I Was Ghosted (By a Ghost)

Last month, I finally broke down and joined a dating site.

It’s what I wanted all along, really. I mean, sure, I may’ve bashed online dating a few times—back when I was in a relationship and could afford to be smug—but beggars can’t be choosers, and anyway, they seem to be pretty darn effective if the glossy commercials are any indicator. It’s not a concession on my part, it’s more like . . . strategizing. Trying new things. I’m bettering myself, okay? I’m putting myself “out there”—whatever that term even means.

I’ll admit, putting together my profile was a bitch. I have no experience with this sort of thing—what was I supposed to say? One thing I knew was that “being myself” was a terrible, terrible idea. I always say that you can’t be your true self till at least halfway through the engagement. (Which may explain why I’ve been engaged four times and never married . . . but anyway.)

In the spirit of faking it, I described myself as being taller than I am, and included a list of books and movies I declared my “very favorites,” many (all) of which I haven’t actually read or watched . . . but those are just the little fibs people use on these sort of sites. (I also included photos of me circa four years ago, when I was a bit thinner and going through a low-cut-top phase. And, okay, I knocked a few years off my age too. Again, little fibs.)

The replies started to pour in. Sweaty bald guys and men with no money, jobs or prospects. A creepy dude in his fifties with crazy eyes; a dark-haired man with a red face who resembled a serial killer in his profile pic. I groaned loudly as I browsed these pitiful souls, asking myself where I went wrong. Here I was, thirty-eight and scrounging around the bargain bins of dating. I cannot be single and in my forties—the idea was/is repugnant, a surefire sign of failure. Men would smell it in the air and stay far, far away. And, since I’m two years away from forty, I have to marry and marry fast—but, as I reminded myself then, Don’t be desperate. I mean, I have standards, as I should. I don’t want men with children, men with thinning hair, men without real jobs, men who don’t own their own homes. Marrying one of those undesirables would be almost as bad as remaining single. I was fully prepared to lay these demands on the table with the pokerface of a bluffing champ. I mean, yeah, I’m thirty-eight, but I have most of my shit together and a list of pros way loner than cons. I can afford to be somewhat selective.

Then along came Gary.

I was right away intrigued by his profile. It was a little vague and sparse, just a few details about himself, largely abstract. I live in an old mansion outside of town, it said. My favorite activities are strolling through graveyards, solemnly moaning, standing alone for minutes on end during a rainy, misty day, and possessing objects.

I could tell right away he was passionate—he liked to possess objects, after all—and articulate. My mind imagined him as a painter, perhaps a musician. He would stroll with me through the gardens of his “old mansion,” and we would kiss beneath a canopy of apple trees. He’d dress stylishly, but not pretentiously, and use words like “enchanté” and “lobster thermidor.” Our love story would be one for the ages, I was sure.

In fact, I had built him up so much in my mind, I was almost hesitant to contact him. There was no profile photo, which I’d normally find suspicious, but he seemed to me a romantic, too busy with important life matters to bother snapping photos. I could excuse one small red flag when he had so much else going for him.

So I wrote him a message. Hi Gary! I’m Deb. Are you a painter, by chance? I agonized for twenty minutes over whether or not to include a winking smiley face at the end. Would it make me seem flirtatious? Slutty? Cute? Too cute? Coquettish? Childish? I finally opted for a non-winking, classic smiley instead. It seemed like the safer option.

A day later, I got a response: I’ve done some painting in my day, yes. By the way, I really like your profile. Would you be interested in meeting?

A wave of relief and excitement flooded me. I shot back an enthusiastic “yes!” complete with another classic smiley, since the first one seemed to work well for me.

How’s Saturday? he asked, a day later.

Saturday’s great! What time?

Well, what time would you prefer? And would it be acceptable if we met at my place?

Oof. Red flag #2. I drummed my fingers against my desk as I considered the proposal. Did this mean he planned to murder me? Was he just a recluse? Was he agoraphobic? So many questions swirled through my head . . .

But I was definitely not going to cancel. I mean, I’d made it this far, I had to at least meet the guy—albeit in a public space. I was thinking more along the lines of coffee. There’s a great bakery in town that could work. Is that okay?

The next twenty-four hours dripped by slowly. I waited with bated breath for his reply, terrified I’d scared him away. Should I have used the word “bakery”? Or would it have made me seem more worldly and interesting if I went with “patisserie”? And was coffee passé now? Had I given away my real age? What do kids today do on first dates, anyway? Go to vape stores?

Finally, a response: Yeah, that should be all right. Saturday at two sound good?

I breathed a sigh of relief, fired back another enthusiastic “yes!” with a smiley, and then patted myself on the back for a job well done.

I just prayed he still had all his hair. And no kids. And not too much baggage.

Saturday arrived. I was eager, but also a nervous wreck. I spent the morning applying and reapplying my makeup, trying to get it just right, my stomach twisted in knots. “You’re a disaster,” I hissed at my reflection, swiping yet another layer of mascara on each eye. I poked myself with the brush and then proceeded to lose my mind for the following ten minutes, as I cried out from pain and then later, from anxiety, slouching on the bathroom floor and ruining all my layers of makeup with a sudden burst of tears.

Why is dating so hard?

After the ten minutes of hysteria ended, I got myself together, redid my makeup for the umpteenth time, then gave myself a pep talk in order to make it out the door: “You’re sexy. You’re cool. You’re going to do great. He’s lucky to go out with you. He’s going to be eating out of the palm of your hand. Yeah, yeah. You’ve got this in the bag.”

