Is It Ghosting Or Is It Just Fading Out?
To recap, ghosting is when someone suddenly and without apparent justification ceases all contact with you. It’s fairly broadly accepted that it can apply to friendships and romantic relationships and they don’t have to be long term. The key is that you’ve had some expectation of ongoing contact that has been thwarted.
Along with other gems of modern dating parlance (hello breadcrumbing), ghosting provides recognition and validation. But sometimes using a concept like ghosting to make sense of a relationship that didn’t work out can be a blunt instrument. It obscures the detail. Sometimes the reality is just ordinary and undramatic. Other times it trivialises more serious behaviour.
I’ve done my share of online dating in recent years. When I think about the women I’ve lost contact with after going on a few dates, I’m not filled with strong emotion of any kind, certainly not blame. I can see that despite our best intentions and efforts, there just wasn’t enough to sustain ongoing contact.
It’s not that we didn’t have anything in common. In fact, engaging conversation, a sense of common understanding and shared experience may have made for a promising start. For a short time in our lives we had something to give each other. It just wasn’t meant to endure into the future.
I didn’t make a conscious decision not to have anything further to do with them. There was no pivotal event, no uncomfortable exchange that resulted in a stand-off. At least from my perspective, we didn’t do anything to disappoint or anger each other.
I just realised after a week or two that I hadn’t contacted them nor had I heard from them. It may have been me who sent the last text, it may have been them. It didn’t really matter. The conversation didn’t end abruptly or become emotionally charged. It just ran out. We just faded out of each others lives.
In the absence of a clear message from the universe, life just takes over. I had health issues; went on trips away; went through an intensely busy period at work. Knowing how much stuff I had to deal with made it easy to give her the benefit of the doubt.
What gives ghosting its sting is the lack of closure. But you don’t always need closure from the other person. Sometimes there’s a shared realisation that whatever you might have had has run its course. We both knew there wasn’t relationship potential and we didn’t need to spell it out.
There doesn’t always need to be an overt acknowledgment that it isn’t meant to be. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with being open-ended: you don’t necessarily want to rule out the possibility of some kind of interaction in the future.
There’s every chance that we will re-enter each other’s orbit one day in a different context. The lesbian world is not infinite, if the quick discovery of mutual acquaintances on a date is anything to go by. There is some measure of accountability, a factor not conducive to ghosting.
No bridges were burned. I’m confident that if we crossed paths there would there’d be minimum discomfort beyond an initial moment of awkwardness. I wouldn’t be afraid of facing up to them.
What I experienced had a passivity and lack of intentionality that is at odds with ghosting. As far as I know, I wasn’t blocked, nor did I have any inclination to do the same. There was no motivation to cut the other person out of my life.
In some ways these scenarios mirror what happens with people I’ve met in life more generally. I’ve lost contact with so many people for no reason other than the momentum running out. Once the circumstances that brought us together fell away, so did the imperative to be in contact with them.
Sometimes people just grow apart in an organic way; relationships take their natural course. And equally, sometimes the universe has a way of bringing people back together at a later stage in life. I’ve definitely had the experience of a fleeting friendship bloom into something more substantial years later given the circumstances to nurture it.
With online dating, in most cases there’s no social infrastructure to bind you to someone. You don’t have friends or activities in common. Some of the most enduring friendships I’ve had in the last few years are for the simple reason that I have regular contact with them: through work, my daughter’s school or a community organisation.
It doesn’t make dating culture toxic. To quote that most insightful expression: “It is what it is”.
Perhaps if I’d been at a more emotionally vulnerable point in my life I would have felt the cessation of contact as a rejection, despite the mutuality of it. I’ve been more ready to impute negative meanings to others when I’ve felt less than whole.
I would have ruminated; I would have looked for explanations; I would have grasped for the narrative of ghosting like a life raft. The other person may have done the same. The fact that I didn’t hear further suggests there were no expectations on their side either. To be clear: I would not have ignored further messages from them.
I know that the failure of a relationship to thrive doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with me. It’s a useful insight to carry into more emotionally loaded situations in the future.
What set my experiences apart from those who have been ghosted was the was lack of expectations, hence the lack of need to manage them. The stakes aren’t anywhere near as high when neither of you is emotionally invested.
I’ve learned a lot about managing expectations, especially my own. I’ve learned not to have them until I’m in a space where I can comfortably negotiate the terms of engagement. I’ve learned to hold back until I’m sure about someone’s commitment.
If someone you were in a relationship with suddenly ceases all contact, you have to ask yourself some hard questions about what their level of commitment was. It’s not enough that you felt a strong connection to them. You need to look at what they’ve done to demonstrate commitment through their actions as opposed to saying what you wanted to hear. Perhaps you just heard what you wanted to hear.
There have been times where I’ve had to ask myself whether I was projecting my relationship expectations onto someone rather than making a realistic assessment of the potential for one. It can feel like going against the grain but stopping and tuning in to what is really going on is vital.
Where two people have traversed that ground into relationship territory, one of them ceasing contact is just cruel. Calling it ghosting just trivialises emotionally abusive behaviour. People who ghost are lacking in self-awareness, maturity and emotional honesty and have poor communication skills. They don’t have what it takes to be in a committed relationship. You shouldn’t invest anything in these people.
There are enough common traits of the people who ghost that it’s possible to spot them before they do any damage. According to Psychologist Dr Jennice Vilhauer, “you can get a sense early on of what kind of individual you’re dealing with”. We can learn from how someone communicates their emotions and how they deal with confrontation, as well as how they treat others (something that’s probably easier to assess objectively). Ghosters have avoidant tendencies and run away from interactions that make them feel uncomfortable.
You can protect yourself from being ghosted by being clear about what you want from the start. In doing this, you’re making it easy for the other person to opt out and sparing yourself future uncertainty. You’ll be more alert to behaviour that doesn’t meet your expectations and less prepared to put up with it.
I mightn’t have ghosted or been ghosted, but that doesn’t mean I managed my dating experiences as well as I could have. I let communication fall by the wayside and that’s never good form, despite what life might have thrown at me. And someone else engaging in the same behaviour is never the best benchmark.