Ghosting & Other Signs You’ve Already Left.
We come and go, just as people enter and exit our lives. But at some point, many of us choose the one we are going to partner up with. When all goes (fairy tale) well, we live happily ever after.
However, happily ever after is an elusive thing, and often The One turns out to be A One or just one of many The Ones. Sometimes, happily fades, and we get to ever after more quickly than we planned. The End.
Sometimes, The End comes with an obvious exit — a termination of a contract (implicit or explicit) negotiated and executed with or without dispute, a slinking away with the painful recognition that the note you left on the table for your partner of X number of months/years deserved more than the 90 seconds you took to write it, or a slamming of a door after a whiskey-soaked 2-in-the-morning argument seething with deep dark truth.
However, the path to The End is not always well-lit. Sometimes, The End comes with less definition. Sometimes, The End comes in a way that allows you to convince yourself that you’re not the one who’s leaving… that you were willing to stick it out… that you’re a good person who tried to make things work. After all, you didn’t sleep with someone else. You weren’t the one who said This is over. In fact, you were the one who was left behind.
Maybe. But sometimes you are so far gone that your exit occurred long before The End credits roll on your relationship. Walking out of the door is just the most obvious way to signal your departure.
1. The flirtationship
This isn’t a new thing, but it has become such a common phenomenon that it has made its way into today’s most credible source of truth: the Urban Dictionary. The UD describes a flirtationship as a relationship in which the people involved have an obvious interest in one another, but can’t actually take things further because of any number of complications.
Flirtationships can last for years, and often continue even when one is (or both are) in a relationship with someone else. This is where things get tricky.
Even though no physical line is ever crossed, there’s an intimacy that develops, and it’s that intimacy that keeps you from being all in with your partner. I’m not saying we can’t have deep meaningful connections with lots of people at the same time. I’m also not saying that our partners need to know every little thing that we share with others.
I’m just saying this kind of relationship has something to it that is different from the relationships we have with our friends and family. And before anyone goes off on me about this, I know you know what I mean, and let me tell you that I’m speaking from personal experience. Here’s how it went for me.
There were three signs that I had crossed a line. The first was that this other guy — not my partner — was the person I went to first when something good, bad, or ugly was happening in my life. The second was that I became increasingly protective of the relationship. We had begun our flirtationship before I was involved with my partner. My partner even met him once, near the beginning, when things were still quite innocent.
But as time went on, I was more careful about mentioning my partner’s name to my other guy, and about mentioning the other guy to my partner. We created this shared sacred space that nobody else could penetrate. He knew me better than anyone else on the planet. Even though I spent every day with my partner, and shared a bed with him, I wasn’t truly his and hadn’t really committed to him.
The third (and final) sign was that my partner and I were on what should have been a beautiful vacation together, and I found myself regularly sneaking away to go to the Apple store so I could keep messaging dates with my other guy, or taking my phone into the restaurant bathroom so I could send off a quick text or share a photo I’d taken. From time to time, I would even mention to my partner that I had sent my other guy a picture.
The fact that I was open about it helped me maintain the self-deception that it was all above board. On the flight home, it dawned on me that I had missed most of the holiday. I had been less and less present as the week wore on, and more and more distracted about connecting with the guy I’d left behind. That was my sign that it was time to leave.
And for the record, that decision wasn’t made lightly, and was not made with the hope that I would be with the other guy. It was just that too much damage had been done, and too much distance had been created.
The Tindersphere has hijacked this term to describe daters who vanish without a trace and without warning from one another’s lives, but it has relevance in committed relationships too. In this realm, it occurs when you’re (kind of, sort of) physically present, but not truly there. People start to rely on you less because you’re noncommittal about plans and/or don’t follow through on things you say you’ll do.
You let conversations and activities happen without really getting involved. You immerse yourself in things that require solitude. People start to move about the physical space you share as if you’re not really there.
In many cases, this comes as a relief to you, as you have quite literally been (consciously or unconsciously) training people to treat you as if you are a ghost– not really there — not really someone who needs to be factored into whatever is happening. Not someone who can be pinned down to anything. Not someone who can ever be accused of letting anyone down because you made no promises to begin with.