My phone buzzed with an alert, letting me know it was time to go, and then I grabbed my purse and left for the coffee shop.

Sweet Jesus. I was actually doing this.

By the time I made it to the bakery, I felt like I was on a cloud. The nerves had given way to pure, undiluted excitement. I fantasized about Gary the whole car ride over, picturing him as a dark-haired European with a trace of an accent and a zest for life. His eyes would be sea green and his arms bulky with muscle. He would have full lips and high cheekbones like a goddamn male model, and he’d remember every anniversary with a thoughtful present—not just a generic bouquet of roses, but something with meaning.

I couldn’t help thinking, This feels right. I know I’m going to marry this man.

When I got to the bakery, I parked my car fast as I could and practically ran inside. I was five minutes early, so I wasn’t sure if he’d be there or not, but I hoped desperately that he would. I just had to see him. The suspense was killing me.

The bakery was full of people, but most of them were families, couples, or the gainfully employed grabbing lunch to go. I passed a group of teenagers speaking loudly about what Shannon Franklin wore to school on Friday, and a couple of sticky-faced, curly-haired children doodling on napkins. Hmm. Perhaps this place wasn’t the ideal first-date coffeehouse after all. But I was rusty, and not good at planning dates under the best of circumstances, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Maybe for our next date, Gary will take me and some of his friends to his ski chalet, I thought dreamily. (I assumed he had one. I mean, he had an “old mansion”—ski chalets usually go along with that, right?)

Then it was as if the seas parted, and, as I turned my head, I spotted him suddenly. He was seated in a quiet corner, by himself, tapping his foot nervously. He wasn’t quite what I’d imagined—in the flesh, he had a bookish, nerdy look to him, complete with a pair of spectacles, and also, he was dead—but his hair wasn’t thinning, his face wasn’t red, he didn’t seem to have crazy eyes, he was still in his thirties, and he was reasonably attractive. I can work with this, I thought, approaching him with my best, most beaming smile. “Gary?”

“That would be me.” He smiled back, only his was sheepish. He was bordering on transparent, so I could partially see through him to the rest of the coffee shop. He had good hands, I noticed, and pretty decent bone structure. His eyes were dark and very expressive—another score.

“I’m Deb. It’s so nice to meet you,” I said, taking a seat across from him.

“You too. You look just like your photos.”

I didn’t, but I appreciated him saying so. “Thanks! I was so curious about what you looked like, since you didn’t have any pictures of your own on your profile. Of course, now I see why,” I said, gesturing to him.

“Yeah, I don’t really show up in pictures anymore.” He paused. “I hope I didn’t mislead you. I know I didn’t expressly put down on my profile that I’m a ghost, but I felt like I implied it.”

“Uh, yeah, I figured it out after a while . . .” (I hadn’t, of course, but I didn’t want him to think I was obtuse.) “So what do you think of the coffee shop?”

“It’s nice. Good to get out of the house once in a while. Because of my condition, you know, I stay indoors fairly often. People can be kind of rude.” His gaze drifted over my shoulder, and I twisted around to see the sticky-faced children had stopped coloring long enough to stare at him, each with blank, puzzled expressions. Their mother, realizing what they were doing, flushed and quickly told them not to.

“So I take it you don’t have kids?” I asked hopefully, turning back to him.

“Not a one.”

“Oh good. I don’t, either.”

“Nice to know we’re on the same page.” He smiled again. He had a great smile. It was see-through, sure, but also pearly white. “So you live around here?”

“About ten minutes away.”

“I live, as I said on my profile, outside town—maybe thirty minutes from here—in this old mansion, quite beautiful actually, situated on several acres . . . there’s a lake, a small topiary maze . . . anything a chap like me could ask for.”

He wasn’t a male model, sure, but he did come with certain other bonuses. Already I could picture myself sprawled out by the lake, wearing a swimsuit and sipping a daiquiri during summer. I felt myself grin just thinking of it. “That sounds amazing.”

“Oh, it is. Stunning.”

“So when did you die?”

“It was early fall, 1907. Stubbed my toe, and when I stumbled back”—he mimed an abrupt backwards jerk—”I completely lost my balance, and fell right into the lake, the one I mentioned. Oh, and I couldn’t swim.”

“Jesus,” I said, my dreams of sitting lakeside and sipping daiquiris vanishing in an instant. “What a way to go.”

“You’re telling me.”

“Well, your vocabulary is very contemporary,” I said, leaning forward on my elbows and oh-so subtly pushing my boobs together. Then I tilted my head just slightly to one side, because I knew that was a flattering angle for me and made me look just the right amount of seductive, and I pushed out my lips into the prettiest smirk I could possibly manage. “I wouldn’t have guessed you were born more than a century ago.”

“I make a concerted effort to stay up with the ‘lingo’ of present day. All these ghosts I meet who refuse to change with the times are just so aggravating. I don’t care if you died in 1830, it’s the twenty-first century now, and here, we use cell phones.”

“Oh, I know! It’s . . .” I paused, struggling to come up with the right word. You know, something that would make me sound eloquent and intelligent without being pretentious; I wanted to impress him. Finally, I went with, “. . . unpalatable.”

“Unpalatable, yes,” he repeated with a nod. “Good word.”

I puffed up with pride at my own brilliance.

