Can’t hear you. I’m break­ing up.

30 per­cent of adults have dis­ap­peared on a part­ner or friend. What gives?

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY LISA BONOS

How did ghost­ing be­come nor­mal in the dat­ing world? Lisa Bonos ex­plains why it grew and how to re­spond to it.

“I don’t un­der­stand,” I wailed to no one in par­tic­u­lar. “I don’t un­der­stand!” ¶ I’d been holed up in my apart­ment for nearly five days in De­cem­ber, bat­tling the flu with chicken soup and ro­man­tic come­dies. By this point, I was feel­ing well enough phys­i­cally to re­turn to work the next day. But emo­tion­ally, I was a mess. ¶ I knew ghost­ing was com­mon. It had hap­pened to me af­ter a sec­ond or third date, which stung. But never like this: For three days, I hadn’t heard from the guy I’d been see­ing for over a month, who was fight­ing the same bug. The men­tal guess­ing game was nearly as de­bil­i­tat­ing as the sick­ness I’d just weath­ered: Had his ill­ness wors­ened, land­ing him in the hos­pi­tal? Had some other ter­ri­ble thing hap­pened? Or was he send­ing me the mes­sage, silently and ever so slowly, that we were through? If that was the case, why was I wor­ry­ing about him?

Our cul­ture of busy­ness and flak­i­ness, cre­ated and en­abled by tech­nol­ogy, al­lows us to avoid tough sit­u­a­tions ev­ery day, and not just in our love lives.

That night I was cry­ing so hard my neigh­bors could prob­a­bly hear. I wasn’t just up­set that a promis­ing re­la­tion­ship might be end­ing. I was dis­traught for all of us who are dat­ing, that break­ing up via si­lence is some­how ac­cept­able. It might be ex­cus­able af­ter a date or two, per­haps a smart move if your safety is at risk. But dis­ap­pear­ing when all you’re fear­ing is a dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tion? That’s nor­mal now.

It’s easy to see how we got here: Our cul­ture of busy­ness and flak­i­ness, cre­ated and en­abled by tech­nol­ogy, al­lows us to avoid tough sit­u­a­tions ev­ery day, and not just in our love lives. Email and texts fall through the cracks, some­times ac­ci­den­tally, some­times be­cause we don’t know what to say or are afraid to tell the truth. Once it be­came easy to can­cel plans, or push them back 10 min­utes with a quick mes­sage, it be­came just as easy to van­ish from some­one’s life. What are we re­ally so afraid of ?

My ghost and I didn’t start as strangers on the In­ter­net. We were seated next to each other at a Shab­bat din­ner for Wash­ing­to­ni­ans in their 30s, and we quickly bonded over hav­ing grown up in Cal­i­for­nia. We met for drinks the next week. On our sec­ond date, af­ter din­ner, he dropped me off in a Lyft, and gave a hug. Later, we were tex­ting, and I told him that next time he could even kiss me good night. He ended up com­ing back to my place that night, and we had our first kiss. I told him it was one of the most ro­man­tic things any­one had done for me in a long time.

“I don’t al­ways do the right thing,” he said, “but I usually try to fix it.”

“That’s all that mat­ters,” I told him.

I’ve been dat­ing — and writ­ing about dat­ing — for nearly two decades. In that time, look­ing for a part­ner on­line has gone from weird to a bit em­bar­rass­ing to to­tally nor­mal. In fact, more cou­ples now meet through the In­ter­net than through friends or fam­ily. It’s a lot eas­ier to find a first date.

With all these op­tions, we’re putting less care into how we deal with in­di­vid­ual people. Back in 2011, I wrote about how ro­man­tic it might be if we ac­tu­ally called each other to sched­ule a first date. (So retro!) In 2012, I was dis­turbed by how or­di­nary it had be­come to break up by text or email that I wrote a guide to the art of dig­i­tal re­jec­tion.

Now, we’re so bad at break­ing up that many of us aren’t do­ing it at all. Though people have been dis­ap­pear­ing for ages, and while Mer­riam-web­ster found traces of the cur­rent def­i­ni­tion of “ghost­ing” start­ing in 2006, it’s only been com­mon over the past few years. A 2019 Yougov sur­vey of U.S. adults found that 30 per­cent of them had ghosted a ro­man­tic part­ner or friend. Yes, friends ghost one an­other. Rel­a­tives do, too. Work­ers ghost their em­ploy­ers. Pres­i­den­tial hope­ful El­iz­a­beth War­ren has even of­fered ad­vice to a ghosted Elle magazine reader: “If he wants to go silent, let him go. He is not the one for you.”

“Most people have a sense that it’s kind of wrong to do it for any kind of re­la­tion­ship that was more than just a date,” says An­drea Bo­nior, a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist in Wash­ing­ton. Still, “the more it hap­pens, the more people jus­tify do­ing it. ... It’s es­tab­lished a sense of nor­malcy around it that wasn’t there 10 years ago.”

Rosie Walsh came up with the idea for her novel “Ghosted” af­ter a 40-some­thing friend’s love in­ter­est went poof. The book has sold over 1 mil­lion copies, which Walsh cred­its in part to ghost­ing’s ubiq­uity.

Lori Got­tlieb, a psy­chother­a­pist in Los Angeles and au­thor of “Maybe You Should Talk to Some­one,” says ghosts typ­i­cally aren’t proud of their be­hav­ior — they just don’t know how to have a hard con­ver­sa­tion. “They’re like vir­gins to this,” Got­tlieb says. When she’s en­cour­aged a pa­tient to have a breakup talk by phone, they of­ten report back it was “amazing,” Got­tlieb adds. “It’s awk­ward and not fun, but people re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate the ges­ture of: You took the time and you cared.”

