Lately I’ve been in what I can best describe as a situationship; I want more and know that I have a lot to offer, but he semi-recently got out of a relationship in which his ex hurt him and he’s now scared and doesn’t want anything like that. We used to talk/text all the time. He would come over to my place at least once a week, we would sleep together, and it was pretty much a relationship without the title.
But recently he got a job in a neighboring state, and we both agreed that we would like to continue whatever it is that we have. I also made it very clear that I would be more than willing to drive the 1.5 hours to him. I enjoy his company, and I understand that his unusual work schedule is not the best for relationships, so I would be willing to drive if that meant seeing him and not even having sex.
However, ever since he moved I haven’t heard a word from him. No call, no text, nothing. And I don’t know if I should give him some time to get settled and everything, or if I should take it as a sign that he ghosted me and move on?
Dear Ghost Girl,
Love this pseudonym that you’ve chosen for yourself because you’re absolutely getting ghosted. This begs the question — what compels so many of us to hang in there even when alllll the signs are there that our partner is no longer invested?
It’s very kind of you that you’re benevolently willing to do all of the driving, adjust to fit his work schedule, extend empathy for his past pain with his ex, and lower your sexual expectations of him. And also, what has convinced you that you’re not worth at least a slight reciprocation of this effort?
One of my favorite “celebrity” relationship therapists is Esther Perel. She’s famous for her work with couples and infidelity meaning, she knows a thing or two about the hard work of break-ups. In a recent article titled Relationship Accountability (estherperel.com/relationship-accountability), she details four break-up styles: Ghosting, Icing, Simmering, and Power Parting which, are on a scale in order of least direct/brave to most direct/brave.
Ghosting, as you’re experiencing now, is a vague-yet-transparent drop-off-the-face technique while Power Parting grabs a break-up by the balls and says “This relationship has been great for XYZ reasons, but now it’s time to end it.”
The most interesting part of Perel’s commentary about break-up styles is her reflections on what our break-up style says about us. While Power Parting is often easily done by the self-assured, the other three tend to highlight within us some shadow sides of our sense of self: we’re terrified to hurt our partner so we stay; we can’t handle being lonely or sad, even temporarily, so we hang in there; we like the security of sure companionship, so we keep our honeys half-on-the-hook. The reality of a break-up, though, is that no one will come out of it unscathed.
On the flip side of these four break-up styles, are complimentary styles of how we react to being broken up with. Getting ghosted can be an odd experience because it rarely makes sense. The partner ghosting us hasn’t been direct with us, can’t stand to draw a clear boundary, and hello, we are the fuckin best person to date sooooooo what gives?
In your very first sentence, Ghost Girl, you say “I want more and know that I have a lot to offer.” What is it that you want out of a relationship, GG? Is this guy capable of providing you with that kind of partnership when he can’t even return a text? Do you need verbal confirmation that he’s not in it to win it? Or do you want to take over the driving from here and map the route that you want to take rather than the one he’s half-assedly guiding you to?
“I want more and know that I have a lot to offer.” Start with this gut instinct, GG. And let the rest fade away like a ghost if it wants to.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.