By Alanna Duffield (@alannaduffieldpoetry)
I suppose I should start with a confession.
There are a handful of people out there that would find my writing of this article pretty rich. You see, I am a reformed ghoster—and a fairly recently reformed one at that. Across my many years of being single, I have amalgamated a small graveyard of people who never got a proper goodbye. Some of them might have deserved it, others definitely did not. I’m not proud of any of it.
For anyone that may not be familiar with the term, ghosting is the act of ending a relationship with someone suddenly, without explanation. It sounds heartless when you spell it out so plainly, but the fact is, it’s far from uncommon.
There are many reasons why we ghost people.
The first and probably most obvious, is that majority of us like to avoid difficult conversations. As an especially unconfrontational person, the concept of having any kind of conversation that might result in me feeling terrible is something to avoid at all costs. If, like me, you also tend to dwell on negative conversations months after they have taken place, picking holes in your narrative and cringing in retrospect, letting two blue ticks do all the talking sounds like a wonderful escape route.
The second is that ghosting someone can sometimes feel like a kindness. The fact is, we don’t ghost people who we want in our lives. For the most part, we ghost people because we can’t get them out of our lives quickly enough. But this isn’t what anyone wants or should have to hear—no matter how thick their skin might be.
Two summers ago, I ghosted a guy because we were incompatible in bed. I could have told him that with the same purposefulness that I’m telling you now, but I found the action to be really quite mortifying in practice—for both him and me. I talked myself into the idea that (because the nature of us being incompatible was actually down to him being – how shall I put this – ‘disinterested’ in female pleasure) I was absolved.
But, in hindsight, a chain of negative outcomes could have been righted if I had just told him how I felt. He wouldn’t have been left wondering what he had done to deserve it. I wouldn’t have spent the next few months feeling like a shitty person. And the next girl he slept with might have finally had an orgasm.
The third was a personal favourite of mine. I call it ‘Ghost or Be Ghosted’. We’ve all been there: we like someone (perhaps more than we’ve been letting on to those close to us), but we can feel them losing interest. Their texts lack the flair and charisma that they had in those early days, and you know, you just know, it’s heading for a haunting.
So what do you do? Ghost them, of course! Ghost them before they get a chance to ghost you. That way, when anyone asks what happened you can simply skim over the whole week where your eyes burned a hole through your phone screen at their infuriatingly lack-lustre responses, and say: “Oh, that. I wasn’t really feeling it, so I stopped messaging back.” Much cooler.
For older generations, this concept of ghosting must sound bizarre. But ghosting is a by-product of our tech-infused lives. It has never been easier to dissipate out of someone’s life like you were never there—and stay gone.
In 2020, nearly all of our relationships were forced online as we went into various lockdowns. While the online world provided us with much-needed connection during a time of great stress, it also emphasised just how easy it is to ‘go ghost’. During a time when it was illegal to go outside for more than an hour a day, vastly reducing the chances of ever bumping into anyone you know, if someone chose to block you unannounced there was, quite simply, nothing you could do about it.
As I write this next paragraph, know that I am writing it for myself as much as you. May we all come back to it in times when we need reminding. Ghosting is a cop-out way to end a relationship. At its very best, you might call it lazy. At its worst, it is downright cruel.
I’m not saying we must all write a three-paragraph shit-sandwich to every person we no longer want to exchange small talk with on Hinge, but once any kind of relationship is established (especially if you’ve been intimate) we owe that person a proper goodbye.
Perhaps now is a good time to plainly state that I have been on the receiving end of a ghosting more times than I have swung my own morbid scythe. I know how rubbish it feels. Which is why I am no longer going to use it as my emotional fire escape.
What we so often don’t like to hear, but is no less true, is that it is not a crime to lose interest or fall out of love with someone. It’s a terrible pain, a pain so visceral that it feels criminal—but it’s not. You can’t blame or be blamed for it. As humans, it’s important for us to be learning and growing, and a natural part of that process is outgrowing people you once thought made you happy.
What matters is how we treat someone as we realise this, and afterwards.
I suppose by writing all this, I’m trying to change the narrative around ghosting in some small way. Firstly, to emphasise that it’s not the cooler option. It’s immature. It’s emotionally stunted. It’s bizarre behaviour outside of the concept we’ve grown oddly accustomed to. The second is that we’ve all fucking been there. Let’s stop feeling so desperately mortified when our feelings aren’t met in the middle. If we saw this imbalance as less of a personal failing, and more a commonplace (and often very enriching) experience, there would be no need to Ghost or Be Ghosted.
As we move away from the horror film that was 2020, I will be hanging up my long black cloak for good. Here’s to speaking our feelings plainly, without guilt or embarrassment. Here’s to killing off our inner Grim Reaper.