If there is something we millenials prepare for, on the glimmer of love, (or, if not love in its entirety, then close enough to be confused with it just by its performances), it is not heartbreak but ghosting, which in parts is more devastating because of the absence of a definition. This sudden collapse of something that was not as a result of anything one can identify, anything one can provoke into existence by way of reminiscing or self-evaluation. Ghosting is conscious and deliberate, like most human emotions, and has become increasingly common, in this millennial era of fast love.
With many dating apps available to every gender, race, and sexuality, ghosting has become a ubiquitous experience; one that could be justifiable on the account of fear (of commitment, of things that the other may have divulged unbeknownst to them, of the intensity of feelings the other inspired) or a cruel form of cowardice. People are now so terribly bored of walking down the street and being pulled in by the way another walks, or cocks their head, or even laughs.
Behind the screen, there seems to be more, and existing on the sides of such state of surplus, like an extra idle pair of cutlery set for dessert on the buffet table, is the unsolvable puzzle as to if this date (after one too many Hellos and His, after nervous WYD and LOLs) would be the one to stay or, if it would eventually be tucked into another fold of the dynamics of a modern relationship.
When you are ghosted, you do not learn a lesson; you cannot examine the ways in which you may have fallen short in character, so as to avoid a repetition. You are only left, in the timeline of your life, a space you had occupied momentarily with someone, whose disappearance alerted a knowledge that there were things that could be worse than death, and that death was not an ending but a disappearance.
Part of what I believe fuels ghosting is the spontaneity (and also by explanation why it harbors diligently among the young) and the arrogance of will that every millennial has; something brandished into our thinking that everything was possible. A better match, a better lover, was only a swipe away. Everything we could thrive on has been fashioned into our mobile devices and each day sprung with such startling newness, a discovery of self and world, a limitation not in the inexistence of something but the sheer willingness of the other to chase after it. In a way this is affecting our relationships and the manner in which we connect. The millennial’s obsession with time and mortality means that everything happens so fast. We look for things for temporary benefits, and because the times behind us have been so oppressed, so sad and hoarily innocent in their devotions, we resist the urge to be anything other than the opposite. Millennials are taught to pursue an idea of happiness, an idea of love, when for no fee, I’d say that peace was more sustaining; insisting on peace, working to arrive at and be one with it.
There are many ways in which a person can ghost and be ghosted. Participatory disappearance, which is often sluggish but at once recognizable; lapses, when identified, are dismissed on a platter of excuses sometimes so well aligned with reality to be questioned. Someone you have been talking to, in the last week or more, suddenly seems inaccessible, difficult not to speak to but to do so in a manner that had been established in the heat of desire. Patchwork of excuses in form of work, or time, surface with great regret that might cushion you, but not long enough would it be until you are a summary of it; it had been you all along, not work, or their family member sick; it was your presence in their life that was slowly disappearing.
The other form, which I’d experienced once: after a date that was performed not with any awareness of time, or either of our heads scanning the length and breadth of the café, or stopping at the TV that was suspended high above our heads from which music videos emerged, soundless, or the window that mirrored people owning the sidewalks to run one errand or the other; a date to which I’d been certain, at its end, would be the beginning of other dates, was a misread disappearance. There was no failed connection, and although some jokes didn’t quite catch, it was not an entirely unpleasant encounter.
The days that followed puzzled me greatly, for I had worked with an idea that was false, and I contemplated on whose part the falseness had played itself out: was it all in my head, or was this person in character (and if indeed they were, to what ends could it be measured so as to receive an award for Best Performance in A Dating Scene That Lasted Four Hours) all through our encounter? With this form of ghosting, you are not called back after the first meeting— any attempt on your side to reach out is barricaded not by anything sturdy (sometimes though, you are blocked, literally) but silence.
In examining the ways in which love, or the semblance of mighty human connection, has been under threat, I find myself most drawn to the ’50s in (overtly) racial America, and to the 80s with the HIV epidemic. Both times in which desire was irrefutably bound to shame, or disease, and their wiring something that couldn’t be undone, I now run with the thinking that there is nothing to the fear of relationships in this era more than the thought of being ghosted, especially after putting in a tangible amount of effort.
Of course I am aware to what extent these comparisons can appear ludicrous, but ghosting, its effectiveness and affectedness, is a human condition that is paralyzing most people in their youth and reshaping the parentheses of human relationships. After examining the particulars of those times, (gasping with horror that they existed in the first place) I couldn’t help thinking that if in truth any kind of love required a compromise, why did its parenthesis have to be so extreme; its limitations so isolating, its tune a dirge? With every story I encountered about those aforementioned times, I always first imagined the fear, then the weight of doubt; the emotional fatigue that governed every movement, every touch, and gulp of air. Still, I thought too, that it was magical how the human mind, despite being troubled by enormous circumstances, was capable of producing the love in Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, or James Baldwin’s Another Country.
Nonetheless, with these troubling times long past, there was somewhat of a redemption — regardless of how powerless humans are in choosing whom to love — to these threats: to avoid HIV was to practice safe sex, to stick with one lover; to avoid prejudice was to remain with one’s clan, to not venture too far from the terrains of the familiar in terms of skin and culture. But how does one implement caution on ghosting, on something that lacked a certainty in itself. Is this fear not so deadly so as to flatten a life; so that in the need and act to protect the self, a life becomes something unshared, inexperience, and all together, little.
