You Need Help: Was I Ghosted Or Am I Their Backup?

Q:

I was ghosted by someone I really liked after hooking up a few times. While we hooked up pre-pandemic, the ghosting took place a few weeks after things started opening up where I lived. A classic ‘Hey, wanna get a socially distant drink?’ and no response.

A few months later I sent them a message asking for clarification on why they dropped off. They dodged the question. I clarified again in a super kind way and never got a response. The other day, a friend found out they got into a quarantine relationship, which sort of matches up timeline wise to when they stopped responding.

I’m having a lot of trouble fathoming why someone does this (especially when given an out)? Why couldn’t they say they weren’t interested or couldn’t date right now? Are they trying to keep me around for backup? Because it would have saved me a lot of pain to just tell me straight up.

A:

Before I rant about how ghosting is selfish and mean, let’s talk about what “ghosting” actually is. Cutting off contact with an abusive partner is not ghosting. Phasing out of a casual Tinder dialogue is not ghosting. I love this definition from Autostraddle writer Vanessa Friedman: ghosting “is defined by connecting with someone, delivering the impression you would like to connect with them again in some way, and then disappearing. Bonus points if the other person is actively trying to get in touch with you or engage in direct communication, and you ignore them!” Thanks, Vanessa!

This person’s behavior definitively falls in the category of “ghosting.” They even scored Vanessa’s ghosting bonus points for ignoring your direct request for a date (twice!). It’s possible that they would have pulled this move at any point in history, but it feels important to acknowledge that the pandemic has made ghosting easier for those who might otherwise act like mortals. When we’re mostly confined to our homes, we’re less likely to run into the one night stands and lowercase ‘r’ relationships that would otherwise haunt us at the gay bar. You know how veil between worlds is thinnest on Halloween? The stakes for ghosting are lowest during a global pandemic. Boo.

In its true form, the act of ghosting is always insensitive. Of course, you don’t know this person’s whole story. Sometimes we’re not our best selves when we’re in crisis, and there are plenty of opportunities to be in crisis right now. Maybe they just lost their job. Maybe their mental health has taken a hit from all of the isolation. Maybe they have COVID-19 or they’re caring for someone else with the virus. There’s a chance that they’re going through something that renders them utterly unable to deal, so if you’d like to maintain a little compassion for them, keep that possibility in mind.

ADVERTISEMENT

Now that I have all the disclaimers and the “maybes” out of the way, here’s the assumption I’m making based on the information you provided: it sounds like this person ghosted you because they 1.) knew they could get away with it, and 2.) they lack adult communication skills. This person entered into what I’m assuming is a monogamous relationship and didn’t feel comfortable tying up the loose ends of former hookups, even when those former suitors reached out. Sometimes queer folks are affected by a heterosexist culture that tells us we’re “owned” once we’re in a relationship and we absolutely cannot speak to our exes or former hookups ever again, so some of those feelings might be at play for your ghoster. There’s also a strong possibility that they just don’t know how to say, “I really enjoyed our time together, but I don’t think we’re a good match,” so they’ve chosen to say nothing at all. That sucks.

If this person wanted you as their “backup,” they would still be in touch. Not responding to a direct request for a date sends a clear message — they’re not interested anymore. Sure, there’s still a chance that they’ll come back around and apologize, but waiting around for an explanation will only cause you more pain. So let it go. You can come up with your own theories all day, but you still have no idea what’s going on in this person’s life. You have to accept that you might never get the closure you deserve. It’s hard, but if you can move past it, you’ll show yourself that you’re more evolved than this ghoster could ever hope to be.

“Letting it go” is easier said than done, especially right now. Given the pandemic and the fast-approaching winter, tis the season for ruminating. If you need help getting out of your head and focusing on you, check out Shelli Nicole’s new column “Come Vibe With Me” for cozy feels and chill playlists. I also highly recommend “Breakups and Being Alone 101: The Autostraddle Guide To Life After Love.” Getting over getting ghosted isn’t exactly the same as getting over a breakup, but some of the same advice applies.


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.

Malic White is a Chicago-based writer, comedian and actor. Follow Malic on Twitter and find upcoming shows on Malic's website.

Malic has written 39 articles for us.

4 Comments

  1. Something I’ve been learning about lately that might also be playing into this is that sometimes when people have had traumatic childhood experiences where saying no / expressing boundaries was either ignored or actually dangerous, they develop a pattern of avoidance out of self-preservation. As someone who generally has no trouble communicating my boundaries and has often felt frustrated when other people do, the awareness of this pattern has helped me have more compassion for them and be less inclined to take their perceived flakiness personally.

  2. I’m being ghosted by somebody I had been communicating with for over 7 months. It really sucks. Nothing says “you don’t matter” like just being ignored and forgotten. At least have enough respect for the other person to be an adult.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!