A girl came over then, about nineteen or twenty, with a limp brown ponytail that bobbed with her every movement. She had on an apron and wielded a notepad. “Can I get you two anything? Would you like to see our brunch menu?” Her eyes lingered just a little too long on Gary, who shifted in his seat uncomfortably at her question.

Now’s my chance to really impress him, I thought. So, looking right at her, I said crisply, “Why would you ask us that?”

“Oh, uh, I thought—it’s just a standard question. Some of our patrons don’t realize we serve brunch, so I thought—”

I held up a hand, silencing her. “I don’t care about that. I don’t even care what you ‘thought.’ Do you know what he is?” I pointed to Gary without taking my eyes off the ponytailed idiot.

“Well, yes, I—”

“What is he?”

“He’s a ghost, ma’am.”

“It’s miss, not ma’am,” I corrected. Now I was offended on my behalf just as much as Gary’s. “But yes, he is a ghost. Do you know what ghosts eat?”

She tried to form a response but came up dry, her mouth hanging open in confusion. A small, nervous squeak escaped.

I continued: “They eat nothing. Know why? Because they can’t eat, or drink. They’re ghosts. They’re dead. So when someone like you comes over and asks if he’d like to order something, or look at a brunch menu, do you know what you’re doing?”

“I—”

“You’re rubbing it in his face. It’s like going up to someone allergic to peanuts and asking them if they’d like some Nutter Butters. Do you understand that now, miss?”

She stood there, stunned, embarrassed. Silent. I waited, and waited, and finally she mumbled a quick, humiliated “I’m so sorry” in Gary’s general direction, then spun on her heel and hurried away.

He looked at me, awestruck. It was like he was seeing God. (I made a mental note to ask him later if he ever had.) “That was incredible, Deb. I can’t believe you did that.”

“Well, I can’t very well let ignorance go unchallenged, can I?” I smiled at him, like it was nothing, like I was just that amazing every day. Then I shrugged and added, “It was the least I could do, really. Does that happen to you often, fielding those type of questions?”

“All the time,” he admitted. “People just don’t make an effort to learn anything about ghosts at all. I just say, ‘No, I can’t eat, because I’m dead, and that’s a part of who I am, I’m okay with it, I’ve made peace with it.’ Because a lot of time, I get these looks of pity—you know, ‘oh, you can’t eat? so you’ve never even tried a cronut? how sad for you!’—and I’ve learned to put a stop to it before it gets that far.”

I shook my head. “Idiots, every last one. You know what? We should get out of here. I don’t want to support this place after dealing with such inept service.”

“Really?”

“Absolutely.” I stood up from my seat and Gary did the same. He said he’d take a shortcut and meet me outside, then disappeared through the wall facing us. I could see him on the sidewalk from the window and gave him a cute, semi-flirty wave. As I approached the door, I spotted the ponytailed moron cowering in the corner as if she’d been struck. I shot her a disapproving look before stepping out into the cool, early-October air.

What happened next was like something straight out of a rom-com. We walked around the quaint downtown, talking and getting to know each other. I realized quickly that Gary was fascinating—an adept story-teller, excellent conversationalist. Everything he told me was riveting, and I could tell he’d lived an engrossing, amazing life (and death). I added a few more lines to the plus column I was keeping track of in my head. (What? You do the same thing, admit it.)

We walked through a park covered with gorgeous trees clad in red and gold leaves, and at one point, he took my hand. His own hand was deathly cold and kept disappearing on me, turning transparent—but, in the moments when I could actually hold it, I liked the feeling.

We even passed by a horse and carriage at one point, which was giving rides to lovey-dovey couples. The clip-clop-clip-clop was wonderfully soothing—that is, until the horse took a look at Gary, and proceeded to tear down the pathway like a mad beast, overcome with fear. “That’s one of the drawbacks of being dead,” Gary said, grimacing. “Animals hate you. In fact, the word ‘spook’—you know, in reference to when horses act like that? take off running because they’re spooked?—comes from us ghosts and our fraught relationship with animals.”

He knew all sorts of fun facts like that. Which is good, because I always say that trivia is a huge aphrodisiac.

Eventually, we said our goodbyes while huddled under one of those gorgeous trees. I stood around awkwardly, waiting for him to kiss me, but he didn’t. Afterwards I came to the conclusion that it was a good thing he hadn’t—it proved he was a true gentleman.

And I was thrilled.

That night, I decided to send him a message through the dating side. Amazing first date! One of the best I’ve had, I typed out. Then I paused—did I sound too eager? Maybe even desperate? Oh God, I did. Quickly, I erased the message and started over. I had a lot of fun! Hope to see you again soon. I squinted at the message, tracing the mouse over it absently. Now I sounded too aloof, like I wasn’t invested. For God’s sake, the message could’ve been written by his uncle. No, I had to make it clear I was interested but without being overeager, and I had to make it just the right amount of flirty so it wouldn’t seem stiff.

I cracked my knuckles and had at it once more: So great today. Excited for date #2. Would love to make it happen. Reading this one over, I cringed so hard that I’m surprised I didn’t freeze that way. Was I attempting to use as few words as possible, or were my sentences clipped because I actually talked that way? I silently prayed it was the former.

That was a terrific date! I really enjoyed myself. Let’s do it again soon, okay? Ugh, now I sounded pushy, like I was telling him we’d have another date. I groaned aloud as I went back to my old friend, the delete button.

