I Confronted My Boyfriend After He Ghosted Me & Flew 5,000 Miles To Do It

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The taxi pulls up outside his house. There’s no turning back now. I’ve flown across the Atlantic, taken a train from London to Oxfordshire, and MapQuested directions from the station to his doorstep. Nothing to do now but knock. As I make my way up the pathway, I notice his mother’s car in the driveway and have the horrible thought that I’m about to accidentally crash a family get-together. I look back to the taxi at my best friend who’s joined me on what I only now accept is a balls-out bonkers mission; she gives me a thumbs up. I want to flee, but if I don’t knock I’ll never know, and if I never know, I feel — with the deep certainty that only a heartbroken 19-year-old can feel — that I’m never going to fully get over the boyfriend who ghosted me. So I knock.

Let’s back up, shall we?

In the summer of 2000, having just finished high school, I was on a graduation trip to Europe that began in London. My high school doubles partner was an exchange student from Amsterdam, and she joined me at Wimbledon where we had the time of our lives, drinking Champagne during rain delays, drooling over Patrick Rafter and Mark Philippoussis, and exploring London’s world-class nightclubs. One night, out dancing in Mayfair, I met a sweet David Beckham-lookalike named James who was from a small suburb outside the city. We kissed on the dance floor and I told him where I was staying. I never thought I’d see him again, but the next day I had a message from him at my hotel. I can still remember how my heart soared when I came into my room and saw the blinking red message light on the hotel phone. (Cell phones existed then, of course, but weren’t ubiquitous. I wouldn’t have one of my own until years later; this detail will be crucial later.)

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James wanted to see me again, but I had only one more night in London before leaving for the rest of my trip. I wanted to see him but I had dinner plans with my parents that night, but… did he want to come? Reader, my first date with James was dinner with my parents.

I came back for a few more days in the city at the end of my trip, and James and I saw each other every night. I met his mother and his sister. We said we loved each other and he promised to visit me as soon as he could.

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The last words he said were, "I love you, I’ll talk to you soon." And then he vanished.

Less than a month after I left England, he made good on his promise. He stayed in the guest room of my parents’ house in Woodinville, Washington, for a week, sneaking down the hallway to my bedroom at night (sorry, Mom and Dad!). I was so in love I could barely see straight. The fact that he lived in England and I was headed to college in California did exactly nothing to dampen my ardor. My parents, bless them, did nothing to try to talk me out of it.

After his visit, we wrote letters (yes, letters on paper, sent via the mail) back and forth and racked up long-distance phone charges on our respective landlines. There was no Skype then, no texting; long-distance love affairs were more complicated then, but more romantic, too.

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"Ghosting" was not a word that had made it into the popular parlance by the fall of 2000, so there was no tidy term for what had happened when James abruptly stopped returning my phone calls. The last words he said were, "I love you, I’ll talk to you soon." And then he vanished.

I did not take it well. I called his house a hundred times. I wrote him lovelorn letters imploring him to at least tell me why he’d suddenly disappeared from my life. I know now that it’s not uncommon for young men who have the desire — but not quite the courage — to break things off to just disappear, but at the time it seemed like an inexplicably cruel and baffling move. I tried to move on. What choice did I have? What was I going to do? Track him down and make him explain himself?

I should explain that half of my family is British, which means I had the fantastic excuse of telling my family that honestly, Granny was getting on in years, and shouldn’t we bring her to see her sister Pat in London?

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Once in London, I shakily picked up the phone and dialed the number I hadn’t dialed in month, only to find it had been disconnected. This was long before Facebook, and I didn’t even have James' email. It was still possible to lose track of someone in the summer of 2001. I could accept if he didn’t want to see me, but I couldn’t accept not even getting the chance to tell him I was in town. I couldn’t give up.

I enlisted a cousin who worked for the BBC to check its database, but all that could be found was an address, the same one I’d written all those lovelorn letters to. I was staying with my family at The Stafford, a tiny posh hotel in St. James Place, and it wasn’t long before my romantic quest became a cause célèbre with the girls who worked in reception. "Your dad told us what’s going on," one of them said breathlessly when I asked if I could use their computer once again. "It’s very exciting."

The final day of my trip arrived and I’d exhausted my resources. I had only the address. I was supposed to go to a dinner with some family members but I bought a train ticket instead. My dad yelled at me and I insisted I was a grown-up with the fervor that only a very recent grown up-can have. He relented, knowing he would have done the same at my age.

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One train ride, one cab ride, and one million-mile walk up a driveway later I was standing in front of James' mother.

"Hi there, I don’t know if you remember me," I said.

"Oh, I remember you." Her expression roughly translated to: What the hell are you doing on my doorstep?

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She let me in and told me James was at football (soccer) practice. I could call his mobile (cell) — did I have that number?

I did not have that number. She gave it to me.

"Hi James, it’s Andrea. I’m, um, here in Whitney. Can you call me when you get this?" I left this message as breezily as a girl who’s flown 5,000 miles to see someone could.

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That’s the crux of why getting ghosted hurts so much: without proper closure, you question everything.

My friend and I waited at the local pub, which turned out to be owned by James' grandparents. Have I mentioned that this was a very, very small town? After the first hour, the whole town was apprised of the lovelorn American waiting for James to finish football practice and check his mobile. Rather inconvenient for James as he was, spoiler, dating someone else by then.

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To his credit, he did come, looking not entirely pleased to see me. After some strained small talk, I got down to business, "I’m glad you’re doing well, James," I said, "But I didn’t come all this way to chat. What in the h*ll happened?"

He muttered some lame excuse about losing his briefcase which had all of my letters and my info in it. Even in a pre-social media world, this had no legs.

"I know you can’t say it back, but I never got the chance to say it one last time, so I need to tell you that I love you."
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"Come on James, I must have called your house a hundred times. Your roommates must think I’m insane."

He smiled, not arguing the point. I was still convinced there must be some grand explanation but there wasn’t. His life had gotten complicated back home. It would never have worked. He was so sorry he’d hurt me.

"Did you even mean any of those things you said to me?" I asked. That’s the crux of why getting ghosted hurts so much: without proper closure, you question everything. This was the first man I’d ever loved, who’d ever said those words to me. I needed to know it had been real, even if it was over.

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"I meant every word," he said.

He took us back to the train station and as we drove, I could feel the weight of it all lifting off me. When we got out of the car I took his hands in mine and I said, "I know you can’t say it back, but I never got the chance to say it one last time, so I need to tell you that I love you." He hugged me and promised to keep in touch this time.

"OK," I said, not really believing him. "But I need to say goodbye." He kissed me on the cheek and it landed just near my lips. I started to walk up the stairs to the train platform, but I had one last dramatic gesture left in me.

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"James, wait!" I ran back to him, threw my arms around him and kissed him. "Sorry," I said. I wasn’t sorry at all. He kissed my hand and we left it at that. Seeing him that last time had turned the whole thing from a painful memory into a cherished one.

We didn’t keep in touch, but many years later — once communication had changed in unimaginable ways — he reached out on Facebook to say hello and it made me smile and tear up. We’re both married now; he’s a dad and I’m hoping to be a mom sometime soon. It’s so easy to find people now, I wonder if such a story could even happen anymore; I expect not. Maybe James (and the rest of the town) remembers me as the crazy girl who wouldn’t take silence for an answer, but I’m glad I did something that crazy for love when I was young enough to get away with it.

Andrea Dunlop is the author of the novels Losing the Light and She Regrets Nothing, which comes out February 2018 from Atria Books. She lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband and their miniature pinscher.

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