WTF! Modern lovers are vanishing into thin air
Ambiguity crushing self-worth, as ghosting in relationships becomes widespread enough for Tinder to offer help to those who want to make amends with someone they went MIA on
In 2018, Shorrya Tripathi, brand manager with a marketing agency, matched with a suitor on a dating app. Two days later, they were at Lower Parel's eatery, enjoying a meal. "He was new to Mumbai and here for a Masters degree. At dinner and drinks, we were taking it slow and chatting about the city, our work and families. It was flowing well," she recalls, admitting she was instantly taken in by his disarming personality and good looks. "At the cost of sounding stereotypical, he was tall, fair and bearded. He was also wearing a white tee and blue jeans, a combination that makes me go jelly kneed."
When it was time to call it a night, Tripathi wondered whether they'd meet again, or if he might ask her to come over. When she requested the steward to get the bill, her date politely excused himself to visit the washroom. Thirty minutes later, there was still no sign of him. "It got terribly awkward because it was a busy night at the restaurant and guests around had seen us together. I also started to get worried if he was okay, so I asked the restaurant staffer to go check. He returned to say there was no one in the men's loo." Tripathi realised she had been ghosted.
Shorrya Tripathi, a brand manager with a marketing agency, was ghosted in 2018 at a restaurant. Her date disappeared after dinner and drinks, leaving her to foot the bill. "Nothing in the course of the evening prepared me for this. The only explanation I can think of is that he either didn't have the money or probably spotted his ex." PIC/SATEJ SHINDE
The term is used in modern love parlance to describe the act of disappearing from a romantic partner's life, withdrawing from all forms of communication with no explanation or apparent reason. The act of vanishing into thin air, hence, the term.
So frequent is this behaviour now, that dating app Tinder has acknowledged its legitimacy.
It recently introduced a tool called Ghosting Graveyard that provides ghosters assistance in rekindling romance or making amends with an old flame they disappeared on.
The tool helps the ghoster craft a text to send the former date, by creating personalised "ice-breakers such as, 'We were just like Ross and Rachel—on a break"; "Our conversation reminds me of 'Game of Thrones'—it deserves a better ending."
Ghosting officially entered the modern day lexicon in 2017 when Merriam-Webster dictionary included it in its roster, but experts say it's a strategy employed by the weak and heartless for eons.
In 2012, the Journal of Research in Personality, an academic publication focussing on personality psychology, published by Dutch publishing house Elsevier, listed "avoiding/withdrawing from contact with your partner—like not answering texts or calls'' as one of the top break-up strategies used the world over. Four years ago, a study by Plenty of Fish, a Canadian online dating service, popular in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, found that 78 per cent of singletons have been ghosted. Its timelessness or rather, pervasiveness doesn't make it less painful.
Tripathi says after settling the bill of R3,500, she frantically called and texted her date but heard nothing. "I was so angry and embarrassed."
Experts say ghosting is a behaviour commonly seen in individuals who prefer to avoid conflict. Psychiatrist Alpes Panchal says, "It could be because of a faulty defence mechanism they develop while growing up, where they have seen elders do the same [exit a situation instead of confront it] or learn from popular culture instances like movies or books. They become anxious at the thought of confronting the individual with bad news [not wanting to go ahead in the relationship in this case]. Sadly, it leaves the other person without closure, leading to confusion, frustration and sometimes, even depression."
Krishna Khanna, who admits to having ghosted a date, says he now "drops hints" when he begins to lose interest in a woman
Ghosters have their reasons. Krishna Khanna, a public relations professional from Delhi, remembers the time when he was supposed to meet his date at a Delhi café. "She lived in my neighbourhood and we connected over a dating app. An hour before the designated time, I got cold feet. She was popular and I thought I may not cut it with her. It stemmed from my own insecurities." He never showed up. In hindsight, Khanna says it was "*ick move" and that he should have informed her. These days, he "drops hints" when he begins to lose interest in a date. "I reply a couple of hours late or resort to rainchecks. They get the point."
Journalist Rashid Raza says he ghosted someone during the lockdown when the person began to get unexpectedly "clingy". "She was from the hills and we hit it off on an app. We had similar interests and there was a mutual understanding that this is casual. She was supposed to come to Delhi and the plan was to party and have fun. Suddenly, I started noticing signs of neediness. I could say she went full-throttle romantic on me without even having met me." This, he says, set off alarm bells. The two had been chatting, texting and video calling for about three weeks. He started distancing himself when the kinks in the conversation were replaced by "I only want to cuddle with you and don't meet anybody else". This happened closer to her Delhi visit. "First, I thought I'd take a step back, let her settle in and then I'll discuss the matter with her. That was my initial, noble plan." But an incident made him change tack. "At some point in time, I shared a friend's number with her just as a backup if she's unable to get through my phone. Once, she sent two messages in a span of an hour and not even an hour had gone by, and she started calling him up to find out where I was. The behaviour got obsessive." He says this changed the dynamic as he wasn't looking for a relationship or anything serious.