I really enjoyed myself today. It was an awesome date. I’d love to see you again. I wasn’t entirely happy with this version, either, but I decided to settle for it, figuring I couldn’t come up with anything better. And anyway, it wasn’t so bad—I didn’t sound pushy, desperate, overeager, or aloof, so as I checked off all those boxes in my head, I pressed “send” and hoped for the best.

It was in Gary’s hands now, the ball steadily stationed in his court.

But when I didn’t hear back from him the next day, I began to question if he knew that.

I was slowly driving myself crazy as I replayed my message over and over in my head, second-guessing everything I’d said, wondering if he’d even received it in the first place . . . was it smart that I’d sent it through the dating site rather than to his phone, even though I had his number? At the time, I’d opted for the site because I didn’t want to seem annoying—he’d just given me his number; wasn’t it gauche to text him so quickly? Now I was regretting it. After all, if I’d sent it to his phone, he would’ve had to look at it—it would’ve been right there, blinking at him, in his pocket and in his hand, at his fingertips. He wouldn’t have had to log onto a website just to see what I’d written. And, best of all, he would’ve been able to respond promptly and easily.

So I decided to text him.

And, yes, I know how that makes me look: desperate. First the dating site, now his phone? I was more or less bombarding him. I’d spent so much time scrutinizing my dating site message and correcting any hints of desperation that it was extra rich to be now turning around and sending a blatantly desperate, second-time’s-the-charm text.

But I was desperate. I’ll admit that, okay? And when you’re desperate, it’s hard to give two fucks about just how desperate you’re coming off.

Still, I tried my best to play it cool by writing up the most nonchalant text I could manage: Hey Gary! It’s Deb. How are things?

I then proceeded to sit by my cell phone, pretending to watch TV when really I could barely take my eyes off the stupid darkened screen, waiting for it to light up with a text. Write me, write me, please write me, I thought, as if I could somehow will his fingers to life through my cell phone.

The minutes ticked by. Then hours. Then suddenly, I woke up and found myself on the couch, the phone still at my side, the TV playing in the background. I’d been waiting so long I’d fallen asleep. Undeterred, the first thing I did when I woke was hit the home button of my phone to see if a text was waiting for me.

Nothing was.

Shit. My fantasies of our second, third, fourth and fifth dates—each better than the last—were growing more and more distant. Was it possible he wasn’t as into me as I thought? I wanted to fling my phone across the room, but fought the urge; my eyes drifted wearily toward the top of it, where the time was displayed: 12:26 AM. Double shit—I’d sent that stupid text to him at 4:13 in the afternoon. He had to have seen it by now, and he had to have made the conscious choice to ignore it.

I wanted to cry.

Why is dating so hard?

Little did I know that Gary’s inability to respond to messages in a timely manner would become a recurring theme in our brief relationship. At that point, I was just confused—confused, grasping, and yep, desperate. I had decided, based on the small amount of evidence I’d gathered during the course of our first date and communication beforehand, that he was the ideal match for me. Perhaps even perfect. The idea that we might not even make it to a second date was a terrifying thought, one I refused to entertain.

Fuck it, I’ll text him again tomorrow, I decided, even though I knew not to. Texting him twice within twenty-four hours after having already send him an IM was an awfully cringe-y thing to do, and my non-desperate, best self would’ve never dreamt of it. But I was a girl on a mission, and that mission was to get Gary to respond—even if that meant a little harassment was required.

First thing the next day, I sent him yet another text message: Gary? You there? Now, I figured, he’d have to respond. That was a message that demanded a reply. It was subtly confrontational, not something you could just avoid. And anyway, it would only take him five seconds to shoot back a yep or yes or hell, even a mmhmm.

So I sat by the phone and waited, like a pitiful teenaged girl on prom night, telling myself, You’ll hear from him any minute now.

And no, I didn’t.

My frustration and confusion now turned to anger and resentment. Who did he think he was, ignoring my messages? He wasn’t such a catch that he could afford to be rude, and he certainly wasn’t out of my league. In fact, he was lucky I’d even given him the time of day. You’re a hot piece of ass, I told myself, in a halfhearted attempt at a pep talk. You don’t have to put up with this.

Still . . .

I went back on the dating site to hastily scroll through the rest of my prospects, checking to see if I’d gotten any other suitors more interesting and well-mannered than Gary. I passed by the usual parade of carnival-sideshow faces, my hope waning by the second. Then there were the men who looked okay but had lousy profiles, like the one who said that all he cared about were “boobs, butts and beers.”

I sighed, looking up at the ceiling and asking God or Buddha or the Pope—whoever—what on earth I did to deserve this.

Another bad idea occurred to me: I should write him a “You Oughta Know” text of undiluted rage, telling him off and burning the Gary bridge once and for all.

Don’t be rash, the more relaxed part of me replied. Give it another day. He could be The One.

Yes, yes, The One—perhaps this would just be a funny story we’d tell at dinner parties one day. And then I waited all day by the phone for Gary to text me, and just as I was pondering whether or not to send him a fuck-you text, he responded and we lived blissfully ever after!

That was plausible, right? I told myself it was.

I wondered if his flakiness had to do with the fact that he was a ghost. Are ghosts bad at returning text messages? Was that question racist?

But wait—ghosts aren’t a race, exactly, they’re a . . . species? Community? Does anyone know?

Maybe instead of racist, the term would be anti-ghostist. That made more sense, I figured.

