Long Read: Ghosts and ghostbusters
Ghosting has nothing to do with the supernatural, and everything to do with our Net-enabled lifestyles. How does one survive an unexplained online rejection and move on with life?
During school vacations, the postman arrived at my doorstep twice a week, if not more, bearing letters brimming with news, secrets and dreams from Panna and Mashu, my two best friends. I didn’t have to open those letters to know who they came from and even had my reply ready in mind before reading them. Mashu, Panna and I never let vacations create a gap in our communication and friendship. Our bond was forever. As years passed, our letters gave way to phone calls, followed by emails. But as the era of social media dawned, both of them vanished from my life.
My best friends Mashu and Panna, one an architect, the other a doctor, both settled in the US of A, both gone without a trace. With no explanation whatsoever.
For years, I tried to fill the vacuum their absence created, wondering and sometimes mourning the loss of a childhood bond. Sometimes, even in the present, I find myself wanting to pick up the phone and dial their number, but I stop myself. Something inside me still hurts. Ghosted I was, by two very dear people that left me with trust issues and sabotaged my self-esteem. A closure is what I needed but that I did not get.
Such is the era of ghosting — a word that describes perfectly the reality I, and a million others, face. The ghost, like a spectre, is there, but not really there.
We have all experienced this form of going incommunicado at some point, maybe not in the way we look at it today, but nevertheless it hurt every time our ideal world shrunk a little with someone vanishing from our lives. Friends not replying to letters or emails, friends refusing to answer your call or ignoring text messages or clients not responding to payment follow-up mails or a date gone silent — everything is an example of ghosting.
What supernatural times we live in!
Heartbreakers in the dating game
Whether it is a friend who cannot handle your depression and therefore ghosts you or a potential groom who leaves right after meeting the parents, Dubai-based publishing sector sales manager Ipshita Sharma has experienced it all. She has been trying to make sense of her experiences over the years. “I don’t know what the actual reasons were for any of the above,” she says. “That’s the worst part about being ghosted — you don’t know what you’ve done to deserve this reaction. It can only leave you wondering — sometimes worrying and thinking of the worst possible scenarios. I can only imagine that maybe I was too unattractive in the case of the man who came to meet my parents. But I can’t understand why my girlfriend decided to cut all ties with me when I was having a depression attack, despite my explaining to her the reason I couldn’t join her for dinner that night. Instead of speaking to me about it, she blocked me on all social media.”
Ipshita says every time someone ghosted her, she was left broken but picked herself up and learnt to trust again — only to have it shattered over and over again which eventually led to trust issues. “How can you trust anyone or battle insecurity and a constant sense of inadequacy when people who you think like you don’t even think you’re worth a goodbye?”
UK-based Fiona Wishart, co-host of the podcast Love Bites with Laura & Fi believes that ghosting has become an unfortunate part of our culture now and finding someone who hasn’t ghosted or become a victim of it is like finding gold dust. “I’ve been ghosted so many times that if I don’t get ghosted now, I think there’s something wrong with the man.” Her experiences with ghosting have all been with men she’s dated, which, she says, always left her feeling very inadequate and helpless. “Like I am the one who is always wrong,” she says. “You replay your actions, wondering where you went wrong. Women especially are quick to feel like it’s their fault, often wondering if they had done something differently the man wouldn’t have ghosted. But as I get older, I realise it has nothing to do with me — everything to do with the other person.”
She recalls a particularly traumatic experience at the age of 26 when the man she was dating ghosted her after promising to meet her soon. “I decided to confront him and ask him why he vanished without reason. He said he felt he wasn’t right for me.”
This is what it all boils down to, she says: people not knowing how to communicate their feelings. “I am less harsh on people who ghost others now because, after getting over the hurt, I always feel sorry for those who are too scared to express their real feelings. Perhaps they need help.”
Manila-based visual artist Erwin Jose Viado says ghosting has been an unfortunate part of his growing up years but has now managed to leave behind the pain of youth to embrace a more mature approach to being ghosted. “Yes, I have been ghosted several times in my past relationships. I was young and very invested, and remember the frustration of being cold shouldered, shut out without a reason. It hurt terribly and caused me much trauma. I tried to ‘fix’ things I thought I did wrong, but never got the opportunity. I went over all the possible things I could have done right. What good did that do? Nothing. But, with time, my outlook towards ghosting changed. If people want to stay in my life, they are welcome to; if not, they are free to leave.” He does believe he would be disappointed if someone ghosted him today, but is definitely in a better place now.
