."
That’s the thing with ghosting – it feels particularly eerie. I now can’t think of Harry or the time we spent together with any fondness, because he decided to end things in such a horrible, drawn-out manner.  

I told my therapist that I was finding life tricky because I was going through a break-up. As I said the words, I felt like a fraud. After all, there hadn't actually been a break-up. 

"In many relationships, people split up but they can stay friends, and be thankful for the part that person played in their life. But by ghosting, it suggests, 'You’re so unimportant that I can make you invisible'. It completely dehumanises people," Emma adds. "Even though the person doing the ghosting won’t interpret their actions that way – they’re just doing the easiest thing for themselves at the time – this is how it makes the person who has been ghosted feel." 
So it turns out that my reaction was completely proportional. Suzanne, 41, was dating a man for nine months when he ghosted her. "It was a fairytale romance and we had met each others’ parents when he disappeared on me. Five years on, I’m still not over it," she says. "At the time, I repeatedly took myself through every step of the situation and self-blamed, completely stuck on a loop. It was only when I dated someone else for three months and he said, 'Well, he was a bit of a shit to you', that I realised it was true. I’ve not got over it yet, as I still have no closure. I find it very hard to trust again and not to worry obsessively about whether it will happen again. It’s such a weak and unkind thing to do – there’s this huge hanging question mark that will never go away."

In many relationships, people split up but they can stay friends and be thankful for the part that person played in their life. But ghosting suggests, 'You're so unimportant that I can make you invisible'. It completely dehumanises people.

Emma Kenny, psychologist
It seems that the feelings ghosting stirs up are universal. The main problem with dating right now – regardless of your age or situation – is how normalised ghosting has become. Getting ignored by someone you quite like and thought you were having excellent WhatsApp chat with after one or two decent dates now seems par for the course, and that is really depressing. 
You might say, "Well, that’s just dating culture in 2020". But to me, when you have got to know a person well, they’ve slept in your bed countless times and met your housemate, it is completely unacceptable. I still feel at times like I am carrying a ball of anger around with me because of what happened with Harry, although I know that this will fade away. 
Sometimes I sit and question whether things would be different if I wasn’t the kind of person to really take things to heart. But then I stop and remind myself that you have to be open to falling for someone and, in any case, the really crap thing about being ghosted is that there is no guidebook for dealing with it. 
*Name has been changed

More from Sex & Relationships

R29 Original Series