I saw something about ‘ghosting’ today, the modern phenomenon where a couple split up by one side just ending all communications, and just ‘ghosting out’, something incredibly cruel for the one left alive, wondering what they did wrong, their emotions going from confusion, to sorrow, then anger and bitterness. The term seems to have caused quite a few pieces to appear online about modern relationships, and so I thought - seeing as of late I’ve become an alternative expert on dysfunctional relationships - I’d give mine.
I guess ghosting was once called ‘being dumped’, well dumped before we lived in an age before Twitter, Facebook, texting, emails, Instagram etc. Back then you maybe had a home phone you could just let ring, or ask someone to say you were away, or maybe before that a letter to burn in an ashtray, or throw in the fire with some poetic flair. It was hard to disappear because you drank in the same pub, your family knew each other, and the only way to really just disappear was to join the army of the jilted: The Foreign Legion. Now we go out with people who live in different towns, maybe even different countries and families and friends don’t get involved in much beyond Xmas. We live lives where our primary connection is via our phones, no love letters only texts and tweets. We romance and charm now via Skype or emails, not in person until we’re sure it’s worth the effort, so no wonder many relationships end that way. No, ghosting is a new spin on the crucible of most everything in the human condition - just love and hate and what lies between.
We live in an IKEA age, where we have an unlimited choice of things, what we are, what we buy, what we do, and also of people; unlimited ‘friends’ and unlimited partners - well in theory anyway, and all of it disposable and cheaply replaced. There is so little time to really connect with anything anymore, very little time for real passion or history, the two great binding factors we call love. We no longer live in small tribes or communities, where the girl you grow up with will one day be your wife because she’s all you’ve got. No - industrialisation manufactured a world of unlimited potential partners, the sea in which to drop your tackle increasing year on year, first by pulling people into the cities, then growing the populations, then sexual and religious freedom, and now apps such as website dating, Tinder, Grinder, Salsa classes etc. Would someone be ghosted if they lived in a hamlet with one available partner, or would they just be forced to make it work? What if one day 200 young Polish fruit pickers arrived for the season - what then?
I get an unusual number of emails about relationships, and also being open about my life people feel free to tell me about there’s. One strand that appears all the time is not the breakup, but how it was handled and what came next. Breakups, ghosted or not, are just about the most traumatic event that a person can experience - well if that relationship had been very good. This is the main reason people stay in loveless relationships because the alternative is like walking into the dark, and so often only comes when there’s some distant light to head for. I often see long term relationships that have devolved into something worse than death, where the two ex-lovers are forced to live with each other in the most insane atmosphere, a dark fusion of bitterness, rage and disappointment. Such couples are so common, I’m sure you can think of some, where all that keeps them in this choking grip of each other are ‘the kids’, ‘the house’ or simple the hassle of it all. Friends and family often want such carry-ons to carry on, as they themselves are bound with the same curse, plus other’s breakups are such a hassle of tears. But such loves are a curse on everyone, and what for a few hundred years has been what most would call married love - which is no life at all.
Perhaps the exponential breakdown in marriages is seen as being a bad thing, a sign of our immoral age, but I say “bring it on!”. Love can have sustained for some, through sickness and health, but for many, it’s slow mundane torture where any happiness or real living must be found somewhere else (your kids, work, games). It’s a terrible thing to waste life with someone who you hate, and who hates you, or worse still feels nothing at all, simply bound up in some misguided bond of duty. I say be bold and do what feels like suicide because sink or swim you have to risk the worse in the hope you’ll both find better. And yes you will need to lose most of your junk, but you’ll maybe gain a whole life in return - plus there’s always IKEA.
“She changed” or “he was different” is something people often say to me, but really people don’t change, but they can be so easily poisoned by each other. If you can somehow remove the poison, and avoid the septicaemia that comes from the wounds caused by ripping yourselves apart, you may well return to who you both were - the people you once loved, kind and upstanding. If you can survive a marriage or long relationship like this, then it can be as if a curse has been lifted - not at first - but one day. To break with someone, sometimes even when you don’t want to, it gives each side the opportunity to find someone more fitting for who you are, not what you were - left forever or not. I often joke about being my ex-wife Mandy’s wedding photographer, when she got remarried to her husband Mark, a man who I may have once called ‘normal’ but who is more capable a man - and a husband - and maybe also a dad - than I could ever be.
The trick is the transition, like cutting two Siamese twins in half in such a way that neither dies nor blames the other for the pain they feel in the parting. But sometimes - well most often than not - what happens is that people who once loved each other, who would have died to save each other - once - can one day find that old love replaced by utter bitter hatred. If the assassination was made as legal as divorce, or couples could choose trial by combat over trial by the court, I think we’d be awash with bodies, that old lover would tear each other to pieces. But we don’t, and so we have to find more subtle, and also more painful forms to inflict pain. I feel like in the last year I must have heard a hundred stories of what one party has done to another, where one or both sides have completely lost their moral compass, where the only aim was to inflict the most grievous pain on someone they once loved, through money, through children, through the law, 70% of police time being used up dealing with such human shit.
Never the less, if you were to distil all that bile and shit in a pan, in the end, you would find some small piece of love, the primary ingredient of all such bitterness.
But what about those who don’t want to split, or who lack the will to kill, who rot away from a broken heart that soon turns septic, who lay in bed with tears in their eyes for weeks and months, looking to Youtube for answers, taking advice from those just as ill as them. For some, it seems the whole world is split between those in love and those who are not. I know a lot of people like this also, often the real ghosts, heartbroken once, heartbroken a thousand times. It makes no difference. Yes you can look at your ex’s and see them as inhuman, or crazy, narcissistic or psychopaths, that you did not read them well, and so could never read any other, but that’s not true. People are people, don’t give them stupid labels to explain them away, they fuck up and make mistakes and falling in love - for good or ill - is never a choice. Perhaps that’s why such people hideaway, once drunk on love but teetotal now, they fear they could easily slip back into old ways. Well without ever having a broken heart you live life with one colour removed, and if you can take the risk to find love - well you risk never feeling what it feels like to be a rainbow.
And now I forget my point about ghosting?
Well this is about the breakup, and I’ve done this the hard way, the harder way, and a way that seemed easy at first, but was way harder, and I think ghosting is like that. Relationships like the politics of nations, far too complex to ever grasp, the politics of love, with no simple term such as Ghosting or dumped doing justice to an event so complex that neither side could even understand it. They used to say “breaking up is hard to do” which has never been more wrong on a practical level, but remains the same on an emotional one: it’s not and never will. In my small experience, I will tell you this; first that you must focus not on the past, on the blame and things that can’t be undone. That fight is over. No, you have to focus on the now, and fight against that rage and bitterness and disappointment, when you want to stab out their eyes, instead, look through them for a moment. Also, and most importantly of all, somehow you must find a way, maybe not for days, or weeks, or years, to come to terms with that love you once shared. I say this because what I think fucks people up most of all, the thing that sucks out their hearts and replaces with a bitter pill is truth. By this, I mean the truth of who it was you fell in love with, the truth of yourself that allowed it so, and the truth of that disappointment, not a story you tell yourself and your friends, but the real truth. And here’s the rub, you will never know what that is if you only know and feel what you know, and ghosting robs both of this, hurts the ghost as much as the living. To know more than bitterness and rage, to not end up with a smile forever turned upside down you need to negotiate with those that broke your heart. Only with them can you negotiate the truth of that love.