Adventures in dating: ghosting

MobilePhoneLove

Returning to the dating scene after a ten-year absence has been enlightening. I am not altogether unfamiliar with the struggles of dating because so many of my clients are swimming laps in the dating pool. Just as often as not they are fighting to stay afloat and not drown in the deep end of the pool where the water is dark and chilly. And the lifeguards are too busy checking out the hot-bodied swimmers to notice somebody going under and hoping for compassionate rescue.

BWGhostWhich brings me to my recent adventure in dating: ghosting. For those of you unfamiliar, ghosting is when someone suddenly and inexplicably cuts off all communication. It can happen at any stage of the dating cycle, from the first date to months and months of dating and significant intimacy. This isn’t about sending a message on a dating app and getting no reply. It’s about actually meeting someone in person, usually for several dates or longer, and then they completely disappear. As if by alien abduction. Or being kidnapped by the Sandinistas…minus the ransom note. Or, given my known love of all things Harry Potter, they disapparate and never reappear.

I met a guy recently who seemed to be a good fit. We are both mental health professionals. We work within a few miles of each other. We have several real-life friends in common. We emailed and texted for hours a day, days at a time, until he couldn’t take it anymore and insisted we finally meet in person. It was a great first date with three hours of talking and laughing. There might have been some kissing. I’m too much of a gentleman to share details, but I will say there was no sex. More texting and talking later that night and the next day, and plans for a date the next night. GayCoupleOnCouchWhich he cancelled abruptly a few hours beforehand citing a head cold. In July. In Texas. Me being me, I give the benefit of the doubt based on my own experience with Texas weather and sinuses that view life here as a form of torture reserved for enemy combatants and prisoners of war. More so because he was so apologetic and hopeful for a rain check. A few more days of talking and texting about life and shared interests. And then it happened. He disappeared into the ether of the universe, never to be heard from again. Thinking perhaps he took a turn for the worse and somehow this dubious head cold might have worsened into a near-death experience I did check on him a few more times, even offering soup or a drug store run. No response at all. I think perhaps his disapparation skills are not strong and he vanished into non-being, which is to say everything according to Minerva McGonagall. He’s out there somewhere.

When a friend explained I had been ghosted I was appalled. Not just because this happened to me, a seemingly nice guy who could be considered a “catch” by some standards. No, I was appalled at this practice in general, and even more so that a fellow mental health professional that should know better chose this cowardly approach.

According to a 2014 survey, 26% of women and 33% of men have both ghosted and been ghosted. A 2012 study from the University of Kansas showed that while ghosting has become more common in the past decade, it is ultimately the worst possible way to end a relationship. This is not news. We have studies dating back forty years about avoidance (the psychological classification of ghosting) being a shameful and potentially reckless way of ending things. Most studies frame this in terms of the ghost being tracked down and confronted, creating a far more traumatic and potentially embarrassing interaction than a politely worded and appropriate ending ever would have been.

ManNoFaceI am not going to invest any effort in tracking down this person for a confrontation. What he did was inappropriate and hurtful, but having a drama queen fight in a public space is not going to change anything. And let’s be serious…do I want the last image somebody has of me, and those watching us, to be me as a screaming shrew venting my hurt and anger? I try so hard not to end up on Jerry Springer, and taking that “high road” often encouraged of us requires me to look beyond a moment that will in no way be cathartic and focus my energy on improving me.

Right about now you might wondering if we are going to delve into the psychology of ghosting to try and understand why somebody ghosts a seemingly nice person. Sure, we could talk about ghosting as a way to avoid one’s own emotional discomfort. We might conceptualize ghosting as a preemptive strike against assumed and expected rejection. We could even wax poetic about cycles of perceived and realized rejections fostering a fear of real and genuine connection that makes it impossible to avoid ghosting. But I’m not going there because quite frankly I don’t care why it happens. What I care about is how to move past it.

Banishing the Ghost

This is not about you. Yes, that is hard to accept. Our first inclination is to assume if we were better in some way we would be too irresistible to ghost. The problem with that is it puts all responsibility for a match or a mismatch on us and alleviates the responsibility and accountability of that jerk. If he/she/they does not have the courage to deal with the discomfort of a friendly “no thanks,” they are not capable of a genuine relationship and should not be swimming in our dating pool. That is on them, not you.

OnlineDatingDating is a numbers game. You will not be a good fit for every person you meet where there is unilateral or bilateral interest. Sometimes it takes spending time together to know it’s not a good fit. Otherwise we could simply fall in love with anybody and everybody. You date a lot to find a good match, and hopefully that match leads to love. And hopefully our odds are better than the lottery.

Feedback1Feedback loops are important. Remember the lifeguards too distracted by the hotties in the shallow end of the pool to notice we’re drowning in the deep end? They are not good feedback loops. The guy/gal/enby who just ghosted you is not a good feedback loop. Your friends and family are good feedback loops. They know you. They respect you. They love you. And that’s in spite of everything you see as potential shortcomings for a mate! Trust the people in your life when they tell you it’s not about you. Because they are right. You are wonderful and valid and deserving of love. Allow your friends to serve as a mirror and reflect back all that is wonderful about you. Make sure you allow yourself to see it.

Self-care is critical. Go for a 10-minute walk around the block. Get a massage. Pamper yourself with a manicure or a facial. Meet friends for happy hour. Meditate. Read a book. Take yourself on a date.

