My first three years of college were punctuated by a cycle of downloading, deleting, and redownloading dating apps. Throughout this three-year-long cycle, I collected ghosts. They lived in my phone, haunting my Instagram feed, Spotify playlists, and, if lucky, my contacts list.
The process was almost always the same: swipe, message, exchange Instagram usernames, DM, ghost. There were sometimes variations. Sometimes a first date happened in between the DMing and the ghosting – occasionally two. This cycle was tiring but inescapable – a morbid compulsion to hoard more souls in an attempt to mend the holes in my own.
Last year while in school, I met and ghosted a lanky, charmingly awkward boy from Tinder. We bonded over a shared taste in arguably awful music. I thought I liked him, or at least I really wanted to like him. I thought maybe if we liked each other enough I might begin to like myself too. We texted for a few months, mostly exchanging painfully dry recountings of our days and weak attempts at lighthearted banter. There were two dates. I ghosted.
I felt bad, but I also felt a sense of closure. He had become another phantom on my timeline, a memory. I thought it was over, until he started relentlessly liking my Instagram stories. I didn’t understand this attempt to reach out, this call from beyond the grave. Recently, a post on his story revealed that he still had the sticker I gave him on our first date plastered on his guitar – a garish bright green vector image of my graphic design logo. I was still haunting him. The remorse I felt for creating this mutual vexing became unbearable. I unfollowed him and removed him as my follower. I unliked the Spotify playlists he had crafted for me. A successful exorcism.
But still, sometimes I can't help but let myself be haunted. Fragmented memories of these ghosts will linger in my head randomly like déjà vu . Perhaps the most sinister aspect of this perpetual haunting is not the memory of unsuccessful dates or awkward conversations with half-strangers, but the reminder of who I was at each point of ghosting. Lonely, bored, and riddled with low self-esteem, I had pursued online dating for two major reasons – trolling and male validation. The superficiality of connecting through a glowing rectangle only ever left me feeling empty. Even on the occasions where the virtual match led to a real-life meeting, I felt alone. The screen was still there. I was still there.
This week I combed through my Instagram and let go of the remaining shadowy figures lurking there, digitally burning sage over my following list. With each click, each “Are you sure?” pop-up, the ghosts disappeared in twos, ghost boys and ghosts of who I was when I met them. There’s no point in holding on to them anymore.
Art by Darla Warlick