Journalist Rashid Raza says things get tricky when someone who agrees to a casual relationship turns clingy, leaving him no choice but to withdraw
Raza withdrew contact. "I didn't want to block because that makes it obvious. I wanted to gently whisk away like the breeze." He says her messages began to get more frequent and angry. Eventually, they stopped. "Sometimes, I think I could have told her, but I've tried doing that in the past and frankly, it hasn't worked. They say okay [to a no-strings attached engagement], but continue to have expectations. Being a journalist, I am big on communication and try to keep it as clear as possible, but sometimes, they just don't get it. In this case, I justified it to myself that she wasn't coming to Delhi for me and that I'm not really a bad person. " After she got back to the hills, he received a nasty message, calling him a coward. "At that point, I replied and owned up. I didn't get into the justifications. I just offered a sincere apology."
Shruti Sharma, a 24-year-old from Delhi, says she once ghosted a guy only to go back to a former lover. "I know the guy I ghosted wasn't that serious about me. I got the sense that he might be chatting up other women on the app. I did not feel bad about doing what I did. I stand by my decision."
Shruti Sharma, 24, ghosted her boyfriend and got back with a former lover. "He wasn't that serious about me any way. He was a playboy. I don't have any regrets about my decision"
According to health psychology professor, Dr Wendy Walsh, there are different levels of ghosting. Lightweight ghosting is when a date either doesn't text you back or responds perfunctorily without a genuine response. Midweight ghosting is when you've met up a couple of times, talked and then they avoid you. Heavyweight ghosting is when you've developed a deep connection and then they vanish. Hvovi Bhagwagar, psychologist and PhD Scholar at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, researching Secondary Traumatic Stress among psychotherapists in India, was recently invited to a radio show to discuss the subject. "Research has shown that people who believed in 'destiny' were more likely to ghost their romantic partners. They believe in love-at-first-sight, and that if it's meant to be, it'll happen in the future. Growth-oriented people make the effort towards making a relationship work." She says ghosting says far more about the ghoster than the ghosted.
Getting the cold shoulder is not restricted to relationships alone. Instances of ghosting have begun to seep into the work sphere as well. In 2018, a LinkedIn article about ghosting went viral. According to the piece, the phenomenon is derailing the recruiting process at companies all over the world. Work ghosting can manifest in several ways, ranging from candidates failing to show up for interviews without a word and an employee leaving a job without notice and employers not responding to follow-up emails or in some cases holding onto payments and ignoring employees. "It can be as devastating. It also manifests in friendships. Among college students, I see a lot of people being ghosted from WhatsApp groups and blocked on social media. Also, when a couple breaks up, whoever is seen as the villain in the relationship is ghosted in the friend circle. Suddenly, the person feels isolated."
Naina Hiranandani, co-founder of Sirf Coffee, a bespoke dating service, says apps have spawned a culture of casualness in love. "We are living in a time of instant gratification. If somebody is not giving you the attention, you automatically move on to the next. It also empowers you with the audacity to do things that you wouldn't do in person. You might think, 'hey, we had only spoken a couple of times' but the other person could have invested emotionally. You do end up hurting someone. If it was intense, it can even deter people from putting themselves out there and finding love again." Hiranandani says that she has found that candidates have to do a fair bit of unlearning after signing up. "Many have had terrible experiences, so it takes time and effort for them to start trusting people." As a dating coach, she says she places a premium on accountability when she sets up two people. "You absolutely have to show up, whether it lasts for 30 minutes or two hours, it doesn't matter. All we are asking of you is to behave like an adult."
What to do when you feel like ghosting
- Identify if this is a recurrent pattern. "Have you done this frequently with others? It could be something rooted in your psyche, perhaps an avoidance strategy instead of working through relationships. In this case, you need to work on yourself," says psychologist Hvovi Bhagwagar
- Figure if there is a justifiable reason to ghost. "If there's abuse. Or, if they have tried very hard and the opposite person is just not willing to change, it's a justifiable enough reason. Even then, it's important to tell the person that you want to snap all ties. It often happens that one partner is more invested in the relationship, and when the other decides to call it quits, the partner doesn't want to take a no. Blocking a person is easy, but it's more difficult to own up and say what has driven them to do it"
How to get over it
- Accept your feelings and allow yourself to hurt. It might hurt for a little while but don't get into the spiral of stalking the person or pulling all stops to contact them
- Don't automatically blame yourself. It's important to not cause yourself further emotional harm by beating yourself up for it
- Don't lose faith in future relationships. Minor trust issues are normal but don't put the person who comes next through torture just because somebody in the past broke your trust
Why people ghost
- They are going through/sorting out personal problems
- They reconnected with an ex/someone new.
- They realised you are out of their league
- They are exploring their sexuality
- They are weak, lack respect and empathy
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