Don't be that guy: a better alternative to ghosting your way out of a relationship.

Show up with a whole heart, even in your text messages.


If you’ve been so lucky as to date while texting has existed, you might have met (or become) a GHOST.

Once upon a few dates, I became a ghost. We had fun, the dates were great, and I had no complaints. But I just wasn’t feeling it. It feels weird to just not feel it for a perfectly nice, worthy human, but it happens. And so begins a modern ghost story.

Image via Internet Archive Book Images/Flickr (altered).

I did NOT know what to do, say, or think to this person … so what I did next was turn into a ghost. I removed myself from the human world (of his text messages).

Ghosting, as defined in a New York Times article, is “ending a romantic relationship by cutting off all contact and ignoring the former partner’s attempts to reach out.”

Image via Internet Archive Book Images/Flickr (altered).

When I turned into a ghost, I just stopped responding to every message this perfectly nice, worthy human sent to me. Eww. I feel icky talking about it now, and I felt icky doing it then. Eventually, I figured out a way to bring myself back to life and end my own ghost story. We’ll get to that later.

First, there are two main types of ghosts:

1. The “short-term relationship I guess I don’t owe you anything and I don’t wanna be awkward” ghost

That was me. I hadn’t had any major moments with this person. I just wanted to poetically fade away, like Patrick Swayze in the aptly named movie “Ghost.”

Replace that caption with “You’re a human and so am I” and me running away, and we’re there. Not proud. GIF from “Ghost.”

2. The “we could be on the verge of an actual relationship but I am suddenly not OK with it and —” ghost

You’ll never know what could have happened because this ghost will ghost you and you’ll never hear what happens after that “and.”

Say you and a potential significant other share magical moments — so many moments that it seems like, to quote the great American cinematic masterpiece “High School Musical,” “this could be the start of something new.”

GIF from Disney’s “High School Musical.”

And then, just when Troy and Gabriella’s karaoke duet almost made it to the key change, the plug was pulled. All contact? Gone. Ghosted. And then you realize that it was not the start of something new but rather the start of you wondering if the person who ghosted you is dead.

Image via Internet Archive Book Images/Flickr (altered).

They’re not dead. (Usually.) Probably, they’re a ghost. And you are probably sad. I prescribe hugs.

These are the two most common, and egregious, ghosts that could be haunting a romance near you, although I’m sure there are other versions too.

But we need to do something about this! Technology has invented a whole new way, and a few new mediums, for human beings to hurt each other.

Who you gonna call?


Image via Internet Archive Book Images/Flickr (altered).

In my own personal ghost-busting journey, I chose Brené Brown — vulnerability researcher, awkwardness whisperer, and friend of Oprah — to guide me.

Brown is an actual professional who studies awkwardness, vulnerability, and how to be a wholehearted, kind person in a detached, technology-driven world that doesn’t make real human kindness easy. Her TEDx Talk “The Power of Vulnerability” went viral.

In her book, “Daring Greatly,” she wrote, “Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” To me, this sounds like the beginning of a solution to both ghosting and being ghosted.

If connection is why we’re here, it’s counterintuitive to disconnect (literally and figuratively) from other humans so abruptly. Connection gives us purpose as humans.

Image via Internet Archive Book Images/Flickr.

But, how to do we transition from ghosts to connected humans?

Brown’s research uncovered a clue.

She says that to get some more of that sweet sweet purpose-giving connection, we have to cultivate “whole heartedness.”

Wholeheartedness, Brown writes, “at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness; facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough.”

What’s a wholehearted way to stop ghosting? In the case of being ghosted, there’s not much you can do. You can be proud you lived the full spectrum of human emotion, that you took a risk, and you can take care of your heart for a bit.

Image via Internet Archive Book Images/Flickr (altered).

I’m more concerned with stopping ghosting where it starts though — with the person about to become a ghost.

And I’m not just gonna say “be kind, vulnerable, feel worthy, face uncertainty, expose yourself to stuff, and take a risk because you are enough” because that’s a perfect example of “easier said than done.”

Instead, using Brown’s foundation, I’ll suggest a few specifics.

If you’re tempted to ghost:

1. Face uncertainty. Open your text.

2. Be truthful. Traveling? Being flaky? Say what you’ve been doing.

3. Be vulnerable. Say way you feel. Heartbroken? Weird? Say it.

4. Know you’re enough.

5. Expose yourself to the truth and press send!

Here are some real-life examples:

Brown wrote, “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.”

Ghosting brings up shame for all parties — largely due to the whole not speaking thing. And, often, ghosting happens because we want to avoid awkward confrontation.

Imagine a slightly more awkward, but significantly less shame-filled, world. That’s something I’d like to see.


For more from Brené Brown, follow her on Twitter and check out her website, Courageworks.

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