As buzzwords go, "ghosting" has definitely been on the rise lately. Only, if you really think about it, ghosting was going on long before someone came up with this catchy colloquialism. Such logic led me down memory lane in at attempt to recall how we ghosted people in the '90s. By we, I mean those of us old enough to date during that nostalgic decade. And what I determined was that '90s-era ghosting could easily be considering the precursor to modern day ghosting.
You may be wondering, "What is ghosting?" You may not be familiar with the term, but the odds are high that you've experience the phenomenon at least once in your dating life. It happens when you're in a relationship and the other person simply fades to black, so to speak. End scene. They were there one minute, and the next they were gone — seeming to have vanished into thin air. It's almost gradual, and yet somehow feels sudden and unexpected at the same time. It's as though the person gives you just enough of themselves to keep you feeling secure and emotionally invested enough not to realize they are discreetly letting themselves out of your life.
While ghosting is particularly prevalent in today's digital age, the behavior certainly isn't entirely novel. "I think people have been ending relationships badly since the beginning of time," Dr. Nicole L. Cromer, a licensed clinical psychologist based in New York City, told The Date Report in 2013. Strangely, it's strangely comforting to know we aren't the only ones who've been duped and dumped since the dawn of time. Still, just as we have evolved over time, so has the way we break up with each other. Or, more accurately in the case of ghosting, the way we don't.
As a teenager of the '90s, I did my fair share of dating and, for the most part, it was fun and relatively carefree. Yet, when I pored through my mental file cabinet of '90s-era relationships, I realized I had been both the ghostee and the ghoster at various points during that decade. Let's start with the former and work our way up from there, shall we?
So, here goes: I was ghosted my freshman year of high school by a boy we'll call Brian Bay for the sake of this article. I met Brian at a Ruby Tuesday in the mall (naturally) when I was out with one of my best girlfriends. He was a little older and — bonus — had a cute friend who my friend was swooning over ... not to mention a nice car with which he offered to take us to the movies. Clearly, this was before I developed the common sense I now have which would have been warning me of the high potential for ax murderer activity.
Young and reckless, we hopped in the car and headed to the movies. Afterwards, Brian dropped us back off at my mall where my car was parked. Then, there beneath the fluorescent glow of the parking lot lights, we made out. So romantic, I know.
Over the next month, Brian and I spoke on the phone nearly every day and managed to see each other a few more times despite our hectic school schedules. And then it happened: he started the slow fade. Remember, this was the '90s, so we didn't have the abundance of technology we do today. It all started with him limiting our already limited means of communication.
Whereas he used to call me every night, he stopped initiating. In response, I began calling him and — here's the '90s kicker — he would have his mom answer the phone and tell me he'd have to call me back. Believe me, after leaving a few of those messages, I was nearly mortified enough to give up and walk away without a fight. Unfortunately, I still had a bit of a make-out hangover from our last meet-up and couldn't get him out of my head. So, I persisted. Alas, he eventually became unreachable. I did what any good '90s girl would do and staged a few drive-by-spying-on-his-house excursions but, for all intents and purposes, he was gone. Poof! Just like that, so it seemed.
Fast forward to a few years later, the summer of my junior year. I had been casually dating a guy on and off for a few years when things started to wane. Fine, whatever, I had met someone else and wanted to break up with my boyfriend to pursue this other guy. The problem was I'd spent the first year and half of our relationship trying to convince my OG guy to be a better boyfriend and, when he finally got it right, I was ready to dump him. I just didn't have the heart to break his heart like that. Somehow, I thought it would be more humane to do what I now know is considered ghosting.
Like Brian had done to me, I stopped answering calls and let my mom and siblings do my dirty work. (Granted, they had no idea they were helping me slowly break some poor boy's spirit.) I didn't stop there, though. This relationship had taken time to build, and therefore it took time to fade out of it. I turned to classic, yet subtle passive aggressive '90s behavior such as changing my AIM screen name without telling him and changing my away message to something that screamed "single" just for good measure.
Any time in those last few weeks he did convince me to go on a date, I always asked him to meet me at the mall and always convinced a handful of friends to tag along. After a while, I stopped even bothering with the mall dates at all. It took a solid month's time, but I successfully managed to ghost my way out of a relationship that had been slow-burning for nearly two years. That's both impressive and shameful.
Considering all of this and the fact I've been on both sides of the ghosting fence, I can't decide whether I think ghosting today would be easier or more difficult to go through than ghosting back in the '90s. On the one hand, ghosting back in the '90s seems far simpler. After all, we basically only had primitive internet, home phones, and face-to-face communication to work with — severing those three channels proved easy and efficient.
On the flip side, I think being ghosted today would be far worse. There are so many avenues of communication open, and the fact that someone might shut you out of all of those would probably feel like being stabbed with a thousand tiny needles. After all, as digitally connected as we all are today, it would take serious work to erase your digital footprint enough to ghost someone. That kind of commitment to not being committed can't be easy for the person on the receiving end to accept.
Images: NBC Productions; Giphy (3)