Of course none of it really mattered, because my phone still hadn’t—

Suddenly, it buzzed.

I nearly knocked over some furniture in my rush to grab it, staring down at the screen with an almost palpable hunger (or desperation—whatever). Yes, I’m here. In those three words, he managed to completely turn around my day. I went from feeling shitty to newly hopeful and excited again. I was practically salivating for more, more, more—another text, even a phone call, and definitely that second date I’d been yearning for. My dreams of going out with him, maybe even having a serious relationship with him, were officially back on.

Oh, hey there! I wrote, straining to sound casual. Are you doing anything this week? It’d be so neat to see you again.

I shot off the message without stopping to reread it, I was in such a hurry to keep the conversation going. Big mistake on my part, and something I almost never, ever do. Rereading it, I winced—”neat”? Was he the one from last century, or was I? And I had now entered pushy territory, no doubt about it. I had wanted him to ask me out (the whole “ball in his court” thing again), and now I was making the first move. Shit, shit, shit. I’d given myself away; I had no more cards to play in this game, and he was the one left with the upper hand.

Thankfully, he did not take advantage of this and instead wrote back a simple message that made a spark of happiness shoot through me: I’m mostly free. What did you have in mind?

And that’s how we ended up on our second date. Though asking someone out is always scary, and I’m not one to make that movie usually, sometimes it does pay off.

We went to the movies. I would’ve liked to have gone to a nice dinner, but that seemed insensitive, what with Gary being a ghost and all. I couldn’t exactly ask him to eat when all he’d be doing is watching me eat—and anyway, no one looks cute while they’re eating.

So, the movies it was. As for what we saw, the decision was pure calculation on my part: I chose a horror movie, figuring it would give him a good opportunity to “comfort” me during the scary parts and put an arm around me. Some physical contact early on is vital to a successful relationship, I find, and you can learn a lot about a person by whether or not they comfort you during moments of crisis, and just how they go about doing it—it’s one way I feel out compatibility.

Several times during the movie, I put on a show of being terrified. I made little whimpering noises that I hoped sounded sexy but may’ve instead sounded like I was in labor, and gasped repeatedly—and loudly. I even pretend to jump during one of the never-scary jump scares. None of it worked, though: Gary was completely clueless.

I went back and forth over whether or not this was a forgivable offense. So he didn’t comfort you—big whoop. He’s got a lot of other things going for him.

But he’s also bad at responding to messages in a timely manner. That’s going to be a problem.

Please, you’re reaching and you know it. This guy’s perfect. He’s a dreamboat.

Is he, though? I mean, do I really like him or am I just settling? Could I do better?

After the movie, we went out for coffee. He couldn’t have any, but I could and he said he didn’t mind watching me. I thought that was sweet and added “selfless” to his list of pros.

During coffee, I said, “I don’t think you’ve told me yet what you do for a living.”

“Oh, I don’t work,” he replied. “Most ghosts don’t. Our condition makes many jobs unfeasible, and one little known fact is that it’s really tough to get hired when you’re dead.”

“Oh, that’s dreadful. So what do you do all day? Hang around the house?”

“Pretty much. And I take my Schnauzer for walks, and visit art galleries . . . but yes, it’s a lot of house-time.”

Oh boy. That was one more strike—I mean, I was sympathetic to his plight of course, and at least his reason for not working (being a ghost) was legit and not some lame-ass excuse . . . but still. Did I really want to be with someone with so much free time on their hands, someone who could hang around the house all day if he so chose? I do value some space in a relationship. Frankly, I think if I had to constantly be with the other person, I’d probably kill them. Though I guess that ship had already sailed with Gary . . .

At the end of the evening, he made his move and kissed me. I’d never kissed a ghost before, and I’ve gotta say, it’s not great. They have cold, dead lips, and annoyingly, he kept turning invisible on me—imagine trying to kiss thin air and you should have a pretty good idea of what that is like. He did apologize for the latter though, saying it was hard to manifest as a solid, visible person when he was so nervous.

I pretended to find that charming (I didn’t), and asked, “Aww, you’re nervous because of me?”

He nodded his head, and he likely would’ve blushed if he weren’t, you know, dead.

After our second date, I had a lot of thinking to do, so I decided to transfer the pros-and-cons list I’d been keeping in my head to actual paper. I carefully listed the good and the bad about Gary, then took my time to review it. The score was about even now. I’d need a tiebreaker—hopefully I’d get that on our next date.

Thankfully, after that, Gary seemed to get better at responding to my messages promptly. In fact, the day after our second date, he was the first one to send a message: Great seeing you again, Deb. I’m looking forward to next time.

I was beginning to run out of options for what we could do together, though. I mean, going to eat was out, and we couldn’t go back to the movies so soon—what else was there to do on a third date?

(Besides the obvious.)

I called up my sister to get some advice. “You’re overthinking it,” she declared. “He’s a ghost, Deb. Not a fragile porcelain doll. I’m sure whatever you do will be fine with him.”

I ended up asking if he’d like to go bike-riding around town. I figured it made me look athletic and fun without being obnoxious, and it was something even a ghost could do.

He quickly accepted the invitation, and off we went, on rented bikes, acting like we were happily in love already. We were an exceptionally cute couple, too. I could tell people were staring at us admiringly, probably thinking, Man, I sure hope those crazy kids get married! They look perfect together. And we totally did.

