A Mykonos beach bar at sunset, the lapping surf of the Aegean, I feel her leg under the table, her eyes have the next white wine spritzer written all over them, my soul raises an eyebrow but I am in the moment, I like this girl, two months it’s been. All this is happening at some moment in the future of our love story, but sat here alone in my flat in a reverie, waiting on her text, I feel the world unfolding as it should. It’s been a week. There is nothing so sweet in life as love’s young dream.
I wait, and wait.
She never does text.
No message ever lands.
Ya dun got ghosted son.
Four times this summer I’ve been ghosted.
A well-intentioned text, followed by nothing. Tumbleweed. Four times I’ve spent just under a week waiting expectantly by the phone, and like a message in a bottle floundering in the pacific, no word ever comes.
Ghosting, the process of simply not responding to somebody, is a fairly new term, and it strikes me a new idea. All sorts of things might have curtailed contact back in the day, highway men, bears, power cuts, cholera. But in the present day’s interconnectedness of everything, ghosting comes down to one thing. Apathy. Being on the receiving end of a ghosting isn’t great for your self-esteem. You go from white wine spritzers at a beach bar to feeling like a total creep. If you don’t even warrant a response, what must they think of you.
Turns out ghosting is a global phenomenon.
My summer of paranormal activity began 7,000 miles away in August. Waiting for a screening of my cousin Clara’s film I saw someone walk across the bar and my heart hit the floor. Argentine girls mayne. La bruja. Through some strange sorcery a few hours later her and I were driving through the Buenos Aires morning as the sun crept over the wall of the horizon. Outside my flat, in her jeep, I asked her if we could hang out again before I left. Si claro, she said.
A couple of days later, I sent the text. Waited.
A week went by.
Was this some Argentine custom I was green to, I wondered.
The next ghosting happened mid-September. Same thing different date. This one had more legs I thought. This was the Mykonos beach bar girl. My imagination had got me that far, I thought there must be something there. We even had crisis talks on the phone, after a week. She was older, mother of two. Look I’m not sure you want this, she said. What do you know what I want, I replied.
I could be like that guy in Erin Brockovich, I thought, the biker dude, takes care of the kids while she’s out raining down lawsuits on huge corporations for poisoning the tap water.
We had our fair share of mutual friends, strange coincidences were peeking round corners. Was this serendipity or fate, either way both were playing a strong hand. I sent her another text. Days went by.
I read over the message. Tried to evaluate it. Too creepy. Too persistent. Restraining ordery. I didn’t think so. Questions poured down like the falling rain. I ran it by some female friends, she’s just mulling it over, they said. Day became night became day.
And our survey says…
My ex-girlfriend ghosted me.
That was number 3. I deserved this one. After 15 months of no contact, one night a little under the influence, my adrenaline overrode my good sense and I sent her a one word message, hello, written in our language. I kind of regretted it, but kind of didn’t, I didn’t really know what to think.
I mean what could I expect. Sending an ex anything after 10.30pm on a weeknight is straight out shady. Especially after that long a period of silence. What was she supposed to say. Oh hey. I haunted myself. In this summertime onslaught of all-out ghosting I was submitting myself to, this one was totally justified.
The law of averages would say if you send out enough texts, more than a few of them won’t warrant a reply. But I wasn’t bombarding random strangers with spam. I counted only three. Drunken text to ex-girlfriend to one side, the thing I find strange about ghosting is this.
Ghosting is the equivalent of asking someone a well-intentioned polite question and them, a foot away, standing stock still looking at you, and rather than answer, opting instead to pull out an enormous iPhone and peruse the Daily Mail website, in front of your face. That is one hundred per cent what being ghosted feels like.
Going cold on people is a human thing.
Having experienced it both ways, when I was guilty of it I think it always had far more to do with me and some crap I was going through than actually going off someone. Barring some loose behaviour in my early twenties which I spent years trying to burn the deadwood off from, I tried always, however clumsily, to explain myself.
I think polite rejection should be active, not passive. Because as soon as it becomes passive it stops being polite. A French exit suits one person only. Silence for the speaker might be convenient, but for the listener it’s an abyss that stares back with a thousand eyes.
