Long Reads

Ghosting someone: why being ghosted is so painful, even if you barely know the person

Have you been ghosted by a date? Don’t beat yourself up over it – read this expert advice instead.

I spent most of Christmas crying over someone I didn’t even know existed before December.

It took me a while to realise that he’d ghosted me. He said on our third date over a pizza in Franca Manca that he wished he owned a Nokia 3310 and so, initially, I thought his silence was down to technological abstinence.

After the last time I saw him, he told me he was going home for a few days and that we’d do something when he was back. One week passed and I hadn’t heard from him, so I sent him a super breezy WhatsApp message asking how he was. I never heard back. I hadn’t seen him for two weeks by the time it dawned on me that I wasn’t going to get a reply. It was official: I’d been ghosted. 

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Ghosting people: have you been the victim of unintentional ghosting?

New terms for dating trends come out all the time, but ghosting – abruptly cutting off all contact – seems to be the most consistent and universal dating experience of our times.

Dr Jenny van Hoof, a sociologist who has conducted research on heterosexual men who use Tinder, told me that the most common reason men ghosted women was because they wanted to avoid any confrontation that might occur in response to them ending a relationship. She said: “The arena has changed.

“Compare it to if you were dating someone you worked with. Nowadays, if you want to avoid that confrontation by ghosting, there are no consequences.”

what is ghosting
Ghosting someone: "If you have sex with someone, then you owe them clear and respectful communication."

I’ve been ghosted three times in as many years by men that I’ve slept with. I don’t care if I’m ghosted by someone I’ve exchanged messages with but not yet met in real life. I don’t mind if there’s no communication after an average first date. I also don’t think that all sex is meaningful. But I do believe that if you have sex with someone, then you owe them clear and respectful communication. 

For me, the first ghosting was the worst, but each time it’s hurt like hell. 

“Ghosting essentially creates a feeling of abandonment, which can be very traumatic,” clinical psychologist and author of new mental wellbeing book, Super-Women, Janina Scarlet, tells me.

“The person who is ghosted is then left to wonder what happened, or if they did anything wrong.”

couple holding hands
Ghosting someone: "I replayed every moment of every date over and over again. Were there warning signs I'd missed?"

In the pursuit of understanding where I went wrong, I replayed every moment of every date over and over again. I worried that I’d talked about myself too much and I cringed at some of the things I’d said. I then unpicked it all in my head – were there warning signs that I’d missed?

My first ever ghost was practically waving his red flags in my face. He literally told me a story, while laughing, about a woman he’d ghosted. But I’ve done a lot of growing up since I dated him. So this time around, I felt duped.

It didn’t help that my most recent ghost is an actor. Had he literally been acting the whole time we were together? He’d seemed genuinely interested in me and he hadn’t played any games, which is one of the things I was drawn to.

“When disconnection happens, it’s so painful that our natural instinct is to make sure it never happens again, so we go through the details of past interactions to see where we might have missed a clue,” Scarlet says.

“That’s why it might be really difficult to let go.” 

ghosting someone
Ghosting someone: “We might believe that we’re not allowed to feel crushed after a shorter relationship, which actually creates a more painful emotion.”

I asked Scarlet why I was more upset about this relationship that never became a relationship than I was about my recent breakup with the boyfriend I’d been with for over a year.

“We might believe that we’re not allowed to feel crushed after a shorter relationship, which actually creates a more painful emotion,” she tells me.

“Even if we’ve only been with someone for a few weeks, we start building trust and we think this person is someone we have a really meaningful relationship with,” she continues. “When we think everything is going well and suddenly we get ghosted, it can feel like we’re drowning.”

Once that weird period between Christmas and New Year’s was over, I returned to normal life. It was then that my housemate’s boyfriend said something that transformed my thinking. He pointed out that the action, or rather inaction, of my ghost made him “just a bit crap”.

It became obvious to me that the self-blame that comes with being ghosted meant I’d been sad about someone, and something, that wasn’t real. I’d been obsessing over a mirage of a perfect person – someone who didn’t exist. I’d been hanging on to the promising things he’d told me, instead of judging him by his actions.

Dating coach Laura Yates tells me that dating can be a great opportunity to explore your boundaries and learn what you will and won’t tolerate. The ability to handle difficult conversations is a key part of being an adult – and ending a brief fling doesn’t even need to be a difficult conversation, it could even be sending a short WhatsApp message. As an adult, I’d like to date an adult, too. 

ghosted
Ghosting someone: “The less analysing we do, the better, when it comes to ghosting.”

“The less analysing we do, the better, when it comes to ghosting,” Yates adds. “It says far more about the ghoster’s emotional unavailability and it’s far less about us than we think.”

Over Christmas, I kept making up elaborate excuses for why I hadn’t yet heard from him. “Do you think you’ll be bothered about him this time next year?” My mother asked me. I laughed through my tears. She’s right, of course.

I’m over it now, I suppose. Although, because we live close to each other, I still feel a little on edge while running errands in my local area. I even caught myself putting on makeup to go to the supermarket the other day.

Who knows, that could turn out to be a good thing. And I’m reassured that this experience has reminded me it’s possible to meet someone I really like on a dating app.

But the thought I find most comforting of all is that despite all the setbacks, and all the ‘emotionally unavailable’ people, I’m proud I opened myself up enough that I let myself get hurt. I want to continue to be vulnerable as I try to find love, no matter how painful that can sometimes be. And now, this all means that I get to have the beginning bit of meeting someone I like all over again. We all know that’s the best part. 

Images: Getty, Unsplash