The Protocol for Dealing with Being Ghosted

When I was 14, I got a boyfriend while I was at band camp.

[Editor’s note: Later we will take a poll as to which part is funnier in that sentence, “boyfriend” or “band camp”]

This was 1994, the heyday of “Basket Case” by Green Day and “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men (about whom I had a serious obsession problem). It was the year I cut off all my hair and routinely got mistaken for a boy which I compensated for by wearing basically nothing but rugby shirts (super helpful)… unless I knew I was going to get my picture taken in which case I would wear earrings that I hoped would designate me as female.

13-jolt-cola.nocrop.w710.h2147483647Dorian Music at Luther College was really where all the cool people were and this was five years before “American Pie” tied the words “band camp” to masturbation for all time. (I have always wondered if attendance at these camps went up or down after that movie.) We played volleyball and had young people dances and drank Jolt because for whatever reason nobody thought to shut off the vending machines that provided the world’s most prominent energy drink to a bunch of adolescents staying in dorms for the first time. (Literally, their slogan was, “All the sugar and twice the caffeine!” Whatever you’re imagining those dorm evenings looked like, triple it and then you’re probably close.)

Anyway, I technically fell for a girl for the first time at that camp, but I also decided to compensate for that fact by getting a boyfriend, signified by holding hands with the boy I sat next to in the trombone section during an evening concert. There is a small chance I may have been his first kiss outside one of the dorms on the last night before we left in which case I should see if I can get his address and send him an apology note for being the lesbian who stole that moment from him.

We exchanged letters for the rest of the summer. There were no cell phones. There was no internet. I can’t imagine I actually had anything interesting to say to him and god help me if I wrote about tromboning or something. Anyway, I don’t remember who sent the last letter or what the last letter said. I know that we did not officially break up; we just stopped. This is what passed for “ghosting” in 1994. We stopped sending mail. That was it. There certainly wasn’t a term for it or anything. I didn’t go to school and have extensive conversations with my best friends about being ghosted or deciding to ghost him. It literally just happened.

IMG_2921According to the Urban Dictionary (which is an officially recognized expert on these matters), “ghosting” was defined on November 27, 2013, so it’s about 4.5 years old. It’s a toddler concept.

The Millennial explained it to me in August of 2017 after joking about it and me giving her the ubiquitous look of, “I do not know that term,” which is actually quite amazing given that starting in September 2017, I basically haven’t stopped seeing clients who are dealing with the circumstance. And I always struggle to sound… inexperienced… in this area because it leads to way too many questions that I cannot answer.

The problem with 2017 ghosting versus 1994 ghosting is the sheer quantity of communication alleys that have to be eliminated to truly pull it off. Even by a second or third date, chances are good both members of a couple are connected on at least one social media platform in addition to texting. So even before a relationship becomes a Relationship, there are probably two avenues that exist by which one person must “eliminate” the other.

But that is being conservative in my estimate. Most clients I work with are connected on all four “major” platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat) in addition to texting with the person who decides to ghost them. Therefore, they get to experience rejection in at least five different ways which is often strongly paired with overwhelming confusion. This combo lands them in my office where I get to sit and listen to them wonder about the different characteristics about themselves that led the person to do this.

Or they engage in what I call the “22,000 phenomenon” where they begin to list the 22,000 things that, if they had just done “that one” differently, maybe they wouldn’t have ended up where they are. To which I am always forced to explain that if they change “that one” then they have to change the 21,999 other things and then what?

Honestly, I have only seen the “stunned” affect that comes with someone having been ghosted in two other client presentations: Unexpected death of a loved one and having been assaulted shortly (3-5 days) before the appointment. That is some poignant company to keep.

I have extensively researched the psychology of ghosting now. There are 108,000 articles about the subject which means that it is widespread, common, and something there needs to be a protocol for dealing with. There are plenty of people who have probably done studies on this topic and come up with valid protocols based on testing and research.

I’m gonna go off something else entirely. But just trust me. I’ve got this one.

Disclaimer: This does not apply to you if you get ghosted because you were emotionally, physically, or sexually abusive to your partner. Those are the only acceptable reasons to ghost someone. And if you fall into that camp, fuck off and get some therapy.

Step One: Identification

Sometimes, it is hard to know when you’ve officially been ghosted because that’s the entire point of it. Whoever it is doesn’t want to straight up tell you it’s over or they’re not interested; they are hoping you will “get the hint.” So I suggest that whenever you start a new relationship, you set the magic number. The number can be texts that go without response or days of silence or ignored calls/snaps. Just set the magic number and then adhere to it. That is when you will know you’ve been ghosted.

If you live with the person, the 50 empty hangers in the closet where their clothes used to be will suffice as the magic number.

