I’ve been ghosted a lot in my life.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, ‘ghosting’ is when someone you have formed some kind of relationship with or attachment to just vanishes into oblivion. You never see or hear from them again, and they leave you no clue as to why they disappeared.
Now, I don’t really enjoy a lot of people’s company. I admit I’m a weirdo who likes being alone most of the time and is easily overwhelmed with attention and interaction, even the positive kind, even though I’m a generally optimistic, positive person. But it does bother me when someone engages with me and then abruptly goes away without any explanation. It’s painful when someone says, ‘You’ve hurt me…I can’t stand being around you anymore because you <whatever>…’ or something else, and gives a reason why they’re distancing themselves from you or outright severing ties, but when that happens and there’s no communication as to why…well…that’s a special kind of hurt.
It’s strange, because I have some really long lasting friendships that I consider strong, where I can go long stretches without talking to those people and pick up right where we left off weeks…months…sometimes even years ago. I never feel like those people don’t value me or are mad at me or whatever. But there are other people…usually people who have made a point to set an expectation of closeness or regularity or reciprocity or something and then suddenly withdraw it…that hurts. That’s different than, ‘Life just got busy and time got away from me.’
This happened with a couple of new, very casual acquaintances in the past week or so, and that prompted me to think about other times that it’s happened to me. Maybe I need to talk about a couple of them ‘out loud’ here and then I can quit ruminating over how often this seems to happen to me, and worrying that it’s going to happen again with someone truly important to me…like friends I feel true emotional closeness and compatibility with…like my best friend…like my old friends who I feel confident about even with long stretches of silence…like J.
The first time I was really ‘ghosted,’ I don’t think the term existed.
I was in college and (maybe for the first time ever) REALLY interested in this guy I took German 101 with. Like…I was interested FIRST. The guy wasn’t interested in me first (that I know of). He was smart and sweet and he wore an Eeyore watch.
I’ll never forget that watch. I’m actually surprised I’ve never written that detail into some love story I wrote…that the hero wears an Eeyore watch. Anyway, I did what I thought was brazenly flirtatious with this young man in German 101…I spoke to him. Out loud. About things that were NOT related to elementary German. (For me? That’s practically throwing myself at him.) And he smiled at me a lot and spoke back to me kindly and (I thought) with interest, but I am a historically and notoriously slow mover when it comes to romantic interest revealed, so way before the time I was ready to actually say something to that effect to him, and before he had much of a chance to maybe say something to that effect to me, this OTHER guy in German 101 asked me out. I was confused, like maybe I’d been off with aiming my romantic attention at the correct person. The guy who asked me out told me with uncanny certainty that Eeyore Watch had a serious girlfriend so I shouldn’t waste my time (I realize looking back this was almost definitely a self-serving lie, but I didn’t and still don’t lie, and at that time, I was pretty naive and believed almost no other people lied either…that was for monsters and politicians and monstrous politicians). He seemed nice enough and he was definitely interested in me. So I agreed to go out with him. He took me out on several dates (that never included physical affection), and right after our semester ended (when we’d no longer have to see each other in class…coincidentally), he invited me to watch the film Boogie Nights on VHS. (For those of you who have neither seen nor heard of this film…it’s about the adult film industry and it contains…very overt sexual behavior and objectification of the human body…women’s AND men’s). Even stupid-literal, oblivious me could take THAT hint. I told him I wasn’t really into moving that fast. And he never called me again. Didn’t return calls I made to him. Boogie Nights was the last time I saw or heard from him. I wasn’t in love with him or anything and we weren’t even what I’d call friends, so I wasn’t crushed or anything. It was only the first time someone truly ghosted me. I’d had other friends and dates disappear before, but there was always a reason…moved schools, moved towns, found someone else, I said something that hurt their feelings, they said or did something that hurt mine and I told them so…
This guy just evaporated. I guess his reason was I didn’t want to maul or be mauled by him. ??? Anyway, it didn’t really get to me. Honestly, I only think about him when someone else in my life spontaneously evaporates.
I’ve been ghosted way more often by ‘friends’ than by people I’ve seen romantically. I’ve lost a lot of friends in the past 6 years or so because of having major differences in our moral code revealed. I get that. That’s not ghosting. But I’ve also had a lot of people I felt particularly close to, whom I believe share my moral compass, who just…don’t contact me for any reason at all anymore. And that hurts some. Because there was an attachment there…it lasted through college and several relationships for each of us, and marriage, and parenthood, but now…nothing. It’s not like the marriage or a big move in distance or a new baby ate into time and contact I used to get. That would be more than understandable. These people just decided to stop contacting me because they feel like contact with me isn’t something they need or want in their life. I’m not saying that’s wrong, but it does hurt.
And then there’s the more recent phenomenon of me finding friends online. Friends I really felt like I had a lot in common with…friends who made me feel safe and comfortable right away. I spoke with a few people online three years ago, all of whom spoke with me (at least I thought) enthusiastically every day for weeks. And then…disappeared entirely. And because it was anonymous, distanced communication online, even if I were a person who chased other people for closure (but I’m not), there was no way I could do that. I just had to accept that people I considered ‘friends’ were totally gone and unable to be found, and they didn’t feel like their interaction with me warranted a goodbye. I’m not saying every human on earth owes every other human on earth an explanation for their every decision and behavior. I don’t believe that. I don’t reveal much of myself to anyone, I don’t enjoy explaining my every action and decision to people either, and I understand the urge to just ‘go away’ or disappear. I REALLY do. But I do think about a few of these folks from time to time…wondering if they are alright. And like I said, in the past two weeks, I was approached and engaged by people online about my writing. “I just bought <book>! I’ll totally read it and tell you my thoughts about the work…” and then…nearly immediately afterwards…deleted social media account…unfollowed my blog…no way to contact them…they’re back into the ethereal online mist.
I’ve of course made other friends online in the past several years who have NOT done this, and I am grateful for those people every day. Because frankly, other than J and my son and my high school best friend…they are my closest contacts and talking with them protects my optimism and faith in humanity and sometimes even my sanity. But I worry about them ghosting me. Because it’s become common in my adulthood for people to do that. Sometimes, when I’m talking to my online friends, based on not only previous online experiences, but ones in REAL LIFE with people from whom I’ve received some fairly personal and intimate promises and assurances…I can’t help but think…