In the midst of one of my regular late-night procrastination-fueled YouTube binges, I came across a clip from an MTV reality show called Ghosted that really got me thinking. Ghosted is a show that unveils the darker side of the dating phenomenon, which is “ghosting,” in an attempt to bridge the communication gaps between the “ghost” and the “haunted” in an effort to provide closure. Ghosting is exactly what it sounds like: disappearing on somebody without warning. Blocked. Unfollowed. Deleted. Done.
Except, it’s not that simple. Nothing involving abandonment can ever be.
In the episode I watched, a heartbroken ex-girlfriend enlists help in hunting down her ex-boyfriend of seven months. It had been serious. Talks of marriage, moving in together. She was in love. Her heart was on wings. Her visions of the future all featured him. Around Christmas, she dropped her lover off at the airport believing that he’d be back in two weeks after spending the holiday with his family.
And…he never returned. Or, he did, but he just didn’t tell her. Like, ever. From her perspective, he seemed to fall off the face of the earth, deleting and blocking her off of all social media, wiping his hands of their whole relationship. She, at the other end of all of it, was naturally devastated. And the devastation of rejection is no joke: a study done by the University of Michigan shows that social rejection actually activates the exact same neural pathways as physical pain; it affects us in a place so ancient and primal, probably linking back to when social exclusion by the tribe led to death, starvation, and every other non-favorable position.
Ghosting varies in extremity.
Many of us know at least one person who’s done it to somebody, or had it done to them. Maybe we’ve even done it ourselves. I definitely ghosted once or twice during last summer’s Tinder adventures. I hardly thought about it at the time; it was only after watching this grainy YouTube clip at 3am that I sat back and thought: Holy shit. Lack of communication in a caring space might be a little unethical. And maybe we’ve even witnessed quasi-ghosting used as a tool to leverage power over another person: “She didn’t reply to my text for hours. Time to ghost for three days!” (Loosely translating to: I feel entitled to energy that isn’t mine to demand, I want to make this person suffer like I just suffered, or feel unwanted like I just felt unwanted, or feel small like I just felt small, instead of analyzing my own intentions, being clear about what I want, and having enough self-respect to ask for what I want and accept whatever answer comes).
Ghosting isn’t reserved solely for romance. I’ve heard horror stories from friends who have been ghosted by friends, even best friends. Whether or not ghosting is ever justifiable is a debate we’ll save for later, but now I want to talk about what to do when it happens to you. You want closure. What’s the proper protocol when nobody’s around to give it to you? When all of the daydreams, fantasies, and hopes about the future that you’d been floating in pop one by one, like soap bubbles, and you end up in that freakish freefall of heartbreak, confusion, and loss?
Accept your grief in full
Shit hurts. And when it hurts, it’s good practice to allow ourselves to feel that pain in full. We lost something (at least it feels like that) and even when, six months down to the road, we wake up to the realization that it was never our loss at all, it helps to not belittle our emotions while they’re happening. We’re not stupid for our sadness. We’re not idiots for not being psychic. We’re not unlovable because someone doesn’t love us. Light candles, reach out to friends, focus on the joy of those connections. Dedicate your time to new pursuits. But take your time about it. Don’t feel rushed to feel full again. Just put yourself on that path, with the knowledge that you are full—even if it’s just affirmations in the mirror—and in the time, the knowledge will be real. It will integrate itself into the body.
Disconnect your worth from the situation
Rejection will have you thinking crazy things about yourself. Often, we love to follow narratives. Clear storylines are the easiest to follow. We want a hero, a villain, a plot. And when we don’t have direct access to this information, our insecurity-riddled brain has no qualm about jumping in to fill those gaps with our own trauma-filled reasoning, no matter how hurtful this reasoning is to us and our growth. It doesn’t matter how baseless our evidence is. Our worth almost always becomes the main issue: if only we’d been more X, or Y, or Z, we would not have been rejected, or we could have attracted something that stayed. Disconnect your worth from the actions of others!
Know your intentions behind “needing” closure
Our egos need more answers than our souls do sometimes. The soul, our inner essence and child, is aware of its magic. It knows that it cannot be tarnished by something external to itself. It knows that even being left by someone cannot deplete it. But the ego, or the troubled young child inside of us, or even just our primal fears of being alone—all of these things feel stuck without explanation. We want to hear that we were wronged, we want that admission of guilt, we want to hear the details, the nitty-gritty, maybe to avoid the situation ever happening again. The truth is, we can only control ourselves. I have no power over who goes from me and who stays. I’m at peace with this.
Accept that the situation was never for you
Only the lesson was. And don’t be shy about raising your standards moving forward, now that you know better. My messiest relationships illuminated something about myself, which was that I was always overextending myself constantly, believing that I could love someone into love for me. Crazily enough, I was specifically drawn towards situations in which I had to work overtime to prove myself because it felt familiar to me. I would have benefited from being told that I was idealizing, overly forgiving, and lacked discernment.
When we seek closure, what we’re really seeking is an answer that will dissolve the pain inside of us. Sometimes that’s impossible, so I’ve created a list of alternative answers that might ease the litany of “I’m-not-enough” which is the ego’s usual go-to: When anybody chooses to leave me, I suffer no eternal loss. I am thankful that my path is now free for true connections that are expansive, honest, and graceful. My worth is not something that rejection can touch.
Last but not least. For all of the ghosters out there, when something’s not working for us, let’s try to be honest with ourselves about the reason. Maybe we’re not ready for commitment. Maybe we use people because we’re bored, keeping people on standby to fill silences because we don’t feel like we’re enough by ourselves. Maybe we have an avoidant attachment style and find it easier to be non-communicate and indirect. Maybe we don’t like how clingy someone is, or we find their jokes rude, or we don’t like how they think about certain things.
Let’s practice keeping our impact clean.
Let’s practice clearing the air.
As @hoodhealer—one of my favorites on Twitter—said, “maybe they need to hear it.”