A Ghost Story

I’ve seen and experienced paranormal phenomena most of my life.  Or at least for as long as I can remember.  I can and do tell true ghost stories when prompted, one of them verifiable – at least as much as you can verify something like that – by a total nonbeliever.  I got teased a lot for this as a child, but have come to terms with it now that I’m an adult, realizing that this is just who I am and, in a way, I almost welcome the inexplicable weirdness that comes with it.

But this isn’t that kind of ghost story. 

This ghost story is about someone who (I assume) is still very much alive. 

Let me set the stage a little by saying I am not a gullible person.  Skepticism runs high with me (yes, even though I play with the paranormal), especially when it comes to the motives and behaviors of other people.  I have trust issues.  I make no secret about that. 

Generally speaking, when it comes to dating – ANY kind of dating, but particularly online dating – I’m really careful about who I talk to, because I know that those sites these days are a minefield of crypto scammers and (especially OkCupid – which will get its own article soon) men from other countries who are very clearly seeking a US visa.  I don’t give my contact information out until I’ve talked to someone for a while, I definitely know better than to share passwords (I’ve been asked), or to send wires, accept downloads, etc. 

I’m usually really good about being able to find scammers upfront, before they get in too deeply, and then I report them and shut that shit down.  Hell, even the assholes who are just trolling the sites looking for hookups (even though my profile states explicitly that I am NOT going to do a hookup) are easy to find. And – normally – those are the same people who have the tendency to ghost because ghosting (the practice of disappearing out of someone’s life abruptly and without explanation) reflects emotional immaturity.

Further, I have enough experience with the online dating world to have enough of a “script collection” built up that when I start talking to someone seriously, I start to ask myself which script they’re running so that I can be prepared for when it eventually ends.  I’ll admit this isn’t the best way to go about this.  It’s the jaded way to go about this.  But, I am sad to say, that when I start to match someone up with a script, I have yet to be wrong about them. 

And so this is where we begin.  When I first started using OkCupid again, I received several Likes from people from all over the globe.  I quickly pared down my distance filters so that I’d only see local people but did return some of the likes thinking that, at best, I’d get a penpal out of it – and I took a mental note of the strengths and weaknesses there too for later blogging. 

I had a Like from this guy in Australia that I returned, but never heard back from him.  I assumed that was either because he realized that I am in the US, or because maybe after I pared down the filters he wasn’t able to see me or my like anymore.  Hilariously, though, about two months later, there must have been a glitch in the OkCupid servers that zombified all of the likes I’d sent and people I’d passed on, so I woke up one morning to over 500 individuals that I needed to filter through again.

This guy was at the top.  I can’t say why I remembered him… his profile wasn’t particularly unique or impressive, and his photos weren’t of some sex god or something.  But he seemed interesting so I returned the like for a second time.

This time he actually did write.  I wrote back.  And then we started messaging back and forth – usually two to three times a day (and not the short form messages, but with paragraphs and the detail that I like). 

In short, to try to sum this up as succinctly as possible, we started really getting to know each other.  A few things that are useful to disclose/admit here –

Early on, he started talking about dealbreakers (particularly regarding his height – he is not a tall man, but he is exactly my height).  I thought that was a weird comment considering we live on total opposite sides of the world, but I played into the game and said that it was not, as long as my height wasn’t either (which is generally true).

We started nailing down what we wanted a relationship to look like.  Again, at first, I thought that this was a very hypothetical conversation.  It was nice to hear someone echo back the things I was saying – things like finding someone who wasn’t in it for the short term, “new toy” phase, who wanted to build something, to stick it out and work on what was already there instead of simply swiping left and finding something new when things got hard.  That the relationship should be built on what worked for both people involved – not what others thought.  And it was refreshing to hear someone say that when they decide they don’t want to keep dating someone, they’re pretty open about making that clear, early on.  

Our messages became so long that I asked if he wanted to switch to email and Whatsapp, he agreed, so we did, and they continued.  (It was much better, since we could see the full text of the messages we were typing other than just a couple of lines).

