Mayank Shekhar: My word of the year: Ghosting!

Published: 26 December, 2017 06:14 IST | Mayank Shekhar | Mumbai

Probing the 'in-between-ness' of being in a relationship, and the new-age way of ending it by cutting off all ties with the non-ex

Besides Amitabh Bachchan admitting that his iconic, triangular side-burn as a style statement had been blatantly lifted from Shashi Kapoor, the anecdote I loved the most from among hundreds that emerged after Kapoor's recent death was the bit about journalist Radha Rajyadhyaksha hitching a ride once with the superstar actor.

Ghosting entered popular lexicon in 2015 after Charlize Theron’s public break-up with actor Sean Penn, where she admitted to have simply cut him off. File pic
Ghosting entered popular lexicon in 2015 after Charlize Theron’s public break-up with actor Sean Penn, where she admitted to have simply cut him off. File pic

The journalist was naturally tongue-tied through it all. There were ghazals playing in the car. Bemoaning its disconnect with the young, Kapoor spoke about Urdu poetry, its sukoon, and depth, and said, "There are ghazals on the melancholic pleasure of unrequited love... Would one even consider that a form of love today?"

I agree. Unrequited, or one-sided, as a form of love in itself might generate fine poetry. But it's hard to see much romance in it in actual life. There's either a relationship or a frickin' break-up. The inevitability of the latter could even be a good enough deterrent to indulge in the former in the first place. No?

Isn't a hard-core break-up possibly worse than the finality of a loved one having passed away? Isn't it better to know that someone you were closest to is no more, than to realise they're very much around, just not in your life-for even the memories to matter much anymore. And while all break-ups are meant to be mutual, is that even possible, given that no relationship (whether personal, social, or professional) is ever equal? I know electric shocks have often been prescribed to help weaker minds get over break-ups.

It's hardly as cut and dry with even casual friendships, going back to kindergarten, from where you can pretty much pick up the pieces. The same association, when coupled with a serious relationship, when broken, takes the form of baggage. None of this is a new concern. Has modern romance addressed this age-old dilemma more head-on?

It's used technology-dating apps in particular-to create social distance between what could trigger love, and what must remain in the in-between-ness of companionship, for that moment alone. A profile picture is easier to walk away from, caring little for how the other person feels, because you'd never quite professed to have walked in, to begin with. Tinder, therefore, is to personal relationships, what Twitter is to public discourse.

It's not a surprise then that the word that I heard first in 2017, and heard the most through the year, chiefly during conversations with single men/women, usually tempered with booze (the ultimate truth serum) is 'ghosting'. It was the 'troll' for this year. It entered popular lexicon in 2015, with Charlize Theron's public break-up with actor Sean Penn, where she admitted to have simply cut him off-not taking calls, answering his messages.

Ghosting is essentially defined as 'slow fading'. If you're on Whatsapp, a good way to gauge ghosting is by the rapidly declining ratio of the number of messages in white (sent by the other person) over those in light-green (your own)! These exchanges, gradually and sometimes suddenly, fade to the point of zero, where the 'ghost' has altogether disappeared from the screen, while the 'ghostee' wonders what happened.

Self-declaration on matters such as these is usually suspect, yet surveys I've checked out suggest as many as 50 per cent of both men and women have both ghosted, and been ghosted upon. The terms of contract between two people who've gone on dates (maybe a couple of times), or only indulged in casual chat (primarily online) is either fluid, or wholly non-existent.

The gender-ratio for the number of ghosts and ghostees remains equal (and this is as true for my anecdotal evidences). So it's not a gender thing. In another age, this behaviour would be termed cowardice. It's only perceived as pragmatic. Could it be a sex thing?

Intuitively speaking, on the demand, supply curve, when sex becomes progressively easier to get (and online acquaintanceships have had that effect even in conservative societies), love (defined by its relative permanence) will inevitably become harder to find. And since there was never any love (from whichever end), indifference is a likely consequence, since hate is too strong an emotion, when the investment is so low. So, well, clearly, ghosting isn't the opposite of (the Americanese) closure.

Is ghosting limited to potentially romantic relationships? No. I'm sure we've all ghosted work-mates, newer friends, older family members, even waiters at restaurants, or guards in our building, having shared our numbers/ coordinates sometimes with random acquaintances we never had any intentions of staying in touch. The number of chat platforms one has to juggle between makes ghosting almost essential for stayin' alive.

But if you have been ghosted in love, here's what I think you could do. Take it well. Expand your circle. Care for it even less. Rejig your music. Along with the best love songs (Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You shows up first on Google search), or the best break-up song (Mariah Carey's We Belong Together tops the all-time Billboard chart), you might wanna create a new playlist for the 'ghosting' tracks. Whether ghazals on one-sided love or not, suggestions are welcome.

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14. Send your feedback to

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