In her masterful book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy Kaling details a creative exercise strategy that she terms “Revenge Fantasies While Jogging:”
“If it weren’t for my imagination, I would weigh ten thousand pounds. This is because the only way I am able to exercise anymore is through a long and vivid revenge fantasy.”
Examples of her dreams range from the dramatic “my husband is murdered in Central Park on an idyllic spring day” to the less violent “I get that woman who was rude to me at Saks in trouble.” While I admire Kaling’s inventiveness, I can’t say that those fantasies occupy my mind as I jog slowly around the Tufts track. I’m normally busy baby-watching, dog-watching, or man-watching. All of these are quite pleasant diversions from my sluggish pace.
Instead, as I’ve settled into my new city and started dating again, my mind has been occupied with a different type of fantasy. Sometimes, I dream about meeting people who have ghosted me and giving them a piece of my mind.
To be honest, there aren’t many people in the greater Boston area who have ghosted me. There’s one who still pops up on my dating profile, and OkCupid likes to remind me that I am 93% compatible with a ghoster who has grown a weird mustache. There was also the Harvard Divinity School student who disappeared on me, but that’s okay because I didn’t actually like him that much.
Recently, I’ve been smarting from one particularly egregious incident of ghosting at the hands of a guy who called himself a feminist. Our experience can be simply summarized as “How to Lose a Guy in Two Dates:”
Date Number One: Great. I find Feminist Ghoster attractive, intelligent, and easy to talk to. We move from drinks to a long walk to parting ways outside my house. He says, “This is an enthusiastic ‘let’s hang out again.'” We make plans for a second date that same night.
Weekend in between: Feminist Ghoster texts me of his own volition.
Date Number Two: Lackluster. We’re having a fine conversation until Feminist Ghoster claims to be “kind of out of it,” yet “doesn’t want me to think he’s bored.” We part ways somewhat confusingly, with no hug, and no plans to meet again.
Immediately afterwards: Panic. I wonder where the spark went. Did I say unwittingly say something awful? Am I boring? Is it that I’m really bad at conveying attraction because I need a while to process my feelings before owning them? I descend into a state of self-flagellation.
24 hours later: I decide that the only thing I can do is make my feelings clear and put the ball in his court. I text:
“Hey, not sure how we left things, but if you want to meet up again next week I’d love to see you! If you’re busy and it’s not a good time I understand.”
24 hours pass: With no response, I decide I have been ghosted.
the 25th hour: I get a response that includes the sentence:
“let’s definitely hang out next week”
Fast forward to now: I have officially been ghosted.
I’m pissed. I’m upset because I actually liked this guy, which is kind of rare for me. Dating is the cruelest enterprise because there’s so much you’re looking for in a single meeting. One: do we have things in common? Two: can we co-exist as humans? Three: do I want to fuck you? Most of the time, when you meet people, you’re only looking for one of those things. After a string of bad dates, I was pumped to meet someone whom I actually felt excited about.
And then, the ghosting. I can understand if he was not attracted to me. I mean, I don’t understand, because I’m fabulous, but I can reasonably imagine that I am not everyone’s cup of tea. We like and dislike people for unfair and totally subjective reasons. I do think, however, that if you’re not into someone for whatever reason, you owe it to them to let them know in a kind manner.
Honestly, I can deal with rejection. Even though journalist hand-wringers like to say that our generation is coddled with participation trophies so we can’t handle failure, I think many people my age have faced rejection and serious hardship. While I’ve been rather lucky in life, I’ve been handling rejection since I was eight years old and first started getting involved with theater. Here’s a short list of things I’ve been rejected from:
- My high school show choir, twice
- being a licensed driver in the state of Connecticut (once)
- Harvard University (once)
- various Wesleyan a cappella groups (god like seven times)
- numerous theater productions (oh dear who knows how many times)
- Boston-area choirs (three times)
- every job I applied for between February and April of last year (let’s not count this one)
And yet I’m alive! I would much rather hear a “no” than be trapped in this purgatory of radio silence that we’ve nicely dubbed “ghosting.” I truly hate this practice for the following reasons:
- It’s lazy.
- It leaves the person who was ghosted feeling powerless.
- It’s evasive.
- It is likely to cause intense anxiety or confusion in the ghostee.
- It’s a particularly millennial trend.
