Have you ever been ghosted? I don’t mean have you ever come face to face with a vanishing figure in an abandoned Victorian mansion after dark? I’m talking about the act of being summarily dropped after being filled with hope by someone you met in person or on social media.
Apparently, it can happen in all pockets of life—employers interviewing job seekers, for one. Literary agents can be great ghosters, as can be lovers.
Of course, people wonder why people ghost. Interviewers who tell a prospective employee she’ll be in touch may have had a change of plans or see it as a matter of control or maybe just want to avoid dealing with an unpleasantry such a decision may engender.
In the case of literary agents, they’re busy, they tell us. “We’ll only be in touch if we’re interested.”
That seems to be the case with romantic partners, too. In a world that thrives on the easy, the accessible, the avoidance of unwanted emotions or uncomfortable confrontation, ghosting is as easy as clicking a “Unfollow” button on Twitter.
I’ve been ghosted lately by book agents. Some tell me on their websites, in so many words, they’ll be ghosting me unless they like what they see in my submission. Is this easier than getting the outright rejection?
I prefer the latter. In relationship terms, it’s the boyfriend who says, “Look, we’ve had some fun. You’re a great girl, but it’s not working long term. I want someone who will make a lot of money and support me for the foreseeable future.”
OK, it’s not that obvious—or cynical. But there are some parallels.
Rejection hurts. But it’s better than being led on. Eddie Murphy once said that all of life’s lessons could be found within the lyrics of Motown songs. The cruel pattern of keeping someone romantically hanging on was outlined in The Supremes’ song by the same title, proving true at least one instance of Murphy’s contention.
Lack of a resolution might be part of the Zeigarnik effect, according to a recent article in “Psychology Today” written by Zoe Chance. Such a phenomenon explains why “your mind keeps ruminating even though there’s nothing to figure out,” which, in the process, uses up precious “mental bandwidth.”
When literary agents ghost us, we’re too often left hoping for a deal when, in fact, there’s nothing to hope for. And that’s time—and spirit—wasted. That’s why the outright rejection is preferable. It also explains why some agents include a stock response at the end of form letters about their opinions being subjective, so dashed aspirants needn’t take their pass as a commentary on the work submitted.
It may not entirely wipe out the pain of rejection, but it does serve to balm the recipient’s battered ego.
As for the ghosting done by lovers, that’s a different type of ditching. In a world teeming with unresolved endings by way of the shape-shifting pandemic, consequence-free graft by politicians, unaddressed school shootings, and general lack of standards, getting ghosted is just one more hurt in a world full of them. It makes people feel vulnerable and, as a result, less likely to connect with other human beings in the future.
Perhaps lovers with a predilection toward ghosting ought to take a tip from those literary agents who send rejection letters complete with a cushioning last line. Address the desire to end it, but don’t make it sound like it was a personal failing on the part of the rejected one. Leave them with their dignity intact.
Otherwise, the “unhope,” to quote Thomas Hardy, for something, anything, feeds on itself, causing more grief, more unhappiness because an ending is never realized.
For this reason, I’ve never been one to secretly yearn for any parting words from ghosting ex-boyfriends, longing for some sort of closure that was never in the cards. Even if I had run into my “Hubbell” at the end of the movie, I knew he’d run back to his bride, to his life with her. I, on the other hand, would be between two worlds, both which came with conditions. That was unacceptable.
I remember that for a time, my memories were nothing but residual hauntings. Besides the restaurants and movie theaters, there were bridges and long stretches of highway, and the spot in front of his house where our conversations played over and over, relentlessly stuck. Like confined spirits, these memories needed to be released, allowed to dissipate or shift into an unknown, but liberating, phase.
In a perfect poem about endings, Thomas Hardy wrote, “The smile on your mouth was
the deadest thing alive enough to have strength to die.” Rather unmitigated in its truth, certainly.
No illusion. No ambiguity. But once that truth is acknowledged, healing can begin and
new opportunities pursued. But not until.
Ghosting is the coward’s way out. Instead, potential ghosters in all walks of life should be upfront, but kind, even remorseful that a better ending wasn’t meant to be.
Or may they be forever haunted by The Supremes’ musical entreaty, playing over and over in their heads: “Set me free, why don’t you, Babe?”