Step Two: Initial Reaction

Once you have the magic number set and it is exceeded, the most important thing you can do is have a reaction planned. “If I get ghosted, I will…” just needs to be a contingency you account for at this point with how dating is going. This part is really difficult because you cannot predict how much it will hurt which sends your brain into a tailspin where you will want to do some REALLY weird and/or desperate shit.

Do not do the really weird and/or desperate shit.

My advice on this topic is varied depending on your situation. You definitely need one friend you can talk to. You need another friend who is willing to write “Fuck _____” to you 50 to 100 times a day on whatever medium you want. You need a third friend who will tell you they always hated the person who ghosted you because “I assumed they would end up ghosting you because they always seemed like a chickenshit.” (This is the ONE time where having your friends tell you they always hated your significant other is acceptable. Otherwise, never do this.)

Do not continue to contact the person who ghosted you. Do not ask them to talk to you. Do not beg them for anything. This is the very tenuous moment where you get to feel really good about yourself later if you manage to avoid these pitfalls. Do whatever you have to do to avoid trying to talk to them. (I suggest changing their name in your phone to something that reminds you to never contact them. It psychologically works to bring up their name to send them a desperate text and see “DO NOT CONTACT NO MATTER WHAT” at the top of your screen. Or, if you’re of the Harry Potter generation, “The Dementor” will suffice.)

Step Three: Block. Them. On. Everything.

Okay. This one is where everyone gets tripped up because it seems drastic and as unnecessary as the ghosting in the first place. But please trust me and follow instructions.

Every medium the two of you shared, block them. Block their number on your phone. A person who ghosts you is not someone you actually want to be with. There is no “thing” you have to try to understand about them by keeping the lines of communication open.

That little part of you that wants to still see their stuff? Ignore that part. That part will make you feel like punching yourself in the face regularly and that won’t feel good. Erase them. Pretend it is 1994. Close the virtual post office. It will help you so much faster, I promise.

Step Four: See a Therapist

We are paid to never get tired of you saying, “I just don’t get why…” over and over again. And chances are good there are some things that happened in that relationship you need to talk about. It’s okay. In fact, put “Got Ghosted” as your reason for seeking therapy on your intake form. We will understand.

Step Five: Figure Out How You are Most Likely to Emotionally Self-Injure and Stop Doing It

Obviously, if you feel like physically hurting yourself, then please get help. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. Do not hesitate to call them. Do not hesitate to call anyone. If you are at that point, do whatever you have to do to keep yourself safe. Please.

What I find is that we all have ways we emotionally self-injure, too. I absolutely emotionally self-injure with music and I am certainly not alone in this. So for every break-up I have ever had, I made a tape… or CD… or playlist of music that is like, “Hey, maybe don’t listen to this shit for awhile.” Don’t reread love notes or love texts or love poems or whatever the hell you may have done over the course of the relationship. Do not drive by their house. (I genuinely cannot believe the number of people who do this. It is a terrible idea. Just, like, literally avoid it at all costs.) Put all the photos of the two of you in a folder and put it somewhere you don’t have to look at it. You don’t have to delete everything (I know that feels impossible) so just hide it.

If you lived with the person who ghosted you, move. (That one may be extreme. Ignore me.)

Don’t eat at the same restaurants. Don’t drink at the same bars. And ohmygod do not try to run into them somewhere. All of this is emotional self-injury. Run screaming from it.

Step Six: Do Something You Love Everyday

People forget this one so quickly. Don’t stop your entire life over this person. Go to work. Go out with friends. Do something fun. Feel free to do it with the thought, “Fuck them. I’m going to ______.”  (My mom always tells me she doesn’t like when I swear in blog posts but there is psychological proof that swearing is beneficial. So please do it.)

Step Seven: Fall in Love Again Anyway

Okay, fine. You cared about/loved the person who ghosted you more than they cared about/loved you. That does not mean you don’t get to love again or that love is stupid or that all relationships are going to be disasters. Write this wherever you need to and the second you feel ready, throw yourself back out there. As the nihilist in me always says, “All relationships end. Either you break up, get ghosted, or one of you dies. There’s no reason to be afraid of the ending. Just enjoy the process.” (I may have added “get ghosted” in there recently. Sign of the times.)

For the longer term situations… Yes, it is annoying as hell to wait to fall out of love with the person who ghosted you. I’ll write another post about how to do that faster. In case you actually believe I know anything about which I speak…

So that’s your protocol. Give it a shot the next time someone decides you’re not worth an actual conversation because they fear confrontation or feel invalidated or whatever conflicting emotions led them to that decision.

The relationship may absolutely have had its problems and needed to end; this you may know. It’s just a shitty ending.

And again: Do not ever physically hurt yourself over another person (or for any reason, really). There are other answers. Please reach out.

And if you’re thinking that ghosting someone is your only option, I promise you there are other answers for that, too. Even if they’re actually abusive assholes. But even then, please get out of the relationship as safely as you can. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can help.

Take care, everyone. And always remember, ghosts can only haunt you if you let them.

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