This week I became aware of the phenomenon known as ‘ghosting’.
For those that don’t know, ‘ghosting’ is the expression for people who decide to disappear out of your life, usually with no explanation, no obvious reason or apparent justification. It is prevalent in relationships conceived online and developed predominantly through digital communication. One moment you’re in constant contact with someone on a daily basis through text message or social media, the next they’ve disappeared off the face of the earth. Or it can be a slow divorce, i.e. the goodnight texts disappear first, then a few days later the good morning texts go too. Then a 24hr period elapses without contact…then your message either gets read and not replied to or not even read at all…and so on, until you start getting more messages from Candy Crush than you do from the person who was beginning to matter to you. Whilst certain resilience can be built up over time to the pitfalls and quirks of online interaction, being ‘ghosted’ is still painful, especially when the previous interactions were so intense and genuine feelings were involved.
The reason for it being painful is because losing contact with someone you didn’t want to or expect to is a form of bereavement. You find yourself mourning not only the loss of that person in your life but also the loss of the potential you could see in front of you. The potential to grow, explore, experiment and experience together is vanquished almost overnight. You had begun to invest in that person and had begun to care for them and their welfare. Now that energy has nowhere to be channelled externally. Instead it can often be channelled internally as negative energy by way of self-reproach. Feeling abandoned, discarded or used leaves a sour taste in the mouth and sense of disorientation.
The very nature of being ghosted means you don’t have the opportunity for closure. You’ll have several unanswered questions and your only choice it seems will be to speculate the answers to them. The destructive part is the self-recrimination; ‘What did I do wrong?’ ‘What’s wrong with me?’ ‘What could I have done differently?’ etc. This is a very painful, confusing and upsetting experience, as the human part of our brains seeks truth using logic, facts and patterns. We are creatures that thrive on being socially accepted, that have the basic need of a sense of belonging and we constantly search for meanings too.
The juxtaposition is that digital communication should make it easier for us than ever before to say things that may make us feel uncomfortable because it offers us a degree of protection. We don’t have to face the person or be in the same room as them. We don’t have to look into their eyes or deal with the ramifications afterwards from what we say. If a person lacks the courage or capacity to be honest in their communication then sending a free text message from long range should provide them with the perfect opportunity to circumvent this. However it seems that choosing to simply ignore the other person and quietly slip away is the preferred choice which is perplexing…and it damages both parties in the process.
I now realise I have been guilty of ghosting in the past and I’ve been on the receiving end. I have lacked empathy for the other person’s feelings. I’ve succumbed to full blown self-preservation mode to avoid making myself feel vulnerable. I have lacked the courage to say something I perceived the other person would struggle to hear. Either way it only served to perpetuate my sense of detachment and isolation. Disappearing on someone is tantamount to ignoring them, and ignoring someone is one of the cruellest behaviours we can inflict upon others. They are burdened with carrying around the unfinished business on their shoulders. Being on the receiving end can cause a potential ripple effect and impact upon how you approach future relationships. I feel ashamed for having done it in the past and that shame offers me the chance for personal growth in order to modify my behaviour.
The truth is, and it is an uncomfortable one, is that endings are a part of life, many of which we don’t want or don’t feel ready for. I guess some other truths of life would also be; you can’t please everyone; life isn’t fair; there’s nowt so queer as folk and when meeting new people, try not to hold them accountable to your own expectations of them.
I think it’s important to say goodbye and to give yourself an ending if the other person hasn’t provided a conclusive or reasoned one for you. You could imagine them sitting opposite you and you can tell them everything you want to say. It’s quite powerful and cathartic. Or you can write them a letter that you don’t intend to send. I’m going to write mine now