The Ghost and Ghosted

There’s another side to ghosting that is often overlooked but needing our attention.

*Jackie liked her date the way you appreciate a jacket on a cold day: He was comfortable but not someone she saw herself with. However, by the end of their dinner, he expressed he was “smitten” with her.

Despite knowing her attraction to him held a verbal equivalent of “meh,” she felt—what many of us feel at times—an inexplicable pressure to give him another chance.

On the second date, the distance between Jackie’s lack of attraction and her date’s attraction for Jackie had grown. 

“When can I see you again?”

Jackie could feel her throat tighten, unable to find the ability to say the words aching to form:

Look, there is not going to be another date for us. I think of you like a brother. End of story.

Well, that’s what Jackie wanted to say. Instead, she said:

“Yeah, let me look at my calendar.”

She dodged a kiss with a yawn.

Jackie is a divorced mom with 3 daughters who works full time as a neonatal nurse. She barely has time to date, but the time she spends dating is nothing compared to the physical and mental hours wasted, pretending there is potential with someone. 

A people pleaser, Jackie decided to text Mr. Smitten and tell him she met someone (a lie).

            “I thought that way, I could enjoy a potential friendship with him.”

            Mr. Smitten called her immediately, his voice sounding like someone losing a limb. “Oh man, did you really meet someone else? Oh man. That hurts. But can we be friends? I mean, I’m really attracted to you, but I promise to stay in my zone.”

            Again, Jackie could feel the tightening in her throat. She wanted to say:

What is the point of us developing a friendship when we both know you want more? 

            Instead, Jackie agreed to meet Mr. Smitten for lunch the next day.

            When we try to live for others, altering our lives to satiate others, we are doing two detrimental things:

  1. Telling ourselves (and the world) that we don’t matter.
  2. Hurting the very people we are trying to “protect.”

If Jackie allowed her truth to come out, it would be kind to both parties. Something simple yet direct like:

You seem like a great person, but unfortunately, I didn’t feel that x factor that is so important in a potential romantic relationship. I wish you only the best.

There’s often this unspoken sense in the digital world that the words we use don’t have an effect on people looking on the other end of the screen. Perhaps this is a common reason people in the dating world (and otherwise) “ghost” someone. But people pleasers are just as likely to ghost someone—not wanting to face the potential disappointment they will cause the other party.

Jackie didn’t ghost Mr. Smitten. She lied to him and herself, hiding behind a story to prevent dealing with the potential fallout of truth. In a way, she became a ghost to herself, rejecting the idea that she mattered.

Mr. Smitten deserved to know there was no romantic potential, so he could move on and meet someone who felt about him the way he once did about Jackie.

We humans are wired to avoid pain and discomfort, so it’s no surprise that ghosting offers a “quick fix” to avoid dealing with the potential anxiety that comes with confrontation. But there’s that other, more clandestine side of ghosting we need to watch for as well: lying to ourselves and by extension, the other person in the dating equation. It’s better to rip off that emotional Band-aid now than string someone along, hurting two people in the long run. 

Each of us matters. When we remember this, we stop lying to ourselves and others. The desire for truth eclipses fear of confrontation—the real ghostbuster;-)

*Name changed to protect privacy.

Our Brain’s Mad Lib

Ironically, knowing our brains’ tendency to focus on the negative is the key to a happier life.

            He was cute—really cute. A mop of dark hair with the sweetest brown eyes. For weeks, my friend talked about her new coworker, the one who asked if she wanted to meet after work sometime.

            The date was set for a Friday on a Tuesday. From Tuesday on, *Samantha could barely sleep or eat. 

            “I’m so nervous. What do I wear? What if he only meant for us to get together as friends? What do I say? What if he changes his mind and isn’t attracted to me?”

            The day finally arrived. I assumed I wouldn’t hear from Samantha until later that night. But Samantha called me before the sun even set.

            “You okay?”

            “Yeah,” Samantha said. Her voice made me think of tires losing air. “I’m not attracted to him.”

