The end of our third date is when I knew. This dude and I had zero chemistry, and there was no point in going on any more dates. He must've sensed it too, because when I left his apartment that night, we didn't so much as exchange I'll-see-you-arounds. I waited the cursory week to see if he'd ask me out again, and, hearing nothing, called it: We had mutually ghosted each other. It felt like a very clean break for what had been an extremely casual fling.
Or so I thought. Three weeks later, as I was scrolling to see who'd watched an Instagram story I made about a new haircut, I noticed something eerily out of place - his Instagram handle. We'd never reached following-on-Instagram-level intimacy, which meant this ghost searched for my handle and made the very deliberate choice to watch my dumb story. Thoroughly spooked, I asked my friend, "What does he want, what does this mean!??" Neither of us knew. The only clear thing was that I was being haunted by a dude whose number I'd never even saved to my phone. The ghost was caught in my Instagram attic and I had no clue how to set him free.
A haunt is a relationship ghost that somehow got stuck in your online world.
Ghosting has been a part of the modern dating lexicon for years. But haunting is new, and it's worse. To define this horrifying phenomenon, haunting is when someone from your romantic past lingers in your digital present by occasionally watching your Instagram or Snapchat story, or sporadically liking your posts. A haunt is a ghost from a previous relationship (or fling) that somehow got stuck in your online realm. They show up to spook you without any warning and, because they come and go when they please, the only way to get rid of them is to wait until they decide to go haunt someone else. There's no ghostbusters for a haunted ex.
To be clear, haunting is more than silently lurking on someone's Instagram or Facebook from relationship hell or heaven. It's some little reminder, in the form of a phone notification, that they once existed (to you) and that ending things with a person doesn't mean they don't exist anymore. These little reminders can be incredibly disorienting - why do these dead relationships linger? If communication is cut off everywhere else, why swirl around in your digital sphere?
Kate, 24, said she was surprised to find Becca* still watched her Snapchat and Instagram stories for weeks after Kate ghosted her. They'd been out twice, there wasn't a ~love connection~, and Kate ended it by neglecting to reply to a vague text from Becca. The two had followed each other on Instagram on the second (and final) date, and Becca stopped liking Kate's photos once text communication was cut off - but she was still often the first to view her Snap and Instagram stories. "I wondered what her intentions were," Kate said. "It felt fairly deliberate to me, her viewing the story was like a little, 'Hi, I still exist!' kind of thing."
Kate didn't know what to do. "You can't text them again after ghosting, because it could string them along or open that can of worms you wanted shut in the first place," she said. "Unless [the haunting] makes you realize, Oh, maybe I'll give them another chance, which I definitely think is the goal of the hauntee - or is it haunter?" She eventually just unfollowed Becca, and Becca quickly unfollowed her back. Becca's haunted spirit was released.
A haunt is even more brutal if the ghost is someone more serious - like a serious ex. Sarah, 25, dated Drew* for about 10 months, during which time she fell in love with him. They never had an actual breakup conversation, but things de facto ended almost a year ago when he moved across the country to take a teaching job. The two don't talk anymore - she wanted a bit of space and time to get over him before trying to reignite a conversation. And yet she knows he still exists, somewhere out there in the world, because he's constantly watching her Snap story.
you: how are you still single?- Erin Taylor (@erinisaway) April 17, 2017
It's simultaneously painful and comforting for Sarah to see his username on the list of story viewers. "Knowing he always watches makes it seem like it would be less weird for me to [text him]," Sarah said. "But I think that's entirely a product of my own mind. His unrelenting social media presence has just made it hard to forget about him."
The most fucked-up thing about haunting is that only the ghosts get to communicate - the living can't reach the dead in life or in dating. Sarah doesn't know why her ghost still keeps up with her life all these months later, but she'd never consider asking him why he keeps watching her very public Snapchat story. Trying to confront and banish your ghost can only backfire. Just like you'd look insane if you stood outside your house yelling at invisible ghosts to leave it alone, you'd look equally insane if you called a relationship ghost out for simply viewing your social stories. Acknowledging you're being haunted only validates the ghost and makes it stronger.
There is some solace in being haunted for anyone who's not quite over a breakup, or who wants to believe the ghost might come back from the dead. As much as she's spooked by her ghost, Sarah would be even more spooked if he suddenly left. "I would be sad [if he stopped]," Sarah said. "This is the only way I know that he still thinks about me, even if it's for the eight-second story. I'm 100 percent not over it, and this allows me a little imaginative space to think that he's maybe a teensy bit not over it too." You get used to anything, even a haunting, if it lingers long enough. Maybe that's the goal of all ghosts - they just want to stay close enough to know we're not moving on without them, and close enough to ensure we'll really miss them when they finally leave.
*Name has been changed.
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