The business of ghosting
Ghosting is not limited to romantic relationships, according to Karim Agahi, a UAE-based entrepreneur. He says friendships or work and business relationships may also end with a form of ghosting. His experience with a US-based online marketing business left him shattered — both emotionally and financially. “One minute I was eagerly investing money into the project and seeing quick results and the next minute everything was gone. Everyone I knew on the team vanished. It was quite traumatic and left me very anxious considering the money involved.”
It took him a few weeks for the reality to sink in. “In comparison, every other time I have been ghosted by a date or a friend, it was less hurtful. And knowing well how this makes me feel, I am never going to ghost someone, simply because it is a cowardly thing to do.”
It took him long to get closure — which happened when the culprits stood trial for fraud. “That moment was truly satisfying. I suppose after you stop torturing yourself by going over the loss, the best thing to do is to find a new distraction. Understand this is not about you personally. So, maintaining your dignity and focusing on your health and happiness is the key. Having tried to improve myself, I realised that the courage to tell the truth is a virtue not possessed by many. The ghosting phenomenon is another example of the absence of this virtue.”
Toxicity and its effects on the human mind
UAE-based clinical hypnotherapist and author of Disappear Mai Elsayed explains why it is appalling to ghost someone, especially in relationships. She says there is absolutely no reason one should do so despite the occasional challenges one faces in communicating the reasons behind ghosting. “People should clearly communicate that they are done — regardless of the nature of the relationship. It is against all morals and values to simply disappear from someone’s life. You owe it to your partner, friend, acquaintance or client to inform them if you want to leave the relationship. What the ‘ghost’ needs to understand is that the victim sees this as abandonment and ends up mourning the loss. It becomes very hard on the victim to shift focus from negativity and focus on healing, although it is the most essential thing to do.”
Mai suggests trying the goodbye therapy: you visualise a situation where you are telling the ghost everything you feel before saying the final goodbye. This helps in getting the much-needed closure. If you are a victim, accept your emotions without judging them. “You have been hurt and disappointed, and it’s okay to feel angry and sad. Don’t blame yourself for their disappearance.”
In her book Disappear, which is about ghosting and how it shatters lives, she writes: “I had my soul drenched in pain and it was one hell of a helpless feeling, but it was extremely liberating to finally grasp the understanding of what I can and cannot control. It was a journey. A long, traumatic journey, but I made it out alive and that was all that mattered for now.”
Mai believes that technology and social media — marketed as tools that aid globalisation and mitigate distances — are the tools that destroy relationships. The rise of technology has made online dating very easy while facilitating disappearance from people’s life with a click of a button in tandem. “It is a double-edged sword: expectations vs reality is the real killer. Finally, it is up to you to channel your emotions in the right direction.”
The psychology of ghosting
Dubai-based clinical psychologist Dr Thoraiya Kanafani is only too well aware of the trauma suffered by individuals when they are ghosted. According to her, the main reason people “ghost” others is out of fear of confrontation or having uncomfortable conversations. “People would rather avoid an unpleasant experience altogether than take the responsibility of explaining themselves. Ghosting is a form of avoidance of uncomfortable feelings and thoughts. Sometimes, people ghost others as a way to avoid being rejected by the other person first. It is still a form of avoidance of uncomfortable feelings, but with different intentions.”
Dr Thoraiya explains the way to work through this. It is important, she elaborates, for a person to recognise their responsibility and accountability in any relationship. That responsibility involves effectively communicating to the other person — be it a friend or a partner. She stresses that it is vital for people to understand that discomfort should not be avoided, but managed, as life is filled with uncomfortable and awkward situations.
“The inability to communicate indicates a somewhat lower emotional intelligence than those who are able to effectively communicate. It also indicates that the person is unable to manage their own discomfort in situations and may also show a difficulty in recognising a lack of accountability and responsibility. When a person is ghosted, it most likely triggers a sense of anger and pain leading to difficulties in trusting others.”
She believes that the rise of social media has made people less empathetic and has brought about a feeling of entitlement and selfishness. “Ghosting is traumatic, whether for a child or an adult, and can have a negative effect on future relationships for both.”
Alarming rise of ghosts
Meanwhile, world over, ghosting is becoming more common than one thought. A 2019 survey from YouGov, an international online market research and data company, found that one-third of US adults confessed to doing it. In another research on millennials, 82 per cent women and 71 per cent men acknowledged that in this digital era ghosting is an everyday phenomenon. It can happen to anyone.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill to set you on the path of recovery from a ghosted heart — and that is where common sense comes in. Ghosting is not just digital departure, it goes deeper than that. It is tied to the way we trust or see the world.
Meanwhile, I have a determined caller offering me a limitless credit card…maybe, just maybe, I am going to breadcrumb him — or better, ghost him.
(Anjaly is a Dubai-based author and travel writer. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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