We started talking about meeting.  He commented that if we lived closer we’d probably have already been drunk together several times.  And he likened a budding relationship (and a final relationship) to a growing tree.  A “sapling.”  I loved the metaphor, so I started using it myself.  But the more we talked about the sapling, the more I realized that it was starting to feel like one was growing a little. 

Now, let me back up here a second and talk about misgivings I had.  I felt that all of this was moving rather fast… what I’d originally thought was hypothetical did not seem so hypothetical anymore – certainly when he’d started talking about dealbreakers early on I thought he was crazy but it was easy to disregard that, just simply because talk is talk.  When he started telling me how awesome I was because of my nerdy Christmas tree with the Vader topper, or even just marveling at how similar we were, I was mildly skeptical.

You see, this had happened before – ten years ago – on this same site with someone who was, if not equally far away, far enough away that there was no way to verify that he was who he said he was.  And what had happened then?? He got home from Afghanistan, packed up all the toys that were in my living room, and left a note behind with bloodstains on it.  I thought it was worth noting that some of the love bombing that I saw going on here was similar to that – but they weren’t really the same at all, right?  And I knew better than to send endless care packages overseas again. 

But still, I entertained this.  He’d talked about coming here first – around Easter.  We’d identified places we’d go… I’d meet him somewhere in the US (which was totally fine with me… I have more flight points than I know what to do with at this point, so the trip would cost me literally nothing), and then if things continued to go well and we continued talking, I’d meet him in Sydney later in the year.  I’m not foolish enough to think that nothing would have developed… I’m sure it would have.  But I’m also not foolish enough to start buying plane tickets either.

Anyway, one night, as I was out running errands, he closed an email by saying that he thought he saw a sapling poking out of the ground, and asked if I wanted to help him water it.  I knew exactly what he was asking – or I thought I did.  And again my mind kept flitting back to 2013, to Botboy, and the debacle that all was.  I must’ve mulled that over for two hours… really told myself that it didn’t matter what I WANTED to do, what mattered is that I still remained skeptical.  I thought that continuing to keep my profile up, options open, not really committing to anything other than watering this figurative plant would be enough.

And it was like the line in Season 1 of Dexter when he was musing to himself that the Ice Truck Killer was asking him if he wanted to play.  His response:  “And yes, I really, really do.”  And I did want to play.  Carefully.  So when I next parked, I pulled a screenshot of a watering can and sent it back to him via Whatsapp.

We went on like this for about a week.  Emails did not stop – though they started slowly (on his end) becoming a little less detailed).  We were messaging more, though, on Whatsapp, sharing selfies and screenshots, and I reasoned that now that we had two means of communicating, that was only natural.

And then the holidays came.  He started fading… that’s the only word I have for it… and I noticed, but he was still checking in daily and by day two of the fade, he very transparently told me that he was feeling “cave-y” – a word that he’d invented to describe needing some solitude (in an earlier extrovert/introvert discussion that we were having… again… generically), that it had nothing to do with me, but he wanted me to know what was going on. 

I told him I appreciated the transparency and asked him to continue with that because it was very attractive.  He agreed.  I then told him that I’d back away from initiating communication for a while because I wanted to give him the space he needed to process whatever he needed to process.  He thanked me for that.  Again, I had no reason to suspect anything, especially since he still continued to try to check in daily – though the emails, by now, had stopped.  He told me he didn’t want to “force it.”

(That should have been my first clue, yes.)

Still, he agreed to a phone call enthusiastically.  He asked if I could send him over some games that he and I could play together online (more board-game type things) “while we are apart” and I happily researched and obliged those.  We had our phone call.  It seemed to go well.  But something just didn’t feel “right.”  I could not help but start running this against the Botboy script – the way things were fine, then he faded when he was about to come back, until that all ended the way that it did.  It was similar.  It was similar, too, to the Professor when things ended the last time – the slow fade… followed, eventually, by the text message that broke it off (a slight improvement over Botboy, but not a lot).  This situation wasn’t exactly the same, but similar enough that I started feeling like something was off.

