Ghosting, simmering, icing…there is a whole list of ways you interact with people online and in relationship with them.
As I listen to Esther Perel share here experience about relationships on the Note to Self podcast, Ghosting, Simmering, and Icing, and part II, I didn’t see your text, I notice myself getting sad. The state of relationships these days seems so lonely and full of fear.
Fear of Rejection
You don’t want to be alone, but also are afraid to be with people.
Seen from this perspective your motivation in letting someone simmer – where you’re saying, “yes, I like you and I’d love to see you, but I’m really busy right now. I’ll call when I have some time” is what Perel calls Stable Ambiguity. I interpret stable ambiguity as the ability to tell yourself (and others) that you’re seeing someone, thus creating the perception and belief for yourself that you’re not alone, while also not having to enter into the uncertain territory of actually dating someone. You use the ambiguity to perpetuate the belief that you are stable.
If you date someone, then you’re risking all that dating someone brings along with it. You might get rejected. You might get hurt.You might have to say something that you feel is uncomfortable. You might have to confront feelings that you don’t want to confront.
Interesting to put this in the context of all the sexual allegations and confusion that is coming out now. I suspect you figure the best strategy is to avoid relationships and muffle desire and just keep yourslf safe. So the desire spiggot gets turned off and you seek meaningful connection through work, self-awareness/help, and friends.
One obvious problem with is s that desire can’t just be turned off. When you deny it, it gets bottled up where the pressure increases. As the pressure increases and you resist it, it gets to a place where it’s really hard to contain, and it gets released in ways that aren’t particluarly relational, or concentual, or healthy. Or intimate.
You can search for examples of this all over the news today – people not knowing what to do with pent up desire.
While trying to figure out how to handle desire, sometimes you meet someone. In the age of social media, this can be particularly exciting, because you go from feeling quite lonely to being constantly connected.
Imagine you’re feeling lonely and finally find someone you like and who seems to like you. Social media allow for constant and immediate connection. You might well be in contact with someone many hundreds of times a day, which to a lonely person feels absolutely amazing. Food for the soul. Your imagination feels all the excitement and hope of finally not being alone any more, perhaps even beginning to build a life together, or at least feeling like finally you’ve got a life, then all of a sudden, poof. Silence. No contact.
You got ghosted! There is a lot of pain. It’s like you’re on a very rapid roller coaster ride from loneliness to great hope to rejection, and a loneliness deeper and more full of self-doubt than before you met this person.
You probably say something like, “never again. That’s too painful.”
But, sometimes you get ghosted just because someone is sleeping or busy and in your desperation and impatience the distance from constant messages to several hours of no messages seems like a massive abyss – this isn’t a new thing, but before social media the roller coaster ride would take longer, days or weeks. Now with social media when those couple hours turn into days or weeks, the depth of the abyss gets really deep, and pretty fast. You go from imagining your life, more whole, less lonely, finally some relief from the inner struggles, and then it disappears. Poof. That hurts, and keeps hurting.
The rejection triggers all the times that has happened to you previously in your life, and it feels like enough.
Now, the wild and crazy part of ghosting and simmering is that you likely have done it to someone else, even though you know how shitty and painful it feels.
The new paradigm of relationships
Avoiding any awkward, difficult, uncomfortable situations is quickly becoming the way that relationships are, or aren’t, happening.
Your instinct when you go out with someone and don’t like them is to simply ignore them. Not message them back or put them off with a text. What isn’t part of the consideration is to say in person, “Hey, thank you for hanging out. You are a very nice person, but I’m not interested in dating or hanging out with you anymore. Thank you and good luck to you.”
This conversation requires some courage and willingness to deal with the discomfort of being honest and perhaps disappointing someone, and that’s not something you’ve been practicing or feel like you know how to do. What we’ve been practicing is avoiding discomfort. You might even think that you would hurt someone by being honest and saying that, but this is wrong thinking. You know from your own experience that someone ignoring you and you’re having to deal with not knowing and imagining what’s happening is worse. Unless, you’ve learned to accept stable ambiguity.