Digital Age Relationships Part 3 : Passive Ghosting

I discussed ghosting in part 1 of this series on Monday – the action of simply ignoring someone.  However, what happens when the ghost doesn’t quite let go and never fully ignores the other party in the relationship?  I believe that there are two types of passive ghosting depending at what stage of the relationship it happens.

One type of passive ghost is the one who keeps apparent interest but doesn’t really do anything.  They are the ones that set-up dates but always cancel, or otherwise keep in contact without anything actually ever going anywhere.

At the beginning of a relationship, the passive ghost may be moving to a number of different ends.  His self-esteem may have been built up by having another name on his list.  Modern dating apps mean that we collect matches as a form of self-validation, and this can be the same with friends in the way people collect contacts on social media.  Part of the fun is sharing the matches and messages with others not involved as shown by Tinder’s new “share” feature that allows friends to appraise potential matches for you.

The passive ghost may also be being polite or a wimp, not quite able to break up or ghost completely for hurting feelings.  A point I’m going to touch on tomorrow is that social media allows your past to always haunt you.  This can mean that the gradual let down is a better option because it might not incite as negative a response as the direct break up or full on ghosting.

It’s the ability to always look back thanks to modern technology that brings me to the second type of passive ghost – the one who breaks off a relationship but doesn’t quite let go.  As with ghosting, this isn’t a new phenomenon to an extent.  In the past you might have love letters and old photographs, but in the modern world it’s not just possible to look back but to also keep up to date with an ex.

This is where my experience comes in.  As my relationship with my friend (and I stress again that she was just a friend) broke down, we spoke a few times in person before the end arrived by letter.

(Remember yesterday in “Part 2 – Misread” I suggested to my friend that we should have a break from talking and that I’d mention it again? Well here it is…)

At the start of the breakdown, we agreed to take a week apart to see how we went.  For me, it was hell.  I wasn’t handling the situation well because I was losing possibly my favourite person, so I turned to my blog to get my feelings down and hope that someone might stumble upon my posts and offer advice.  The interesting thing about it was that she actually read my blog during that week even while out the country.

We met in December and during that conversation she told me that she’d been checking WhatsApp and noticed that I hadn’t been online.  To be honest, I only really used it to speak to her anyway.  Of course, as I mentioned in part 2, it’s possible to misread these time stamps and blue ticks.

In the letter that ended what we had, she told me that she was checking WhatsApp and Facebook and this blog to check I was OK.  In truth, all she was really seeing was words and pictures and, in the words of Frank Turner, “you always ask if I’m OK but it’s not the same as being happy”.

This ability to keep up to date has been the hardest thing for me, and I’ll discuss another aspect tomorrow.  But for now, imagine the confusion caused when someone says you being there causes them so many problems that are so insurmountable that even though you have been a “best friend” and “more than a friend”, they can no longer see you, but they constantly check how you are.

Take that one step further, and imagine the confusion that after three months of not talking, blog posts like this one that actually mention her (although leave her perfectly unidentifiable to the outside world) still produce responses inconsistent with the assertion that she wants to be apart and is comfortable with the situation.

Add another fact to that, and imagine the confusion when you have been told that it is a “relief” you not being there because when that other person was dating other people they were thinking of you, and yet they still read your blog while dating other people.

Think of the confusion that all that happens between “just friends”.

One can hypothesise as much as they want about that, and highlighting my confusion because of all the theories is the point.  She could have been genuinely caring and worrying about me.  She could just have been not letting go after not being entirely honest with me or herself.  I told her that I hoped she would carry on looking out of interest in her old friend, but her reaction to particular posts has told a story that that wasn’t the case.  I’m probably passively ghosting by knowing that she was doing it, and I admit that I enjoyed the fact I was still able to share my life with her in such a way.

Without the digital angle, getting closer and then moving faraway is known as an ambivalent relationship.  It can be the result of an asymmetrical relationship dynamic, lifestyle divergence or unresolved issues in past relationships or relationships with family members.

They may occur when the initial infatuation dies down after immediate needs have been met, but things may not grow from there.  As I mentioned in Paper Towns and contrary to what The Darkness sang, love isn’t only a feeling, it’s actions.  When those loving actions start to become routine or don’t happen at all but there are aspects of the relationship that are quite good, ambivalence happens.  Things blow hot and cold where the bad doesn’t quite warrant losing the good.

The thing with the passive ghost is that all they provide is confusion.  Whether you have been ghosted or on the receiving end of a proper break up, a line has been drawn in the sand.  The passive ghost doesn’t do that.  They keep things moving.  In a way, it means that they never lose anything and it’s a defence mechanism of a gradual let down that I so desired or even expected from the relationship I had with my friend, but which hasn’t been afforded to me in the same way.

Social media and the internet mean that we can always find pretty much anything we need.  When it doesn’t provide definite answers though, the end result is confusion and that’s the worst thing for me.

It’s funny how it tears me apart
First it breaks your head then your heart
I should’ve loved you better
From the start
It’s chewin’ at my bones and my brains
It’s workin’ through the flesh that remains
Why can’t this feelin’ leave me
And just fade away?

Confusion by The Zutons


If you haven’t checked out Part 1 – Ghosting and Part 2 – Misread, then please do!

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