So You’ve Been “Ghosted” — 4 Steps to Forgetting It and Moving On With Your Life…

(Photo credit: Aaron Brown)

It was an unforgettable first date you went on together. Or, maybe it was a three-hour discussion that sucked you away from your friends all evening. Or perhaps it was the best part of a week spent instant-messaging.

All that matters is it was clearly going somewhere.

Except, it wasn’t. You sent your next message and never heard from that person again.

This is “ghosting” — the twenty-first century plague that’s sweeping the lives of digital natives; people we thought we had a great time with disappearing without a trace.

Being ghosted sucks, and, as it’s something nobody wants to talk about, it’s easy to feel as though you are the only one it’s happening to.

My good friend Stephen Hussey recently published a piece spiritedly entitled, How staying classy can get you laid. Here he argues that when being told by someone that they don’t wish to see you again, being classy in your response (leaving a favourable impression with that person) can come back to serve you — sometimes even getting you laid.

Wonderful advice. But what if they never respond?

Ghosting might seem like trivial subject matter. It is and it isn’t.

Bukowski wrote in his poem The Shoelace, “It’s not the large things that send a man to the madhouse. Death he’s ready for, or murder, incest, robbery, fire, flood… no, it’s the continuing series of small tragedies that sends a man to the madhouse”.

So what do you do when it happens?

– Should you call out the elephant and send something you hope to be considered classy? Or, would that look like a disingenuous and desperate last-ditch attempt to salvage something?

– Should you stay quiet and hope they’ve just had a busy week and will eventually get back?

– Do you tell them it’s karmically bad to ghost someone in a bid to scaring them to respond?

– Should you ask for the reason why and hope for some honest critique? Feedback is the breakfast of champions after all.

– Should you just delete the person’s number so that you can get back to work and focusing like a functional person?

Frustrated by my own impatience, it’s easy to want to curse the person every time. But that’s not exactly serving. How non-needy you are is usually a measure of how attractive you are, and in continuing to follow-up, no matter how scintillating your message, it will inevitably reek of despair.

Stepping back for a moment, if you are to put yourself on the other end, is it wrong to ghost someone?

One part of me, my usual chastising self, screams that it is morally reprehensible: it’s clearly the cowardly way out, and you should make it a personal standard to get back to everyone — good news or bad — always being upfront and straightforward.

I do have respect for people who have been candid with me in the past, saying they aren’t interested and that we won’t be seeing each other again. But, if that were a standard, I’m a massive hypocrite because (like you I’m sure) I’ve ghosted too many people to count.

Being pragmatic, telling someone no is unarguably difficult. It requires a lot of mental energy to do so tactfully, and I can empathise with why people don’t get back. (At least I can tell myself that to relieve some of the guilt.)

Amongst the younger generation, whether you like it or not, it has become acceptable. If a friend told you, “I just stopped texting him / her”, the person on the other end might have been anxiously awaiting a response all week, but you wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Wherever you fall in your own standard, if you put yourself out there enough, you cannot avoid the fate of it happening to you.

So how do we prepare ourselves? What’s the philosophical way to respond to such small tragedies?

Here are four quick reminders that help me stay out of the madhouse…

1) It’s optimism that gets you into trouble

The perceived quality of an interaction is no correlation for how things will progress — or whether you will even hear back from someone. Some of the most fun initial interactions I have ever had have been with people I never heard from again. Many that felt distinctly average have gone places. There are too many factors at play that you are not in control of, and so it is best to remove any sense of expectation.

This is incredibly unsexy to even think about, but my guess is that if you were to look at stats for how often a phone number or a date led somewhere, it would be a lot lower than you would like to think.

Dating is an area where it’s better to air on the side of pessimism. That’s not to say don’t take action, but, no matter how excited you might be after meeting someone, tell yourself, “this probably won’t go anywhere”. (For more on the virtues of such an approach, see Alain de Botton’s fantastic talk On Pessimism.)

2) Them not getting back should be a major turn-off

James Franco once said, “If the director doesn’t think that I’m right for the movie, I don’t want it. In most cases, it’s not personal. I’m just not right for the part.”

If this person isn’t getting back to you, you shouldn’t want to be with them either. They clearly have awful taste.

3) Make a resolution to keep moving forward

Last week, talking with one of the best salespeople I know, he said, rather crudely, “I like fresh meat”. He was referring here to going after new leads in a sales environment, but, having just been freshly ghosted, I couldn’t help take home the profundity of the message. Going after fresh meat is inherently uncomfortable, and this is evident in the fact that most salespeople spend their time flogging dead horses — an activity that despite its ease rarely leads to results.

Perhaps a dead horse for you would be falling back on an ex partner whom you know isn’t good for you. Maybe it would be rekindling a connection with someone back in high-school that would be better left unkindled. Perhaps it’s going through your phonebook and sending one last ‘revival text’ to ghouls of years past. All terrible strategies.

Precisely because of its crudity, any time you catch yourself doing this, my friend’s comment makes a terrific mantra to steer yourself in the right direction: getting back out there and making things happen!

4) Persist in a broad sense of the word

In a business context, I used to think that persistence meant continually following up with the same person. Whether or not that’s true, it certainly doesn’t translate to any sane person’s romantic life.

Derek Sivers defines persistence as “continually improving and inventing; not the repetition of what’s not working”. In that sense, persistence isn’t a prerequisite of insanity (doing the same things over and over), but of getting better. This is nicely complimented with a line from Colm O’Connor, a Kenyan long-distance running coach, “the winner is the loser who evaluates defeat properly.”

Though you might never hear back from this person, what lesson can you take from the experience? How can you evaluate defeat and use it to make you a more attractive, more charming, more engaging person?

***

Ghosts stack up, and you need to be ready for them.

I encourage you to set a personal standard for how you respond when you lose interest in someone yourself — limiting the number you personally send to the madhouse as much as possible.

When it happens to you, know that you’re not alone. It happens to us all.

The secret to not getting disappointed in any area of life is always to have a lot going on.

Don’t let it set you back, put yourself in a place of strength, and realise that there are plenty of amazing people out there just waiting for you to say something to them.