The Ghosts of Valentine’s Day
This Valentine’s Day I have two ghosts in my house. One living and one dead. The one who is dead is Laurence Freedom, my partner and fiancé who died six years ago of a sudden heart attack. The one who is living is the first man I opened my heart to after losing Laurence, who is now ghosting me.
In the many years of dating after my divorce in 1995, I had some turbulent relationship endings, but was never ghosted. Until now. I honestly can’t wrap my head around someone’s lack of courage to speak the truth. Personally, I believe that hard truths are less painful than silence.
In 2019 I published a memoir about grief. Losing my fiancé, the same way I lost my father when I was eleven years old, impelled me to write about my personal experience of grief in the hopes it would help others to get through such turbulent times. Traversing my current experience of being ghosted, this short except from my memoir Letters to Freedom: From Fear to Love to Grace came to mind:
As we lay next to each other, skin to skin, he randomly said: “I think it’s harder to lose a partner through death than divorce.”
“I don’t think so,” I responded. Then I explained why I believed divorce was harder.
I shared a story about shopping with my widowed mother as a teenager and meeting a woman who was divorced. My mother told the woman she believed it was harder to be divorced than widowed, because after a marriage ends you still have to see the person who left. My mom explained that even though losing her husband was devastating, she knew it was final and she was forced to move on with her life. (Letters to Freedom, 2020, p.101)
Feeling the pain of someone who is alive but unreachable, I can’t help but ponder the question of which is worse-death or divorce. In this case, not divorce but a break-up. Wondering why he left, where he went, if he is okay. Being ghosted is painful.
This led me to do a little research. According to Wikipedia- “Ghosting, also known as simmering or icing, is a colloquial term which describes the practice of ending all communication and contact with another person without any apparent warning or justification and ignoring any subsequent attempts to communicate.”
And surprisingly, it is very common. A 2018 study in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that out of 1,300 people surveyed, a quarter of them had been ghosted. Another study at The University of Western Ontario found 72% of participants interviewed had been ghosted.
My curious nature now has me wondering what we can do about this ghostly experience! It has been almost two months since I heard from my man. It is a good thing I know how to grieve and mourn. Crying, journaling, walking, talking to friends, and eventually coming to an acceptance of what is has been my process. Having overcome many losses in my life, I strive to stay optimistic regardless of what knocks me down. I allow myself to mourn and feel the pain. I have learned that I have to go through it and not around it. The going through is what makes me stronger in the end.
I can’t help but wonder if this all-too-common ghosting reflects an overall lack of emotional literacy and maturity. That to me is the problem. And that is my work. Helping others better connect to themselves and others. Having hard, honest conversations. Telling the truth. I am grateful to have supportive people in my life and a wealth of emotional literacy and agency. I am fortunate to know grief and to have given myself permission to feel what I feel.
Grief always deepens us, regardless of whether the ghosts are living or dead. I am learning more and more about myself each day as I acknowledge the pain and move toward acceptance. I know I am resilient and grow stronger with each breath I take.
This Valentine’s Day I choose to love myself more than the ghosts. I give myself permission to be fully alive and well. I am grateful for so many things. And as Miley Cyrus says: “I can buy myself flowers. Write my name in the sand. Talk to myself for hours. Say things you don’t understand.”
The four “C” shovels– courage, compassion, curiosity, and connection, are what I coach my clients to use. They are essential to emotional literacy and maturity. Digging up a more authentic life is what loving ourselves is all about. Not lies, cover-ups, or delusions. Let’s all be brave this Valentine’s day and make a commitment to tell the truth and not be afraid of ghosts.