If you millennials think you invented “ghosting” well haha I’m here to tell you you did not. I’d say you have perfected it though.
Back in the day, if a man lost interest in a woman, he’d stop calling her. All we had back then were landlines, and then–answering machines! I remember when they were invented: it was so fun customizing your “greeting” and people got very creative. Everyone tried to be cutesy with recordings like, “Hey! I’m out doing something amazing and exciting and can’t get to my phone right now! If you want me to call you back, you have to leave me your number!” Because back then, there was no way of keeping someone’s number other than writing it down somewhere. My favorite recorded greetings were snippets of popular songs that I felt reflected my awesomeness, such as, “She’s simply Irresistible” by Robert Palmer. You know, a not-so subliminal way of reinforcing that dating me was a good idea.
Gone were the days when someone could lie and say, “Well, I tried to call you”, when the phone would ring and ring and no one would be there to answer. So now there was no excuse! If you called someone and they weren’t there, you could leave a message! This was exciting new technology! It was so fun to be gone now and come home to see the bright red digital number of how many missed calls and messages that were waiting for me while I was out in the world!
Some answering machines only allowed you to leave a 30 second message and others several minutes, and it was common for a person to have to call 2-3 times in a row to finish their message! You could make plans, cancel plans, and and it was the birth of ghosting. Suddenly we could talk into a machine and tell someone things we wouldn’t be brave enough to say to their face. Like, “hey, last night was great but my ex and I got back together.” Or worse, he’d stop calling. Simple as that. There was nothing worse than having a great date with a guy and then coming home from work or school and no “missed calls” from him. I remember that painful feeling well. I’d obsessively make sure the machine was plugged in and turned on, and days turned into weeks with no contact from said guy. I eventually got the hint, but not before I cried tears of anguish and frustration wondering what happened?? Did I misread everything??? How can I be beautiful and amazing and a great kisser on Saturday night but spoiled chicken by Monday??
The 21st century equivalent of “not returning missed calls” is called “ghosting”. And now we have texting, which to me, is really like leaving messages on an answering machine, except if you’e got your “read” on, that person knows whether or not you read the message and basically chose to ignore it. I remember well checking and double-checking to see, “is it plugged in?? Maybe he called and there was a black-out!” Or the dreaded, “did I even have it turned on???” Because back then answering machines had to be turned on and off–“on” when you left the house and “off” when you got home. And when someone called and called and you wanted to “ghost” them, you simply turned your machine on when you were actually home and “screened your calls.” And you’d sit there on your couch, watching TV, and hear the landline ring, and cringe while the person you just had a fabulous date with calls and calls and leaves desperate messages while you sit and listen, because there was no way to turn it off without them knowing you were sitting right there.
Pretty cowardly, weren’t we? We all did it. I did it mostly to debt collectors and cold sales calls. And my mother, rest her soul. Her timing wasn’t always good.
And so fast-forward to the 21st century where we’ve got the technology to ignore one another in many different ways–Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat for starters. We can “unfriend” and “unfollow” and ghost one another several different ways. Technology has given us the ability to treat each other shittier than ever.
I’ve done it myself–deleted, unfriended, unfollowed people who either never read the messages I sent them or took so long to respond I forgot I’d even written them. I assume I’m so far down their ladder of importance they probably wouldn’t notice anyways.
Going clean and swift with all methods of contact is probably the least confusing, the metaphorical ripping off of the Band-Aid. What does it mean when someone won’t return your texts, yet looks at all your Snapchat stories? Are they still interested or not? There’s this mucky-muck purgatory we get put in that keeps us from grieving and moving on. Do we hold onto hope that maybe you DID get arrested or in a major car accident and are physically unable to contact us? We go from being terrified something bad happened to you, to praying something actually did to explain your sudden lack of contact.
I really don’t get how hard it is to say, “hey, I met someone; if things don’t work out maybe we can chat again soon, you’re really awesome and I really enjoyed getting to know you.” Especially in a text, because it’s a way to let someone down easy and give them closure. It’s better than hearing nothing, and it’s a way to sidestep actual contact with another human being when you have to tell them something they don’t want to hear, which is, you don’t want to date them anymore. Make up a story goddamn it! Thats what white lies are for. Tell us you had a job change or hell, try the truth. “I really enjoyed our time together but I think maybe we want different things/met someone new/ we’re not a match.” Give us closure so we stop hoping and checking our fucking phones.
It’s cowardly and cruel and rude. There’s really no other way to look at it. Because if you’ve been dating someone, and it’s going really well (sex or no sex)–if you’ve got back-and-forth messaging going on and then POOF you disappear without a trace, that person is left holding their phone in their hand, staring at it constantly the way we used to stare at our answering machines, looking for clues. We’re left wondering what we did wrong. Why won’t you talk to me anymore?? Our self-esteem takes a brutal beating.
The “not-knowing” never really goes away. We get stuck in a limbo of self-examination and rumination, and the only way to really recover fully is to label that person a poor communicator at the very least, and at most, a douchebag. Otherwise nice people do this, and it’s frankly, shitty.
Basically ghosting is more about you avoiding feeling uncomfortable at someone else’s expense. It also is a sign of a lack of maturity; it confirms that you’re really not worthy of me anyways. I would never do that to someone I had an intimate relationship with, whether it was two dates or two months. Have the decency to end it like a grown-up.
I asked a twenty-five year old guy friend of mine what he thought about ghosting and said he does it too. Everyone he knows does it, but after talking awhile, I gave him pause to consider how the other person felt. He felt horrible, but said something really interesting–that sometimes (especially guys) ghost because in this right-swiping world, there’s just so many options, and he isn’t really “not interested anymore” but rather just distracted for the moment by someone more available. Or sluttier.
He said ghosting is a way to stop contact “temporarily”. So giving hope to the ghosted is intended. “I might come back” he told me, and I said, “Yeah but would she have you after you treated her so terribly???”
He nodded and sighed, “Maybe the girl that gets ghosted is the one that got away.”
4 thoughts on “Ghosting ain’t nothing new”
In college we had a phone on the wall. That was it! If you were waiting for a guy to call…. you literally stayed home, didn’t go out, waiting for him to call.
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OMG yesssss!! I remember that!! Thank you for adding that. Yes we girls used to sit home and stare at that fucking phone!! Dumb!!
I’ve been on the receiving end of the ghost, and I remember waiting days (like a dumb shit) feeling all my insecurities. Your right an adult with good communication skills at least will say, it’s not working for me. I’ve said it. And It feels good to move on with a clean slate. Just remember karma know your address.
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Thank you so so much for writing! I’m so sorry to hear you’ve been on the receiving end of ghosting too. Btw I’m working on an addendum to this recent post…stay tuned it will be posted tmrw.
Oh, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE your last line, “karma knows your address”. Or, “Do unto others as you like them done to you.”