A point of clarification: people who don’t want to see you anymore don’t need to provide an explanation. They are not required to hear you out, or “just meet for a quick coffee” or give you a phone call. But they do owe you human decency. If you have had sexual intercourse or spent hours getting to know each other one-on-one, your relationship is not “chill.” It is extremely personal, and each of you need to communicate directly about your plans to never see the other person again.
After weeks of no contact, I called Jesse and left a mysterious, “Hey, there’s something I really need to talk about with you…” message, channeling my gynecologist when she leaves me foreboding voicemails that turn out to be about yeast infections. He texted back immediately. I said it would be better to talk in person. He arranged to come over right away.
Jesse materialized in my apartment, winding a beautiful scarf around his beautiful neck. I felt wild, witchy—he had ghosted me, but here he was now in the flesh. He had discarded me, but I had brought him back. “I am the necromancer!” I thought to myself, feeling crazed with power. My hair looked bad. Jesse looked at me with fear and with pity—I was no longer an object of his sexual interest, just an emotional woman.
“You ghosted me,” I said. “We went out too many times for that to be okay. If you knew you didn’t want to see me anymore, you should have just said so.”
Jesse squirmed. He had been planning to get back to me, he said. It was a busy time, he said.
“No, you ghosted me,” I said.
“I’m sorry you feel that way.”
“You don’t have to be sorry you feel that way,” I said. “Just be sorry you did it.”
“I’m sorry you feel like I did it,” he said. We continued on like this, a game of cat and other, more annoying, cat. I asked—if, as he claimed, he had been meaning to text, me, what would he have texted?
He looked pale.
“Say it,” I said. He was silent.
“Say it!” I hissed. “Say it now!” He looked up, spooked, like a peasant child waylaid in the woods by a witch woman.
“I felt like maybe we were moving more towards being friends,” he stammered.
I am the witch queen, I thought, as his steps echoed down the hall. I am the resurrector. I am she who turns ghosts to men and men to dust! I was still sad. I did not want to be rejected. But I did want my rejection to feel humane.
Since Jesse, I have refined my process for breaking up with myself when the person I’m dating refuses to. It’s important to remember that people are allowed to break up with us at any time, and they do not need a reason. To save time, I usually go with a text. I try to stick to the facts— “We went on four dates and you kept asking me to sleep over and watch you play ‘SexyBack’ on acoustic guitar. I think that our relationship merited a more respectful ending than you gave it by trying to just taper off texts to me. It hurt my feelings and I wish you would have been more direct.” No matter what they reply, I don’t get into a conversation. (In the early days I let an in-person self-dump get out of hand, and he ended up crying and saying he needed therapy, which was kind of thrilling but ultimately beyond my capacity.)
Every time I do this, I feel a little better. It’s as if I’m writing a letter to myself that says “You are too substantial to melt gently away when someone is done with you.” Part of why I insist upon behavior that other people would find embarrassing is that I want to remind myself that I have worth. There’s an older school of thought around sex and dating that sometimes makes me think, “Well, you went out with this man and had sex with him without getting a commitment, so what did you think would happen?” And the answer is—having sex and intimacy outside of a monogamous commitment still entitles me to basic decency. And if I don’t get basic decency, I will ask for it nicely.
I often hear a kind of nostalgia for the “old ways” of dating. People lament the days of men knocking on the doors for dates, and bringing flowers, and calling on the phone. But we would never, ever want to go back to those days. Those small kindnesses were given in exchange for women staying in a kind of straightjacket of femininity—female pleasure was unmentionable, queerness was forbidden, and there was almost no recourse for rape and harassment. I can buy myself flowers, I can open my own door, and when I make the mistake of dating a person who doesn’t value me enough to be direct, I can even dump myself.
It’s nice to take back control, to demand respect, even if it makes me seem crazy. It reminds me that I am real, worthwhile, and alive. It’s okay with me if afterwards, the person I was dating goes back to being weightless, formless, imaginary.
He should be nothing but a ghost.
*Name changed, but you know what you did, Jesse.