            Say what??

            “He’s not much of a conversationalist. I tried to engage him. He was so boring.”

            “Back it up sister, you thought he was so cute. What happened?”

            “He took off his mask.”

            Well then.

            We may not be in Samantha’s shoes, but we have certainly all experienced what psychologists refer to as negative bias. Our brains receive external information and literally wire the positive and negative input into different hemispheres.

            “Negative emotions generally involve more thinking…information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones. Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events—and use stronger words to describe them-than happy ones.” (Stanford Professor, Clifford Nass)

            So, while Samantha was thrilled that the cute guy at her office asked her on a date, her brain was flooded with its Mad Libs’ tendency to fill-in-the-blank what ifs with worst case scenarios. Her brain’s negative bias created a rush of worrisome thoughts that manifested in difficulty sleeping and a loss of appetite.

            I had my own negative bias: when Samantha called me when she was meant to be on the date, my brain did its own Mad Libs negative bias: Did “cute guy” stand her up? Did he do something inappropriate? Is she in danger?

            The idea that Samantha just might have decided to end the date early didn’t occur to my brain. 

            But what about how “really cute” Samantha’s coworker was? There’s negative bias there, too. Afterall, a good portion of her worry stemmed from a fear that “really cute” guy wouldn’t find her attractive. So, her brain took the meager view one third of a man’s face and made him a Greek god, out of her league, aesthetically “above” her. 

            It’s important to realize that it was Samantha’s brain creating the Mad Libs in the genre of a horror movie. It’s also important to remember the brain is an organ—no different than the lungs or kidneys. The brain has specific functions just as our bodies’ other organs, but it need not define us.

            So, knowing our brain is wired toward the mental gymnastics of negative bias, what can we do? The Buddhist monk, Henepola Gunarantana suggests a compassionate reckoning of sorts with yourself:

            “Somewhere in this process [self-analysis], you will come face-to-face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy. Your mind is a shrieking gibbering madhouse on wheels, barreling pell-mell down the hill, utterly out of control and hopeless. No problem. You are not crazier than you were yesterday. It has always been this way, and you just never noticed. You are also no crazier than everybody else around you. The real difference is that you have confronted the situation they have not.”

            Becoming mindful, cultivating self-awareness—including our brain’s hardwired tendency to focus on the negative, is actually the key to mental freedom. The challenge isn’t our negative thoughts; the challenge is remembering that we can choose not to believe them; the challenge is remembering we are not our thoughts.

            Source: https://skillpath.com/blog/positive-fight-natural-tendency-focus-negative

Dating Red Flag: The Smooth Operator

The old adage: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is exists for a reason.

FaceTime first dates are a popular experience in the world of online dating—particularly for those finding potential in someone who is geographically less desirable. A few short months ago, when there was still a wait list to get a vaccine, my cousin *Jeani called to share the exciting news: “I have a date!”

The “date” was suggested by a fellow (albeit former) Bostonian who, like Jeani, now lived in California. The divorce father of three girls lived in Silicon Valley—a good five hours drive from my cousin (Los Angeles).

Jeani is a single mom of four in her late forties. She is a full-time veterinarian and works long hours. When most men find out that she A) has more than 2 kids and/or B) is committed to her job they C) run away.

“But this one is different. He thinks it’s cool that I’m a vet and didn’t think twice about me having 4 kiddos. He asked if I wanted to Facetime tonight! And he’s CUTE!”

The next morning, Jeani filled me in on the juicy details: Eric found Jeani gorgeous (He even used the word “mesmerizing” to describe her eyes) and told her he was already “falling in like” with her. He said he’d drive down the coast to spend the coming weekend with her.They talked for almost 3 hours. He went so far as to suggest that their next trip home to Boston be together “to meet each other’s parents.”) 

“He said he’d call me this morning.” Her voice was dancing.

Unfortunately, the morning came and went without a word from Eric. Then the afternoon arrived along with the evening without so much as a text from the flattering Bostonian.

