Houdini has nothing on modern-day ‘ghosters’ — individuals who pull the emotionally scarring act of disappearing on someone, usually a potential romantic interest, without any explanation. A lawmaker in the Philippines has had enough. He has tabled a bill seeking to outlaw ghosting and treat it as an emotional offence because of the trauma it causes to the ‘ghostee’ — the person on the receiving end of such spectral disappearance. The legislator’s concern is not unwarranted. Some mental health practitioners believe that ghosting is associated with negative psychological effects on the ghostee. Ghosting is also increasingly being identified with a passive-aggressive form of emotional abuse or cruelty.
However, the discourse on ghosting is often based entirely on the experiences of the ghostee — the ‘jilted’ lover in the popular imagination. It might be unkind to abruptly stop communication but a fair trial of the ghoster must listen to both sides of this sour love story. Rarely, if ever, does culture or law, in this case, seek to understand whether the ghoster is simply acting in pursuance of self-preservation. Complaining about being ghosted, at times, can simply be a refusal to acknowledge disinterest. Hounding for a response, by that logic, becomes a violation of the personal boundaries. Ghosting, interestingly, has gendered underpinnings. A survey found that women are more likely to ghost than men. But the woman ghoster is not necessarily taking the easy way out. The survey showed that women often find it more difficult to be confrontational than men because they are socially conditioned — coerced? — to be accommodating. Ghosting can be a survival tactic too. Several studies conducted by the University of Virginia show that boys/men lack the emotional wherewithal to deal with being turned down and are likely to react to rejection with aggression. India is familiar with a similar form of perversity — the maiming or killing of women by the men they have turned down. Should pulling off a disappearing act appear imprudent in light of such violence?
Tinder likes to claim credit for it but ghosting is not an entirely new phenomenon. Myth and history say so. The Roman hero, Aeneas, did it to Dido, the queen of Carthage, in Virgil’s Aeneid in 19 BCE and Charles Dicken’s Miss Havisham was famously ghosted on her wedding day way back in 1860. Technology may have shifted the ghosting landscape from real to digital but there is one, discernible difference. The ghosters of yore vanished in the true sense; they could not be traced. The ghostee alleges that the modern ghoster, on the other hand, remains visible — eating brunch on Facebook or posting pictures of outings with others on Instagram. Ghosting may have been less tortuous had it not been for the centrality of social media in the lives of the ghostee and the ghoster.