Toys are for children – so why do I keep being made to feel like one by supposed adults?

Ghosting: the unabridged tale of a very Cambridge problem

#dating cambridge dating Dating Apps ghosting online dating

"Oh great. Here we go: another angsty teen snowflake rant!" Dismiss me as much as you like, but know that in doing so you are likely part of the problem.

It's Week 4 of Lent Term and once again I am in a predicament that I've found myself in countless times over since arriving here. Why didn't I see this coming? Why did I allow myself to be put in this position yet again?These questions are hurtling around in my mind and the feeling makes me feel sick to my stomach.

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He's just busy. Maybe he forgot to reply. I'll message again. It's fine.

I've been ghosted. Again.

Wow, that's a bit dramatic isn't it? Sure. I guess it is. And yet this time I refuse to dismiss myself and my own emotions as mere melodrama because frankly I am tired of it. I am tired of allowing myself to be walked all over because I'm too afraid of conflict to call someone out for it.

Some creepy people you are forced to ghost on dating apps and such like. I get it, if they're lowkey threatening, intimidating or just plain dangerous, ghosting is sometimes your only option (though I'd argue the block button is a better choice). What do you do when the ghosting, at least from your perspective, seems unfounded and undeserved?

The turn of events is usually very formulaic. We chat for a while–there are sparks. We meet–we have a connection. We see each other a couple of times–this seems to be going well! I check to see if we're on the same page. We are. I ask to see you again–you say yes. I check again, I ask if you're sure, I let you know that it's absolutely okay to end this now if you're not feeling it. You assure me that I'm being silly, that you like me, that you really want to see me again. Everything seems to be going in the right direction.

You're there…and then you disappear without so much as a goodbye.

I sit here wondering what I did wrong, what I could have done better, why this time I just wasn't quite good enough. Again.

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Many a tear shed over boys who couldn't care less Photo credit: Axel Naud

The occasional exchange of messages between us are limited to"hello"s and "how are you"s that result in either being left on read or being sent a response days, maybe even weeks, later. There was no argument, no reason to think that this wasn't going to work, not so much as a murmur of either doubt nor awkwardness. And yet here we are: strangers. It is as though my very existence is no longer something that concerns you. I see you around town and I'll be lucky to even be acknowledged, let alone be graced with a greeting.

Don't get me wrong, things have their beginning, and things have their end. Not every relationship is going to result in us dancing off into a romantic sunset like in the movies. However, when that end is much earlier than normal and totally unexpected, this excruciating, stabbing feeling of pain is all that much worse.

Having picked myself up from this particular episode of ghosting, I got to thinking about how this issue is much more amplified here in Cambridge.

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A dark cloud has besieged this university…

It is very easy to be swept away with work and other commitments. It is also very easy to forget that behind the screen is an actual human being, just like you, with an equally busy Cambridge schedule. I think that is why it is easy here to sometimes feel it's better to say nothing at all rather than waste 5 minutes telling me why "us" isn't going to work, to pretend that I don't exist and get on with your next essay rather than interrupt your busy schedule with common human decency. In other words, it is easier to dehumanise me than actually have to interact with me. That would require time and effort that you cannot and will not give me…

This is where the toy analogy comes in.

When we are children, we play with toys, and it's almost like they come alive. They have feelings, they have thoughts, and they interact with us like animate beings. When we briefly stop playing with those toys, they lose their agency, their power, their autonomy. They return to a state of nothingness, objects sat in a room, on a shelf, or in a box. They only feel things when we want to interact with them in that precise moment.

As soon as playtime is over, a child's focus returns to themself and their own desires. The toy is just a toy afterall. You can't hurt a toy. And when the child returns to playtime the next day, week, month, year, that toy, in their eyes, is UNCHANGED. What seems an eternity for a child is nothing more than a brief moment for a toy.

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I can't quite maintain such smiles 24/7

But I am not a toy, and you are not a child.

So when you play with me because you want attention, gratification, or entertainment, it's fine. I am here to please you. But when you get bored or have something else to do, you put me on a shelf and expect me to be the same when you come back, if you even do. I am supposed to blindly and willingly accept being picked up, thrown around, and then dropped. I am supposed to greet you with the same smile and chirpiness that I showed you the first time we met despite not speaking to me for over a week. I am supposed to accept this toy-like existence.

When I have to initiate every conversation, when I have to embarrass myself by repeatedly asking if you're even interested in me, when I have to pretend as though you being "busy" 2 weeks in a row is an adequate excuse for not seeing me, I have to stifle my tears and suppress my screams.

This kind of ghosting is wrong on so many levels. Various psychological studies have been carried out linking the silent treatment to narcissistic personality disorder and emotionally abusive behaviour in relationships. Ghosting is no better. As highly social creatures we crave to be wanted, accepted, and appreciated. So when you make me feel all those things and then take it away without explanation or remorse, it kills me inside. And each time, with each new relationship, the pain just gets worse. I don't want to become cold and closed off. I don't want to become distrustful of others, afraid that they will disappear from my life for no reason. But every time I get ghosted it gets so much harder.

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The dreaded blank screen: a sign of the beginning of the end

So this is my call to action. I want you to understand that I am not your toy. Nobody is. Cambridge is a very intense environment to have relationships in but that doesn't mean you are excused from a basic level of kindness and respect that should be given to any human being. Bad habits like ghosting are learned; they can be unlearned.

Stop ghosting, and think about the person behind the screen.