Getting ghosted is such a prevailing phenomenon that it’s now got its own little shorthand. I used to think the term carried a little more nuance than it actually does (I was thinking of ‘haunting’, where someone stops replying to someone but keeps interacting superficially, through liking posts etc), but so we’re all on the same page, ghosting is basically where you go cold on someone, typically in the context of an exchange that was previously moving in some kind of direction. You mostly hear it used in terms of dating, but it applies to basically any flavour of prolonged human interaction.
Here’s something you might not want to hear: nobody owes your their response.
This idea needs to be a lot more widespread in a time where communication has never been so easy, yet never been so hard. I’m old enough to remember a time where the barrier to sending a message (on the phone, through dial up, a letter) was much higher, so people as a general rule of thumb didn’t bother unless they had something worthwhile to say. Now, you can send a thousand messages in a day with relative ease, and the culture knows it too.
The mental energy that needs to be expended in decoding the value of a given communication is, in itself, fairly low intensity. But the additive effect over time is that it becomes calcified and stubborn, and we put up walls against the prospect of endless communication. The beautiful thing about a phone call was that it ended. A letter had a sign-off. These mediums of communication, while of course having analogs in the contemporary world, felt fundamentally different, largely because they cost money to use and therefore everybody had a shared understanding of their value (anyone around my age no doubt has that distinct memory of getting bollocked by their parents for running up a huge phone bill). There’s something quite intimidating about the instant and endless accessibility of messenger or whatsapp or even texts there days, and not everybody wants to opt in all the time.
Nobody owes you their response.
It can ache when you send something out into the world and the intended recipient chooses not to respond, but unfortunately your pain does not trump their autonomy. A better allocation of your time would be to, instead of ruminating on why they didn’t text back, or why that business email got ignored, or why your pal bailed on you once again, ask yourself why these ‘rejections’ (in quotes because that may not even be the right word, depending on how you frame the situation) sting so much in the first place.
If you feel entitled to someone’s attention, chances are it’s because that attention is serving as a proxy for some insecurity. The spurned love interest reactivates every other romantic disappointment (I nearly wrote failure but stopped; I don’t think we ever fail in our love lives, we only learn), the forgotten email ignites failures in the workplace, the flaky friend points to the fact you’re not their priority and reminds you of all the times you were left out growing up.
This is only one interpretation of the story. The power to change the narrative, to reframe the context, is entirely up to you.
‘But I know the correct narrative,’ your brains says to you, before proceeding to go and fetch a multitude of stories from your developmental years to prove its point. ‘You’re not allowed to change the narrative, because that would be lying given the overwhelming amount of evidence we’ve accrued over the years that prove the story I’ve written for you is undoubtedly a documentary, not a fiction.’
Your brain is of course right, but it’s not 100% right. It’s done what brains do all day, every day - cherrypicked the information.
Brains of course have to do this, it’s an evolutionary imperative to be selective in the face of literally hundreds of thousands of stimulus inputs a day. It’s just impossible to process everything equally and accurately, which would be the only way to ever have a ‘true’ view of the world.
Your brain’s journalistic bias in reporting the story of ‘you’ is so deep-seated, so rooted in identity that it can feel patently impossible to ever look at an alternate viewpoint. Part of the power of this internal narrative is that we have this very clever way of attributing what we know of ourselves to what feels like a very profound and accurate view of how we’re perceived by others. Again, from an evolutionary perspective this makes a lot of sense, as having an acute perspective of how we were viewed by our community conferred a powerful survival advantage in that it allowed us to make sure we didn’t get booted out of it.
The problem is that this is almost always an approximation. Humans do and say things for very complicated reasons, and often that reason is for no reason at all. Children and young adults especially do things purely on impulse, without thinking or without weighing up the consequences of their behaviour, which unfortunately impacts all the other children and young adults that are developing identities in tandem.
Getting left out of a friendship group can have a devastating impact, particular if that individual finds it happens frequently (in all likelihood, they’re actively seeking out friendship groups that have a high propensity to exclude based on the (largely subconscious) perception that getting accepted into such a selective group will alleviate the pain of previous exclusions), leaving that person with a tendency to feel like, no matter where they are or what they’re doing, they’re always in danger of getting the boot. Their brains have been shaped to cherrypick every single data point that can be classed as rejection, and to bestow such data points with a primacy that is far above and beyond what could ever be considered a reasonable amount of weight to ascribe to something as small as a single interaction.
Swinging this ungracefully back around to the initial point, you can change the narrative that frames a given person’s choice (this is a key word, choice) to not reply to you. The way I do it? Okay, here’s what I tell myself:
‘I’ve reached out to somebody with something I feel is worth their time. If they don’t reply, that’s okay: it wasn’t for them, at least not at the time when I said it. Chances are, I’ve overestimated my importance in their lives at that point, which isn’t to say I’m not valuable, because my words are not me. Sure, there’s a chance that they ignored me because they didn’t think I was worth their time, but outside of working to make sure I’m being the most consistent person I can be, that’s largely outside of my control. I can appreciate that I am not entitled to anybody’s attention just like nobody is entitled to mine, and if somebody chooses to keep what I’ve said without reciprocating, it’s more important to me that they feel they can exercise that right than it is for them to reply for the sake of replying.
Nobody owes me their response.’
This is of course an epic mantra to be repeating every single time I get the snub, but here’s the beauty: I very rarely dwell on the fact I’ve not received a reply, because once I’ve sent a message I pretty much forget about it until the time comes that more action is required on my part. It’s very hard to ruminate on being ignored when you can’t even remember who’s ignoring you!
And as an aside, if you ever feel like the collection of unreturned messages is somehow an indictment of how interesting you are as a person (‘oh, I only get ignored because I’m not worth talking to’), then you really have two options (aside from simply accepting it and carrying on with your day as you would): finding a different set of people to whom your message is more likely to resonate, or working on yourself to become the kind of person who’s worth talking to. This second part might sound harsh, but it’s really more about starting from an understanding that you have inherent worth as a human being, and then building from there to develop how you portray yourself in a way that is considerate, respectful and compassionate.
None of this requires you to be nice, and a huge amount of situations very much compel you not to be nice, but you can always be kind.
Have a bloody lovely day.
If you find my work valuable, or you just really like my taste in music, then you can pay what you feel to support me on this journey. That's really all there is to it! Your support means I can focus more energy in this space, and continue the psychodynamic odyssey. All support is appreciated equally & emphatically
About the curator - Matt Jenko
Hi my name is Matt, but my friends call me Matt. I’m on the wrong side of 29 (damn I hate it every time I have to update that number), definitely feeling my age, but never felt happier and more content than I do at this point in my life. I’ve been through some rocky patches (who hasn’t) and lived to tell the tale, and boy do I gots some stories.
When I’m not giving opinions absolutely nobody asked for, I’m doing a worldbuilding with my passion project, vivaellipsis. If you like offbeat nonsense delivered through immersive escapism, then go and get involved. Or don’t, I’m not telling you what to do. I’m not yer boss.
I’m a simple man with simple interests. I like Yorkshire tea, the sound of rain on the window, and a bloody good story.
9 August 2021
What today’s insight has granted me is the knowledge that if you don’t check in on yourself, you’ll lose touch with yourself. You’ll become unfamiliar with each other, and it feels very strange. I honestly think this is what it means to feel out of sorts.
27 May 2021
The cinematic score to your psychological journey with Matt Jenko. Featuring artists like: Bonobo • Yotto • Emancipator • CamelPhat • ODESZA • Carpenter Brut • Tinlicker • Four Tet • Jacques Greene • Tchami • RÜFÜS DU SOL