Last month in a Modern Love column entitled “The Five Stages of Ghosting Grief," Rachel Fields wrote about the grief that comes from not hearing back from a date.“Ghosting” (if you haven’t heard of the term) refers to the experience when a date (or someone with whom you’ve had a romantic and/or sexual encounter) simply never responds to your call or text. The original “Five Stages of Grief” were formulated by Swiss Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. The five stages are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. I found Fields’s article about ghosting grief to be witty and humorous. She writes about how when the man she was dating did not respond to her text, she went through a period of denial in which she imagined he had failed to write back because he was asleep, had dropped his phone in the toilet, or had died. She says that “any of these options were comforting.” Kübler-Ross’s “Five Stages of Grief” were originally meant to be about the experience of bereavement over the death of a loved one. Grief, however, can be experienced in relation to many types of loss (not just the physical death of someone we are close to). We experience grief, for example, over friends moving away, the loss of a job, a change in identity or role, or the loss of a home. Seemingly positive life changes may even elicit feelings of grief, such as graduating from college and experiencing a loss of community. We may also feel grief over the death of a person we are not close with, such as a celebrity. When grief is non-traditional in nature (ie. not over the death of a loved one) it is sometimes referred to as disenfranchised grief. Disenfranchised grief can sometimes be more painful because in addition to the grief feelings, our pain is not validated by those around us because our loss is not seen as something traditionally worth mourning. Ghosting grief is a great example of disenfranchised grief. Who feels sad when a date bows out of our lives by not responding to our text? Well plenty of people do, but it’s not the kind of grief that the people around us may readily understand. I also love Fields’s article because implicit in her experience of ghosting grief is another kind of disenfranchised experience— that of having what she calls a “two-week relationship” with the man who ghosted her. In our society, long-term relationships are often the only relationships that are seen as real and valid. A relationship with someone for two weeks (or even two dates) is rarely taken seriously. Even supportive friends may just not understand how someone could feel sadness over the loss of a two-week relationship. By expressing her despair over the loss of this guy, Fields is also saying “I really liked this person that I’d only been on a couple dates with.” In a world that holds up marriage and long-term unions as the only meaningful romances, this feels like a radical and courageous statement.
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Elizabeth Ehrenberg, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Oakland, CA.