"Empowered." Alex Gets Ghosted

We all know what Grindr is, right? For those of you who might not, welcome to my Ted Talk! Grindr is a mobile app designed primarily for men seeking men, along with customized filters, basic profiles, and location-based updates. The app is undoubtedly for hooking up and, for better or for worse, it has become a key facet of many queer men's lives. Creating a profile on Grindr is almost a rite of passage as a young queer man, a signifier of sexual exploration and, more importantly, diverted attention. Grindr, like any application, is a distraction, not something with which to be too caught up in. On top of being a major distraction, Grindr is inherently creepy (as are most dating apps, let’s be honest). The app will not function properly without access to your phone's GPS, which it uses to show you who is online right now and how far away they are. This is, of course, in the pursuit of "connections" and "networking," though is clouded by the fact that you're immediately encouraged to share your body type and HIV status upon creating a profile. Long story short: the app is a lot, and in the past 4 years, I have spent more time than I'd like to admit perusing through faceless profiles. Depending on the day, I might be on Grindr to pass the time or to actively plan a date with a cute boy. No matter what, I know the app is distracting and not 100% real, so I actively attempt to steer clear more often than not. So does someone want to tell me why I messaged three boys in one night, asking them point blank why they had ghosted me? Boredom, mostly. But it proved to mean more than I expected it to, especially after all three of them responded.

Urban Dictionary's top definition of "ghosting" is as follows: "When a person cuts off all communication with their friends or the person they're dating, with zero warning or notice before hand. You'll mostly see them avoiding phone calls, social media, and avoiding them in public." I think "ghosting" and its increased popularity is the equivalent of a blazing trash fire, but I also regularly consider the very real way the practice of ghosting has been implicated in today's culture. Grindr, along with apps like Tinder and Bumble, facilitate an image seemingly built upon making connections and simplifying doing so for users, but conversely allows for an incredibly simple way to ignore, put down, and ghost people. I have ghosted people, people have ghosted me, and each time it happens, I feel slightly detached from real life. I feel detached in the sense that the person on the other end of the conversation, catfish or not, is a real living person who I have made the conscious choice to leave talking to themselves. Cultural conditioning has permitted and rationalized the habit of ghosting by making it a case of, "they'll get the hint." Real life social situations don't allow for hints like that, and communicating your feelings is better than no communication at all. So, with this in mind, I ran with my boredom. And I was surprised at what I found.

I messaged each along the same lines. In so many words, I explained that while I was over the interaction (two of the three I have never met in person), I am still a human and I am not too proud to say that I deserve a little better than to be ghosted. The varying degrees of responses surprised me. First boy, let's call him Charles, responded right away. We briefly caught up and after about ten minutes, he was implying that I take the bus (yes, take the bus at 10:30pm on a Thursday night) to his place. I politely diverted the conversation, and we exchanged farewells. Plain, simple, and weird. He's actively still hinting at wanting to "hang out"; he has yet to receive a "yes" on that question.

 

Second boy, let's call him Adam, took a different turn. Upon reading my messages, he immediately replied with, "Oh my god you're such a good guy, I'm sorry," and "Oh my god I feel so bad." I quickly deleted my knee-jerk response ("uh well yea lol *shrugging emoji*") and entertained the apologies. Without further questions, he began to fully explain what had happened, and why he ghosted me on the day we had planned to hang out. He talked about recently getting over an ex, and the overwhelming feeling of putting himself out there once more. He was overwhelmed by the initial conversation, and upon discussing it with him further, I could understand where he was coming from completely. He apologized for ghosting me and gave me his number. No matter what happens there, though, I'm grateful for his ability to share his reason with me.

Last, but not least, the boy who I had actually met in person. In real life! Crazy, right? Let's call him Chris. When Chris ghosted me, it genuinely came as a shock, and emotionally I was a little knocked out for a moment. Our night consisted of Ariana Grande and Mariah Carey, cheap wine, and a surprisingly natural conversation. He slept over, gave me a ride to work the next morning, and I never heard from him again. There was more behind his ghosting me, and I remember for a split second really feeling like I had no grasp on the way people see me and interpret what I say or do. I felt misunderstood, by others and (most frustratingly) by myself. But I left it at that, picked my head up, and moved on. I have other things to worry about, that's true, so I didn't expect to find myself reaching out once more. "Empathy and communication are always best," I typed, sent, and pondered upon. I waited, not long, and suddenly I was getting his take on the evening. Where I saw an immediate connection, he saw an overly excited boy he just met. Where I saw physical intimacy, he saw a one-time thing. Where I saw emotional intimacy, he saw oversharing. I ran through the night in my head once, then twice. And then I apologized.

I apologized because we were not on the same page, and I failed to recognize the lack of shared comfort and expectations. I apologized because I know as a human being, I find it a basic necessity to connect with and understand someone’s feelings in order to properly communicate. And I apologized because I felt guilty making him recite why he felt he needed to ghost me. Then the tune switched. I received and accepted an apology for his ghosting me, and felt pretty okay with leaving it at that, until he continued. Where he felt an obligation to (eventually) tell me why he ghosted me was when I reached out to him, vulnerably and somewhat embarrassingly. He admitted to me that our connection existed, and it wasn’t meaningless, but that wasn’t the point. He thanked me for addressing the situation full force and openly, because as he put it, it empowered the both of us. And, surprisingly, he was right. It empowered him to address his mistake and communicate openly, and it empowered me to ask for what I want and throw caution to the wind. I felt empowered by my own vulnerability and by getting an honest answer. We exchanged gratitude once more, and left it at that. Better late than never, right?

The degrees of each individual boy’s responses surprised me. One saw a restart button, immediately wanting to make plans, declaring the previous ghosting occurrence as almost unimportant in the conversation. Adam, the second boy, surprised me with his openness and I could see his acknowledgement that he had made a mistake. And lastly Chris, my non-meaningless ghoster, who directed my vulnerability and his apology into an empowering moment for the two of us. Taking a step back from this (admittedly very recent) life occurrence, I see what happened here. All of these boys are human, and therefore they are imperfect. They will ignore, put down, and ghost people. And I will too, because I am flawed. The reflection on our respective interactions proved one major thing for me: we’re all just figuring this out.

 

I think this recent life story of mine is extremely telling of the culture in which we live. Because we’re so readily able to say and do whatever we want all behind a screen, we lose the in-person human connection that is required for empathy. And, in some sense, we lose that richness of really getting to know another person. The way one message was received by one person could have been greatly misinterpreted by another, and when we forget to connect and understand one another, we risk losing the opportunity for something meaningful. We risk losing a fun date with a cute person we’re interested in. Or we risk losing a lesson in dating, communicating, and vulnerability. I, personally, don’t like that. When we commit ourselves to being vulnerable, accepting our mistakes big and small, and addressing the way our internet-driven culture changes the way we treat one another, we can cause a shift in our culture. We can make social situations a little less weird, a bit more fun, and a lot more honest. Life’s already a lot of work - the least we can do is be there for each other.