Do you ever meet someone and have a generally good time — until they do something just so unbelievable that you think to yourself, “Wow, I’m gonna tell my therapist all about this person”?
Well, I have. And unfortunately for me, that person was my ex. During a particularly nasty breakup, she texted me to meet her at a café to pick up my stuff. Once we’d both sat down and danced awkwardly around the rainbow elephant in the room, she proceeded to ambush me with a three-hour argument about why we should get back together.
This rant came complete with handwritten letters, tears, insults, a gift, more tears, me sitting in silence looking like that one GIF of the white man blinking in confusion, and more tears. I finally made a half-assed excuse so that I could leave. Three hours later, she called me. She cried about how I had lied to her about ever loving her, saying I was a bitch for not wanting to get back together with her.
Finally, after a few more hours, I’d had enough. I was tired, angry and frustrated with myself for not having stood up to her sooner. I ended the call and instantly felt a wave of relief. I blocked her number; I unfollowed her social media accounts. I wasn’t about to lie there passively and just take all the shit she was projecting on me. I’d tried everything else. The only option left was ghosting.
Yes, I said it — I ghosted her. The term “ghosting” originated sometime around 2015, referring specifically to cutting off contact with someone, whether by slowly weaning off responding or by suddenly not responding at all. Now, ghosting is commonly regarded in a negative light — an indication of someone being a flake or a tease.
But so what? Sure, this virtual cold shoulder can seem rude. But sometimes, it’s the only option left to preserve your own emotional space. Too often, women are guilted into responding to inappropriate and unwanted advances because it’s considered rude not to. There’s a taboo around ignoring any and all messages, regardless of the circumstances or people involved.
After I ghosted my ex, I learned that ghosting is sometimes necessary. But there is often a limbo in which the person you are talking to isn’t rude enough to warrant ghosting but still isn’t someone you want to keep in your life. At times like these, being straightforward about why you’re cutting off contact can also be the kind thing to do.
I realized this when a woman who was interested in me continuously DMed me. I felt guilty about not reciprocating her interest, and part of me liked the attention, so I kept responding. This dragged out for a few months, both of us aware that something was off but neither of us willing to be the first one to speak up about it. She felt shitty; I felt shitty. Finally, she told me: “I wish you had just told me you weren’t interested from the beginning. Then we wouldn’t have both wasted our time for this long.”
If I’d eaten my shit sandwich and been straightforward at the start, we wouldn’t have been stuck in this trap of our own making. I realized that not only can I cut off contact, but, when it’s necessary, I should.
Cue a one-night stand a few years later with a new girl. We had some pretty good sex, but she ended the night with a shitty joke about my sexuality that I didn’t want to put up with. So I ghosted her, no questions asked. Instead of responding to her texts trying to explain the joke, I blocked her number. We were still strangers; just because we’d had sex didn’t mean she had a right to my life and emotional space.
Then she DMed me on Instagram, again trying to explain the joke. So I blocked her there. A few weeks later, she messaged me from a new number, telling me to forget it and that she’d make dinner and make it up to me. I blocked her again. A month after that, she messaged me from a different Instagram account, calling me insecure and saying that I was overcompensating. I reported her and blocked her new account.
Cutting off contact with people can be hard. In some situations, it can feel cold, or like it’s more effort than it’s worth. But when you feel this way, it’s probably because ghosting isn’t necessary. These are the times when you should just tell the other person that you’re not feeling it and thank them for their time. Break it off, Marie Kondo style: “I’m grateful for the good times we spent together, but (you don’t spark joy in me) it’s not working for me. I’m breaking it off.” Breaking off contact with people doesn’t have to be rude on your part if you don’t want it to be. As long as you’re taking care of yourself, it doesn’t matter how you do it.
But sometimes, for my mental health, ghosting really is the only option. Deep down, you know which way is best for you. Regardless of which option you decide, don’t be afraid to cut off people in your life who don’t make you happy. Though it may feel insensitive at first, you always have the right to decide who to respond to.
Astrid Liu writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact her at [email protected].