This wasn't the first time I'd been ghosted—aka been rejected with no explanation or communication—but having it happen during a pandemic hit a whole lot harder than previous instances. And it's not just me who feels this way, either; according Rachel Wright, a psychotherapist and dating expert based in New York City, pandemic ghosting can be more difficult to handle because of all the other stressors on our mind this year.
Why pandemic ghosting is uniquely awful and intense
According to a March poll of 1,005 people conducted by the University of Phoenix and Harris Poll, 41 percent of Americans report feeling lonelier than ever since the pandemic set in. While I've experienced my fair share of loneliness this year, those feelings felt more intense after being ghosted. Instead of being able to nurse my broken-heart feelings with the help of my friends, I did it alone in my house, watching CNN's around-the-clock COVID-19 coverage and listening to my "Depressing Songs From 11th Grade" playlist. I didn't realize how much I'd relied on my usual support system to help me navigate the awfulness of dating-related stressors until the pandemic made them unavailable to me.
Many of us are feeling extra lonely during quarantine, and that comes in addition to feeling extra stressed and anxious. But, since research has shown that intimacy can trigger a dopamine rush that can help stave off negative feelings, a romantic connection can be a soothing saving grace. The trade-off? Having a potential partnership ripped away with no explanation can be extra-crushing as well. Basically, so many feelings are intensified right now, which can mean falling faster and crashing harder when it comes to new romances.
"If you’ve been in communication for a long time under lockdown and this person becomes a fabric of your life through a daily call, text, or Zoom meeting, for them to pull away is devastating. That's abandonment." — Susan Winter, relationship expert
The intensity could also help explain why so many quarantine-born romances are best described as "turbo relationships"—new couples who feel seriously committed as an effect of pandemic conditions. That certainly rang true for me: Though the whole arc of our relationship lasted less than a month, I found myself sharing details of my mental health, family, and financial struggles much earlier than I would have in the pre-COVID days. "If you’ve been in communication for a long time under lockdown, and this person becomes a fabric of your life through a daily call, text, or Zoom meeting, for them to pull away is devastating," says Susan Winter, a dating and relationships expert based in New York City. "That's abandonment."
And when someone disappears without a trace, it's basic human nature to try and convince yourself that there's a good reason they're not texting you—they've been in a horrible accident, for example—instead of accepting they're just not that into you. This inclination is also heightened in the midst of this wild year, which can make pandemic ghosting more emotionally draining and traumatic.
For instance, when my final "Is everything okay?" text to Jason went unanswered, I was genuinely concerned that something had happened to him or one of his loved ones. And while my panic from his lack of explanation was put to rest a few days later when I saw him doing backflips into a pool via Instagram Stories, the emotional energy I expended worrying about him made getting over him that much harder than it would have under different circumstances. "When the person who you've been in constant contact with goes silent, it compounds the hurt and is far more traumatic," says Winter.
The case for ghosting being more understandable right now
While all of the above might make ghosting during a pandemic more intense and hurtful, it's perhaps also more understandable. According to research conducted by Logan Ury, the head of relationship science at Hinge, most people ghost because they "don't know how to explain that they don't want to see someone again." Usually, as Winter puts it, not having the courage to communicate that you're not into someone is "disrespectful, callous, and cruel," but given the circumstances of the pandemic landscape, things aren't necessarily as cut and dry.
"In some ways, being ghosted right now is more forgivable than when there isn't a pandemic—and an election, and a feeling that the world is exploding—because there are things taking people's attention away from what they'd normally be focusing on, like dating," says Wright. "Most people aren't going to have the capacity or humility to say, 'I was really overwhelmed emotionally, and I shut down.' To do that with all of the complications of what's going on in the world to someone who you don't have a longstanding relationship with can feel impossibly intimidating."
Understandable as it may be, pandemic ghosting is still not excusable. And while I wish I could say that I handled my own pandemic ghosting with grace, instead I fired off a few "you're an asshole" texts and a Venmo charge for the dinner date I'd paid for. The experts agree that wasn't the best way to go about it. Wright suggests initially giving the ghoster the benefit of the doubt reaching out to make sure they're okay. Then if you hear no reply (and if doing so makes you feel good), send a final message along the lines of, "Because I haven't heard back from you in X amount of time, I'm taking that to mean that you no longer want to talk and I no longer want to talk to you anymore, but wishing you all the best," she says.
Months of emotional distance (and bingeing Emily in Paris) have helped me get over Jason, along with the clichéd truth of the matter, which is that it really was him, not me. And I still have hope for a pandemic love story: According to Ury's research, 27 percent of people are ghosting less during the pandemic than they were before, thanks in large part to the more intense connections they're forming online. And to Jason, my ghoster, if you're reading this: I forgive you, I really do hope you're okay, and you owe me $112.
*Name has been changed
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