It was a very, very good date—probably 8.5 on a scale from one to ten. My list of pros grew longer, so Gary’s chances of becoming my full-time boyfriend were looking good.

That’s not to say the day went completely smoothly—I mean, come on, these things rarely do. In this case, it began with an ill-advised decision on our part (okay, fine, my part) to ride our bikes through the park—yes, the park, as in the one we’d walked through on our very first date. Almost immediately, one of those carriages approached, and as soon as the horse saw Gary, it spooked. We both watched from our bikes as it fled like a bat out of hell, cutting across the park and causing the driver and passengers to bounce around, the latter two screaming bloody murder.

“Sorry!” Gary called after them. He looked so apologetic. (I later added that to his plus column, his consideration for other people and their wellbeing.)

That, however, was not the worst part.

The worst part came when we ran into a dog walker who wasn’t properly minding his herd of big, ferocious canines. The dogs, upon spotting Gary, immediately ran toward him; the dog walker was helpless to stop them, the leashes flying out of his hand all at once, and the slobbering crew came at Gary with growls and gnashing teeth.

Gary hopped off his bike and tried to make a run for it, but they were too fast. “Gary!” I cried, wondering if my attempts to get the dogs away from him would stain my clothes. Their paws looked pretty muddy, so I decided against it and instead waited idly on my bike, hoping for the best.

As the dogs leapt toward him, he suddenly turned invisible—they soared straight through. Their faces upon landing were perplexed, which surprised me, because up until that moment, I thought dogs were only capable of their one, default facial expression.

“Gary?” I asked, just as confused as they were. Where had he gone?

“Up here,” he called. I found him hiding in a tree, now visible again. He was straddling it and shaking. “That was the most terrified I’ve ever been in my life. I don’t want to come down yet.”

Oh jeez, I thought, stifling an eye roll. I’d later add “cowardly” to his con column—though that was the only con I added that day, so overall, Gary did good.

For our next date, Gary invited me to his place once again. I know how this sounds, he texted, but it’s only because at my home, we don’t have to worry about dogs/horses/etc, and there’s so much here I can show you.

With some initial reluctance, I agreed. I did want to see his house—he’d talked it up so much that I was practically dying of curiosity by that point. So, he gave me the directions and off I went, playing my “You’re a Rockstar” playlist during the ride over to keep my nerves at bay.

His house was bigger than I’d imagined, but also had more of a Gothic vibe. There was a big, black iron fence surrounding the property, and the actual home was all dark, brooding colors and elaborate grandeur. It looked like the kind of house neighborhood kids would be afraid of (though that wouldn’t be a problem for Gary, since there wasn’t another soul—living or otherwise—for miles), the kind of house that would pop up in a movie as the standard, obviously-haunted place where the main characters would get lost in and, eventually, murdered.

So yes, the house gave me pause.

As I stared up at it from outside the gate, I dialed my sister. “Dawn, this place is terrifying,” I told her. “Should I go in? I feel like I could get killed here.”

“Okay, let me put it to you this way: Do you want to spend the right of your life as a lonely old spinster?”

I decided to go in.

The door had one of those old door-knockers on it, the kind people stopped using when doorbells were invented. This one was in the shape of some type of animal’s head, though it was hard to tell if it was an eagle, a lion, or a dog. I used it to give a tentative little knock. When no one answered, I knocked again, louder this time. Almost immediately, the door swung open—revealing not Gary, but a butler. Actually, no, not just a butler: a creepy-as-the-day-is-long, old butler, with one eye covered by a milky white film, nails so long they could’ve passed for fingers in their own right, no hair on the top of his head but enough around the middle to be worn in a ponytail, and hunched over in a posture of defeat.

I normally consider myself a polite person, but manners went out the fucking window when I got one look at him. “Oh God” was all I could say, my hand shooting up to my chest and covering my heart as though worried he’d jam a stake through it.

The creepy old bastard looked at me with his one good eye—which was the color of salmon—and asked, in a dry, gasping voice, “Are you Debra?”

“Uh . . . I go by Deb,” I said. To say I was scared would be a gross understatement. To say I was horribly, paralyzingly terrified would, likewise, not do justice to my complete fear in that moment.

The butler nodded, then turned away and walked off in a slow, crooked manner, almost a limp, as if each step was painful. He left the door wide open but did not give me any instructions, so I just stood there like an idiot for a moment until I dared call out, “Should I come in, or . . .?”

“Follow,” he replied. It was hard for me to discern if he was telling me to follow him, or if he thought I asked him what it was called to friend someone on Twitter. Hell, maybe he was just saying random words—he looked old enough to get away with it.

I figured I’d follow him, just in case, though I trailed him from a few feet behind. I didn’t want to get too close, out of fear he’d suddenly turn around with an ax and decide to kill me.

The creepy butler led me down dark hallways, rooms filled with things like suits of armor and dead animal heads, rooms that had no light except for one creepy, cobweb-clad candelabra, and finally, through a secret, hidden door in the library.

I wasn’t sure what to expect on the other side of the hidden door, but what I found would definitely be low on my Things Hidden Doors Probably Lead To list.

“This is the master’s man cave,” the butler said, in slow, careful voice, as if he wasn’t sure he was pronouncing “man cave” correctly.

And indeed it was—there was a foosball table, some beanbag chairs, a dart board, an old arcade game . . . the whole nine. Gary was plopped in front of the flat-screen, his feet up on the table. He waved when I came in. “Hi Deb! Come join me, I’m watching this delightful program on the Food Network.”

