Ghosting: I learned this term today perusing social media. It means being cut off and cut out of someone else’s life—without knowledge.

Urban Dictionary is more expansive:

The act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone the subject is dating, but no longer wishes to date. This is done in hopes that the ghostee will just “get the hint” and leave the subject alone, as opposed to the subject simply telling them he/she is no longer interested. Ghosting is not specific to a certain gender and is closely related to the subject’s maturity and communication skills. Many attempt to justify ghosting as a way to cease dating the ghostee without hurting their feelings, but it in fact proves the subject is thinking more of themselves, as ghosting often creates more confusion for the ghostee than if the subject kindly stated how he/she feels.

Like the writer who defined the term on social media, I too am frequently in the dark about new trends, words and expressions despite having two teenage daughters. I often think how far behind the times I will fall when my contact with them is neither daily nor local. They keep me fresh and as close to hip and trendy as I will ever be (which is not very close), even with their exasperated faces and slumped shoulders to punctuate the sheer agony of educating a trans-generational parent.

While the term is trending, the concept has been around forever: it’s called passive-aggressive discourtesy.

Rudeness is not confined to youth, as the Urban definition suggests. Getting ghosted is rude, excluding abusive relationships, of course. Cutting off an abuser is smart. But treating people as if they are disposable plastic bags discarded (probably on the ground) after use without a thought to future ramifications (physical and emotional pollution) to other beings is more than unkind, more than cruel. It is brutal.

The kindest gift is knowledge with all of its up and downsides. If someone wants out of a newly forming relationship, I want to know. I may be rejected, feel bad about being rejected or even about myself for being rejected if someone dumps me face to face or in an email or text, but ice that rejection with someone’s cowardice or cruelty to keep me ignorant in the face of such dumping, well that takes the cake.

Silhouette person - ghosting

Left in the dark, I not only wind up feeling rejected but ashamed on top of that. Once I discover the ghosting, I’m bound to feel doubly embarrassed that I didn’t know the person I cared enough about to date was such a coward, such an unethical person. That’s the part that would throw me into despair. How could I not know I was dealing with an asshole?

That realization—that I’m stupid, unobservant and/or naive—kills me more than someone rejecting me for being me. I don’t need validation from someone else, though it certainly feels wonderful to be appreciated. But I DO need to know who I’m dealing with—for my own safety and those affected by my relationships. For how do I make wiser decisions in the future if I have a defective bullshit detector?

And the travelling anger displacement—from anger at someone to anger at myself—blinds me. I forget my compassion practice. To be kind. I war within.

The battle is always between the bravery to trust against the wisdom of caution: discerning whether others’ intentions and needs fit my own. The difficulty, of course, is in achieving clarity, sorting through what’s mine and what’s someone else’s. They get conflated and confused sometimes. Is it me who wants exclusivity in this relationship or am I capitulating to some unspoken desire of the person I HOPE to build a relationship with in time? It gets complicated sifting through the nuances.

And this applies not only to dating but to all new or building relationships. If I’m “hired” to do a job with a smile and a welcome handshake but then receive no further contact to start, never have my telephone calls returned, I want to know why. I might need the information for my next try. This sort of thing used to happen to me as an attorney. Potential clients would come in, take up an hour or two of my time, leaving with promises to return and convincing me that no one but me could possibly do the job, then disappear.

Work is not like dating, however, where more than skills to perform certain circumscribed tasks is under scrutiny. There’s less likelihood of resulting whole-scale rejection and self-doubt in the fallout. But the impetus is the same: respect. Courtesy demands that others treat us with integrity, honesty and merit, enough to overcome personal fear and insecurity. The least anyone deserves is information.

Knowledge is the best armour to gird ourselves against relationship pitfalls. Knowing the self and observing others is a lifelong study. I hardly ever get it right. The attempt is all I or anyone ever has, but the trick is to develop an intuition or listen to the one inborn, weak as it may be, coupled with recalling tendencies and traits that are recognizably lethal.

I believe ghosters are detectable to those paying attention.

Barring the sociopaths, those who would do others harm smell different, and I mean that more in a metaphoric than a literal sense. Tight listening to instincts, like infrared goggles, reveal the dark hidden. If only we use the gear at our disposal—eyes, ears, heart and mind—taking note of the signs, hints, looks and words, not in suspicion but in curiosity, like an archaeologist exploring what lies buried beneath the landscape, hopeful to discover gems but mindful that the earth may be barren or even collapsible and dangerous.

To be vigilant without being wary requires delicate balance, an equilibrium developed over years of listening to the self in wordlessness. Honing a sense of the self enables us to sense others’ true or false connection like a current of electroreception or hyperawareness that attunes to the presence of another sentient being yet unknown—the same charged awareness when suddenly coming across a fox or a snake along a hiking trail. The frozen alert clarity allows us to assess safety or danger.

Perhaps ghosting truly is more a phenomenon of youth with its inexperience, having fewer notes on lived case studies. Or it should be. But even young people have inherent tools to sniff out fear, falsehood and feelings. If only they respect themselves and their abilities, without trepidation over likely mistakes.

Buddha proclaimed it way before I did. Suffering, though inevitable, is minimized in the mindful. And happiness is freedom from delusion, when we open ourselves to all that can be known. Even ghosters teach us something about ourselves.

image: diffused silhouette of woman through frosted glass via Shutterstock