I met a man on Tinder about a year ago, and we were unable to meet in person for over a month due to scheduling issues. In that time, we texted everyday for hours and when we were finally able to meet in person, I felt an intense connection with him. We met once more after that and hooked up (no sex, just kissing, I wanted to move a little slower). After that, he barely spoke to me but when asked, said he was still interested.
He finally ghosted for good in March, and I was so incredibly disappointed and sad. It’s now November and I’m still upset about him, and I feel silly for my inability to move on. I’m really trying. I got rid of him on social media, deleted our texts, and got rid of his contact in my phone, but I can’t stop thinking about why he suddenly lost interest or about what I did wrong.
These thoughts are making it incredibly hard to try to connect to other people and it really does seem absurd to still be thinking about someone that I met in person twice. Advice?
— Super Spooked
Rejection in all of its forms — whether it’s harsh, outright, gradual, or even kind and loving — stirs up all kinds of deep-seated fears in us. Being ghosted, dumped, ignored, or just not clicking with another person, while seemingly objectively benign, can actually poke all kinds of historical, imbedded sore spots that everyone has lurking somewhere: What did I do? Did I kiss him wrong? Text him wrong? OMG am I just wrong??
Ten years as a sex-advice giver and just a few years as a therapist and I can tell you what I’ve discovered to be true: shame is a real motherfucker.
Without shame we start losing our ability to empathize, to regulate what we say and do, or to genuinely connect with the shared human experience. Shame has become an important part of the human psyche. But unchecked, it can also become an unuseful, self-harmful beast.
As adults, our sexual and romantic relationships, and even our friendships, become the primary and most important relationships in our lives. The people we connect to and share vulnerability with the most become the same people who help us feel validated, nurtured, protected, and witnessed as important hooman beans in the big, big world. You know who did that before you could make adult choices about who you deeply connect with? Your parents, guardians, and/or caregivers (for better, worse, or just meh).
Oftentimes when something comes up in our adult relationships that makes us feel icky, shameful, childish, or as you say “silly,” it’s typically because whatever happened is smashing one of those originally-installed relational buttons from a younger, more silly time in your life.
Something that smashes and then lingers for this long isn’t really about Tinder, or social media, or even about some dude who’s not self-assured enough to tell you what he actually wants — this is likely something that goes back further than last March.
Ugh, digging that far and that hard can be daunting work — work that, sure, may be easier to avoid by doing things like deleting texts, but that’s not necessarily what’s effective here.
Right now you’re trimming leaves on this little shame tree and wondering why that stinker won’t die. Leaves just grow back. What you gotta do is get that bad boy by the roots and pull. If you want to address what’s actually got your goat enough to have you thinking about what I can only assume was a lackluster-kisser-of-a-ghoster for a full year, think about what this situation reminds you of.
Does he remind you of someone? Does being ghosted remind you of something? Is there a theme between this Tinder interaction and other events? Common themes that smash buttons for folks include abandonment, not being “enough,” being judged, or all kinds of things worth unpacking about sexual self-worth and expression.
However you decide to tackle this ghosting-fertilized shame tree, be nice to yourself and move at your own pace. There’s certainly no need to be unkind with ourselves just because somebody else was.
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.