What It Feels Like To Be Ghosted – And How To Deal With It

He told her he loved her, then he disappeared. Ghosting is an all too familiar occurrence, but when it happened to Vogue’s dating columnist Annie Lord, she decided to let him know how it made her feel.
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I decided not to say anything to him because I didn’t think he deserved to know I cared about what he did to me. But I changed my mind when I opened Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir In the Dream House and read the opening quote from Zora Neale: “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” After that I knew I had to speak. “You told me you loved me,” I began, on my notes app, and then I typed and typed until I had run out of ways to say “Fuck you.”

I haven’t mentioned him before because I don’t like to acknowledge that he exists. But a while after my ex and I broke up, when I was soft and vulnerable, my friend said, “This is Nathan” and I said, “Hi” even though I knew instantly his cheekbones were going to ruin my life.

He was so clever he taught himself Arabic just because he liked the way it sounded. He was always asking girls with steady hands to paint nail varnish on his fingers. There was a small white line cutting through the top left-hand side of his lip. He had a slight limp because when he was 18 his friend got stoned and drove a car into a tree and nothing was hurt except Nathan’s hip which needed pinning. When he told me the story I thought about moving through airport security with him, how his titanium plate would set red lights flashing and alarms pinging and a security guard would lead him to the side, saying, “Excuse me sir just step over here for a moment”, and my hand would be ready for him to hold when he came through to the other side.

When I told people about Nathan it must have sounded like he didn’t like me, but he made me feel like he really did. He was bad at answering his phone. When we bumped into his friends on a night out he never introduced me. I just stood behind him trying to pretend I was having a good time. “They’re just boring posh people, you wouldn’t like them,” he said.

One time we had sex in the toilet of at my friend’s house party and I was so drunk I fell backwards into the bath breaking open a bottle of shampoo so that there were plastic shards everywhere. The next morning I made him crumpets in bed that were chewy and dry and covered in unmelted margarine because I got bored of waiting for them to toast. He left half and then kissed me on the shoulder and said he was off to the pub to meet John. When he walked out of my room I looked down at my leg and realised there was a purple bruise on my knee that was the same shape as a love heart. I sent it to him and he replied: “Do you think that’s for a reason?” I couldn’t think of a response which didn’t make me sound crazy, but then he messaged again: “Maybe it’s because I love you,” and something in me wobbled and exploded.

Two days later I texted him: “I’ve made food if you want some?” And only seconds into his silence I knew that he had ghosted me. For months he didn’t reply to my texts or calls, and he stopped turning up to places he knew I would be.

Spiders, wasps, ants: most critters come crawling back, and so did he. At a party he grabbed my wrist and said, “I missed you,” and when I said, “Don’t,” he texted me, “I need you,” and then “I want to kiss you,” and I let him. I also let him order us an Uber, push me hard against my bedroom wall, put his hands around my neck tight enough that when I rasped, “Don’t stop,” through my teeth you couldn’t really hear me say anything at all.

I could see how stupid I was – it was reflected back from my friends’ faces when I told them the news. Toothless smiles, tugging on their jumper sleeves. But I didn’t feel sorry because it didn’t feel like I’d even made a decision – it felt inevitable. When you push your knees into the back of someone else’s knees, if you get them in precisely the right spot, their legs buckle involuntarily. That’s what being with him felt like. Falling without saying yes. 

Gradually, the walls built up through hurt were demolished, so that when he held my hand I stopped being wary of letting myself enjoy it; when I was hungover and he said, “Let me come over and look after you,” I said yes, and I didn’t put concealer on my spots because I thought stuff like that had stopped mattering.

Of course, he disappeared again. I found out later he had been on a date with someone else and really liked her. He never said sorry. I really wish he hadn’t said all that stuff he didn’t mean.

I planned to say something to him. I was going to march over to his house in fake eyelashes that I wasn’t going to cry off. But then my Mum said: “Don’t bother. He’s not worth your time.” And when Nathan avoided another party because I was there my friend Henry said: “Why can’t you guys just get on?” Soon I was reassuring everyone that I wasn’t going to make it into “a thing”. Somehow the cost of going over there and shouting at him seemed to feel more detrimental for me than it did for him.

Days later, when I was laying in the park with my friend Ruchira I told her about my decision to stay quiet. “There’s no point saying anything,” I said, biting into a Magnum so cold my teeth squeezed with pain. “I might be upset but that will fade, he has to live with the guilt that he did this to me for the rest of his life.” And for a while I enjoyed imagining that I could be the last thing he thinks of before he falls asleep at night. Ruchira looked down at the grass, pulling stalks up and chucking them up in the air. “But do you actually think he feels guilty?”

“Yes,” I said, and then I asked her what she thought of The Fall because I didn’t want to speak about it anymore.

I felt different when I saw the pictures of him at a friend’s holiday home in Greece. In one photo he was asleep with a book over his eyes and around him sat beautiful women with dangly beaded earrings and long surnames. “I hate how he always gets away with it,” said Ruchira, when I sent her screenshots. She was right. He never did any work, he didn’t turn up for people, he was arrogant, careless, and yet there was an abundance of people who would always love him.

I see now that you can’t win respect through silence, you learn it through expressing what you are worth. That includes getting it from men, but more importantly from yourself. Realising this I sent a message to Nathan telling him all the ways in which he bruised me, not just on my leg. 

Afterwards I felt loose and emptied, still kind of furious, but also relieved. I scrolled up and saw a stupid drunk text he sent to me and all its stupid lies. “Don’t be without me because I can’t be without you.” Mum was right, he’s not worth my time. But saying something that will bring me peace is.

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