Earlier this summer, I was ghosted for the first time.
Its not that Ive never had a relationship end ambiguously. Weve all had those first few uncomfortable dates where we know that a third isnt coming. When the passion wanes and the texting peters off where a natural end follows an unsuccessful middle. That seems comfortable to me. It always has.
But for the first time ever this year, I experienced the full ghosting experience of meeting someone I was crazy about, feeling an intense connection with them, being altogether sure that the feelings were mutual that they were than the other shady people I was used to dating and then having them disappear into absolute thin air.
I cant pretend it doesnt suck to be ghosted. I know Im not the first or last to experience the phenomenon but it still felt a bit like someone had punched me in the gut when it happened. The disregard is insulting. The lack of closure is maddening. You move on, but not before your self-esteem takes a hit. The only thing worse than being broken up with is realizing that someone didnt even consider you worth breaking up with.
Being ghosted was an unpleasant experience. But it was also one that forced me to reflect on my own past dating behaviours. While mulling over my own rejection, my mind flashed back to a day several weeks before, when I was sitting on my best friends couch with my phone in hand.
Im just not interested in him, I explained. I mean, theres nothing with him objectively, the attraction just isnt really there for me.
Thats fine, She assured me, But you have to tell him.
I dont know. I winced. We werent serious or anything. I think Im just going to let it you know die out.
She gave me that infuriating look that only someone whos a generally better person than you can give you. Okay, She said. But consider if it were you in his shoes.
I wouldnt mind, I replied confidently. Being broken up with is humiliating. When things peter out its just a way of letting everyone escape with their pride intact.
And so I stood by my own logic. I ghosted the guy I wasnt feeling and I slept fine at night. I told myself that was just how we do things now. That it was the modern break-up protocol wed all agreeded to adhere to, after all.
Flash forward a few months later: Im sitting on that same friends couch, lamenting over my own unfair dismissal (karma working in full force, as per usual). It turns out that I did mind being ghosted in fact, I minded a lot.
And what I was forced to realize at that point was my own cardinal dating mistake prior to being ghosted Id put all my eggs in one basket. I had foolishly expected dating post-college to work the same way it always had you were single for a while, you did your own thing, and then you met someone and started casually seeing each other. If it went well, it became a relationship. If not, it ended amicably because you still had to see each other in econ class.
But that was not how things happened anymore. Dating post-college was an entirely new ball game and I had to face the stark truth of what had happened to me: The person Id been dating was in and I was not. College was over and the real-life dating scene was an absolute rat race.
And so, I did what any other jaded twenty-something would have done: I brought myself up to speed. I downloaded Tinder. And OKCupid. And Snapchat. I started swiping, texting, dating and talking with various people at once. I forgot names on first dates. I made notes on my phone to keep track of who was who. After all, it was what everyone else was doing. And it seemed to be the only way to keep up without getting duped.
The longer I stayed in the game, the clearer it became to me why other people acted the way they did in relationships. Everyone had, at some point or another, had the exact same experience with dating:
You put all your eggs in one basket. You get burned. So the next time, you make a point to distribute them evenly. Youre so worried about not getting your own heart broken that you dont really care whose you break along the way.
You date the person you kind of like to distract yourself from the fact that the one you really like hasnt texted you back in three days. You sleep with people you have no connection with to convince yourself you dont need anything more. You keep your options open because when one relationship crashes and burns, you need to have somewhere to run. You dont want to have to feel inadequate, so you keep the back burner full of people to fall back on.
Were dishonest because we dont trust each other because we cant. No matter how happy we are with somebody and how invested it seems like they are, we never know when the other shoe might drop. We never know who else theyre talking to, who else theyre sleeping with, who they might meet at the bar or online or at work who blows us out of the water and renders us suddenly obsolete. We are constantly at risk of being one-upped and theres no way to shelter ourselves from it other than to prepare for it. To always have one foot out the door. To never be totally invested or all the way in.
Check any twenty-somethings phone and youll generally see a specific smorgasbord of people theyre keeping in touch with one they want to date, one they want to sleep with and a few others theyre keeping around just in case nothing else works out.
And do we want all of these people in our lives? Not particularly. In fact, its exhausting.
The texting. The dating. The small talk, the drama, the hooking up and breaking up and falling half in love and then having it all fall to pieces. After playing the game for long enough, we all inevitably start to wonder if were the only honest player left.
Until that scary moment where we check ourselves and realize that were just as bad as all the rest.
Were dating multiple people at once. Were taking things too far before we decide how we feel. Were keeping people around just in case and we feel no remorse because we see these things as necessary measures. We are desensitized to the ways in which were using other people, under the guise of Well, thats just how it works. Its easy to hate the people whove flaked on us but its harder to admit that were a big, consuming part of the problem.
Save for those who are empowered by a false sense of grandiose detachment, we all like to think were decent people. That we treat other people with respect. That if the tables were turned, date ourselves. And yet, we all remain stuck in this vicious cycle of hurting and neglecting one another.
At some point or another, most of us throw in the towel. We pack up our bags, delete our apps and temporarily bow out of the dating game. We dont like the people were meeting and we dont like the people were becoming. We wonder if there are any honest people left out there. We wonder if we could even count ourselves as such, if there were.
The dating game is a vicious cycle that has taken any semblance of human emotion almost entirely out of the picture. And yet, as much as Im frustrated by the culture, Id like to think that there are still good people behind it. That were not all selfish, desensitized robots, controlled by the endless monotony of swiping right, being matched and feeling validated. That every once in a while, we stop to question ourselves. What were doing. What were looking for, and how exactly were going about it.
Id like to think that as much as we all lie, deceive and discontinue, what we want deep down is still to tell the truth. That we want to believe each other. To trust each other. To be honest with each other, even when its painful and uncomfortable.
Id like to believe all this and yet some part of me knows that as a society, were still all very far from figuring it out.
And so for now, we pick our phones up. We feel that age-old hunger for validation. And we swipe. And we swipe. And we swipe.