There’s a saying in my family, and by that I mean, there’s a saying that my family absolutely neither invented nor claims to have, but my mom said it that one time and so it totally counts, and that is, “People plan, and God laughs.”
We so rarely become the people we think we will, right? Five years ago, I was a struggling actress, engaged to be married, and if you had told me then that five years in the future, I would be an elementary school teacher and single, I probably would have laugh-cried… because somewhere deep down, I knew that’s where my relationship with both my job and my fiancé were invariably headed.
I always envisioned myself as strong and whip-smart, confident, brutally honest—the kind of person who tells it like it is and isn’t afraid of confrontation. The kind of person who tells you if something is unflattering, even if you’ve obviously already spent a lot of money on it and are currently wearing it in a very public place… Look, I still think that jumpsuit is super cute, and I don’t care if it makes me look like a potato.
The kind of person who, after a date that didn’t set off any sparks, just flat-out tells the guy that she isn’t feeling it, instead of refraining from answering texts and avoiding emails and gently fading into the abyss… well, guess what? Most of the time, I’m not her. I’m the potato who never replied to tell you how my day was going.
Ghosting, in fact, sort of represents the larger ways in which I have failed to become that person I always aspired to be, and for that, I am actually wildly relieved. I didn’t even know about ghosting five years ago, when I became single. I was just this clueless 28-year-old who didn’t know anything about dating, because I’d spent my entire adult life in a bad relationship I can’t actually tell you about here, because the last time I did, I got a butthurt email from my ex.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, the term “ghosting” means you aren’t digging someone you went out with once or a few times or whatever, and instead of letting them know that you aren’t digging them, you simply never text them again. I get the hate for ghosting, I do. It feels irresponsible, rude, lazy… the list goes on. Ghosting is supposed to be this real moral issue, like it’s not okay to just disappear after a date, with nary an explanation, causing the other party confusion.
Ghosting was probably really hard in the olden days, amiright? The… milliner’s son or whatever asks you to go on a carriage ride, and if you’re not digging on his vibe, maybe you learn he’s a cat person or doesn’t have a lot of grain in his silo or something, it’s not like you can just never get your hat… re-hatted again. No, you would probably just suck it up and marry him, have 1,000 children, and die a few years later of scarlet fever, because there wasn’t enough grain in his silo to afford a doctor.
Nowadays, however, if you are single and in your 30s like me, you’re probably on 5,000 dating sites, you’re double-booking yourself left and right, and you’ve stopped saving numbers in your phone, because your Cloud is full and you suspect that saving a bunch of contacts like F*ckboy and Weird Jeff has something to do with it. That’s modern dating, and I think ghosting is a natural byproduct of it, not a sign of callousness or thoughtlessness.
We aren’t beholden to the people we meet once over whiskey sours, thankfully, or we would all be crying over that guy from Tinder who seems really nice and even has a job and a car, but kind of sort of for some reason reminds you of that gross kid from high school and ughhhhh he seems really nice but you JUST CAN’T! And in the end, Are we not responsible for our own feelings? Ghosting should go like this: Person goes out on date. Person texts date the following day: How’s your day going? Person receives no reply. Person shrugs shoulders, perhaps says “bummer” to the mirror. Person goes back to swiping. It just doesn’t seem so complicated to me.
My mom used to tell me (another saying in our family, because my mother said it), “No one is thinking of your feelings; everyone is busy worrying about themselves.” So if you were really digging on the person who didn’t text you back and can’t just go back to merrily swiping, go ahead and feel sad if someone ghosts on you… but let it be for your own sake, not because you have expectations of them. My advice, not based on personal experience at all: If someone you felt you really clicked with ghosts, go have a cry, eat a BLT, pop a Xannie, and binge-watch Ghost Adventures.
Your suffering should center around you, not the actions of someone else; suffering should be indulgent. Revel in that sh*t… then let it go, just like you need to let it go if someone doesn’t message you back. For a while there, on OkCupid (yeah, I’ve been single since that was a thing), I routinely failed to respond to messages from a particular gentleman whose face I happened to find unpalatable. One time, he sent another missive, saying: I know you read this. My premium subscription gives me read receipts, so I know you’re ignoring me.
I politely posited in response, Is not the entire premise of paying for read receipts to know when someone is ignoring you, so that you may more efficiently discern whether or not they’re interested?
He replied, Oh good, there you are. How’s your day going?
If you had told me five years ago that my failed acting career would prepare me for being single in my 30s, I would have punched you in the face. But I think how we handle ghosting has to do with how we handle rejection, and being an actor is all about rejection, which is why I think ghosting is maybe also related to the process of being an actor and trying to land a goddamn role.
If you spend a few months going out on 50 auditions, you’ll know what I mean: Try getting dressed up 50 times, making up 50 different excuses to leave work in the middle of the day, rehearsing 50 sets of lines over and over again, overanalyzing 50 different faces judging everything about you, going home, and waiting for 50 phone calls that never come. Do all that, then come back and cry to me about how that dude from Bumble who was definitely not his alleged 6’2″ never messaged you back. You won’t. You’ll be inured to the whole process.
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I know this is going to sound strange, because dating is supposed to be the most personal thing there is, but I actually think it’s the opposite, and so is acting, and this is why I feel the way I do. You want to know why you didn’t get the part? It wasn’t because you weren’t pretty enough, or thin enough, or good enough. It was because you reminded the casting director of a girl who broke his heart in middle school, or the producer has a cousin he really wants in the role instead, or you came in right before lunch and everyone was hangry and not even paying attention to you.
You can’t know someone after two drinks and a walk to your car any better than you can know someone in a five-minute audition. It never has anything to do with you. You don’t need someone’s feedback re: why a date didn’t do it for him; that does nothing for you. Dating, like art, is subjective. That’s why I don’t save numbers in my phone anymore, and I don’t mind when someone ghosts on me, and I’m definitely not going to read the comments section of this article; I just put my sh*t out there and then I let it go. I’m not sure if that sounds bitter, but to me, it feels like something gentler. The world works the way it works: Some people will like my stuff; some people won’t. Unless the bearer of opinions is a cherished friend who’s telling you Yes, Mikayla, you really do look like a goddamn potato in that jumpsuit, the reasons people find to not dig you are irrelevant.
Dating is like trying flavors at Baskin Robbins and then just tossing those little spoons in the trash when you’re done, except it’s way less fun and more arduous, and sometimes a spoon climbs out of the trash and sends you a very long email about how inaccurate that satirical essay you published about your relationship was and how honest and kind he had always been to you and how he sincerely hopes you find peace with yourself someday.
If there’s any rule for ghosting, I think it might be this: If someone becomes sort of difficult to ghost on, as in, you are living with them or you share a dog with them or whatever, then maybe it’s no longer appropriate to incorporate ghosting as a means of escape. Otherwise, ghost away, even if just for efficiency’s sake. Your time is precious!
I would have loved to have ghosted on my ex, but the apartment lease was in my name. Of course, I really can’t talk about that.
Mikayla Park is a teacher/nonprofit creative person residing in the slums of Beverly Hills. Find her, and her two charming rescue dogs, everywhere at @mikaylapark.