- It’s rooted in the paradox of choice: Why bother politely rejecting someone when you can just repeating the process of swiping and meeting ad nauseam?
- It’s inconsiderate.
I think the last one is what bothers me the most about Feminist Ghoster because I believe that feminism, at the least the version of intersectional feminism that I believe in, is built on a foundation of consideration.
For example, I try to educate myself on unfamiliar topics or practices so that I don’t expect others to educate me. I give and ask for consent during romantic encounters to be considerate. I clarify preferred gender pronouns to be considerate of others’ gender identities. I try to avoid making assumptions about groups and cultures to which I do not belong because I am cognizant of our shared humanity.
If you also practice intersectional feminism, it’s likely that you also enact those strategies, as well as others that take our diverse world into account. If you can be considerate in all of those ways, why wouldn’t you extend that same courtesy to people who you do not want to date?
There are kinder and more considerate alternatives to ghosting. Also, not all of them involve rejecting the person directly! There are super subtle ways to let people know that you’re not interested without saying the words no thanks let’s never meet again. Here are some of my tried-and true strategies, along with my field notes.
- Keep It Business-Casual
In other words, if you meet someone in a romantic setting and don’t want to repeat the experience for any reason, don’t lead them on. Greet them with a handshake. Let them know that it was nice to meet them, but do not promise to meet up again. That way, they will probably get the hint that you may have no issues with them as a human, but you’re not interested in building a romantic future together.
I did this on a date on Tuesday night and I don’t think the dude went home and cried.
If they try to make future plans, you can resort to strategy number 2:
2. I’m Really Busy
Be intentionally vague about your availability. They want to meet up next week? Yeah, that’s going to be tough with my work schedule. What are you doing this weekend? Uh, not sure, I might be busy because a friend’s in town. The key to this strategy is not promising the person that you’ll get back to them, and not offering an alternative time that you can meet up. I think most people will figure out that if you’re not offering other times that you can get together, you’re not interested in seeing that person.
I did this in January, worked like a charm.
Sometimes people are dense. So you must resort to option three:
3. Kind Honesty
If the human truly isn’t getting the message, you might have to just let them know that you’re not interested. Make it brief and kind. For example:
Hi, human! Thanks for reaching out. I enjoyed meeting you (EVEN IF THIS IS A LIE) but I don’t think we have much in common/wasn’t feeling it romantically/think we’d be better off as friends.* Take care.
*obviously, this might also be a lie, because you don’t want to say “I don’t want to date you because your teeth are bad and also you don’t laugh and are the most boring person I’ve ever met” (true story).
I did this to the human I describe above, and it took it well. He also told me that I really should read Jonathan Franzen even if he was a dick (a topic of conversation on our date), to which I was like:
On the flip side, I’ve also had this strategy applied to me by a human that I actually liked. While it really really hurt in the moment, I accepted that he was considerate enough to let me know that he thought we weren’t compatible. I knew that things were not going any further and I could move on with my life. So while it feels really shitty in the moment, telling someone honestly that you’re just not that into them is ultimately the best thing for both of you.
And finally, there is a strategy that should be applied only in extreme cases.
4. Fuck You, Garbage Human
Feel free to use this on humans who send you unwanted gross messages, a la “will u sit on my face.” Ghost them. Don’t waste any time and energy letting them know why you’re not responding. Unless it brings you joy to craft the perfectly sharp reply, in which case, you do you.
This silly incident will likely not matter in a couple of months, yet it’s left me with the pipe dream of running into Feminist Ghoster. I wonder if I’ll walk into a bar to meet a friend and see him on a date with someone else. Maybe I’ll ramble down the Somerville Community Path, see him, make awkward eye contact, and then run away. If I were a braver human, I would upbraid him for ghosting me if I ever saw him in public.
While these revenge fantasies might motivate me to run faster, fueled by righteous indignation, in the end they’re never going to come true. I have to remind myself of the tale my mom always related when I was a child and I got passed over for something I wanted:
Julie Andrews created the role of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, but when they made the movie, they gave the role to Audrey Hepburn, who couldn’t even sing! But Julie did not get mad or jealous. Later, she got the role of Maria in The Sound of Music, for which she later won an Oscar.
So. May my next fantasy while jogging be not about revenge, but about the better possibility that awaits me because I was rejected.