As I pondered whether the man cave was a pro or con, I walked over and sat myself down beside him, more than a little awkwardly.

“What do you think of the place?”

“Well,” I said, forcing a smile, “it’s very . . . interesting.”

“Yes, exactly! You get it—of course you do. Believe it or not, the last person I brought to the house ran away screaming.”

“Wow,” I said. “I can only imagine why . . .”

“What about Gunther?”

“Who?”

“The butler.”

“Your butler’s name is Gunther?”

“Gunther the butler, yes,” he said, seemingly without realizing why that was funny.

“He was—he was definitely something.”

“Great man, Gunther, though he can be a bit gruff sometimes.”

“Oh yeah? I didn’t notice.”

“Tell me, Deb,” he said, turning toward me on the couch, “did you happen to notice the weather when you came in?”

“The weather?”

He nodded.

“Yeah, it was drizzling a little bit.”

“Wonderful!” He clapped his hands together and stood up. “I’d like to show you some of my favorite pastimes now.”

“Oh, uh, okay . . .” I followed him out of the man cave and through more creepy rooms, all the way out to the wide expanse of land that was his backyard. I could see the lake in the distance, and for a moment got excited before remembering that’s where he died—which totally ruined its appeal.

Gary stopped suddenly—so suddenly that I almost bumped into him. A thoughtful look came over him as he stood there. I watched, and waited, willing him to tell me what we were doing out there. The rain was having a field day with my hair, no doubt making it get frizzy and big. I silently cursed my choice not to wear a hat.

“So, uh . . .” I cleared my throat. “That pastime you wanted to show me?”

It took him a full thirty seconds to respond—I know because I was counting. That should give you an idea of my level of boredom. “This is it.”

“This is the pastime?”

He nodded.

“But we’re not doing anything.”

“Exactly.” He turned to me. “Don’t you remember? I listed it as a favorite activity on the dating site.”

“Listed what? What even is this?” I was losing patience and it was becoming apparent in my tone of voice.

“Standing in the rain for minutes on end. I normally do so by myself, but I figured today, I’d let you join me.” He smiled. I didn’t. “Of course it would be far more effective if it were misty. Too bad that it’s not. I guess you really can’t have everything.”

He resumed his silent standing, staring out into space as the rain hit us. I tried to go along with it, but I was quickly growing restless, and he picked up on it.

“Would you like to do something else?” he asked me.

“Yes, I would, if it’s okay with you.”

“Sure—we’ll try out another favorite pastime of mine.” Then he opened his mouth and let out this strange, oddly horrifying sound. It resembled a noise a whale would make, like a long, sad moan.

“Is this it? The pastime?” I asked, scared that I already knew the answer.

He nodded without stopping. I fought the urge to cover my ears.

The next thing I asked was, “Should I be joining in?”

He shrugged, so I kept my mouth firmly shut.

For a while, we just stood there—him moaning, me not—while my hair got further destroyed by the rain, and the dirt underfoot started to turn to mud. I was not enjoying myself.

I got sick of the quiet, so I asked him another question in an attempt at casual, fun conversation: “So what were your parents like?”

He stopped making the noise long enough to tell me, “I don’t talk during the moaning,” then resumed his odd little hobby just as quickly.

And on and on it went, for another five minutes that felt like an eternity.

When he finally reached the end of his moan, he stopped and stretched like he was waking up from a long, refreshing nap. Then he grinned at me. “Ready for the next activity?”

I wasn’t. In fact, there were few things I wanted to do less than engage in another one of his pastimes. But despite this, I answered with an enthusiastic, “I sure am!”

The next hour was spent wandering through the hellish, nightmare mansion, and then going to visit the local cemetery—”I love walking through this place,” he explained to me. “My family didn’t become ghosts like I did, but at least I can introduce you to their graves!”

And he meant that literally, as he proceeded to formally introduce me to their tombstones, and then began to chat with the slabs of stone bearing their names about pretty much everything—from current events to smalltalk about the weather—while I stood nearby, looking like an idiot.

In short? It was not a good date.

In fact, it was a very, very bad date, and by the time it was over, I practically ran away from that godforsaken house.

Gary didn’t seem too jazzed about how things went, either. I could tell he was unhappy that I wasn’t more interested in his pastimes. But, come on, they were absolutely absurd. What did he expect?

I had several more negatives to add to his cons column by the end of the day, though the pros still had a slight edge. I remained hopeful that the relationship was salvageable, figuring, sure, he had some weird interests—but at least he wasn’t addicted to strip clubs or shady massage parlors. Really, in comparison to a lot of the favorite pastimes of previous men I’d dated, his hobbies—while weird and frequently boring—didn’t seem so bad. I had faith I could put up with them.

I waited for a full day after the date to send him a text. It was a simple one, just checking in and saying hi. When I didn’t get a response, I hastily wrote out another: I had fun on the date, by the way! Your house is amazing. I figured it would seem rude for me to not mention it, even though I actually had not even a smidgen of fun (and believe me, I was searching for it).

The hours ticked by, and once again Gary went quiet on me. Like the last time, I was confused more than anything, wondering if I’d said the wrong thing, if he was ignoring me, if the text hadn’t gone through . . . a million scenarios played out in my head. But, one way or another, the day drew to a close without one single message from Gary.

