A little while back I stopped communicating with someone I had seen on one, intimate, occasion. Things just didn’t feel right (which is fine, by the way; most relationships won’t last very long). The thing is, I did not communicate well that I no longer wanted to continue our relationship; instead, I just stopped replying.
While out dancing with friends, one of them pulls me aside, “That guy who just walked in…” I see him. He looks like a much smaller Jason Momoa. Ah, but college towns. “We hung out for a couple of weeks, but he was getting really intense, and he’s been texting me like crazy… and I just haven’t gotten back to him.” She explains over the blaring hip-hop/house infusion all DJ’s seem proficient in.
I have been ghosted by numerous women; And truth be told, I have done my fair share of ghosting partners as well… this is an experience almost all of us can relate to.
Thanks to the world we currently live in, the only thing we need do to end a relationship is stop replying to people’s texts. It’s clean, simple, and very low on the confrontation spectrum (or so we would like to believe). Lest we forget that there is an actual person on the other end of those messages.
Texting having become a normative facet of communication has created fascinating things in the way of relating with each other for us millennials. One of these is that we have replaced many of our person-to-person communication techniques. If we were talking to someone in person (or even on the phone), it might come off as odd not to reply to a question asked of us for any number of hours (not to mention a tad boring for both parties involved). With texts, on the other hand, we can read a someone’s question, and just, sort of, wait. This phenomenon does two things. The first I am actually a fan of, and that is this ability that texting has created for us to really absorb, sit with, and process something before giving a definitive response; this can be a good thing. Sometimes we just need time to marinate a bit.
The thing is, we tend to treat texting more like a conversation than a well-thought-out letter, and that leads us to the problematic piece.
This new form of communication has also given us the ability to stay in a comfort zone lacking much vulnerability; a lack of responsibility or accountability in needing to follow through while in a relationship.
Although ghosting may be a healthy tactic employed at the start of a relationship – during that funny period while we are still unsure as to whether the relationship will progress, and to what extent – it is certainly not a healthy communication behavior when it becomes a hallmark of said relationship (and especially as a way of ambiguously ending a relationship).
What we are trying to do is have our cake and eat it too. By ghosting a prospective partner, we are allowing ourselves to shy away from the vulnerability (an important aspect toward intimacy) and the concreteness of having to tell another person what it is we truly want.
Perhaps this is because we want to keep someone dangling on the side, in order to have the option of comfort on a lonely night… but lo and behold! Someone new has come along! Now we have both options, and we feel a little less lonely (because, if the shiny thing doesn’t work out, we can always reply to that one text from them we forgot about…)
The issue is that we have made damn sure that there will be very little room for intimacy in either relationship, now or moving forward.
Psychologically speaking, we are deathly frightened of being vulnerable in a relationship. Vulnerability is like another word for our inner child; that part of ourselves we hid in order to survive difficult times. Those difficult times occurred in relationship, however (read: parents, peers, etc.) and that means that the way we decided to cope will inevitably show up again and again later on in relationship.
Vulnerability means we open ourselves up and let someone else see all those pieces we needed to hide; pieces we are unconsciously still very ashamed of.
Here’s the kicker: those pieces of ourselves are still very much us. We need them.
All of this relational ambiguity leads to a form of psychological compartmentalization; a strong tactic in our unconscious effort to keep from experiencing intimacy. In essence, when we compartmentalize, we feel safer because, well, we are furthering ourselves from that feeling of vulnerability.
On an extreme level, this compartmentalization may look like cheating on your partner. It might, however, be as simple as confiding a secret to one friend and not your romantic partner. It could also look like ghosting someone in order to keep from having to deal with the emotional strain of a direct breakup… or stringing them along just in order to feel that one more option exists.
An interesting takeaway is that every relationship will inevitably end (I know, but let that sink in… it’s not a particularly fun idea to dwell on, but it IS a true one. It is NOT, however, a reason to stay in, or end, a relationship; it is simply a fact of life, one that may actually help secure relationships with friends and lovers). It is also important to know that we will always hurt and get hurt in an intimate relationship. We will hurt others, and we will get hurt ourselves; we are working with our shadows and with our emotions here, and so it is inevitable.
The last time I was ghosted, we had made plans to meet for brunch. That weekend I stopped hearing back from them. It felt like shit. I felt rejected. I wanted, at least, some form of response (although a lack of response is quite a strong response in and of itself… just not a particularly healthy one). I venture to guess many of these feelings of rejection will ring true of the people that have been ghosted by me.
Are we rejecting our partners when we end a relationship? The simple answer is yes. Does it have to feel as if there is something intrinsically wrong with us because the relationship is not going to last? No! Absolutely not! There just might be a better way of going about all this ending-relationship-business.
When there is a lack of clear communication, we are left with only our minds to figure out what happened. Why they stopped replying? Are they busy? Did they forget? Do they hate us? Is there someone else? What did I do? Is this my fault?
And, often, our minds tend to create a far worse reality than the one right in front of us. A reality which could probably have been dealt with amicably if we were able to make the effort of turning toward our partners, (whether or not we are about to end the relationship) and confronting the issue head on.
Turning away, the ever-more comfortable approach, is also the one which ends up hurting both parties, whether we mean to, whether that means right away or down the road.