There are people in the world who remain friends with their exes, and I've often pondered the possibility that they are more mature than me, a habitual bridge-burner. (Whenever one of my friends decides she’s entirely ready to cut someone out of her life, she calls it a "classic Davidian move.")
It's not like my relationships end badly; I just find it easier to get over people by entering a period of no contact. Even if a relationship was good, if it's ultimately not right for me, I simply cannot dwell. I am a disciple of the school of "he’s just not that into you." If someone doesn't make an effort to be with me, I understand that they don't want to be with me—period, point blank. Sure, I could perform mental gymnastics and create excuses for them (he's got a lot of work, she's going through a tough time right now), but I've found that this approach is not worth the effort. If these extended hypothetical circumstances were true, they'd find a way to communicate them to me if I was on their mind. And if I'm not on their mind, it's not an indictment on either of us—just a cue that my energy would be better spent elsewhere.
My direct approaches to dating and communication inform my extreme skepticism of ghosting, though I suspect my stance on the subject has softened recently. Only a few years ago, I was disgusted by ghosting ("I'm a woman, not a baby—you can just tell me no. I guarantee I will get over it."), but these days I see People Who Ghost as people whose lives simply operate on a totally different compass than mine, like men who go to the park to slackline or women who throw "same penis forever" bachelorette parties.
The machinations of a ghost may always be foreign to me, but I'm constantly baffled by one particular behavior that’s become increasingly popular, to the extent that it's garnered a supernatural name of its own ("haunting"). The practice of haunting occurs when someone ceases contact but continues to follow you on social media, engaging in deeply confounding behavior such as watching your Instagram stories. But I wasn't just being haunted by my ghosts because they were acting more like poltergeists, disrupting my day and making their presence known with comments or likes.
Why would anyone do this? The question burned inside me, its flames fanned every time I’d log onto Instagram and see some foolish ghost had replied to my innocuous story with "lmao." I needed to know. I began my investigation by asking friends. Most hypothesized that ghosting is "inactive" while unfollowing someone is "active"—that not responding to someone requires the same amount of effort as staying connected with them on social media, which is to say none.
"Guys usually ghost because we’re putting our romantic attention elsewhere but are too weak to just say that we're, for example, getting back with our ex or are getting more serious about someone else we were seeing," said my friend Donovan. "We continue to follow just in case our main prospect doesn't work out. That's when we end up sending you a 'Happy Thanksgiving' text or be like, 'Hey stranger.'" Donovan has definitely hit on something with his conclusion—and we've all got the sad Christmas-time texts to prove it—but I needed to know more. Thus, I set out to ask the people who ghosted me why they still followed my accounts.
All of my ghosts' names have been changed to members of NSYNC.
I met Joey when I was 21 and he was around 34 (reader, I know). We went on a few dates and eventually fizzled out. I moved to a different city and forgot all about him, but he continued to send me occasional dirty emails, which I left unanswered. Eventually, he started following me on Twitter. When I didn’t follow him back, he unfollowed me but for some reason continued to send me annual emails reminiscing about the times we fucked. I emailed him recently to ask why he went through all this effort when what we actually had was extremely one-sided (he’s the one who initially stopped responding to me!), very short-lived, and a long-ass time ago.
I met Justin when I was 23 and he was maybe 27 or 28. Again, our chemistry fizzled out after a few hangs and I moved to a new state, and approximately a year later, he friended me on Facebook and followed me on Twitter and Instagram. When I reached out to him, I learned that Justin started following me when he was in a monogamous relationship that made him unhappy. At the time, he’d contemplated trying to cheat on his girlfriend with me, but didn’t attempt anything. Today, Justin says he is in a happy relationship with a woman he wouldn’t cheat on, and simply follows me because he thinks I’m a nice person.
"I always regretted not spending more time with you when I had the chance. But hey, now we can be friends," he told me. Cool.
Perhaps this is because I’ve dated fewer women than men, but I’ve never been straight-up ghosted by a woman. I met JC on Tinder around two years ago, and after a couple months of seeing each other, she told me she was moving across the country. We stopped texting after what I believed to be her moving date, but a few months later she started following me on Instagram. When I visited her page, I learned that she had not moved across the country but was in fact, still right here in Brooklyn.
When I reached out to JC, she apologized for her behavior but didn’t consider it ghosting. "Honestly, I just thought it would be easier to wipe the whole slate of my life clean and didn’t really think about the individual people affected." She said that she’d made the decision to follow me on Instagram after she found a sweater I’d left at her apartment, which made her think of me.
Lance and I met on a dating app when we were both around 24 and saw each other for a few months. From what I recall, I was actually very into him and we even went on real dates—and then he stopped responding to my messages. I eventually moved to a new city and around a year later, he started following me on Instagram. When I asked him about it, Lance confirmed Donovan’s theory about ghosting:
Like both Joey and Justin before him, Lance also admitted that he started following me on social when he felt bogged down in a monogamous relationship.
He added that following and flirting with me seemed more harmless than striking up a conversation with someone new. And he also offered the most convincing argument for continuing to follow me on social media, saying that he liked to watch videos and see pictures of my cat.
Chris and I met at a networking event about a year-and-a-half ago and went out a couple of times, during which he started following me on Instagram. Eventually, he stopped responding to my texts but continued to like my pictures—even leaving "😍" comments (which I found extremely confusing). When I asked him why he did this, he responded immediately, for once.
"Because I’m trash," he said, refusing to clarify further.