There's a lot of conversation around ghosting on the internet — why people do it, how to stop doing it, what to do if it happens to you, how millennials are ruining it (probably). But no one ever talks about how sometimes, getting ghosted is a good thing.
It was for me. I was ghosted hard the summer I was 19, and while it wouldn't be the last time it happened, it would certainly be the most intense.
That summer was rough. I was going through the type of breakup that left me checking over my shoulder every spare minute and prompted my best friend to lend me a knife for safety. My ex, Shawn*, hadn't taken the breakup with any kind of tolerance, showing up at my apartment unannounced at all hours and, after I told him to stop, watching me from his truck in the parking lot.
My parents made blank faces when I told them what was happening and suggested I call the police. I was too afraid I wouldn't be believed, that I'd be told I was overreacting. So I never called.
In the middle of this, I was taking summer science credits to free up space in my fall semester for more writing classes, and my therapist recommended I try out some anti-anxiety medication. Because I was 19, I didn't have the sense to ask if had an anxiety problem or a “my ex is leaving notes on the windshield of my car all the time” problem.
It was a Wrecked Hot American Summer.
It was also the summer I reconnected with a tall, handsome, light-hearted mechanic named Nick*.
We'd known a lot of the same people in my small hometown for a while, and after a party one night, someone mentioned he was back in town to stay with family. I leapt at the opportunity to play catch up, and that was the beginning of our summer together.
Nick made me laugh, made me feel safe, pulled me down into a chair with a quiet voice when my anxiety amped up and made me dismantle my oven at 2 a.m. because it was “dirty.” We spent afternoons in the shade of the porch where I rented with friends, waiting for the triple digit heat to give way to warm summer nights. We watched movies together and ate French fries in the front seat of my car. And at the risk of sounding like a Danielle Steel novel, once we finally pressed into a mattress, it was exactly the kind of relief I needed.
Then, after nearly two months of nights that quickly turned to early mornings, Nick kissed me on the forehead and was out the door with a promise to call me later that day. That was the last time I saw him.
I spent several weeks freaking out. What had I done? How did I drive him away? Could I fix it? I let the guilt and blame and anxiety drive me to the point of dropping his phone charger off at his parents' house because CLEARLY that had to be why he wasn't talking to me.
This was not a triumphant "I wash my hands of you" moment. This was "DEAR GOD I HOPE THIS WORKS" in the form of a residential drive by.
But here's the thing: I'm glad it happened this way.
Even though Nick's sudden disappearance sat heavy with me for a while after, biting at the back of my confidence like “there's something horribly wrong with you,” I'm actually relieved that he wasn't upfront with me.
I'd been leaning pretty heavily on him for support for the few summer months we'd been seeing each other. When the anti-anxiety meds made me shake at night, Nick would lay down with me and stay until the shaking eased or I fell asleep.
He was the first person I sent an “I'm scared” text to when my ex showed up one night and refused to leave my doorway or allow me to close my door. Nick got the text, got in his car, and drove at a highly illegal speed to offer a shoulder for me to sleep on while he watched my front door for the rest of the night. He made me feel capable and safe again, by just being present, patient, and kind.
If he'd looked me in the eyes and said, “I can't do this,” I would've thought it was all my fault, that I had done something to deserve the sudden absence of kindness. Part of my Wrecked Hot American Summer was grappling with the feeling that all the bad things happening to me were somehow entirely my fault and that I deserved them. A real-life breakup — even a “it's not you, it's me” situation — would've been added to that seemingly ever-increasing list.
But something remarkable happened after Nick ghosted. I started to stand on my own.
I ceased needing a crutch.
Sure, I did that fun thing we all do in this situation where I imagined every possible absurd scenario that could cause someone to just cease communicating with me. But every time, I landed at the crux of the whole mess: He stopped. He didn't want this. And that was the end of it.
There isn't any rational discussion to have about it passed that.
After my third “are you actually dead” text message, something clicked and I realized that I could wash my hands of the whole situation simply by putting my phone down. He wasn't going to show back up at my house at odd hours of night — he had made it clear he wasn't going to show up ever again.
So I put my phone down, threw my shoulders back, and started to make myself OK on my own.
This is not to say that I wouldn't ever have found my own independence if Nick had had the balls to break up with me to my face, but his sudden and inexplicable disappearance jolted me to my senses. Just like I'd never expected Shawn to get so aggressive after leaving him, I'd never expected Nick to vanish into thin air.
And yet, here I was, about to start a new school semester and hurting from back-to-back instances of “that'll never happen” actually happening. I had clearly been making some shit decisions about the company I was keeping. So, I began choosing the people I leaned on with a much more particular eye — and leaning more on myself instead.
It's a hard lesson to learn at 19, but better early than never, right?
To fall right back into the romance novel cliché, I wouldn't be on the path I am now if I'd stayed with this guy. Nick was getting ready to go away to basic training and I was sitting on the porch, looking up at him with big eyes, my dreams of traveling the world and going to a good college forgotten as I told him, “Don't worry, I'll wait.”
But he disappeared, and I let him go. I moved away from my hometown. I went to college. I live in one of the most exciting metro areas in this country. I fall in love with new faces every day. And I am still capable and safe.
The new people I chose to lean on guided me through my Bachelor's degree, through moving across state lines, through breakups and heartaches, through successes and accomplishments.
I recovered from my Wrecked Hot American Summer, but I keep it with me, a reminder that I'm not afraid of ghosts.