Jeani called me that night, the pain in her voice palpable: “He said he’d call. Why hasn’t he called?”

The next morning, still no word from the man who was “mesmerized” by my cousin’s eyes. By evening, Jeani decided to text him.

“How’s the Smooth Operator doing? Still planning to spend the weekend in LA?”

Within minutes, Jeani’s iPhone starting ringing for Facetime. It was Eric.

Only Jeani was about to see her next patient, so she couldn’t take the call. She Facetimed him about an hour later. Eric didn’t pick up. 

“Try me again.” Jeani texted Eric.

Silence. 

Since then, Jeani can see Eric on the dating site they first met on.

“It hurts. I don’t know why it hurts, but it does. I didn’t even know the guy. So why does it hurt?”

“It hurts because someone played with your heart. It hurts because it’s painful to know that there are people out there who treat dating like a game, who prefer to find pleasure in cruelly leading someone on instead of engaging in an authentic conversation. It hurts because we don’t want to think that he is a part of what makes up our world, our human race.”

I get Jeani’s pain because I’ve been there. If you’ve lived long enough, you’ve experienced the disappointment of someone not being who they represented themselves to be. The high of expectation and the low of reality creates a semi-crash that wounds (temporarily).

It’s always a red flag when someone comes on too strong or says all the “right” things—an auditory confection a vulnerable heart yearns to hear. Be wary of the “Smooth Operator.”  They got that way after lots of practice.

*Name has been altered for privacy purposes.

The Validation Dish

There’s something I notice lately, something women tend to do more than men. Something girls tend to do more than boys. I’ve seen manifestations of this affliction most of my life: the apology without real cause, the explanation that is typically unnecessary, the quick laughter to mask the hurt. But it wasn’t until recently that I noticed a visual/auditory pattern as well: parenthetical statements.

Huh?

Hear me out. The other night, I was out with a group of women, and I noticed a regular pattern, subtle but distinct, to the banter of us. Statements like:

“I haven’t felt the same since I got COVID, well, I think I haven’t felt the same.”

“I just want a man who is, you know, kind. I don’t need to care about his looks, not really, you know. I just want him to be, I don’t know, nice.”

“I told him I was still reading, so why did he turn off the light. That really pissed me off—that’s bitchy of me, probably it is, right? I don’t think he meant it to be mean, but I was reading in bed, so it’s like I don’t matter, right?”

You see what I mean?? I felt this out-of-body aha moment that night, noticing a specific kind of halting cadence to our statements, like a toddler learning to walk, but not quite ready to let go of the furniture.

I kept thinking, most men would articulate those sentences, sans those parenthesis—they would be the figurative toddler standing, teetering, falling and getting right back up without any need to grab onto a nearby chair!

Those same statements, uttered from the mouths of men might sound more like this:

“I haven’t felt the same since I got COVID.”

“I just want a woman who is kind.”

“I told her I was reading, and she turned off the light. 

#3 would be a clear conclusionary statement or likely would not be articulated in the first place because our imaginary gentleman wouldn’t need the big V: validation.

If you are a man reading this, feel free to disagree. After all, this is an opinion- piece and I am speaking in generalizations. There are women out there who possess the confidence to speak without a barrage of caveats weighing down their sentences; there are men who throw pauses into their words like a trapeze artist on a balance beam!

It’s one thing to be uncertain and articulate that uncertainty. It’s another, more subtle yet dangerous thing to crave validation or worse yet, lack faith in yourself.

Here’s what I know:

My friend’s breathing is more labored post COVID.

My friend wants to meet a kind, nice man who she is attracted to and deserves to be attracted to.

My friend was pissed that her husband turned off the light when she was reading.

When we sit with how we feel, when we accept all of our emotions, we no longer feel the deceiving call for external validation.

Whatever your gender, I challenge you to pay attention today and notice how you speak, how the sentences form on your tongue and in your mind. Embrace your inner compass, without the need to justify, apologize or gain the approval of others.

 External validation is a hunger that never satisfies. Go within for approval and you’ll never starve.