I grew up on stories about worthy men cursed to live as beasts or ogres. Those tales taught that it was a girl’s task to liberate captive Prince Charmings with her love.
At the age of 4 or 5, I rebelled against this lesson. I was so disgusted by the Grimms’ fairy tale “The Frog Prince” that I hurled a once-treasured toy frog with all my strength over the fence at the end of our backyard, banishing it forever.
I’d watched an animated version of the fairy tale from a VHS tape depicting a loathsome frog who stalks a young princess to her home for a kiss.
The frog shouts gleefully: “If you cannot hate me any more than you do right at this moment, then your only choice is to learn to like me!” Ignoring her protests, he follows her into her room. He crawls onto her bed as she sobs there. She throws the frog, then regrets hurting him. Her empathy transforms him into a respectful prince.
“It was the true goodness in your heart that has awakened me from the old witch’s evil spell,” he says.
The film gave me the creeps. But the campaign to warp minds in favor of ghouls was relentless. Remember Belle’s song about her captor in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”?
“There’s something sweet and almost kind — but he was mean and he was coarse and unrefined. And now he’s dear and so unsure. I wonder why I didn’t see it there before!”
As a child, I was moved in spite of myself.
In my teens and 20s, I repeatedly fell for tormentors and trolls. I forgave them, thinking I could transform them.
As I struggled to leave one such man amid a deluge of his manipulative excuses, a friend suggested: “Ghost him.” At first it seemed unthinkable.
Ghosting struck me as a cowardly way to end a relationship: cutting off all contact, without explanation, just to avoid the discomfort of breaking up. I saw it as a shortcut used by conflict-averse Gen Zers and millennials who’ve become so reliant on digital communications that they’re losing basic human decency. Studies show that being ghosted can cause psychological harm.
I didn’t want to hurt anybody. But I did want to get away, and a certain kind of person never takes no for an answer. He sees rejection as an exciting challenge. Whenever I told such men I no longer wanted to see them, they tried to gaslight or coerce me into staying together. Sometimes they succeeded.
That story line is not confined to fairy tales and bad relationships. It keeps playing out in the headlines of the day.
There are antiheroes like former President Donald Trump, always ready with a soundbite to wheedle and fear-monger and hook his barbs into our nation’s attention, parading as though he were a beloved figure even though he lost the popular vote both times he ran for president. He has shown himself to be no prince.
Then there are the disgraced members of the L.A. City Council, whether it be Nury Martinez, who had the audacity to play the role model while resigning, or Kevin de León, whose pseudo-apology was more a bid for sympathy than contrition.
Seems a little too reminiscent of that frog who would follow you home no matter how you protested.
Fortunately, Angelenos are seeing through these antics. This city must move on regardless of whether De León and Gil Cedillo resign. We can tune them out. Like my friend said: “Ghost him.”
Since hearing her advice years ago, I’ve started to recognize ghosting as a powerful act — not the easy way out but, sometimes, the only way out.
Robin Stern, co-founder and associate director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and author of “The Gaslight Effect,” says ghosting is a terrible way to end ordinary relationships but can be an empowering way out of abusive relationships.
“Sometimes the best way to say ‘I’m done’ is by not saying anything,” she told me. “It stops you as well as the other person from being caught up in a back and forth where there’s no winning.”
Some recent research on ghosting suggests it could even be a safer way to separate from certain types of people, because giving them an explanation risks igniting an avoidable explosion.
Let’s just say I know the type.
I’ve long felt haunted by family history, by generations of addicts and abusers and the healers who loved them. Perhaps ghosting could be a radical act to call forth those ancestors — a ritual of enlisting their ghosts in my rebellion instead of reliving their mistakes.
The first time I ghosted a man, I ignored his calls and texts. I blocked him. Handwritten letters arrived by snail mail, one after another, tempting me to respond. But this was real life, not “Beauty and the Beast.” I knew that only silence would break his spell.
It felt like rebirth.
By redirecting my compassion away from broken men and toward the child in me who’d been brainwashed into endlessly indulging them, I could finally break free. It never was possible for me to save them from their curses. I could only liberate myself.
Following that, I ghosted other men in response to various red flags: negging, outbursts, violated boundaries.
My mother always said, “No te metas en la boca del lobo.” Don’t enter the wolf’s mouth. I’d ignored her for years, letting myself be consumed. The practice of ghosting taught me I could stop. I could tune him out. And I didn’t owe the wolf any explanation.