I was tempted to text him again the next morning, but I resisted. He’ll get back to you when he gets back to you, I told myself.

As the day wore on without word, though, I began to think otherwise.

When I woke up the following morning with yet another dark, textless screen, I began to lose it. I shot off two more texts in quick succession:

No reply, huh? Okayyy.

Well, I was just checking in. I hope everything’s all right with you.

I started compulsively checking my phone every twenty minutes, then fifteen, then ten. Was he seriously doing this again? Who the hell did he think he was?

It’s not like he had a job that was keeping him busy. His days consisted of hanging around his man cave and stoically moaning, for God’s sake. He had no viable excuse for not replying.

So I wrote him again. (Don’t judge me—you would’ve done the same thing.) Gotta say, I thought you were more mature than this. As I clicked “send,” I felt nervous—what if it provoked him into telling me off once and for all?

It didn’t. Again, all I received was complete and utter silence.

And it was the silence that was driving me crazy.

I honestly think, at that point, I would’ve preferred it if he wrote me a lengthy message saying everything that was on his mind, even if it was the grown-up equivalent of the fuck-you note I got from my first-grade crush (stop trying to be my girlfriend Debbie, I don’t like you and you have cooties). I wanted him to pour his heart, soul and frustrations into a message, a voicemail, a letter . . . something. At least then I’d know where he stood, where we stood.

But the silence was unrelenting.

Four hours after sending my thought-you-were-more-mature message, I wrote him yet again: If there’s something on your mind, just say it. I want to know.

This time, I was confident he’d respond. That, after all, was a text that warranted a reply. I’d just given him permission to complain to me about whatever was chapping his ass—who could possibly turn that down?

Gary, apparently. Because, that’s right, there came no response.

A few hours after that, I decided to call him. It rang once, twice, then went to voicemail. Did he just decline my call? I wondered, my fury taking over. At the sound of the beep, I began by saying, “I’m really confused about what’s happening right now, Gary.”

Things went downhill from there: “This is just so immature of you. If you have something to say to me, say it. Don’t play the quiet game. I’m not desperate, you know. I’m not someone who’s just going to put up with this bullshit. I have more self-respect than that. I’d really like it if you could write me, or call me, and just tell me where you’re at. Okay?”

I popped a bottle of wine following that message. Three glasses later and with still no news from Gary, I called him again.

“You know what, I’m a catch, all right? I hate to say that because I don’t want to sound self-centered or whatever, but I’m a fucking catch. There are men in prison right now who’d saw off two limbs and claw out one eyeball to be with me. Okay? Do you get that, Gary?”

I fell asleep shortly after, and when I woke up, I found myself hungover and my phone textless. The rage was getting stronger.

I called him—yes, for the third time. So what? “I’m sorry if you’re mad at me because I didn’t like your stupid fucking pastimes, but they’re stupid fucking pastimes, Gary! What sane person seriously enjoys standing in the rain and not saying anything? Or moaning—seriously, Gary, what’s up with the moaning? If you think that makes you brooding or interesting or whatever, I’ve got news for you, it doesn’t. It doesn’t, Gary. And your butler scared the shit out of me . . . and, also, your parents have ugly tombstones.”

I was expecting that would get a rise out of him, but it didn’t. My phone was as dark and deserted as ever—like my bed would soon be permanently if I didn’t find some guy to marry.

Shit—I was desperate, wasn’t I? And still am, at the time of writing this. Shit, shit, shit.

At that point, I called my sister again. For a full forty-five minutes, I cried to her about my love life, Gary, my fears of spinsterhood, and any other depressing thought my brain could conjure. I was in such a sorry mental state that the inside of my head seemed to have turned into a foreign film: unendingly grim, sad to the point of absurdity, and continually confusing.

Dawn comforted me best she could, but there wasn’t much she could say. She, after all, was happily married. Her mere presence—even through the phone—made me resentful and bitter on top of sad and angry.

So I hung up and called Gary again. “Okay, I’m giving you a shot to make this right with me. Text me or call me within five minutes, and if you offer up a sincere apology, we can move on and be back to normal.”

Five minutes came and went; I received no texts or calls. In that moment, it crystalized to me what was happening: He was ghosting me. Instead of a formal “I don’t want to see you anymore” conversation, his silence was supposed to mean that was he was done with me. I wouldn’t receive a message from him, not now or ever.

So I texted him. In a series of angry mini-rants, I let him know exactly how I felt. I threw around F-bombs like I was trying to start World War III, hurled cleverly-crafted slights like they were going out of style, and poured out my frustrations in the exhaustive, lengthy way I had hoped he’d do with me.

In less than an hour, I managed to send him nineteen texts, each ranging in length from fairly long to a short novel.

Then, and only then, did I allow myself to make peace with what had happened—the ghosting, the assholery, the failure of our short-lived relationship. We were done, over, kaput, and Gary was the one to (wordlessly) end it. That stung—I knew for a fact I was the prize in the relationship, not him. The prize is the one who should end it. Everyone knows that. If one of us was gonna get ghosted, it should’ve been him.

Yet here I was, having spent days getting mad at my phone, my latest relationship over without a single, conclusive meeting, voicemail, or hell, even text to show for it.

I wanted to scream.

I had been ghosted. I had been ghosted by a ghost. This was my life.

And, try as I might to tell myself it didn’t matter, that we’d only been seeing each for a short time and I didn’t like him that much to begin with . . . I was still furious. And I still hated his guts.