There were a few great outcomes from interviewing him. I was heard. I realized my feelings for him had shifted, and I actually felt sorry for him.
I had been dating Chris* only a short while when he bought a new condo. He talked about meeting each other’s friends and family and moving in together. We had incredible attraction, communication, and respect. We asked each other for advice about work, and shared love of travel, chicken fingers, kitchen cleanliness, and volleyball.
The first time he disappeared, it was after I asked him about our relationship. We fumbled the exchange badly, and he stopped communicating. Five days later, he came back, apologized. We owned our roles, vowing to do better.
Several weeks later, he mentioned how stressed he was about moving and work. He cancelled our plans one night so he could pack for his move. Chris declined my offer of assistance. My last text to him was “OK.” Days went by. No response. I was baffled. Over the week, I reached out twice, expressing my needs, while ensuring I didn’t shut down communication in any way. I reiterated how I understood the last exchange to have gone so there wasn’t misunderstanding.
This time, 43 days went by without a word. Ghosted.
This was my second ghosting. “Ghosting” is suddenly stopping communication with someone you are dating. Both times I was left in tears and anger. I had let them both back into my life at their request, only to be completely tossed away as though I were a coffee order they didn’t like.
Ghosting is not only painful and confusing, but embarrassing. We are left to make assumptions, fill ourselves with doubt, and dread the untelling to the people in our lives about this person (or “I pretend they died.”)
Forty-three days after my last text to him, Chris reappeared. I had deleted him out of my phone (and my life). His message popped up as a number. It said, “You removed me from LinkedIn??”
I don’t know why I responded. But I often have a very curious and detached nature about my own life.
In the ensuing rocky exchange, I said I wanted to interview him to understand how his mind worked, and what happened.
Leading up to our meeting up, I reflected on a few flags in the relationship. He had broken an engagement previously. I understood it was right to not go through with something that wasn’t right for him. Still do. But he often prioritized his needs. He didn’t cope well with stress. His interest in my life varied greatly.
With this in mind, I met my ghost for the interview over a drink.
He explained he’d been incredibly stressed about work and the move and saw the relationship as another stress point. He thought discussing this would lead to a screaming match and he just couldn’t deal.
I was direct about my hurt and the repercussions of his actions. He apologized. He said in previous relationships he was punished for being vulnerable and any confrontation ended in screaming. I was the first person who hadn’t used his vulnerability against him. It was actually a pleasant conversation. I told him how even a simple text could have saved so much wondering. He agreed.
I asked what he would do about this. He said he needed to work on his communication and what he ultimately wanted. But he had no role models to learn from in terms of communication, never had.
I had expected something more dramatic. It wasn’t.
There were a few great outcomes from interviewing him. I was heard. I realized my feelings for him had shifted, and I actually felt sorry for him. I understand how difficult emotional expression is for men. Our culture has never nurtured this. While some is lack of interest, with emotional labor mostly falling to women, I would never want to shut down an opportunity for someone who wants to do the work. I also realized how lucky I am to have an innate resilience and forthrightness. I have heard from my partners it can be intimidating dating a woman who is not scared of vulnerability or of being alone.
I don’t know if he will ever be capable of a reciprocal, healthy relationship. I’m not sure if his experience with me will help him get there. I truly hope so.
I want to put out a call to action to give up the ghosting. Let’s encourage ourselves, and our loved ones, to avoid it.
Not everything in life has a neatly packaged ending and not everything will end how we want (inevitable bummer of life).
But, I think “When I’m 80, what will I wish I had done?” The answers are be kind, say what needs saying, show up better. I don’t know many who wish to be more of a jerk. More assertive or carefree maybe, but not passive or careless.
To give up ghosting, we might just need help. There is little formal education on relationship communication, and we continue to learn it throughout our lives. In my experience, there is relief in knowing you’ve done your best.
There are many opinions on the right way to extricate ourselves from a dating situation. No response at all? In writing? By phone? Face to face? People, emotions, and situations are unwieldy. We are also entitled to time and space to process our feelings. Sometimes we don’t have answers. That’s OK.
Ending things is unpleasant. However, if we aren’t sure, or know we no longer want to put in the effort, what we can do is:
- Acknowledge our gut, intention, and discomfort.
- Consider: Am I being respectful of this person’s time, energy, and heart?
- Ask ourselves: Have I expressed my thoughts, needs, and expectations clearly?
- Keep firm about our needs.
A language guide might be:
- Acknowledge you need to express something
- “There is something we need to talk about.”
- “I need to bring something up.”
- “You deserve to know where I’m at.”
- Use clear language
- “I want to be honest, and at the same time, this might be hurtful/disappointing.”
- “My situation has/feelings have shifted.”
- “It has been great getting to know you, but this just isn’t working for me.”
- “Dating is about figuring things out. I’ve realized that…”
- Express where you stand about future communication
- “It’s best if we don’t continue…”
- “I respect if you don’t want to be friends or continue speaking…”
One woman I dated for six weeks felt a face to face was needed when I ended things by phone. I disagreed. But I respected her time, energy, and heart. Sometimes in our attempts at being kind we aren’t clear, and clarity isn’t always kind. We won’t always be able to meet people how they wish. And while we might try to disappear from a situation, we can’t escape ourselves.
We may handle it imperfectly. But, handle it. They will need to deal with the disappointment. We will always be the bad guy in someone’s story. That’s OK. What we can also be is honest and clear, and just close the goddamn loop.
*not his real name
Leigh Naturkach is a Toronto-based intersectional feminist. During the day (and night) she raises funds and does community development to improve health and equality for women and girls. In her spare time, she runs, travels, writes, and talks too much.