I was recently un-ghosted.
During a mid-drink phone check at a West Village bar, I discovered a text from a random 646 number I didn't recognize. It read [DRUM ROLL PLEASE]: "On a scale from 1-10, if I tried to say 'what's up', what would the rejection level be? (10 worst)."
Scrolling through the months-old conversation above this message, it dawned on me that the text came from a man (let's call him "'Tim") with whom I went (and made) out with ONCE, almost four months earlier. Several quippy texts after that date, Tim disappeared from the face of the Earth. Until now.
It turns out, un-ghosting is now a standard dating practice. A week before my own re-haunting, I encountered three other friends who were on the receiving end of similar un-ghosting advances. Which left me to wonder, Carrie Bradshaw-style, why is un-ghosting becoming a more common occurrence? And what can we do about it? Here are my theories on the matter.
The "we're getting old and scared" theory
Here's what Tim told me when I asked him to explain his actions:
"Older = fewer options = more thoughts of the past." He's nothing if not eloquent, don't you think? Can't believe this one got away.
Sure, it was easy to ignore that pleasant man/woman who expressed initial interest in you and thus appeared "too easy" to warrant intrigue at first. But now that you're turning 30 (or something close to 30 that might as well be 30), it might be nice to be in a relationship with someone who actually likes you.
"We're getting older and getting ready to get married," agreed one wise friend. "Time to retrace your steps."
This is #adulting, right?
The "shiny things are sometimes just scraps of tinfoil" awakening
Have you heard of the "paradox of choice"? The theory, in short, explains how having more options renders a person less capable of making a decision.
Incidentally, this notion also applies to Tinder dates.
Just as you might be overwhelmed by the choices in the cereal aisle (the right answer is Reese's Puffs, every time), you may also be sabotaging yourself by exposing your eyes and libido to too many people.
As online dating has transitioned from being a fringe interest to an inevitable mainstay, many of us continue to be distracted by shiny objects; even when our current… objects are sufficiently iridescent. When the limitless options fail to hold our interest, those very stable, respectful, well-mannered humans who took us out to dinner and patiently tolerated our borderline alcoholism seem a lot more alluring than the intriguing psychopath we left them for.
"They may have had a more promising prospect, and when that prospect falls through, they go back to the person they ghosted," said one close guy friend (let's call him Steve). "[It's] a come-back-with-their-tail-between-their-legs kind of situation. They thought they had something better going, but it didn't work out."
The "it's a thing" effect
Remember when you found out "FOMO" was a thing and you suddenly felt 40,000 times less needy and neurotic, because you knew everyone else was feeling the same way?
I call this the "it's a thing" effect. And, like all the best things out there, it's a beautiful and dangerous phenomenon to get used to undesirable behavior.
Ghosting is no longer a secret, shameful act: It's been normalized and made acceptable. "I think ghosting is so in the lexicon of social interaction that people can identify it happening and understand what's happening," Steve said. Which may have a positive effect on our anxiety; but is likely to make a poor impact on our behavior. If we believe ghosting is acceptable, then by extension we can forgive other people for showing back up after completely ignoring us.
The "this would be a mature response if it weren't incredibly immature" explanation
I save this one for last, because it restores a smidgen of my wavering faith in humanity.
There's no question that online dating has popularized a fairly procedural approach to dating. First dates are for verifying true identities and sociopath status, second dates are for confirming first impressions and asking questions that wouldn't be relegated to a job interview, and third dates are for assessing whether or not said individual is actually enjoyable (or merely tolerable).
Fourth dates are the baby pandas of online dating: rarely encountered, irrationally treasured, and nurtured against all odds. The prospect of a fourth date is intimidating mainly for the impractical degree of importance we place on its occurrence. And that's why we're most at risk of someone flaking on the precipice of a fourth date. This is when we consider whether we're ready to take the plunge.
The explanation for un-ghosting, then, is that the ghoster needed some time to prepare him- or herself for what would inevitably be a more serious next step.
There are obviously better ways to "prepare oneself" than indulging in a disappearing act. But if I've learned one thing through my compulsive dating, it’' that emotional maturity is just as endangered as that aforementioned baby panda.
What do we do about it?
After canvassing friends and former flames for their thoughts on the matter, it seems there are really only four options for the un-ghosted:
Respond in order to get in the last word (MIC DROP).
Respond and give them a second chance.
Respond by asking 101 questions for an article you're writing.
It all depends on the nature of the ghost in the first place... and your capacity to forgive.
“" wouldn't be open to rekindling if I was ghosted and then brought back from the dead," said one friend of mine when asked about his likelihood to start something up again. "It would be kind of insulting."
Even so, there may be hope. Steve, ever the optimist, laid down this bit of feedback: "It sucks. But if someone who ghosted me randomly hit me up, I'd at least be willing to hear her out. Sure, ghosting hurts, but you know what hurts more? Dying alone."