How I was ghosted by my boyfriend of two years
Technology has made it far easier to simply disappear from a relationship, as Suzanne Harrington discovered after the love of her life suddenly went off the radar
Published 07/01/2016 | 02:30
The Breakup Shop sounds like the punchline to a teenage joke. "Bad relationship? Let us help you end it - shop now". Except it's an actual website, offering actual services - in exchange for your card details - to (yes, really) end your relationship on your behalf, so that you don't have to. It promises a "full suite of break up options to help you get out of your tricky situation."
Let's see. For $10 you can do it by text or email. Here's an example of what could be sent to your other half as you remain at a safe distance elsewhere.
"Hi X, We're sending you this message on behalf of Y. We regret to inform you that Y is breaking up with you. Although you've had a good run and shared some great memories along the way, it's time to move on. We offer you our deepest sympathies and wish you all the best in the future, Kindly, The Breakup Team."
If you want it done quickly, there is a 'rush' option for $20 - delivered within 24 hours, like some poisonous Interflora. Actually, for $48 you can send real flowers - carnations in cellophane, presumably - with a generic letter telling your now-ex that they are dumped.
You can even get a stranger to call your soon-to-be ex to break the news that you are no longer with them. But if all of that seems like too much effort, there's always the $5 Snapchat option.
While to most people over the age of 12 this may sound so bad it's funny, it is in fact feeding off a phenomenon known as 'ghosting'.
Ghosting is when one half of a couple ends the relationship by vanishing. Not quite by changing their name and moving to Brazil, but by vanishing from your life, both in real time and digitally, with little or no explanation.
Rather than sitting down together and sweating out that dreaded we-need-to-talk conversation to your unsuspecting other half, ghosting means you do it hands-free and face-free. By text, or email, and then poof! You disappear. Unfollow them on Twitter, unfriend them on Facebook, delete them, block them, ignore their calls, emails, texts, or if you are suitably prehistoric, their letters.
This happened to me recently. After two years together, my partner suddenly went off the radar, physically and digitally, and then broke up with me.
A very lovely text, but a text nevertheless. I have not seen him since, despite our geographical proximity, other than one brief, awful moment at a train station. Yet rather more than disengaging from a casual fling, our relationship had been stable, happy, and loving - we shared a great deal in common, talked about being together long term, had been on holidays together, met each other's friends and families, were full of affection for each other. His disappearance came as a total surprise. He had not communicated his growing unhappiness.
When I tried to contact him, he remained evasive, culminating with him blocking me on Facebook, which felt strange, yet was perhaps perversely kind, in that seeing him on social media would have made the situation more painful. Clearly he had been unhappy, but had not felt able to voice his unhappiness, choosing instead to withdraw, and while I accept 50pc of the responsibility for that lack of effective communication, such withdrawal seemed like quite a catastrophic response. Some months later, an unexpected medical situation resulted in brush with death for me, and he sent a series of loving message that made me wonder if a reconciliation were possible.
Despite being ghosted, there are no feelings of rancour in me, just a wish to understand what happened, and to make it right. I don't know if this makes me a deluded idiot or just someone who is still in love. Only time will tell. This man is/was the love of my life.
Obviously, people fall in and out of love every day. Our entire culture pivots on two feelings - being in love, and being heart broken. These two states are the heaven and hell of humanity, as commonplace and everyday as birth and death, and almost as overwhelming.
In the pre-digital era, there was the 'Dear John' letter, although I don't know if there was ever a 'Dear Jill' equivalent - did men ghost women pre-internet by simply riding off into the sunset while not returning their telegrams? Probably.
And do women ghost men the way men ghost women? Not really. While women do the slow fade tactic with consummate skill, we tend not to do the dump-by-email thing once we have reached an approximation of adulthood. Yet a Huffington Post poll shows that 13pc of Americans - genders were not specified - have been ghosted, while 11pc have done the ghosting themselves.