Ghosts are not reliable. Everyone knows that.
In a committed relationship, this behavior creates huge distance. You continue to haunt the space of your relationship, but your partner eventually starts to move on without you because you’ve given them no other choice. You materialize from time to time, but the amount of time you spend in that world, and the strength of your presence, is not something that can be predicted.
Ghosting occurs for lots of reasons, including depression, addiction, fear of loneliness, etc. but that’s for another article. The point here is that it’s one other way you exit a committed relationship without walking out of the door. It’s not at all uncommon for the person you’ve left behind to eventually end the relationship. It may not even cause any kind of dramatic upheaval, because the connection has been so faint for so long.
Both partners often feel confused about the ending — the ghosted leaving in bewilderment, and the ghost left behind with shrugging shoulders and a clear conscience about the fact that he or she wasn’t the one who tapped out.
I’ve been ghosted in this way and (apparently) have ghosted others. In a bizarre surreal and rare conversation I had recently with my ex, he told me that he checked out of our relationship because he was lonely. He said I was always busy and never around. So he said he eventually got busy himself and got on with things.
The irony here is that I made myself busy because I felt that he was already gone, and I was tired of sitting around wondering when he’d show up (in body and spirit). So, who knows who ghosted whom first.
3. The skywalker
I think I might have coined this term in this context. It’s based on the famous quotation in The Empire Strikes Back when Yoda and Ben (or Ben’s spirit to be precise) are discussing whether or not Luke is ready to become a jedi.
Yoda says, “This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph! Adventure. Heh! Excitement. Heh! A Jedi craves not these things.” He labels Luke as reckless.
As for me, like Luke, I sometimes have trouble sitting in the day-to-day of life, and find myself frequently daydreaming of the next amazing thing. I love beginnings. I love the slight twist in my gut, the catch of my breath, and the flickering of my pulse that happens when I’m not quite sure what to expect. I love the remapping of my biochemistry that occurs as I try something (someone) new.
It’s transformational at a cellular level, and it gets a bit addictive. I know this is one of the things that people find attractive about me at first, but that default setting has a dark side when I naturally bring it into a committed relationship.
It’s not unlike me to say things like I don’t know how much longer I’m going to stay here, I’m thinking of moving to Venice Beach, probably within the next couple of years or Man, I’d love to to try teaching Yoga in other places, travel around for a few months or so… I’m going to seriously look into that or Man, first kisses are the best… I can’t wait for my next first kiss.
These sentiments are harmless enough, unless you happen to be saying them to the person with whom you are supposedly in a committed relationship. (gulp)
The thing is that I’m not usually serious when I say these kinds of things. I’m just doing my version of Luke staring out across the desert of Tatooine, dreaming of what’s coming next. Sometimes my daydreams are just metaphors for freedom (I am almost 100% vata after all, and am Gemini rising, so some of it is to be expected). However, sometimes I don’t think I’m serious but I’m not 100% sure. It gets confusing for me and for the people I’m with.
These kinds of feelings are ramped up like crazy in the late spring and summer season, when my urge to wander gets almost unbearable. This one has been my biggest struggle, and it’s how I’ve left people without realizing I’ve left. It’s how I’ve created the biggest wounds. It makes me careless. It has left more than one of my past partners wondering when they should expect me to actually take that step out of the door.
It keeps me from being truly present, and keeps them from feeling secure in their attachment.
A door is an awfully useful prop (and an admittedly convenient metaphor). It brings such clarity to our endings. The flirts, the ghosts, and the skywalkers should probably pay more attention to it. They should decide if they have already left, even though they are sitting on the inside looking out. They should sit there and stare at it until they can truly commit to being on one side or the other.
Luke Skywalker’s flirty ghost
Andrea Baker has a Master of Arts degree in Counseling Psychology and once knew everything there was to know about Byron and Bundy. She is a certified Yoga teacher and ever-evolving student in Vancouver’s beautiful Yoga community. She has divided her life equally between Canada’s east and west coast … never living far from the sea. The ocean has influenced her writing, her Yoga practice, and her approach to life. She distrusts capital letters, loves sticking eka pada koundinyasana, and wishes she was just a tiny bit taller. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or her blog.