Two months ago, one of my friends told me of this guy who sent her a message on Instagram. It was, to the credit of her beauty — her oval face on which full lips sat boldly, always in red, her waistline made even more elaborate with a ankles-hooked-hands-on-akimbo pose that was repeated in most of her photographs — not something that surprised nor excited her. However, she found that in the wake of an argument with her long time boyfriend, this stranger’s gesture on an ordinary night seemed fuller, compelling an interest that would soon be sustained through days and weeks. She had read his words, imagining they were softer, kinder; that they had come to her in that appealing and ready-to-please quality of a cabin crew.
What was she to do with him now, (and she’d asked me this question, and I’d said, although not to elicit any sense of morality, that she should be careful— a response that was as ambiguous as a school teacher who had just been fished out by an extremely smart student) especially with their conversations now cutting through thousands of miles, hitting dishes and moving inside wires; with him now a recipient of her laughter whilst being unaware of the tight corner where it was produced, a space at the end of the hallway upstairs in her house which she had had to fit into, so as not to upset the night which the rest of her family enjoyed with a sleep. He’d said many kind things to her, some influenced by a strong emotion I couldn’t affirm its authenticity just because I felt it hadn’t been tried and tested. He’d been the one she called while her boyfriend busied himself with work, (this particularly, a thing that worried her the most about her relationship); she’d sent him random photographs that made up the timeline of her day (here is a photo of the orange juice I’m having, here I am at the bus-stop). I wish I had told her one thing, that it was easy for someone to appear to us like they had everything when we are desperately searching for just one thing.
And as the story goes with these ghosting experiences, it was shocking, rude, and came at once with an unbearable weight of helplessness— a magnified feeling of loss, when he stopped taking her calls. The messages she sent him met her unread, even when she could see him online on Whatsapp. Even his activities on Instagram that registered as recent (XX liked a photo 3 minutes ago) brought her, in some weird, twisted way, closer to the knowledge of him but sent her, somehow, even farther from him.
And it was this sort of ghosting I thought of as personalized ghosting. It was only her who was to answer to his absence, and the rest of his life seemed to float seamlessly. It was this: a side stepping of some sort, a disregard that seemed, not as a result of un-care but blindness, that would keep her up at night, her eyes startled by the bright light from her phone digging into artifacts, and sometimes with me on the other end of the call, attempting, with a mounting irritation that no sooner leads to sorrow, to fix one puzzle: her sudden displacement from his life.
I have had a handful of friends and acquaintances who were threaded into this common story. Sometimes I did not know what to say to them; these people whom I cared for, who’d found themselves roughened by a fate both cruel and unimaginable. After their experiences of ghosting, they exhausted hours on the other side of the phone, as I fondled with a pen, or an empty mug, anything within my reach— not absent but passive in a narration I’d now heard many times to know which words they stumbled on, which still contained a disbelief no matter how many times they’ve been said.
Same days moved with the same story, with them recounting it passionately, every sign of distress intact but none aimed at the act of talking, and soon I recognized that the reason they spoke ceaselessly about it was because they expected an interjection of a time they had failed, something missing in detail, that would offer a rationalization; I was the jury who must tell through some decipherable law, what wrong they had done to arrive in front of me. But often I knew as much as they did, that there was nothing to this but a cold shadow: something not seen but felt, not touched but seen.
What is the value of human relationships, I often wonder, in these days when communication is very easily not a thing summoned with full consciousness, in the show and tell digital world of exhibiting and performing— everything functioning on the currency of likeability. Sometimes with ghosting, they tell me, you can monitor the activities of the ghostee online on social media, and this is the most painful of all; a barren, useless kind of pain though, like a car going over a dead body. With this task (depending on how you were ghosted) you are to trace them with both precision and restraint (this is the time they last posted, but careful not to like by accident, so they don’t know you are checking); other times (depending on how you were ghosted) there is nothing to sustain your desire, to tug at your loss, or heighten the shame of having failed to elicit meaningful relationship with another.
I cannot imagine that the process of monitoring someone who has no (more) interest in your life can be anything short of maddening, This person has not left the world, they are not dead or caught up with incalculable stress by way of work or life; there is no void somewhere else that can be linked to them; no shared sorrow. Only that there is, and you can see that it is just yours to claim.
When you have been ghosted, you are confined to a state of defeat, which of course suggests someone else won, even if you had not been prepared for the battle to begin with. You are deprived of fight; robbed of an attempt, shamed for having tried. And they, — the ghostees — sometimes remain: not seen but felt, not touched but seen.
About the Author:
Keside Anosike is a Nigerian-born writer and editor. Although he often shies away from the former label, Keside negotiates the world with rare lucidity through creative non-fiction that is interested in telling and retelling the regularity and specificity of a shared human experience. His work accommodates socio-political observations, such as gender, race, and queer existences, and has appeared in several local and international press. Keside currently lives in Mauritius. Find him on Instagram: @kecyfa