TextBreak the cycle. The point that most struck me in the 2014 was that so many people had both ghosted and been ghosted. Don’t be a jerk! Be honest. If you think you might not be able to do an in person rejection, it can be as simple as a candid text, email, or a brief phone call. You don’t have to have some boilerplate response, but being honest about a lack of long-term potential is honorable and compassionate. Even when it’s done through text it’s better than just disappearing.

Keep dating. Remember that finding love is a numbers game and you have be willing to put yourself out there. I promise that hiding out at home is not the answer. Nobody is going to randomly show up at your door asking you to fall in love….and if that happens I promise it’s not someone you want in your life! Get out there in the big wide world of possibility and allow yourself to be vulnerable and possibly even find love.

Rinse and repeat.

GayCoupleHoldingHands

A Day of Remembrance….and a Call to Action

Since the election, I have worked harder than I thought possible, with back-to-back sessions until 9 and 10 at night. I have supported friends and clients as they cried in anger, fear, rejection, despair, and anguish. So many of my transgender and gender diverse clients are scared for the future, their own and ours as a society. When you live your life in constant and genuine fear about your safety, your health, your relationships, your job, your children, your neighbors…..and everything else that makes up our daily existence, it is not an overreaction or overdramatization or distorted thinking to be terrified of what is coming down the pike. It is the reality of those pushed to the fringe who are trying to survive. Trying to stay alive. It is scary and it is sad. Tears, tears, and more tears. Though it all, I remained steadfastly resolute so that my clients had a safe space. Compartmentalization is a wonderful skill as a therapist to avoid burn out and emotional reactivity. But it takes a toll. For me that toll was this weekend.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) began after the 1998 death Rita Hester (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/11/20/the-trans-murder-that-started-a-movement.html). Rita was murdered in Boston. She was savagely attacked in her own apartment and stabbed twenty times. She did not die right away. She died of cardiac arrest as soon as she arrived at the hospital. The following year, Gwendolyn Ann Smith organized a memorial for Rita that has grown into an international event in more than twenty countries. At each event, the names of those who were murdered the previous year are read or displayed. This year’s list included nearly 90 lost souls from the past twelve months.

candleheartAs I participated in my first TDOR, lighting a candle on in support of transgender and gender diverse people everywhere on behalf of mental health professionals, I was speaking out. Not just about the past twelve months, but about the coming twelve months. And the twelve after that. And so on. The candle I lit on behalf of mental health professionals represented our commitment to do all we can to prevent violence, end oppression, and heal those who are hurting to build communities of love and unity.

As the ceremony progressed and I had time to reflect on the past two weeks and the spirit of the room, I started to have a very emotional reaction. I knew immediately it was a release of all the feelings I had been dealing with for two weeks. I delayed my own reaction to the election and our future so that I could remain available to my clients, my friends, and my family. I had let it build and build and build. I had been holding it back for as long as I could….until I couldn’t.

238When I saw the names of those murdered across the globe (https://tdor.info/), I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I sat there crying and crying, trying my best not to actually sob. Each name that flashed across the screen brought out another tear. And another. And another. The most painful reaction was every listing of “unidentified woman” or “unidentified man.” The nameless who were killed and disposed of without anybody even realizing they had been taken from this world. Where are their families? Their loved ones? Their friends? Who has not yet noticed somebody is missing from their life?

Sad as that was, my reaction only got worse as I let my mind wonder. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for Rita Hester the night she died. I tried to imagine somebody entering my home, the safest space I have, with the sole intent to kill me. What it must be like to feel the knife slice through skin over and over and over. Feeling cold steel cut into muscle, cut through arteries or veins, pierce vital organs. Tearing through nerve endings and flooding my brain with pain signals. To see another person looking into my eyes as they stabbed deeper and deeper out of nothing but hatred and malice. And then they leave me there. In my living room, bleeding out. How terrifying would that feel to me to know I was dying, all alone, just for living my genuine life. What would those last few moments of consciousness reveal to me? What would be my last thoughts and feelings as the life drained out of me and I slowly left this plane of existence?

I cried. A lot. At one point a friend asked if I was going to be okay, if I could get through the ceremony. It occurred to me as I looked around the room that I was crying harder than anybody else. I don’t think it’s because I was more affected by senseless murder than anybody else. I don’t think it’s because I’m more aligned with a community than anybody else. I don’t think it’s because I’m a more sensitive person than anybody else. I know what happened….I stopped taking care of me and let it all build up to the point it was like a dam bursting, with a river of emotion pouring downstream and washing away all my safety and security.

Two days later and I still have not recovered. I’m still crying. I’m so sad and so angry. I’m so fearful for my friends and all those beautiful souls who are just living their truth. I want to do more and I feel powerless. And that makes me cry all over again.

socialjusticeI will be fine, this I know. At some point I will be cried out and something else will try to take over. A sense of tragic normalcy where I once again feel numbed to news coverage of hatred and bigotry because it has become just another thread in the tapestry of our society. I cannot allow this. I would rather cry every single day than become blasé to cold-blooded murder rooted in hatred and persecution. Instead, I will channel this sadness and anger into action. I will continue to stand up for the marginalized and disenfranchised group of people who have accepted me into their subset of our larger community and shown me much love and grace. I will continue to fight not only for mental health parity but social equity. I will honor the commitment I made when I lit my candle. To prevent violence, to end oppression, and to heal those who are hurting to build communities of love and unity.