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I’ve just been ghosted by my Tinder date. It feels like a fist in my stomach. What do I do?
Sad & Confused
I have a friend, who, for various reasons, I feel it is best to move away from. Recently, I’ve intentionally allowed space to grow between us but am wondering if I should acknowledge my intentions outright. There are well-worn scripts for telling someone you’re dating, “this just isn’t working” (or something along those lines) but I’m having a hard time figuring out how/if to communicate that to my friend. I feel bad “ghosting” them but I’m not sure an explicit conversation is any kinder.
Help a Friendly Ghost?
I think my house is haunted, but I also love science. How do I exorcise a ghost I don’t believe in?
A therapist once told me that ghosting is a form of bullying and I’m inclined to agree. I’m sorry you were ghosted, Sad & Confused. Are you angry? I would be, too.
The problem with ghosts, as Homeowner has clearly discovered, is that their haunting can make the most measured rationalist into a superstitious erratic. You might find yourself, Sad & Confused, assessing and reassessing what happened with your love interest, rehashing every word you spoke, every text you sent, looking for indicators that might tell you what you did wrong or what you could have done differently. Part of what’s so enraging about ghosting is not only that your love interest ignores you, but that this person creates a scenario in which it is inappropriate for you to reach out to ask them: why? In this arrangement, which you likely did not agree to, you have waived your right to any sort of closure. Ask your interest to quell your unrest, and risk being perceived as needy or neurotic or difficult or insecure or not-getting-the-picture. As if it was needy to want to feel included in a relationship that bears on your well-being!
I want to make space here for the possibility that your ghost has a very real, necessary reason for vanishing from the face of your earth. In fact they certainly do: it’s just bad timing, or Geminis and Cancers just shouldn’t go, or you remind me too much of my dad. (The number of tiny things that can turn a human off would astound you.) Just as likely, your ghost might be going through some really heavy shit right now and would simply prefer not to tell you about it. Aren’t they entitled to that kind of autonomy? The experts behind www.psychologytoday.com side with the haunted: “People who ghost are primarily focused on avoiding their own emotional discomfort and they aren’t thinking about how it makes the other person feel.” So whose feelings matter more: the ghost’s or your own, Sad & Confused? Is everyone entitled to knowing why anyone does anything at any given moment?
But maybe your ghost isn’t always ignoring you to spare their emotional discomfort; sometimes they do it to spare your own. “I don’t want to see you again because I don’t think you’re that interesting,” my roommate tells me she once thought, but did not say, as she ignored a guy’s messages on Tinder. Such is the nature of your concern, Friendly Ghost, which I hear. Friendships drift naturally over time and acknowledging this fact in your relationship often means acknowledging something larger about how you position yourself in the world, what you want from your loved ones, the kind of person you want to be in the future. According to you, Friendly Ghost, an explicit conversation about the state of your friendship with your friend might not be “kinder” than dropping communication altogether because, I’m guessing, doing so would force you to unpack larger tensions about how you value each other. But to me, your question presumes that kindness should be privileged as an outcome of ending your relationship—and I’m not so sure I agree.
Personally, I think the idea that ghosting lets any party exit a relationship unscathed is bunk. For one, forcibly removing yourself from a relationship without the other person’s blessing, as we have already discussed, tends to cause a lot of unintended (sometimes intended) harm. But ghosting also promises harm in your own future relationships: you risk becoming accustomed to offering silence instead of truth for the sake of preserving comfort. What I’m trying to say is not that you shouldn’t work to instill kindness in your relationships, but that, as an end goal, it would be worthwhile to instead try to secure your relationship’s safe passage to a place that feels good, or healthy, or fine for the time being—a place that looks something like closure. It’s not closure as such; your lowly advice columnist cannot accurately predict any given person’s emotional needs—sometimes closure isn’t the answer!—I mean only that beginning the process toward closure seems like a good practice in addressing our most haunting relationships. For instance, for you, Friendly Ghost, securing a safe passage in your relationship might mean generating between you and your friend an understanding of how your friendship developed to where it is now. Perhaps you go further and discuss specific harm that was exchanged between the two of you. Perhaps you don’t. We owe the people in our lives different levels of care and concern, and so the kinds of safe passages we’re responsible for securing will differ depending on your circumstances: the nature of the relationship, the degree of its turbulence, how much you love this person.
For Sad & Confused, I think safely guiding your relationship forward with a Tinder date who you will likely never see again perhaps looks something more like care of the self. I’ve always thought that the ghost metaphor describes the person who ignores your calls/texts/DMs as ‘ghosting you’ because, like a ghost, your love interest vanishes out of thin air, haunting your dreams or whatever. But I’m beginning to think that I’ve got the metaphor all wrong. In fact, it is you who is made the ghost, you who feels sad at the missed opportunity of a romantic relationship, and confused about how to begin anew; it is you who’s made to feel invisible, like your grasp slips through whatever it is you want most.
So let’s rephrase your question, Sad & Confused: what can you do to feel a little less ghastly?
Dear Homeowner: given that your ghost is likely not a real human who thought you really had something with, I suggest attacking your ghost outright. Spend an hour alone in your pitch dark basement, or wherever it is you feel the specter’s presence. Sit still. As you begin to feel more comfortable in your space, swing your arms and taunt the ghost you once let terrorize you. Appreciate that some outcomes have no internal logic and that when it comes to relationships, logic is always failing us. The worst thing you might discover is a family of mice.
Dear Sad & Confused: you are not needy or neurotic or difficult or not-getting-the-picture for wanting someone to guarantee your safe passage. But just because, for whatever reason, they chose not to, doesn’t mean you can’t navigate your own. You are beautiful and kind and caring, and despite what I assume are your rancid qualities (everybody has them), it is the fact you can feel like a fist landed in your stomach that makes you a real person worthy of another real human being. Go outside and take a walk. Hold your own hand. Lock together the nooks in your knuckles. Trace your finger on bark as you would the seam from your toe to your ear. It can be hard to believe yourself this time of year, I know. Daylight in December has a way of making everything look like a bad refraction of the real thing. So find the things that make you feel real, even when others pretend not to see you.
Dear Friendly Ghost: the most important conversations I’ve had with friends were the ones on the verge of exploding. When we were most angry, most irritable, most alienated from each other. Some of those friends I don’t speak to anymore. Some of them are my most important friends. I suggest you have that conversation with your friend, because you never know where it might take you. Remember: safe passage does not guarantee finding closure comfortably. Truth be told, you might end up feeling worse than you did before.
As your advice columnist, I can never give you solutions to your problems in a way that will make you feel like you’ve figured it all out. Advice columns are funny in this way; you don’t come to me, the advice giver, so I can make decisions for you (that would be wildly inappropriate). I have literally no context, and it’s for this reason I might be most equipped to instead offer you a new way of thinking about your problem, one that might give you the tools to better find a solution in the future.
So I can’t tell you how to find closure, Friendly Ghost, in the same way Sad & Confused will never know exactly why or when they’ll stop feeling haunted. But what I can tell you is that the grounds for any moving on or moving away from a relationship need to be based on open mutuality, so that the conditions for closure might exist, whenever it decides to hit you.
Here’s a fact you might not know about me, Dear Reader: I’m having a really hard time figuring out how to end this advice column. After two long years of doing my best to be there for you in your darkest hours, our time together is waning. This is my last column—I’m about to graduate and, due to conditions beyond my control, I have to end things between us. Here you are, you’ve come to me for guidance, and here I am: jumping ship. But I’m definitely not ghosting you. I care too much to go without telling you one more time: you are so real to me.