“Escape is the purest form of resistance.”Joseph Kelly, “The Masterless People: Pirates, Maroons, and the Struggle to Live Free.” Longreads.com. October 30, 2018.
God. The United States Government. Money. You, yourself. They are all ghosts, and it is your head that is haunted.
There’s all kinds of ghosts in our lives. People fading in and out. Ideas and memes that are minds suddenly latch on to or let go of.
It’s interesting that it took a juxtaposition of telecommunications, computer hardware, and software to turn the noun, “ghost” into a verb. It wasn’t a term you heard before the mobile phone.
Yet, ghosting has clearly been a fact of life in human relationships since it has been possible to move between large communities and not have your reputation follow you. From the proverbial man who goes out for a pack of cigarettes and never comes back to the prejudice against nomadic groups like the gypsies, there is always been worry about people that can enter a community or a relationship with an individual and then leave it with little consequence. It undermines the social fabric. It creates distrust and fear, particularly in places where distrust and fear are already prevalent.
Certainly, this was why divorce had such a high stigma for so long. It was thought to undermine families and communities.
But, it is the modern variety of transient relationships, with the ability of apps to create new connections that transverse diverse social networks, that has made the behavior so pervasive that it has become necessary to give it a name. It seems everyone is out buying cigarettes, getting away from someone.
Of course, we can mitigate the damage it can do to us personally by adopting new mental models, such as the theory of visitors. If you view everyone in your life as a visitor, one that can leave it any moment, then you only focus on your experience in the moment. We take people, moment-by-moment, rather than trying to forge lasting bonds.
But, this is a difficult view to adopt because most of us want lasting connections with other people, where we can love them and be loved in return. We don’t only live in this moment, but our mind is haunting both the future and the past.
We also want to be part of a community. We want to be accepted and have lasting connections to others. But, it is probably worth considering the basis for those relationships.
I was recently watching the Kung Fu television series from the 1970s. There is this touching dialogue between Caine and Master Po that gets at this point.
The Scene: Caine is about to present Master Po flowers but stops when Master Po rejects the flowers of another student. Seeing this, Caine is scared he too will be rejected, so he comes up short and stands off in the distance. Master Po, seeing what has happened, starts an exchange about love that this leads to this bit of dialogue:
Master Po: Do you seek love or barter?
Caine: If I love others and they do not love me, I will feel great pain.
Master Po: That is what you risk, Grasshopper. Great pain or great joy.Kung Fu (television series)
It makes me think that ghosting is an idea based on this transactional model. With cell phones, our culture has evolved where there is a sense of always on, instant accessibility to the people in our lives. I send one message, they should send me one back. The more quickly, the more important I am to you.
There are also call logs. So, you can see the history. Who tends to contact who? At what time? Am I investing more of myself than they are? The accounting is built in because that kind of accounting is what computers are good at doing. But, it isn’t good for developing our love for one another.
And, this transactional view is particularly acute when we are first meeting someone. When we don’t have a lot of interaction, then each data point, each interaction bears a lot of weight.
You go to a first date. It seems to have gone so well. You spent hours together talking over dinner. You wandered through a local neighborhood for a few hours, talking. Perhaps you even slept together. Not hearing from the other person over the next week makes you question your whole experience. Did it happen? Did the other person feel the same as I did? If you are insecure, you might also wonder if there was something you said or did that caused them to ghost.
Even if it is true, maybe you spent a little more time talking about your infatuation with a co-worker than you should have with a possible new romantic interest, it’s not personal. It’s just how things happen sometimes. It’s largely random chance.
Sometimes, the timing is not right. Sometimes, the chemistry isn’t there or perhaps, something is going on in your life that makes you less attractive in that moment. Maybe you reminded them of a previous relationship that turned out poorly. Sometimes relationships just end, or more frequently, they never get started in the first place.
Love is like fire. You can start a flame. But, you cannot control how it burns. In a hard world, where fire fizzles out 999 times out of a 1000, it can be hard to keep motivated to keep striking the flint of love. But, counting strikes is easier on our psyche than counting fizzles or flames.
Related: Closeness lines.