Perhaps in the world of 58 WhatsApp groups and incessant notifications everything is more throwaway. But when mutual friends are involved, which these scenarios included, to have the manners to say ‘sorry mate, no’, is a decency. It’s not like I’m some letchy randomer on Tinder.
Who knows what is going on in the busy lives of people. We always think the world revolves around us. When actually it has very little to do with us.
The thing that kept me up at night staring at the sickle moon, was at what point was I being untoward. Because sitting there gazing at your phone as the days go by, what else are you supposed to think. If I’m the common denominator in all this, the problem lies clearly with me. Perhaps as my father jibed down the phone, I give off the air of tragic loser. And ladies can smell that. Maybe I’m just batting out of my league.
In Brazil once, my brother said he’d hang out with these two guys, the most player dudes he ever met. They’d go up to anyone. Nine times out of ten they got rejected. But once they got the girl. The most beautiful girls you can think of. There was a lesson, I thought. Put your chips down, risk rejection. The more you do so the less of an ordeal it becomes. For my part, as long as I’m not being untoward, I’m doing myself a service I think.
A few weekends ago, at a christening up in Derbyshire, a girl on a jet-black horse clops through the village as we’re on our way to the church. Our new neighbour! says Matt running up to say hi. In the afternoon outside the little marquee, we get talking, about healing, spirits, nature, wholesome stuff. Pretty cool conversation I thought.
Might text her, I say to Matt later. Do it, he says. Why not.
And our survey says….
Here’s a question.
Does that text warrant no reply. I don’t know this girl. But it doesn’t strike me as something worthy of abject discard. Even by my own lowly standards. I suppose she could’ve been going through some stuff. But ‘hey Domingo, was nice to meet you. Ah I’m sorry I can’t, good luck with blahblah’ is the work of 12 seconds. I think I’d prefer to live in that world.
I did some maths.
Or, I was being a creep. Or misreading the situation and getting my just-deserve. Or they were unnecessarily cold. Or it’s the universe’s way of telling me this was never going to go anywhere. Or I was being frivolous and they could sense it. I thought I was being harmless but maybe my energy wasn’t centred and girls clock that stuff.
Mulling all this over, I get a text from Alfie.
It’s a bombshell.
Here was my answer.
Not me, but the cold currency of today’s interaction.
People’s manners had gone to shit, through too many dating apps, too much transactionality. Where the feelings of the person getting rejected ceased to matter. However polite and well-intentioned their approach might be. What was emerging was a sort of ‘societal emotional barbarism’, as one person commented under a YouTube vid.
The problem is that, in our time, human relationships seem to become more and more transactional and detached from responsibility. It’s difficult to tell someone you don’t want to continue seeing them. So just ignore them until they ‘get it’. Ghosting is a problem of societal emotional barbarism and not just a problem of an individual’s ego getting hurt.
Armed with this new clarity I took a look back at my encounters. I wasn’t being creepy at all I don’t think. I was just made to feel that. If a summer of getting ghosted taught me something, is that I want no part in this shitty mechanism. I vowed to never be ghost-adjacent. To not make anyone feel that way, if I could help it.
This is all about projection, the stories we tell ourselves. Mykonos and the lapping surf and the white wine spritzer was a story I’d painted, about some hypothetical girl. But a more accurate account of the story or their character is that they didn’t have the manners (or the time) to reply. Same thing really.
The universe’s way of telling me these girls weren’t worth it in the first place. When someone shows you who they are, wrote Maya Angelou, believe them the first time. So what to do, reign it in, step it back, spend the winter in hardpound hibernation. Or put my cards on the table, go again, keep it moving.
Wayne Gretsky, the NHL demigod, said famously..
You miss one hundred per cent of the shots you don’t take.
I dunno. Having been shy and proud most of my adult life, I never had the guts to throw my dignity to the dogs. Now maybe I do. Would a summer of getting ghosted teach me to keep my phone in my pocket, to not risk rejection. I suppose the unused sub can’t give the ball away in the final seconds. If I don’t shoot, at the end of the day I can say I haven’t missed. What type of life is that. Like being trapped in some sort of purgatory. Not life, not death.
Stuck between two worlds.