It Feels Especially Bad To Be Ghosted When You’re Neurodivergent

Being ghosted sucks. I’ve never met a single person who finds it to be a positive experience. Okay yes, people (especially women) do feel the need to ghost men for safety and boundary reasons. But that doesn’t explain situations where things seem to be proceeding wonderfully and someone just…vanishes. Getting hit with the forever silent treatment feels bad, but there’s particular pain in it for neurodivergent people. That’s what I want to talk about.

More so than those who effortlessly play the social ‘game’ of dating, neurodivergent people are intensely reliant on unambiguous communication. We prize direct and trustworthy accounts of our place in a relationship removed from the ambiguity of body language and texting conventions.

It makes perfect sense to me. People who are socially uncertain or anxious live in catastrophizing minds that make every interaction more frightful than necessary. We develop anchors to cope with this. We anchor ourselves to a reasonable reality by asking trusted people for an assessment of our situation. We anchor to reality by touching comfort sources during panic events. We anchor to partners by talking directly and regularly.

With that context, being ghosted is like having our anchor cut and drifting for a hundred miles before we realize something is wrong. Very wrong. To many neurodivergent souls, being ghosted isn’t just the end of fun times. It’s an emotional puncture wound that calls into question our ability to trust others and ourselves.

So…let’s say you were ghosted and are feeling as intensely as those previous paragraphs. Chances are that you’re not in touch with the person who did it anymore. And even if you still have access, maybe yelling at them will not lead to anything helpful or productive.

That leaves healing.

Orient yourself

When something bad happens to me, I like to orient myself in the situation. I picture myself a lone point of calm and strength in the swirling wind of uncertainty. Orienting yourself to a problem means settling down and thinking about it. What hurts the most right now? What are you worried about in the coming days/weeks? What measures are out of your grasp? What resources do you have to face this?

We can face ghosting in the same way. I’d add another question to the process: How has the way I meet social interactions made this situation harder/easier?

Orienting ourselves to a problem is the first step to restoring our security. It filters an overwhelming feeling down to something that can be addressed piecemeal. It gives an account of what we’re facing and what’s on our side.There’s always something on our side.

Analyze twice, address once

If you’re an overthinker like me, you’ll inevitably wonder if the ghosting was justified. I don’t support pushing the feeling aside entirely. Because we can be in the wrong. There could be a lesson for us.

My rule is to analyze once after the event. Let the anxious brain run free. Catastrophize a little. Think about what happened, how it felt…everything. All of it. Then put it down for a while and try to carry on with life. Resume whatever else I had going on. Was it work? A game I want to finish? Going somewhere? See to it.

After I’ve gotten some distance, I’ll look back again. Ideally, I’ve had a chance to get my girlfriend’s perspective or talk to a friend about it. Then I analyze again. This time with an eye toward getting facts and lessons out of it. I compare notes with my previous self to see what’s changed and what stayed the same. A journal can help a lot.

And finally, I address whatever came out of my (over)thinking. Anxiously gathered information set aside will just grow mold and become anxiety. Anxiously gathered information put to use is a path to growth. Whatever I decide to do based on my experience, l try and implement it once.

Did I do something wrong that could have been improved? Make a note of it, but don’t beat myself up. Please don’t beat yourself up. Society and our fears do it enough. We don’t need another contender throwing in as well. Was the whole experience a remark on the other person’s behavior? Mark it down, but don’t let it turn into resentment.

Healing entails making small, meaningful changes in response to pain. But healing itself shouldn’t be a burden that we bear anew.

Live a little braver and smarter

The last step is actually the easiest. And it should be, because we deserve a reward for all the thinking and stressing we did.

It’s to keep living.

That whole process of coming back from being ghosted isn’t just about social skills or dating etiquette. I know nothing about social skills. When I got my autism assessment, I told my psychologist that, “I feel like I learned my social skills from a book that was written by someone who learned their social skills from a book.” She wrote that in her report.

This isn’t about social skills, because I don’t think being ghosted is about our social skills. It’s about coming back from being hurt and feeling less-than someone else. The process I outlined is a conversation with ourselves. The one we neurodivergents need to anchor us to reality again. In the absence of supportive others, we have to do it ourselves.

We sometimes have to trust our own judgements and assessments of a situation. We need to reach good conclusions while tempering our anxiety spirals and resentment. We don’t deserve to be ghosted, but we also don’t deserve to tailspin when it happens. So when that horrible fact of modern dating does happen, we need to reestablish our sense of trust and security.

To take the anchor metaphor to its conclusion: We can’t prevent someone from cutting our anchor chain. But we can drift back to safety and venture out again when we’re ready.

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Summer Tao

Summer Tao is a South Africa based writer. She has a fondness for queer relationships, sexuality and news. Her love for plush cats, and video games is only exceeded by the joy of being her bright, transgender self

Summer has written 36 articles for us.

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