Columns Lifestyle

Nice to Meet You, I’m a Slut: Left on Read

We’ve all been there. The dreaded blue tick. No response. No typing. Active several hours ago. It’s like the virtual equivalent of making eye contact with someone you might know in public only for them to quickly avert their eyes and pretend like they didn’t see you … but they definitely did. And now it’s awkward because there’s literally no way for you to address that that person has *seen* you without coming off as desperate. So, you might make excuses for them: ‘oh, maybe they’re just really busy’, or ‘maybe they’re going through something’, or (the worst) ‘maybe it’s something I said’. But what you don’t do, under any circumstances, is ask them directly ‘why did you air me?’ because, well, you simply don’t – partially because it’s not deemed the social norm, but also, that way, you never have to deal with a verbalised, proper rejection. Better to let it go than to risk further humiliation by stooping to the low of a double-text… Right?

The terms ‘air’ and ‘ghost’ are not unfamiliar to our generation. We invented them, mostly so we could ‘spill the tea’ about that guy you went on a date but blanked you the following week, or that Tinder match that never replied to that really witty opening line you spent hours drafting. The key distinction between the two is that airing is a little less severe – to be aired is often a temporary state (that person will get back to you eventually). Meanwhile, ‘ghosting’ is the much more rash act of  severing all communication with a person without a word of warning. In more extreme circumstances this can mean blocking on all social media and active avoidance in public places. Sadly, ghosting is not confined to the dating world; friends, student newspapers, and potential employers can be guilty offenders too. I myself was ghosted by a local bar who had me work an unpaid 13 hour ‘trial shift’ and then proceeded to never get back to me. Regardless of whether it’s a local bar giving you the honest truth and that you’re shit at pouring pints (I really was), a magazine letting you know your piece doesn’t meet their standards, or a recent date admitting they simply don’t fancy you – it always feels far better to be in-the-know than to be left waiting for that all-important text or email only for it never to arrive.

The Urban Dictionary helpfully sheds some light on why people ghost others, explaining that ‘many attempt to justify ghosting as a way to cease dating the ghostee without hurting their feelings.’ Realistically, the ghostee’s ‘feelings’ here are a scape-goat for the ghost’s laziness, awkwardness, or generally poor communication skills. As much as there are times when ghosting might be the only feasible option (like when dealing with bullies, abusers, or otherwise toxic people with whom that ‘difficult conversation’ would be impossible) generally speaking, it does far more harm than good. Yet ghosting has become the new way to end things.  Clichés like “I just need some space”, “I’m not ready for a relationship right now”, and the all time classic “it’s not you, it’s me” are dead and buried and radio-silence has taken their place. Admittedly, there is no nice way to end things without resorting to awkward clichés, but actively not ending things and expecting the other person to ‘take the hint’ is arguably much worse. For a more sensible dating exit-plan, see eharmony’s kinder alternative to ghosting: ‘caspering’. Inspired by Casper the friendly ghost, caspering is when you let someone down gently (through whichever cliché suits the situation best) “that recognises that while things won’t always work out, everyone deserves to be treated kindly”.

‘Airing’, ghosting’s slightly nicer but honestly not-much-better cousin, is an even more common issue that plagues friendships and relationships alike. I will hold my hands up and admit that I am a shit texter. By that I mean I very rarely pick up my phone to reply to a message as soon as it’s appeared on the screen (unless it’s something urgent, like a housemate asking if I want take-out for tea). I will reply at my leisure, or when I know I have the energy to provide an adequate response, so as to avoid seeming short-and-snappy, passive aggressive or disinterested through sloppy wording. I’m not quite sure when a ‘slow reply’ becomes an ‘air’ and I consider the arbitrariness of this fine line to be part of the problem. Some would consider being left on read for any amount of time an outrageous act of airing, whilst others don’t.

Personally, I am happy to wait a few days for a response; I’d rather a substantial answer than a one-worder that kills the conversation entirely. In fact, I get a little flustered when I see the three dots bobbing in the left-hand corner of my screen as soon my message has sent. I find the fast pace of modern life overwhelming without the obligation to maintain flowing text-conversations with several people at any given moment. It frustrates me that texting etiquette has become more important than ever with the theory that, because we’re stuck in quarantine, there are now no excuses for slow replies as people seem to feel even more entitled to others’ attention at the moment. I’ve seen a worrying number of posts which treat this pandemic as some opportunity to find out who their “real friends” are (i.e. the ones who check up on them), forgetting the very obvious fact that the world does not revolve around them, and that many people won’t have the energy to strike up normal conversation with the classic ‘hey, how are you?’ Just because we’re all stuck inside, does not mean we have to be glued to our phones for the foreseeable future especially since everyone’s screen-time has already skyrocketed with pretty much all of our social and academic interactions taking place via Zoom. With term now underway, I’ve been leaving my phone in another room so as to decrease risks of more distraction at a time when it already feels near-impossible to concentrate.

So, I propose that we respect our loved one’s privacy, frustrating though it might be; if they haven’t text back in a few days, don’t take it personally, but if you are worried about them don’t be afraid to drop that double-text with the ‘if you want to talk, I’m here, if not – that’s okay!’ because not everyone will be feeling up to exchanging niceties in messenger, snapchat, or your Instagram DMs. However personal being ghosted or aired may feel – it rarely is. Or at least that’s what I tell myself when I go to check my messages for the zillionth time that day only to find x, y, or z has yet to muster the courage to just tell me I’m shit at pouring pints and am therefore not cut out for bar work. I make the effort to believe that I’m actually incredibly good at pouring pints – TOO good – so good they feel it would be an injustice to hire me in the little leagues of Matlock when I’m clearly destined to work Happy Hour somewhere in central London. With ghosting comes the painful absence of answers… which provides horrifying scope for some serious over-thinking. Rather than speculate on all the things I might have done wrong to be deemed unworthy of a reply, I prefer to concentrate my creative energies on inventing various scenarios that made x, y, or z unable to see, or even speak to me ever again.

Alice Garnett

Alice is our resident sex columnist whose interests include pints, pink, and all things love-related. When she's not evangelising Singledom she's busy hyping up her East Midlands home town, demystifying bisexuality, and writing for other publications such as Lithium Magazine and Adolescent Content.