Online Dating Chronicles: the Unique & Ambiguous Grief of Ghosting

burning armchair in the grunge interior. 3D illustration creative conceptI had never heard the term ghosting before online dating.

Ghosting describes ending a personal relationship suddenly and without explanation by ending all communication.

And. it. sucks.

I think ghosting might be the most painful thing I’ve encountered in the whole nefarious world of online dating, although catfishing (more to come!) might be its equal.

The first time I remember talking to … let’s call him Tyler … was clearly not the first time we had talked. He greeted me with, “Fancy seeing you here!”

 

I might not have even responded to him except that it seemed we had prior interactions. Later I found out that we had talked on a couple other sites but I had kinda blown him off. I admired his persistence since he wasn’t rude or pushy about it any way.

In fact, he wasn’t rude at all. Even though I had originally replied out of a weird obligation, I found myself really enjoying my daily conversations with Tyler. After two weeks of thinking it was nothing, I realized I really, really liked him. He was cute and friendly and really honest about his rough past. We had a similar sense of humor and developed inside jokes quickly, and we had vulnerable conversations about our insecurities. We talked about everything: we sent links to our favorite songs back and forth, I’d casually ask him to pick out which nail polish color I’d use while we learned about each other’s work, families, passions. Then I’d send a photo of my painted nails and it would evolve into flirting, so much flirting.

It was while I was in Duluth on a writing retreat that I realized I was falling for him.

Yes, I totally agree with the idea of meeting sooner than later, but remember, when we started talking, I honestly had no intention of pursuing anything. By the time I had changed my mind, I was spending a week in Duluth. We talked every night, and finally made plans to go on a date when I got home that Friday.

But it was actually Memorial Day weekend, and his family wanted him to go up to their cabin for the weekend, so we said, “Okay, we’ve waited three weeks; what’s another couple days?”

On my way home from Duluth, I went shopping. I bought a new outfit for our date. I was actually quite giddy and felt like the luckiest girl, picking out something to wear for when I finally met my newest best friend.

We chatted that Friday. We chatted that Saturday. He sent me a photo of himself in the boat, holding up a fish he’d caught, and I remember my heart doing cartwheels because how could I have not seen how absolutely gorgeous he was immediately? How could I have ignored this man on two other sites? I’d been a fool, but now my eyes were open and I had a cute skirt for Monday and look at my strong fisherman!

I remember snapping a photo of myself making a dorky face, and he replied, “So cute!”

I never heard from him again.

For Saturday night, I wasn’t worried. Yes, we talked most evenings, but I knew he was up north with his family. There were a million distractions for him, and he might not even have good cell service.

On Sunday, I sent him a photo of the 90s song that was making me laugh. I sent a couple other things too, and … nothing. On the messenger we were using, it shows an “S” for sent, “D” for delivered, and “R” for read. It was not flipping to R.

On Monday, when I thought we were supposed to have our first date, I thought, “Huh, maybe I misunderstood and he’s only getting back tonight and we’re hanging out tomorrow.”

On Tuesday, I told myself I would hear from him later on, after work, even though sometimes we would text when we woke up and during breaks in the day.

The dread had been growing, but when I went to sleep on Tuesday with no word, it exploded like a bomb in my heart. As I’m prone to do, I still tried to reach for excuses. He dropped his phone in the lake. He was sick. He was still up north. But my heart was in pain, and … more than that … I missed my friend. 

[Loooooong, intriguing story here about why we had this, but] I remembered that my roomie and I had a fake account on that dating site. On Wednesday morning, I logged in under that account, found his profile, said, simply, “hi.”

He wrote back to “Jenny Jones” within half an hour. “Jenny Jones” sat in her bed bawling while letting go of the boy who had become so important to her and then suddenly decided to walk away. “Jenny Jones” told him she’d had a tough week because a guy she’d been talking to ghosted her. Tyler told “Jenny Jones” he was so sorry to hear that. “Jenny Jones” asked if he’d ever done that to anyone before. Tyler admitted he had. “Jenny Jones” logged off.

Immature of me? Yeah, probably. But the ambiguity is like hell.

A man had won me over for a month, make plans with me, and then bailed. Completely bailed. Not just cancelled. Ghosted. 

No explanation. No goodbye.

For a while, the space that person has carved out in your heart feels so devoid you can hear echoes.

And people don’t understand, of course, because
it was only a month
you never even met
it’s not like he was your boyfriend

So you mostly grieve alone. The death of possibility physically hurts.

******

I met another guy last summer who did the same. We’ll call him Ben. I liked Ben even more than I liked Tyler, far more, which is why it’s actually easier to tell that other story in more detail. Ben’s last words to me were, “Sweet dreams, gorgeous Jackie,” and with Ben, there was no closure. None. No “Jenny Johnson” convo to truly cut that cord.

