I’m going to do a string of these posts over this week because I put it all in 1 and it seemed a lot of words without really explaining anything in detail. I’m going to start with a new term “ghosting” and move on to how I see social media, mobile phones and other digital technology shaping our relationships over the course of however many posts it turns out to be. I think it will be 5, although number 5 will be an open letter to demonstrate everything of the previous 4 posts in my own experience.
Technically this should probably be Part 2, because I wrote at length at the end of last year (I think it was) about My Dating Apocalypse. It was in response to an article suggesting how easy it is in the modern world to get not just a date, but a string of dates, and not just a string of dates, but a string of dates in one night.
I put my hand up as probably being the only person on the planet who has tried Tinder and not been able to get a date. I currently have 17 messages waiting reply on that app from about 2 years of use. My overall reply rate on online dating sites is just below 0.5% for all the messages I’ve sent, and that includes an 8 message conversation with someone who I did actually get to take out. Do the maths, and you realise that I’ve tried to speak to many hundreds of women in the virtual world and got replies from about 4.
The only woman who has ever approached me on any site did so because I had long hair at the time and she wanted me to pee on her.
While allegedly emphasising the ease of hook-up culture and making relationships disposable, I find it interesting the role that the internet can have during a relationship and also in the breakdown of it.
I started speaking to one woman on match.com and ended up arranging a date with her. After that, I never heard from her again, not even in reply to a phone call or text message when she left me on my own in the restaurant we were supposed to be having lunch at.
As it happens, she was a Christine H and my mother is also a Christine H, so it’s quite handy that she hasn’t answered subsequent accidental phone calls either! (I’m terrible at keeping my phone book up to date. This will come in a later part, maybe part 4 on Thursday.)
This is a phenomenon that Collins added to its dictionary as one of its words for 2015 and is called “ghosting“. Ghosting is “ending a relationship by ignoring all communication from the other person.”
Just as selfies are the new autograph and swiping right is the new talking in a bar, so ghosting is the new “it’s not you, it’s me”. It’s the lazy way of dealing with something for self-indulgence – “that’s hard so I’m not going to do it”. It makes sense that where technology can make it easier to get, it also makes it easier to leave but as a consequence we lose decency and respect for the other person.
Because it’s easy to see people as a deck of cards, we don’t see them as human anymore, and that some of them have feelings and are making an effort not to be the next cab off the rank and are looking for a proper relationship and not a fling or a casual date. Behind every swipe left is a rejection, and the simplicity of that rejection in the modern world, even once the app has done its job, makes all relationships disposable.
Why try when you can just move on to the next? Gone are the days of working past faults and working through difficult situations. Our emotional needs can now be met by the next person, or the next person after that. Commitment and permanence in the long term with one person is no longer required where needs can be met in a never ending series of short term projects.
Maybe this is a good thing, but with rejection so easy might some find themselves is an ongoing struggle to find perfection and reaching their later years lonely and frustrated because that perfect person has yet to materialise?
We can also use the short term approach to just to alleviate boredom. A few swipes, a few niceties and you can get (apparently) what you want – sex, a date, or a bit of a boost to your self-confidence that you are interesting to someone. Once that person has served their purpose, they can be disregarded. However, just as positive outcomes can give someone a boost, so the reverse is also true.
I think the apparent ease of finding the next person also doesn’t help us realise how painful break-up and separation can be for the other person in the relationship. When one knows that they have another option just round the corner to fall in to, they could assume that the other person has too.
And, of course, ghosting isn’t really a new thing, just a new name. In contrast to the “olde worlde” back before mobile phones, and especially before mobile phones became the most portable of computers, ignoring someone was even easier. Now we live in a world of blue ticks, green lights and timestamps where the inability to find time for a message let alone a chat can easily be rebuked.
There are alternatives to ghosting. The first, rather obviously, is being honest. This can be done in person or by phone or by message but using indirect communication still leaves open the possibility of ignorance. The second is to keep stringing that person along to keep your options open. If there’s no-one else available, it doesn’t make sense to break all your ties and close down your only current option.
I’m going to relate these posts back to a relationship I had with a friend. I think I can speak now with relative freedom because she is no longer regularly reading this here blog. More will be explained in further parts, although it won’t get too personal and I won’t share everything surrounding it.
In January for the first time I experienced ghosting. I’d sent a message asking if we could catch up for a cup of tea to see where we were up to in what was turning out to be the breakdown of our relationship, and I got no reply. I was ignored because it was easier than doing it properly. Her refusal to see me meant that I had to hand deliver a letter so I knew it was at her door. She replied with an e-mail. I replied with another e-mail and I got nothing back.
This for me, highlights the lack of humanity and compassion that such communication shows. As long as the person doing the dumping is OK, the other person’s feelings are not so important and that’s fine because it’s important to look after ourselves first (he says with sarcasm). “I’ve found someone new and am really happy. That’s important to me. A lot more important than the fact I’ve ruined your life and made you question everything you believe in but won’t explain it because that will hurt me, and why should I do that just for you?”
I know someone will always get hurt in a breakdown. Where I’ve suffered is that indirect communication gives time to think of the best answer, rather than the right one. It also means that discussion can be ignored. Questions are left unanswered to avoid a difficult situation for one person, that only makes it worse for the other.
Why my “break-up” (it still feels wrong saying that about people who were “just friends”) is so hard is that it was left with a lot of faults on my part but no willingness to explain them. It ended with a lot of hurt on my part, but no willingness to apologise for doing it in the worst possible way. It ended with massive amounts of inconsistency in the story with no willingness to explain it. I was left by being told I was a burden without being able to explain what was happening.
Elisabeth Joy LaMotte even says that not ghosting can benefit the dumper:
Each ending is an excellent opportunity for emotional growth. The passive aggressive act of ghosting represents a missed emotional opportunity. Concluding a relationship with the respect it deserves demonstrates the ability to own and articulate an independent decision.
A supposed benefit of ghosting is that it gives a definite break point, but as I’ll get to in a later part, I wasn’t even fortunate enough to have that.
The best alternative, apparently, to ghosting or stringing someone along to give them false hope is to do something in the middle. Tell them it’s not going to happen and end on a positive note so they don’t think that they’re a failure or have done something wrong. So next time you might be unfortunate to have to call time on a relationship, take a moment to let them down gently. Let’s not let modern society impact on human decency and kindness.
There’s an old voice in my head that’s holding me back
Well tell her that I miss our little talks
Soon it will be over and buried with our past
We used to play outside when we were young
And full of life and full of love.
Some days I don’t know if I am wrong or right
Your mind is playing tricks on you, my dear
Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men