How to Do It, Slate’s sex advice column, now has its very own podcast featuring Stoya and Rich. Twice a week, they’ll tackle their most eye-popping questions yet in short, fun, informative episodes. Subscribe to the podcast now wherever you listen.
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Dear How to Do It,
I am really dating for the first time in my 30s, so I need some perspective on what seems to be an “acceptable” trend these days.
I am a trans guy. It took me a while after I started to transition to finally feel comfortable with dating women. My question is how to deal with this new culture of ghosting. I’ve been ghosted every time. Some, I didn’t really care about; others were pretty shattering. Why has it become so accepted? I understand if we’ve only spoken a few times. After a few months? Where has the decency and mutual respect gone? How do you continue to try without becoming cynical?
It’s wearing me down, emotionally, physically. My dating pool is already much smaller than average. Am I stuck just accepting it or destined to just end up alone? I don’t believe it’s me, as I continue to be told I’m pretty fantastic. I believe they’re feeling it at the time, then a few hours later the haunting begins…
Rich: Well, I think that the writer has a really healthy self-image. There seems to be a good self-esteem happening. And there’s also this consideration of the context, “I understand if we’ve only spoken a few times. After a few months?” I think that’s totally fair. I don’t even think that a few times constitutes ghosting. I’m thinking of it in an app kind of context.
Stoya: I was using an app recently, and there was this one person. We DM-ed on the app a few times, and then we did a FaceTime call, and then they had my phone number. And then they started with directly sexual messaging. And I was like, “Man, I feel like I’m at work,” so I didn’t want to deal with it. And then they were like, “You don’t have to ghost. You can just say.” And I’m like, “Okay, fine. You’re making me feel like I’m at work. I told you I’m a porn performer. I told you I have an OnlyFans. You’re treating me the way that customers do. That’s not recreational for me. So no, thank you.”
Rich: How did they take that?
Stoya: Very politely.
Rich: Okay. Because my reason for kind of not giving that feedback is, I’ve seen people take it not politely. So it seems like to me, people say that they don’t want people to ghost, but then if you tell them how you feel, why this isn’t working for you, they don’t want that either.
Stoya: For me though, I’m like, “Oh, another man is mad at me.”
Rich: Right, that’s very true, too. Overcoming that reaction is another thing. I think it’s completely reasonable—I mean, this might sound callous, even after you’ve had sex with somebody, you decide there wasn’t something that you liked about it. I don’t feel like giving you a lesson. Like firstly, like my tastes are my tastes. So you be you, and I’ll be me over here. And let’s not talk anymore.
Stoya: I love that.
Rich: Not everybody loves it!
Stoya: This is true. People want to kind of like fit themselves into what you want, and it’s like, “No, no, just do your thing. We’ll find out if we match. If we don’t, no worries, there are literally billions of fish in the sea.” So the ghosting thing is definitely something that I’m hearing about a lot.
I did one time send someone a ghost emoji.
Rich: You let them know that you are ghosting.
Stoya: I did, but I did it with an emoji, and apparently that was super callous. Like all of my friends were horrified, “Jessica, how could you?”
Rich: I feel like that’s better than just ghosting.
Stoya: I know, it was cheeky.
Rich: Yeah. It was a heads up, here’s what’s happening.
Stoya: Yeah. But it’s a thing that people do. It’s a thing I have done, rudely with emojis. And it’s a thing that people express consternation around.
Rich: Yes. And I do think though, if you’ve been talking to somebody for a few months and there is a reasonable expectation that you would keep talking, you’re building towards something, it really is the human thing to do, to be like, “Yo, I’m checking out.”
Stoya: After a few months is completely rude, there is no decency or evidence of mutual respect there.
Rich: As to why people ghost? I know people have listed tons of stuff about ghosting, but something I’ve noticed, especially in a younger generation, as an old person now, people compartmentalize shame to such an extent that they can’t even deal with themselves when they’re being shitty. And then you, by virtue of flagging them down and being like, “Hey, you were shitty,” you’re committing the offense.
Stoya: Well, that’s terrifying.
Rich: I try to be non-confrontational now, I do think that’s the way. But I also will absolutely never let you step in front of me in line without saying something about it. And I’ve gotten so much feedback from that, like, “How dare you notice me pulling one over on you and actually say something about it. You’re just supposed to let me go, you dickhead. I’m supposed to be able to do whatever I want.”
Stoya: Oh wow.
Rich: And I really feel like this entitlement, and this refusal to engage with your own shittiness—to the extent that if someone else points it out to you, they’re the bad guy—I think ghosting comes from this inability of people to interface with their own capacity to do other people emotional harm.
Stoya: Something that comes up a lot is like, “Is this cheating?”, which we think boils down to like, “Am I a bad person?” And people have this idea of themselves, this like self-concept of like, “I am a good person.” And it’s like, “But we all do things that harm other people.”
Stoya: We don’t want to acknowledge that “this thing that I do, because I feel entitled to it—whether I am or not—causes harm to people.”
Rich: All that’s to say is I think that this is a failing of the human vessel and the greater culture. And so, I think the best way to deal with this ghosting is to keep this wonderfully high self-esteem that our writer has, “I continue to be told I’m pretty fantastic,” while knowing that it’s not about you, just like everything is. I mean, that’s another contradiction, right? It’s not about you, and yet you feel like, from this kind of selfish perspective, “Well, but it should be a little bit more about me, but I am special enough that I should buck the trend. I should be able to supersede this tendency toward ghosting.” And you know what? You will, when you find the right partner. You will find somebody who loves you, likes you enough that they’re not going to do that to you.
Stoya: So to that end, how do you continue to try without becoming cynical? I advocate taking breaks. Dating is this whole gauntlet, everyone that I know has their thing that makes their dating pool actually pretty small. For me, I’m like, “Hello, I’m a porn star.” And if people put me on a pedestal or in the trash can—sometimes both—I’m like, “I can’t date you because we’re not human-to-human equals. You’re putting me above or below you.” I’ve got a friend who’s super-religious and wants to have children and raise them in that faith. That narrows his pool a lot.
So, there aren’t many trans men in the world, but there are lots of people who, for whatever reason actually have a pretty small dating pool. And when it gets to be too tough, when you start swiping on someone’s profile and thinking, “How long until they ghost me?”, do something else. Bolster your connections with your friends. If you have a pet, spend some extra time with them. If you like taking a bath, or going for a run, whatever it is, do that for a while, until you don’t feel exhausted by the gauntlet.
Rich: Totally. I find improving myself, or at least trying to, to be extremely therapeutic, no matter what the results are. Some meditating, working out, attempting to trigger profound insight through various substances. All of this, I find to be very useful. I feel like I’m actually working toward a goal, because another contradiction is, yes, while we are supposed to be communal in the best case scenario, just for the continuation of our species, you’re not going to be optimized unless you’re okay with yourself. And if you feel like you’re growing as a human, that’s a great way to keep yourself okay and functioning in society.
Stoya: Yes. Your okay-ness is best when it comes from within. That is when it is most okay.
Rich: Exactly. So keep fostering that high self-esteem, and hang in there. It’s going to work out for you.
Stoya: And I’m sorry people are jerks sometimes.
Rich: They are. Unfortunately, that is the truth of the world. You interact with people, and you’re going to get burned, but you keep trying.