Then, two weeks ago (six months after ghosting), Ben emailed me. We sorted through things. We explained our various miscommunications. We talked seven hours that day. I let my foolish heart reopen. I could hear the hope in my voice, feel the potential fill my heart like a balloon.

And then he did it again.

I bond easily, very easily, which is why I’m careful with my boundaries. I am created for relationship. I am not wired for casual. My heart loves hard but bruises easily.

******

Ghosting, I think, is selfish and needlessly cruel. That ambiguous grief is so much worse than a goodbye, even one without an explanation, and it’s such a reality in the world of online dating.

It’s hard to say when two people cross the line from owing one another nothing to owing one another something. Is it determined by how many days you talk? How many hours? Or how many secrets you share, what level of intimacy you reach? I can’t pinpoint that space in which it changes, but I think that most people know. I knew. Tyler knew. Ben knew.

But why? I may never know that.

 

 

8 thoughts on “Online Dating Chronicles: the Unique & Ambiguous Grief of Ghosting

  1. So sorry this has happened to you. Online dating can be so tough. I was never ghosted exactly, but once I was needlessly dragged along for no reason. Had a date that went well, and we made plans for a second date. We chatted online quite often through the weeks. But the weeks went on and he made excuses about why were weren’t going on a second date. School projects, work, etc. But then it turned into months. Seriously! I then realized that he must have liked chatting with me but had no interest in anything else. Wish he would have just been honest instead of saying he was still interested in dating. Then there was a situation where I was having a lot of conversations with this other guy. I was really interested and it seemed he was also really into me. He was very attractive and was a successful illustrator with published work! He lived a couple hours away so we initially just chatted for a few weeks and then he was making plans on coming down to see me. Then, I don’t know… I had a weird sense about something and I did some cyber stalking. Turns out he still had a girlfriend that he was hiding from me, and she had no idea he was pursuing other women. He broke up with her shortly before we made our plans to meet, but that was it for me. I felt that it was a huge red flag that he never brought her up, and that his girlfriend did not know he was looking for someone else. So, I ghosted him. It may have been the wrong thing to do. But I was angry and I didn’t want to talk to him anymore. He sent me two notes and I never replied. He didn’t try to contact me after that. Being older and hopefully wiser, I would have handled it differently and confronted him about it. Luckily I found my husband a month later. 🙂 Online dating can be so dramatic. I hope things work out for you soon! Don’t give up hope.

  2. Ghosting is the WORST. I’m so sorry Jackie. I relate so hard to easily forming attachments with people. It just seems so easy in this world of explanation to send a quick text that you are breaking things off. Ugh. I hate this so much.

  3. As a guy with OCD I’ve had to cancel first dates due to panic attacks from “dating stress”.
    But if I get that far with someone and cancel, I absolutely tell them that I’m terribly sorry.

    The following items are also “in play”.
    a) They already know very clearly that I have OCD.
    b) I feel like dirt for letting them down. I feel HORRIBLE guilt and disappointment for both of us.
    c) I’m furious with myself for being weak, even though I know it’s OCD’s fault…”not mine”.
    It ALWAYS feels like my fault anyway.
    d) Sadly, I admit I usually never meet these people because at that point I’m usually so burned
    out from “online dating stress” that I stop online dating for months (or years).
    Situations like this are why I finally gave up on online dating completely (OCD wins again…nasty, evil disease).
    e) Sometimes my “date” is kind, understands, and lets go. Others are furious and I don’t blame them.

    I always try my best to be kind to the other person. ALWAYS.

    Regarding “ghosting”, I had never heard of this before.
    I was fortunate that no one ever did that to me.
    I’m very sensitive and that behaviour would have been devastating to me
    (my online dating activity was from 2000 to about 2009 and then I gave it up.
    I just couldn’t take the stress of the dating combined with my OCD.)

    This “ghosting” behaviour is (in my opinion):
    1) CRUEL, COWARDLY, UNACCEPTABLE, and pretty darn hard to forgive.
    2) If someone did that to me and then tried to “reconnect”, I would absolutely refuse.
    At that point you have seen the evil they are capable of.

    I just wanted to say that I’m sorry you have had to endure these episodes Jackie.
    My heart breaks for you. May God keep you strong and help you to heal.

    Blessings,

    Paul K.

  4. Jackie, I kind of hated to “like” this post, but it is such a valuable one. I’ve heard about this from some of the teens and young adults I know and it is just so cruel. It would be far kinder for someone to just say, “I’m needing to break off contact now.” “I got too involved too quickly and I’m going to stop communicating.” Or SOMETHING. It hurts because I imagine you just don’t know what to think. The only thing that’s kind of good (if you could call it that) about this happening is it tells you that, if you’d gotten more involved, that’s how they would have dealt with conflict or basically anything that was difficult. Thank you for sharing. – Angie

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