Reflections on modern dating and ghosting
PHOTOS AND WORDS BY : JENNA PUTNAM
It is morning and I’m playing guitar on his couch, singing a little tune as he looks at me. The oppressive light of downtown pours in through his large windows. He makes us coffee, his hair still wet from the shower.
“You should come over again tonight after work. We can play guitar and paint and watch a movie.”
We spend another night and morning together. As he’s driving me home, we talk about our favorite hidden gems of the city…the places we find sanctuary amongst L.A.’s ever-present chaos. Mine is Union Station and his a used bookstore in Burbank.
“I’ll take you there sometime,” he says, smiling as he takes my hand. At the art store he buys me a shiny gold pencil with Japanese scripture carved on the outside. I’ve got this in the fucking bag.
A week or so passes and we casually text once or twice. I ask if he wants to take an adventurous trip to the bookstore and he explains to me that he has a deadline for a painting and plans with his parents–the list goes on–and eventually the sporadic texts trickle into radio silence.
This tactic, referred to as simmering, is just one of the many bullshit forms of rejection we deal with as singles. Psychotherapist and author Esther Perel calls this “stable ambiguity”, a form of evasion which “cultivates the comfort and the consistency of being in a relationship without having to engage in the full commitment and the loss of freedom that may come with the relationship…it remains undefined.”
Haunting: when they ghost you but still follow you on insta and are the first to watch all your stories.
Being left in the dark causes us to rack our brains and over-analyze our situations. Where did we go wrong? Did we come on too strong? Were we not dynamite in bed? The it’s not you it’s me mentality doesn’t exist because we were simply left with a fade-out, a blank page, a lack of closure. Nothing went wrong, yet nothing escalated.
With social media and dating apps at our discretion, faces are constantly populating our screens, we are constantly scrolling, constantly swiping left or right, constantly being reminded that something better is just around the corner. We are infatuated with people’s personas, with the idea of somebody. We live in the age of consumerism, where it is easier than ever to go to bed with strangers, easier than ever to throw our virtues out the window, easier than ever to settle.
However we must ask ourselves…is this really a new dilemma or have we been here all along?
In Delta of Venus, one of Anaïs Nin’s famed collections of erotica, she writes a story about a young woman named Elena, who is visiting Paris for the first time. Elena falls for a mysterious French stranger named Pierre, who, after their week long love affair disappears to Geneva to re-unite with his wife and children. Just when Elena finally finds the strength to move on, she receives a letter from him out of the blue, begging her to come back into his life. This was written in the 1940s.
An era more relatable and closer in proximity would be the 90s or early 2000s, where technology was present but didn’t control our lives. Social media was just being shot out of the womb, the apocalypse was dancing faintly in the distance, everything felt fresh and exciting. Dawson’s Creek and internet porn awakened our sexual desires, Kurt and Courtney were King and Queen, and slambooks destroyed our fragile egos. We would sit around and wait for a phone call from our lovers, we would hear their voice on the other line, their breath in the receiver. Things were direct, yet there was a resplendent sense of mystery. Now we rely on texts, and if we don’t get a response within an hour, we assume the person has either died or decided to ignore us for eternity. Which is pretty much the same thing.
Ouch, digital age, that is my heart you are fucking with.
Even before the age of ghosting, cowardly dating tactics still existed with equally ridiculous names. I recently went to dinner with a man who told me about a time he’d been catfished. He dated a woman in New York for a year and a half whom he’d never actually met. They’d talk for hours on the phone and online…she was always there for him when he needed her, always there to console, to inspire, to give false hope. But when it came down to face time, she always found a way to disappear.
Why is it that we are so absolutely terrified of commitment?
Maybe we’re just terrified of ourselves. Perel also explains that in former generations, the thought of being in a relationship didn’t mean loss of freedom or autonomy, it meant expansion of self. These days, we think we must first become the best versions of ourselves before we could even begin to think about being in a serious relationship. We are obsessed with perfectionism. Yet, it is the trials and tribulations of a relationship, the mistakes and the lessons learned, that bring us closer to perhaps what we are really seeking…truth.
We need to move towards a wider acceptance of being happy with ourselves, our careers, and whatever else makes you feel whole on your terms.
It isn’t the fault of dating apps, or social media, or our parents divorcing, or failed sexual escapades…it is that we are simply searching in the wrong place. We convince ourselves that the wrong people are right for us, perhaps in a vicarious attempt to fill what we think we’re missing. We waste our time chasing after people who are unavailable, repeating the same mistakes and expecting different outcomes.
The same problems have always existed throughout time, they are just more immediate now. We must stop selling ourselves short, and instead of trying to perfect ourselves, we must learn to accept ourselves for who we really are. As Carrie Bradshaw once said, “The most exciting, challenging, and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you find someone to love the you you love, well that’s just fabulous.”