On MTV’S “Ghosted,” Travis Mills and Rachel Lind­say hunt down dis­ap­peared best friends, cousins and exes with the de­ter­mi­na­tion of homi­cide de­tec­tives try­ing to crack a cold case. Lind­say calls ghost­ing an “epi­demic” and sees her show as an at­tempt to re­veal that it’s not okay. The now-mar­ried “Bach­e­lorette” star said that one of her own ghosts held her back for years. “I dated, but I kept won­der­ing: Why me?” she says in a phone in­ter­view. “A lot of times in these ghost­ing sto­ries, we find that the one who was ghosted blames them­selves, and that was me.”

In the show’s Sea­son 1 pre­miere, Mills and Lind­say track down a woman’s child­hood best friend who had ghosted her — she as­sumes be­cause she missed a party cel­e­brat­ing the an­niver­sary of his com­ing-out. In a tear­ful con­fronta­tion, he ad­mits that he slept with her ex-boyfriend and felt so ashamed that he cut off all con­tact. He apol­o­gizes and they make up, but they had nearly two decades of friendship to fall back on.

The dat­ing app Hinge has a pod­cast, “Ghost Sto­ries,” with a sim­i­lar premise. Co-host Michael Yo says the main prob­lem is that daters rarely ask one an­other what they’re look­ing for. So when it be­comes clear that one per­son wants some­thing more se­ri­ous, the other tends to bounce. One cou­ple on the pod­cast even lived to­gether for sev­eral months and the woman sim­ply moved out one day when the guy wasn’t around.

“You re­ally got to know straight off the bat: What’s your in­ten­tion of meet­ing up?” Yo says. “Are you look­ing to get mar­ried? Are you look­ing for the right one? Or are you look­ing for a fun time?”

I’d thought my ghost and I had been on the same page about this. Early on, he’d asked if I was look­ing for a se­ri­ous re­la­tion­ship, mar­riage, kids. I was, I told him.

How­ever, there was one red flag I’d over­looked: He would oc­ca­sion­ally ask if I wanted to see him again, when I thought I’d al­ready made that clear.

Yo says he’s of­ten found that the ghost has a lower sense of se­cu­rity in the re­la­tion­ship. “They didn’t know how to deal with some­thing good, and they don’t think they’re good enough for it a lot of times.”

Af­ter about seven dates, when my ghost and I got sick, we both were tex­ting well-wishes and flur­ries of kissy-face emoji. In our last ex­change, I sug­gested that we check in the next day. “Will do,” he wrote.

The next day, I asked how he was and con­firmed I had the flu. He didn’t re­ply. I fig­ured he was sleep­ing it off. The sec­ond day I texted again, con­cerned: How are you do­ing? This was a man who had been con­sis­tently sched­ul­ing dates, who freely told me he was “very in­ter­ested” in me, that he missed me. We’d weath­ered a mini-fight with ma­tu­rity and open­ness. Se­vere ill­ness made more sense than rad­i­cal si­lence.

The hard­est part about be­ing ghosted is de­ter­min­ing that, yes, that is exactly what’s going on. Es­pe­cially be­cause there are gray ar­eas. Does drop­ping off a dat­ing-app con­ver­sa­tion count? What if nei­ther per­son sends a mes­sage af­ter a date? Or one says they’ll check in af­ter va­ca­tion and never does?

When some­one breaks up with you us­ing good old-fash­ioned words, at least you can call the re­la­tion­ship’s time of death: 9:03 a.m. in our in­boxes; 12:32 p.m. via text sent on your lunch break; 7:37 p.m. in the mid­dle of din­ner at my fa­vorite restau­rant, then 30 min­utes of follow-up ques­tions on my couch.

Bo­nior, the D.C. psy­chol­o­gist, points out that ghost­ing puts a breakup’s emo­tional la­bor on the per­son be­ing dumped, when it should rest with the per­son who wants out. When you break up with some­one di­rectly, she says, “They can fo­cus on the emo­tional work of mov­ing on.”

When Bo­nior’s clients are get­ting ghosted, she rec­om­mends they come up with a plan, such as reach­ing out once or twice, and stick­ing to it. One text might be: “Hey, I did think things were going well. I’m a lit­tle con­fused I haven’t heard from you, but I wish you the best.” It con­veys that this wasn’t okay, but if you don’t hear back — don’t con­tinue to reach out, she says.

But I did not give up af­ter two un­re­turned texts. On the fifth day of si­lence, I called and left a voice mail. On the sixth day, I sent a fi­nal text, telling him it was fine if he wanted to stop dat­ing but to please let me know he was alive.

Then I stopped reach­ing out. ( Well, okay — I did call one hos­pi­tal.) I even pon­dered call­ing his par­ents. (Don’t worry, I didn’t.)

A cou­ple weeks af­ter his last text, I had ev­i­dence that he sur­vived the flu: He was watch­ing my In­sta­gram sto­ries.

One of Got­tlieb’s pa­tients tried a solution: She told a new per­son she was dat­ing that she was fresh off a dis­ap­pear­ing act. “If for any rea­son this isn’t work­ing out,” she told her new part­ner, “I need you to tell me be­cause I don’t want to go through that again.” Turns out he was deeply hurt by his own ghost. Hav­ing this con­ver­sa­tion up­front “made her feel so much more se­cure,” Got­tlieb says.

Agree­ing they wouldn’t ghost each other “set up a frame­work that it was okay to talk about tough things more gen­er­ally and not avoid them,” Got­tlieb notes. “It made it safe for them to be vul­ner­a­ble, be­cause even if they did break up, they knew it would be han­dled with care and re­spect.”

They’re mar­ried now.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.