Another poll reported in Elle magazine, consisting of 120 women and 65 men, showed that 13pc of the men surveyed had been ghosted, compared with 26pc of women.
You can see the appeal of ghosting. A break-up conversation with someone who - until five minutes ago - you were calling 'darling' is about as appealing as a colonoscopy.
Most people, when they fall out of love, just want to ease themselves away quietly, with the minimum of messy emotional fuss. Hence the allure of simply fading away, of leaving no trace.
Of side-stepping the unpleasantness of tears, anger, pleading, raging. Of running mascara and wails of 'But whyyyyy?' Or of jilted men saying angry scary things.
X is a gay man in his 30s from a small town in southern Ireland. Resident in the UK, he and his partner were together seven years. Married urban professionals, they lived in a very nice apartment together, and shared a very nice life. Until one day recently, X got a text.
"I can't do this anymore," was all it said. "I'm leaving you." And that was the end of that.
X has not seen his husband since, other than fleetingly. Requests for conciliation, or even a face-to-face meeting, were turned down. Social media made things worse, until X found the strength to do some blocking.
"What kind of world have we made for ourselves," he asks, "where we think it's acceptable to treat each other like this?"
Good question. But with the advent of the hyper-speed hook up comes the hyper-speed break up. The trend for modern daters is to deem acceptable and appropriate the shrugging off of long and short-term lovers without too much emotional discomfort. It is becoming normalised.
Y, a single health professional in her early 40s, says ghosting is now so commonplace that she almost expects it.
"You make these great connections with people, you have lots of fun together, and then they just disappear," she says. "I have stopped taking it personally. It's just a thing now."
In research published by psychologist Omir Gillath at the University of Kansas, and reported in the Journal of Research in Personality, the author looks at the best - and worst - ways of breaking up.
The best - that is, the least difficult from the dumpee's point of view - is honest and face to face. Unsurprisingly, ghosting is rated the worst - unless of course you are the ghoster.
So what do you do if you have been ghosted? You may find yourself walking around in circles mumbling 'WTF' for a while, but the one positive thing about ghosting is that nobody has been ill-advised enough to ask if you can remain friends. Because you can't - you're too busy processing the break up.
And yes, all the normal break-up rules apply to ghosting - your relationship may have just disappeared in a puff of digital smoke, but that does not mean it is hiding at the bottom of a bottle of vodka, Rioja, or ice cream tub.
Getting physical helps - yoga, or running, or anything sweaty. Although maybe not sex. Not yet anyway.
Also, while anger and resentment are corrosive and counterproductive, being ghosted can make you feel perversely superior; it is easier to feel you are better off without someone who has ghosted you than someone who has taken you out for dinner and gently dumped you over dessert.
Which is illogical - the latter is probably more painful - but then love and logic have never met face to face either.
You know you've been ghosted when...
You've been dating for a few weeks / months / years - anecdotally, ghosting tends to happen mostly within months rather than weeks or years. If a new lover vanishes within weeks of meeting, it's not a big deal - you might just shrug and think, 'how rude'.
If however they vanish a few years in, it's rather more serious.
You'll have had fun together, maybe met each other's friends, perhaps even had a few trips away. Things seem to be going well. You might have made plans for the weekend. And then - suddenly nothing. Radio silence. Not a peep.
Emails, calls, texts, social media all remain unanswered. It can be crazy-making. What's happened? Did they lose their phone? Are they in the hospital? Were they abducted by aliens? No, no and no.
Because it is a relatively new phenomenon - digitally, at least - we initially make excuses. Pre-internet, we made different kinds of excuses, but in the information age, with multiple devices at our disposal, a lack of communication can only only ever deliberate. And still we cannot process it.
The trick is to realise what is happening as quickly as possible so that (a) you don't drive yourself mad wondering what really happened and (b) you don't inadvertantly become a stalker.
Far better to look after yourself with as deeply a philosophical head as you can possibly muster.
And let go.