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We had an amazing first date. There was a picnic, wine and a movie that neither of us managed to watch a glimpse of. He had me giggling at absolutely nothing for the duration of the night. By the second date I was utterly convinced that I met someone who I thought I had an amazing connection with – things felt like they just clicked. And I was completely sure that the feelings were mutual – until he suddenly disappeared into absolute thin air.
My experience within modern dating has been exceedingly limited. So much so that I have had next to no experience rejecting someone or being rejected. I am someone that gets carried away by a moment and gets caught up in a whirlwind. The last time I tried dating, by date number two, I flew interstate and low and behold, I found myself caught up in a long distance relationship and falling in love. There was no such thing as ghosting in my world – you felt and were consumed by what you felt. Yet there I was hanging on by the tethers staring at my phone convinced that it was entirely possible he hadn’t seen my text. If I have managed in the past to drop my phone in a bathtub, he may have managed to drop his in the toilet? He might have been so excited by the prospect of dinner with me that the phone flew out of his hands and it obliterated into a million pieces. It was 11:00pm and there was still no response to my messages. The sound of crickets could be heard for miles.
By this stage of the night, my phone was flipped face down on my bedside table. If I couldn’t see his text and did not look at my phone, I would get over it. I am an attractive, single and empowered woman – hear me roar, this gurl ain’t waiting for no man! (Honestly, I actually devolved into a five year old child and was sticking out my tongue and making faces at my phone as it lay face down whilst willing it to buzz). My mind was consumed with an incessant replay of our most recent interactions and dissecting every detail. Then it struck, that I too have been guilty of disappearing very recently. This was karma biting me on the arse.
Just last week I disappeared on a guy I had a lunch date with. I did the slow fade where messages started to be drip fed through and then one day completely did not respond at all. At the time, I asked my friends whether or not I should just shoot him a message and say thanks but no thanks. Screenshots of my exchanges were sent and judgements were made (you may be laughing at my indecisiveness but let me remind you, once again, I have never had to reject anyone before). Over drinks at Union Electric, I discussed the politics of ghosting with Jimmy*, a close friend, in his early 30s and jaded by the dating scene. “Ghosting sounds horrible, but people do it so often,” he said. “A confrontation or an outright rejection is like throwing a frog into boiling hot water. It burns and burns badly and you probably have the frog attempt to jump out of the pot. But if you ghost, it’s like heating up a pot of water over time. The water gets hotter and hotter without the frog realising until its boiled. It’s shitty, but is has become culturally okay.” I felt fully justified in just disappearing on my date. Through absolutely no fault of his own I was just not interested (if you’re out there, Facebook stalking and come across this post, I sincerely apologise – I drafted a text message to apologise but it’s been a week, sending anything now is like adding salt to the wound).
Ghosting may sometimes seem like a 21st century problem but the dating Houdini was not invented with the advent of the smart phone. I’m pretty sure in the generation before us there would be people sitting by the curly corded phone waiting for their love interest to come ringing. But, the world was a lot smaller then. People cross paths socially. You dated someone from down the street, from the neighbouring school, from bumping into someone at the local supermarket. Technology did not beget ghosting but in a culture where many of us meet online, the anonymity of online platforms has eroded our empathy. We swipe and we swipe because around every corner there is someone that may be more attractive, funnier or more interesting. We swipe, match and disappear when it’s convenient. We have a created a culture of moving onto the next yet keeping the doors to past potentials partly open.
Returning from my hiatus from the dating scene found me surrounded by a world where we are all swiping, texting, dating or “talking” with various different people at once. I am a proponent of online dating but my heart feels a pang – when did we become a culture where none of us wants to be accountable? We disappear and reappear at whim with no regard for the questions and feelings that we leave behind. We date the person we’re half interested in to distract ourselves from the fact that the one we actually like is not around (or maybe he ghosted me). It is easy to fade out and keep the options open to revisit at a later date. Did your current romantic interest not text for three days? No problem, reappear in someone’s life by shooting them a cheeky message and see if they bite. We leave these options open because when one relationship crashes and burns, there is somewhere to run.
My girlfriends have told me that people disappear and ghost because they are meeting so many new people constantly that the latest does not occupy enough space in their minds to respond to. There is such a false sense of sophisticated detachment to this dating world that I cannot fathom. I would like to think that we inherently are filled with hope and a desire to tell the truth. To trust and be honest with each other, even when it is painful, confrontational and uncomfortable.
As the night gets later and later, my phone has still not rung. But that’s okay, maybe he realised that I wasn’t for him. I am someone that is too emotional, too straightforward, too vulnerable and there will be someone out there who will be enchanted by all these “toos”. So as my heart tightens a little with disappointment, let this experience be a lesson. I will not be the victim of someone’s re-enactment of Casper. Casper sucks balls. Inaction has causalities. Next time I am not interested I will close a door completely and explicitly so that I can myself walk through an open one.
*Jimmy’s name has been altered.
Cover image Columbia Pictures