I was two White Claws in when the notification popped up on my screen. It took me a couple of seconds to realize what I was seeing, but there it was: the rare and coveted apology email from a boy who had ghosted me last March. To clarify, I’ve known this person for a few years, our relationship often toggling between friendship and something more. Prior to the pandemic, we were in a “something more” wave and he was in the process of searching for flights to come see me at school. We were texting one day and then all of a sudden we weren’t. Having never been “ghosted” before, I was pretty damn confused. I sent a couple of follow up texts before realizing what was happening. No matter how many *earnest* emojis I sent, I wasn’t going to get a reply.
Imagine my surprise when months later, I got an email from the boy apologizing for his behavior. I read the email once, twice, honestly probably three times before understanding that I didn’t want an apology, I wanted an explanation. Like any practical person who’s been ghosted before, I waited over a week to say anything.
Call me bold, but I picked up my phone one night, unblocked his number, and called him. The confusion was evident on the other side of the line, especially when I asked why he had ghosted me. While things seemed pretty unclear, his reasoning was actually quite simple: he still had feelings for his ex and didn’t really know what to do, so he just cut me off.
Not much spooks me in life, but I have to say that being ghosted is probably one of the scariest things I’ve experienced. There is nothing more jarring than thinking you’re important to someone, only to be completely ignored the next day. Of course, everyone is entitled to their decisions, but I do think there’s a point in which people are owed a shred of decency and a couple of sentences about why things aren’t working out. If our technology addiction has taught us anything, it’s that we’re way more inclined to behave in ways that we wouldn’t in person. If you were having a face to face conversation with someone, you likely wouldn’t just walk away in the middle as if it weren’t happening, right? So, then why do we (I will admit, I’ve ghosted people before too) feel as though it’s okay to do over the phone? If we feel like we can say things behind a screen we could never say in person, why aren’t we courteous enough to tell someone how we’re feeling about them? Is it really that scary to be vulnerable, even if we are the ones doing the rejecting?
In the past six months, I’ve been ghosted by a couple of different people (two guys straight up told me things weren’t going to work out and for that, I have a lot of respect), so I’m starting to sense a pattern. Now, I think—and feel free to correct me if you disagree—that I’m kind of a catch. I’m witty, have a nose piercing, and short enough that I’ll probably never be taller than my partner in heels, and yet, I still seem to be the one telling ghost stories on my weekly Zoom call with my home friends. Maybe it’s something about my pheromones that brings out the “spiritual side” in others, but maybe it goes beyond that. If I keep getting ghosted, how will I ever know why I keep getting ghosted? If I can’t anticipate honest and open communication from my intimate partners, how am I supposed to trust anyone? I’m not saying people owe me a laundry list of reasons why we shouldn’t be together, but how can I improve as a person and partner if I’m constantly left hanging?
I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m anti-ghosting (yes, I know that’s hypocritical, I’m working on it), but I do want to clarify that there are certain situations in which ghosting is more than appropriate if not preferable. If someone has made you uncomfortable in any sort of way, whether it be in person, over the phone, or even in a Zoom lecture, you are well within your rights to pretend this person does not even exist. You don’t need to explain why you are cutting them off, you just can. If this person continues to try and contact you, you might need to get professional ghosts involved to assist you, but hopefully, that person will get the hint. Anything unwanted, sexually or otherwise, is unacceptable and more than warrants your prompt deletion of their number or blockage on Snapchat, Instagram, or any other platform.
This Halloween, I implore you to think about the nuances of ghosting and your individual role in making our society a collectively safer and happier place. While you distantly celebrate this devious holiday, perhaps rethink ghosting that person that you’re just not that into or don’t see a future with. If the people who had ghosted me, and who I in turn ghosted, knew why they had been cut off, it would have saved us a lot of heartache on both ends. Getting that email was honestly jarring, frustrating, and a little bit sad, but I would much rather know that he saw our relationship as something that deserved recognition and respect, even if it was a little too late. While you can’t control how anyone else feels, you can control the way you handle the situation. Regardless if you’re the ghost or the ghosted, it never feels good to leave things unfinished with someone. This Halloween, tie on your mask and tie up your loose ends. It’s never too late (as the email I got proves) to clarify things between you and someone else, and I promise that a little boldness on your part will go a long way. At the end of the day, we’re all just people wearing masks to hide how we feel, and that’s not just a Halloween joke.
Talia Zitner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.