Roughly eight years ago a man with a chipped tooth who greatly enjoyed screamo and wearing vests slowly stopped returning my texts. This was probably for the best. What was decidedly not for the best, however, was what was born from this slow-down breakup: the term “ghosting,” which, as far as I can remember, I invented to describe the experience to my future Stuff Hipsters Hate co-writer/friend, Andi Bartz.
Let’s take it back for a moment… all the way to 2009.
Sometimes I’ll give people horrible nicknames (a college boyfriend became “Carcinogen”) or start singing horrible songs (a 60s girl band number called “Johnny’s Got The Clap”) or come up with horrible words while babbling to myself, high on too much Diet Coke and too many broken dreams. “Ghosting” was one of those words.
This is how the term was birthed from the darkest bowels of my mind, as I remember it: 1) I had co-worker who used to say he was “Ghostface-Killahing” when he left work, 2) At this time I was also writing a story about ODB and would periodically yell, for no particular reason: “GHOSTFACE KILLAH, NORMAN BATES!”* 3) Some dude disappeared on me and I was sad. After all of that, the babel fish that lurks in my Diet Coke-destroyed throat croaked: “Ghosting.” (*Those are not the real lyrics to “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.”)
From there, the word gained some serious traction – at least in my Gmail. I recently unearthed a sad-sack essay from more than six years ago titled “Disappearing Dudes” in which I whine at great length about the new breed of men that I had discovered eye roll that skipped the breakup in lieu of the slow fade. Sample line? “If a boy is going to disappear, I’d rather he ghost right away—instead of after the customary three weeks.” Amen, Past Brenna.
A cursory search of my inbox shows around one hundred emails featuring the word “ghost” or “ghosting” – mostly from 2009. Sample missive? “Where is boy? I feel like ghosting has begun.” I don’t even recall who “boy” is, so don’t cry for me, Ridgewood-Bushwick. Around that time, the haunting spread to my blog, Stuff Hipsters Hate, where it spooked around its share of posts, finally manifesting to its full terrifying potential in the book iteration of SHH, where it was defined thusly: “A term coined by the authors of this book. Instead of starting a formal breakup conversation, hipsters prefer to slowly cut off contact from romantic interests until they are no longer speaking. The process is similar to the slow fade of a spirit dematerializing in a haunted mansion.”
Stuff Hipsters Hate came out in 2010, so imagine my surprise (my surprise doesn’t look that different than my normal face, so just imagine my normal face) when the word started cropping up EVERYWHERE in, like, 2015. The New York Times, for one, was on it. It was with horrible certainty then that I realized… um this kind of maybe is sort of my fault? Maybe.
My friend, Jane Solomon, who is Senior Content Editor and Lexicographer at Dictionary.com and therefore an expert in this, tells me that I am not the FIRST person to use the term thusly (there’s some Urban Dictionary entry somewhere) but it’s safe to say that I’m “an early adopter.” She also tells me: “This could be a case of spontaneous coinage. There was a gap in the language for a term with this meaning, especially with the rise of online dating. Perhaps more than one person made the connection between the word ‘ghosting’ and this concept at the same time.”
So, yeah, I’m just going to go ahead and blame myself for this one because life is oh-so-very short and who knows if I’m ever going to do anything worthy of note again? Rampant hubris aside, I have one thing to say for myself at this juncture: I am so fucking sorry.
In many ways, I feel like one of those assholes in The Ring who passes on the haunted video tape–or, to use a more current reference, one of the people in It Follows who bangs some rando so the slow-walking ghost thing will back off. (I didn’t finish It Follows.) Even if I wasn’t the first person to use the term “ghosting,” I definitely contributed to its virus-like spread. And now I can’t help but think (being the anxiety-ridden ball of gibberish that I am), if we hadn’t given this thing a name, would it have ultimately gained legitimacy as appropriate social behavior? “Ghosting” was all like, “Bastian, say my name!” and I yelled out the window and the flying dragon thing came. Or something.
I mean, I did learn to ghost from that screamo-loving vest-wearer. Granted, I’ve only tried it once, resulting in a lovely man who had a motorcycle sending me a semi-scary-sad message that totally made it impossible to enjoy that episode of Gossip Girl I was watching. I learned my lesson after that. I have sent some straight-up, awkward, out-of-the-blue breakup texts in my time. But, hey, I don’t have to hide from people in the grocery store so I’m at peace with my God.
Digression aside, words bestow power. There are myriad fairytales and myths that prove this–that I can’t remember at the moment–and probably religious associations that I would know if I weren’t an utter heathen. As such I have come to a final conclusion: We should all stop using the term “ghosting.” (Oh! And New York Times, it’s, “I ghosted on Jimmy,” not, “I ghosted Jimmy.” I would say, “Add that to your style guide,” but I can’t given what I just said).
Ghosting is rude and terrible and if we award it validity by giving it a commonly used word, it’s basically excusing us for disappearing from people’s lives in a spectacularly rude fashion. But, seriously, stop ghosting and stop saying “ghosting.” It’s time for a motherfucking exorcism.