Reader question: “How do you get over someone who just ghosts you? We were seeing each other for eight months, getting close, going out, doing things together — and then all of a sudden *poof* he was gone. I tried reaching out to him via text, phone calls, and even email. No explanation, no signs, nothing. This happened three months ago, and I am still grappling with what happened. I know this is a sign that he is not the right person for me, but how do you just let things go when you don’t know what happened?”
One of ugliest modern dating phenomena is ghosting, which just got a nod in a recent New York Times Modern Love column for how pervasive and depressing it has become.
Some say this romantic exit is as old as time, but with the interconnectedness of modern life the act of ghosting stings that much more. When you’re texting all the time, liking Instagram photos, stalking Facebook pages, and sending Snapchats, it’s a special kind of torture when a romantic prospect or partner just vanishes.
Out of the blue, this person stops responding to texts — oftentimes you can even still see if they’ve read something you’ve sent. They don’t pick up the phone or answer emails. Sometimes they delete all traces of you from social media. They’re gone, and you never get an explanation. It’s unkind. It’s cowardly. It’s all too common.
Whether you’re dating for the first time as a full-fledged adult or reentering the dating pool after a breakup or divorce, you might be shocked to find ghosting has become the breakup method of choice for an alarming number of people. I’ve seen ghosters pull their shtick years into a relationship. Yes, it sucks when that person leaves a whole bunch of questions in their wake. But this column is not about the act of ghosting itself, or the reasons why. We’re here to talk about how to move on from this specific kind of breakup — the one in which there’s no final word, no parting embrace, and no closure.
Instead of ruminating on what happened and why they left, I want you to reframe the ghosting in your mind. Here’s how to do that.
What do you want to know? How would knowing the answers solve the problems with the relationship?
If you’ve been ghosted, you might start dwelling on the following questions: Did I do something wrong? Why did he leave? Did she meet someone else? Were there problems I just plain missed? Am I not enough? I get it. When there’s absolutely no breakup conversation, you feel lost and confused — not to mention disoriented — because it happens so suddenly.
However, I want you to look at this situation a different way, in the form of what information you did receive. First, if the relationship was so fragile that some tiny thing you did — a minor fight, a canceled date, etc. — scared the person away without a word, then it was never going to last anyway. Second, someone who exits a relationship by way of ghosting probably doesn’t have the qualities of character you want in a partner anyway. Third, even when breakups happen face-to-face, you often don’t get the exact answers anyway — think of all the lines that are pulled, like, “I’m not commitment material,” or, “It’s not you, it’s me.”
Breakups all have the same end result: You split and move on separately. Ghosting is no different. Don’t forget that.
Find your emotional outlet
Even if the person wasn’t worthy, I’m not expecting you to have no emotions regarding a ghosting episode. I expect you to cycle through confusion when it’s starting, frustration when you realize what’s happening, and then finally hurt and anger when you’ve accepted this relationship’s fate. Feel those feelings, reader. You have every right to.
Like I said: I do not consider face-to-face breakups to necessarily give you all the answers, or sufficient ones. That said, having a face-to-face breakup is a way to air your emotions and have an outlet for that final exchange of feelings. The relationship meant something; you should say goodbye, talk it out for a bit, and acknowledge that. However, you don’t need your former flame to listen in order to air those feelings. You can write them out all on your own, you can call up your mom, you can enlist your best friends for drinks — and you should.
To your emotional outlet, say exactly what you want to say to your ex. Maybe it stays forever in your journal or a note on your phone, perhaps it never leaves the table of your girls’ night dinner, or maybe you send it out into the great void that your former lover left behind (aka the unresponsive phone number or email address). Your call. Whatever feels right, do it. And then close the book.
Understand what closure is
Everyone has this idea about closure — that it’s like a gift someone gives you. But that’s not it at all. Closure is sort of an illusion; you’re always going to have lingering questions or “what ifs” about past relationships until you meet someone who shows you why it didn’t work. And that’s the beauty of closure, as it actually is: It’s something you can go get yourself.
In the immediate aftermath of the ghosting, do whatever you need to lick your wounds; self-care, frivolous fun, and take-your-mind-off-it activities should all be on the menu. But after that? You should feel forward movement in your romantic life, which you can get in a number of ways. Hit mixers, ask to be set up, go to happy hours, join a coed sports team, get on an app like Tinder or Bumble and chat, even if you don’t go on an actual date for a little while. Eventually, those sparks of excitement will come back.
Force forward motion, as soon as you feel like you can. Just, whatever you do, don’t wallow. Keep reminding yourself that the best is yet to come — and that your ghoster never deserved a grand emotional exit.
Jenna Birch is author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love (out now, from Grand Central Life & Style). Her relationship column appears on Yahoo every Monday. To ask her a question, which may appear in an upcoming post, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Yahoo” in the subject line.
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