Listen, I’m going to level with you here, because I respect you and I think you should know the truth. I am currently sitting on my bed in my underwear eating week-old leftover pasta straight out of the tupperware asking myself, where do I even begin on this one?
As much as I try to cover it, I am a millennial to my core. I lack very basic communication skills, I am paralyzingly afraid of rejection, I am flakier than toaster strudel, and I have been the other half of many romantic engagements that have taken place almost entirely over text or Facebook message or WhatsApp, or any other messaging means that do not involve face-to-face contact. As with most sexually active youths of my generation, ghosting has been an intimate part of my love life since its very beginnings; in fact, I’ve had a longer relationship with ghosting than I’ve ever had with an actual human being. And yes, at this point I’d settle down and marry ghosting if it would just stop disappearing long enough to answer my freaking texts.
For those of you reading this who might have grown up in an era when people actually broke off romantic partnerships with one another in person--an ancient technique known as the “break-up”--I feel as though I may need to explain what the term “ghosting” is actually referring to.
When dissecting the act of ghosting, we must first consider the etymology of this word. A rough translation of the ancient Greek "gost," I believe, is “the desire to avoid conflict, confrontation, and the feeling of feelings.” Take the following as examples of the term “ghosting” in a modern context. Ghosting is when you tell somebody that you want to live with them over the summer, you begin to make plans, and then you suddenly move to Argentina without telling anyone, leaving the other person to find out about your move only by logging onto Facebook and seeing pictures of you holding up a large trout that you caught from a Patagonian river. Ghosting is when you go on six dates with a person, you tell them about a trip that you’ve been planning for the two of you, and then you don’t ever answer their texts about flight information or their Venmo requests for the ticket charges. Ghosting is when you lead someone on with great conviction and then you dramatically and thoroughly disappear from their life in a fashion that entirely neglects the fact that the other person has the capacity to feel pain! It’s kind of an art form, really. At the end of the day, ghosting is flaking in the least considerate, least expected ways.
That being said, it’s important to recognize that there are many forms of ghosting. Not all ghosting looks the same; sometimes the ghost will be relatively innocent, occurring after one or two dates, maybe one mediocre kiss that didn’t lend itself to many sparks. This form of ghosting is still inconsiderate--after all, even if you hardly know each other, it would still be nice to be upfront with a person and tell them that you’ve decided to graze other pastures so they don’t waste their time waiting around for three weeks for a text from you--but ultimately, the damage done in this scenario is minimal. Other ghosts, however, are far more insidious. Take, for example, my scariest ghost story *holds flashlight under chin* about a boy who is now no more than the whispers in the wind and the silent echo of an unanswered Facebook message. Also a fully functioning human being with a girlfriend, I take it.
I’ll try to spare you the details and just give you the highlights of this one; I was dating this boy--albeit, very casually and openly--for the entirety of a calendar year. It was my first year at Emerson, and it was his first year at a different school in Boston; we met at a music festival and bonded over our shared love of Vampire Weekend, and from then on began seeing each other on weekends, going with one another to different events, spending nights at the other’s school, meeting each other’s friends--you know, the whole romance thing. I was seeing a number of other people at the time, and I assume he was, too. This casual and lovely engagement carried on for the rest of our first year, and into the summer even as I went home to California and he to the tri-state area. The first semester of my sophomore year, I studied abroad in the Netherlands, which obviously meant that I could not see this boy. I assumed that we would still talk throughout the semester--at least occasionally--because we never had a conversation about things ending between us. We didn’t talk at all the entire semester; that is, he didn’t contact me once over the course of the entire semester. While I was hurt and disappointed, I was also prepared to let it slide because I know how busy life at school can be, and also I dated someone really lovely and sweet during my semester abroad anyway (but that’s beside the point).
The really interesting thing happened when I returned to Boston for the second half of my sophomore year. Concerned by his silence, I messaged him and practically demanded that he come see me in person, anticipating that he would use this rare opportunity to officially end things in person and allow me to move on with my life. What happened next is truly the apex of ghost culture: this boy had the audacity to meet with me, apologize for his disappearance, tell me that if he never saw me again it would be a “travesty” (a direct quote), come upstairs, say hi to all my friends, tell me that he’d text me about getting together again, hop onto the Boston public transit, and ride it into total oblivion. Yes, though it may be a travesty, I have not heard from this boy ever again. It’s been two years since we last saw each other.
Now, the only issue with ghosting is that it’s never quite as easy as if these people were real ghosts; if he’s going to treat me so poorly, then he should at least have the decency to properly disappear. I’m talking about disappearing so that, like, his skin vaporizes, maybe he lives on forever in the afterlife, stuck in some old woman’s wall or in some small child’s closet, we don’t know--basically I’d like him to be anywhere far away from me. The thing is, though, he’s still in Boston, he’s still on Facebook, he’s still dating this other girl; he’s still a living, breathing, sentient being who I contemplate texting when I’m drunk but *usually* don’t. It’s an ongoing thing, ok, I don’t need your judgment.
If ghosting is good for anything, I hope that it teaches people that actions have consequences. You might be able to disappear into thin air by not answering a text or a Facebook message, thinking that it’s a nice way to avoid emotional responsibility, but feelings don’t work like that. As we hurdle at a million miles per hour into the tech-savvy, robot-run future where real human interactions become more and more rare, it is my hope that we all try to reconnect with our humanity and decency with a sensible, humane “it’s-not-you-it’s-me” over coffee.written by Emma Glassman-Hughes