As I started thinking about it, I realized that in both of those earlier situations, I’d made a grave error.  I hadn’t really stood up for myself.  I hadn’t asked what was happening, I hadn’t asked for clarification.  I’d let things go on, giving them the space that I thought they needed, at the expense of my own wellbeing, only to be blindsided later.  Would talking to them about it have changed anything?  Who’s to say.  Maybe if I’d caught it early on… maybe if I’d opened the dialogue.  But I’d never know.

What I DID know is that I’ve spent the last year trying to rewrite my own scripts.  To stop constantly giving at the expense of my own mental wellbeing.  To stop waiting around, letting people do whatever they wanted, and just accepting the crumbs that are left.  I’ve done that several times this year – sometimes to the point of even cutting people out of my life who continually treat me that way – and continue to be better at enforcing my own boundaries. 

I knew that to rock the boat here was risky… it was a surgical procedure that could make or break everything… likely break it… but sitting here, staring out into space, hoping that I’d eventually get something wasn’t healthy for me either.  And one of the things that he and I had liked about this “relationship” is that we’d always been very transparent with each other from the beginning.  When he’d asked me one thing I was working on about myself, I said patience (and I elaborated and said I was being more patient with  myself – the other kind of patience… being LESS patient… was something I wasn’t ready to disclose at that time).

So I wrote him an email, opening with the part about patience, acknowledging that this could be coming from a place of anxiety, but also saying that I’d felt a shift in the energy.  I asked, simply, if this is something we could talk about. 

And then… crickets.  It’s been three days.  I can see him online, on OKC, on Whatsapp, so I know he’s not dead.  And I don’t know what technically constitutes as “ghosting.”  But the fact that he didn’t even bother to acknowledge receipt of the email (in the same way he didn’t bother to acknowledge receipt of the games email I sent him, at his request), the fact that I’ve heard nothing except Merry Christmas from him – a flood of messages that became a slow trickle to absolutely nothing – makes him seem like a ghost to me.

When I really think about this, from an outside observer’s perspective, it’s kind of dumb.  I mean all of this happened in less than a month.  I think what makes this one more blog worthy (because I really normally do not write about candidates) is the way that he presented himself as one thing and has proven himself to be completely different.  I mean, we all know actions speak louder than words and, short of being able to interact with him in person, this is all the “action” I can realistically gather. 

What I don’t understand is what the payoff was here for him… I sent him no packages (like I sent to Afghanistan).  We were so far apart that meeting for any reason – drinks, sex, laughs, dating, anything – was completely unrealistic without a significant amount of preplanning.  Why start the fire?  Why perpetuate a fantasy?  What was the point? 

And further, what is the point of ghosting in the first place?  If that is, in fact, what is happening here. 

I acknowledge that I may never know the answers to these questions.  I acknowledge that he may be one who is good at making himself look good on paper and yet who is a completely different person once it’s all said and done (but again, with no payoff, what was the point?).  I acknowledge that it is also possible that once his holiday is over, he may well return and try to talk again (there is an equal chance of this not happening as well) – especially if he did NOT lie about not being a ghost. 

In every possible instance though, the only thing I can control is my own reaction and how I handle this.  I could continue to message and email him desperately, but I would hope you all know (by now) that this is not my style.  I can turn him into a blog entry (which I have now done) and post it so that you can see it for yourself (and this time I’m leaving the comments on, so you can give your take on it, if you so desire).  I could puzzle over what the point of all of that was – and likely I will do that for some time, because in this situation it really is unfathomable to me. 

All I do know is that I’m proud of myself for, yet again, simply ASKING him if we could talk.  Maybe I didn’t get a response.  I may NEVER get a response.  But I also refused to take a backseat. So progress is progress.

So yeah… the comments are open… care to share what you think happened here?  Care to share what you think the point is of even starting something with someone so far away, only to ghost them two weeks later? 

(I don’t really expect a response… crickets are fine too. 😉 ) 

And yes, this one gets a nickname: The Australian (not original, but that’s what my friends and I have been calling him, so I’ll keep it).