DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I want to know the propriety of doing something I’ve been thinking about. Back in 2011 when I was in grad school, I met a very charming man at a bar. We met up for drinks the next night and we ended up casually dating a bit. He was in a different field and funny and smart, but I was not looking for anything serious at the time. We hung out a few times, he introduced me to his friends, we had a few sleepovers, and he even mentioned that he normally didn’t do sleepovers with women with whom he wasn’t in serious relationships. All that to say, I think he was more into me than I was into him, but I still liked him.
One day he texted me to hang out and I responded (or thought I responded) that I couldn’t, I was sorry, but I was busy studying. Anyhow, I never heard from him again. This was the second time in a row I think I had declined an invite to hang out and frankly, I thought he was upset with me about it so I never reached out to him again. It was only – literally – a couple of months later that I discovered that my phone (a blackberry at the time) was glitching and many of my texts were never getting out and I wasn’t receiving some incoming messages and I immediately went back to this incident and wondered if he ever got my message and if he thought I had ghosted him.
Anyhow, I’ve never stopped thinking about how I may have accidentally ghosted this man who was so nice and really didn’t deserve that. He unfriended me on facebook but every so often I thought of him and wondered if I should reach out, explain what happened and apologize if he never got my message and I accidentally ghosted him and for failing to reach out earlier (and also, potentially, open myself up to humongous humiliation if it turns out that he actually got my message and essentially ghosted me). I am not looking to start anything new (I am married now with a kid). My desire to reach out stems mostly to ease my conscience after talking to some friends who have told me how painful it was to be ghosted. It has been 8 years. Is this completely (or only partly) stupid? Is this worth the hugely embarrassing predicament I could find myself in? Do people care at all?
-Maybe Accidental Ghoster
DEAR MAYBE ACCIDENTAL GHOSTER: You’re not wrong, MAG: getting ghosted sucks. But there’re degrees of suck and there’re degrees to getting ghosted. It’s one thing to be ghosted by someone who you’ve maybe seen once or twice and they either start getting non-committal or just straight quit responding to your texts and calls. It blows, and while it’d be nice to get a “hey, this isn’t working for me, peace out, cub scout” final message… well, a lot of folks just don’t these days. And, in fairness, there can be good reasons for that. There’re a lot of folks — especially women and trans and non-binary people — who have good reason to worry about men Hulking out over getting rejected and so they choose to ghost instead.
In your case though, it seems like you had quite a bit more going on than just a couple dates that didn’t work out. You were casual, yeah, but not only had you been seeing each other for a few weeks, but you’d also slept together, including sleeping over. If things are gonna end, that merits a discussion — ideally in person, but at least via email. Going completely radio silent and just never responding is rude as hell. So your friend was (and possibly still is) justified in being more than a little pissed that you did him dirty like that.
Now you didn’t intend to ghost him; you where having technical issues and had no idea that he never got your text and possibly never got any other texts from him. Unfortunately, that’s life, especially dating in the modern era. I’m sure if Seinfeld were still going on, there’d be episodes about Jerry or Elaine accidentally breaking up with people because of texts that went to the wrong person or getting left on read. It’s the sort of thing that happens and we have to factor it in whenever we have an “OH GOD WHY HAVEN’T THEY READ MY MESSAGE” anxiety attack.
However, while s--t does, indeed happen… well, there’s an unfortunate confluence of events and then there’s leaving it for more than eight years.
The thing is, you discovered a couple months later on that texts hadn’t been sent or received. That was the time when you should’ve reached out to the guy and said “Hey, I know you’re probably still upset but I just wanted to let you know, I never intended to ghost you. My phone f--ked up and I never realized that you didn’t get my response telling you I had to study. I don’t know if it will necessarily make a difference, but I wanted to clear the air and make sure you knew that you didn’t deserve that and I never intended to leave you high and dry.”
It probably wouldn’t have changed much — I mean, it was still two months later; that’s plenty of time for someone to stew about being ghosted — but at least you could’ve wiped that particular slate clean.
But this far down the line? This is where reaching out to say “heeeeeeey” is going to just feel weird. I mean, I’ve had dates who ghosted me, even brief flings who vanished. If one of them came back years later to say “so, just FYI, I disappeared all those years ago because I didn’t realize my text didn’t send” is going to seem not just random but borderline Dadaist. Hell, depending on the timing and circumstance, it could feel like a really weird attempt at trying to re-establish contact in order to get back together.
Or someone hitting step nine in AA, I guess.
Regardless, it’d be one thing if the two of you had overlapping social circles there was an organic opportunity to be back in contact. But hearing from you from the clear blue sky to say “soooooo… about when we ended things…” is going to feel strange.
And honestly: while you did him wrong (accidentally, to be sure), as far as dating sins go, this is a relatively minor one. If he’s still dwelling on this after all this time, that doesn’t say great things about him. I suspect that, if he’s a grown-ass adult with a decent amount of emotional intelligence, he’s well over it. You got relegated to the category of “well that was f--ked up,” and possibly a story to bring out about how dating can suck and then relegated to the memory hole. Reaching out isn’t exactly going to reopen old wounds, but it’s going to at least be a “ok that’s weird” sort of moment.
I think the best thing you can do is just accept that this was a f--k-up, recognize that you should’ve made an attempt to reach out when you realized what happened, and then try to put this behind you. And if this guilt is still pricking your conscience? Then consider it your penance and a reminder to be a little more careful and considerate in the future.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com