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My issue is ghosting. I've been dating for a VERY long time. I came out of a LTR twelve years ago (I'm 42 now) with very low self-esteem after my partner fell for one of our mutual friends. I did what most single people do in their thirties: working my way through the ever-morphing vernacular of dating, from dating sites to dating apps, making mainly three-week to three-month connections with guys. A FWB here, a FB there, I seemed to meet so many poly guys, generally attracting/chasing emotionally unavailable men, which obviously resulted in me never finding anything serious. Possibly a self-defense mechanism as my LTR was not great.

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About five years ago I met someone. He was totally unstable (in the middle of a divorce) but I fell for him hard. We had a six-month, drama-filled relationship, until he ditched me when he decided to go traveling. At the same time he confirmed my suspicions that he had never been faithful to me and made a point of telling me about a sexual encounter he had had before he had even set off for his travels. Some time later we semi-rekindled the relationship (or so I thought) and agreed to spend NYE together in Cuba as friends. When I landed he didn't pick up his phone and other than a text message when he returned to London saying that his phone had broken. Then I never really heard from him again. Once again, my self-esteem was totally shot, and what's more I was too embarrassed to tell anyone what had happened.

After a brief sabbatical I went back to dating with little romantic success but plenty of sex. Not such a bad thing, except I really started to crave emotional connection. This is when I decided to start taking myself and dating more seriously, looking at my patterns and trying to avoid the same old mistakes. The problem is that in the past two years I've found it almost impossible to get a date. I'm relatively attractive, and I match with plenty of guys. About 30% of the matches result in conversation and a number of these progress to suggestions to meet. Some fall by the wayside if they just suggest hook ups.

Now here's the problem: With guys who seem nice, I chat for a while then we discuss meeting for a drink or coffee. My work schedule is busy and I often work long days often in different locations around the city, so it's usually a few days before I can meet. I feel hopeful and excited. No expectations, but curious and open. The day draws near and it comes to discussing details, i.e. which bar and what time, and then... POOF! the guy disappears. This happens about 99% of the time. I'm at my wits end. I don't know why this is happening? We are literally in the middle of making arrangements and it's like this person has just fallen off the edge of the earth.

This happened to me again this week. After eight days of very long messages from a guy who seemed really lovely, we arranged to meet for a drink, which is when he suddenly stopped responding to my messages. We first discussed drinks on a Weds and I explained that the weekend or the following week would be good for me because I was on a deadline with work that week. He seemed keen but unavailable on the weekend. I made a suggestion to meet on the Monday after work ....and this is when he disappeared. I've come to a point where this is affecting me physically and psychologically. I feel nausea, my chest tightens, my throat closes up. I cried at my desk after a couple of days, when I realized, no matter how many times I checked my messages, he just wasn't going to respond even though I could see he was online. I had palpitations whilst I was home on my sofa gorging on chocolate to help me feel "better." I can only deal with so much rejection. It's not about this specific guy. I never even met them, Dan, so I have no idea who they were, not really. It's just the whole process that's upsetting me. I was seeing a therapist for some time to help me work out my feelings but she is not versed in the nature of app dating and I found myself needing to explain rather a lot about the nature of it rather than working out how to manage my expectations and reactions, which is what I needed to do.

In the past year, I've turned against myself and in low times I comfort eat. I've always been slim and fit, but now I'm starting to fill out and this troubles me. I don't want to feel this way about myself. I don't want to do this to myself.

Over the years Ive tried to meet people in more organic ways, through doing hobbies and activities, but London is brutal and it's hard to connect with people. I feel like online/app dating is the way people meet now, and yet I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't. What should I do? Sign off the apps (AGAIN), stay safe and single and alone not be upset by the way people behave, or put myself in the line of fire but still wind up single and lonesome?

Sad Londoner Avoiding Pain

If you put yourself out there, you might wind up alone. If you don't put yourself out there, you'll definitely wind up alone. If you put yourself out there, someone might kick you in the heart. If you don't put yourself out there, you're essentially kicking yourself in the heart.

If being on dating apps—which is how most people meet now—makes you miserable, get off dating apps. If you're only pursuing hobbies and activities in the hopes of meeting someone and you derive no joy from these hobbies and activities and/or not meeting someone via these hobbies and activities ruins them for you and makes you miserable, don't pursue those hobbies and activities.

That doesn't mean you'll wind up alone; people sometimes meet "The One" "The Close Enough" at work, on subways, or through friends. A person can be pouring a ton of time and effort into dating apps (or not) or group activities (or not) and then meet "The Close Enough" in a pub or in rehab or in the streets. Which means you can stop doing the shit that makes you miserable—being on the dating apps, going through the hobbies-and-activities motions—without having to tell yourself you've foreclosed on the possibility of meeting someone, somewhere, someday. Because you still might.

Or not.

I'm not going to lie to you, SLAP: Some people wind up alone and you could be one of those people. The trick, as I've long said, is to build a life for yourself that's rich and rewarding whether or not you have a partner—and it's not like having a partner is the everlasting key to happiness, SLAP, as you know. I mean, if given a choice between being single and being back with the man who battered your self-esteem or with the unstable asshole who stood you up in Cuba (!), you'd surely choose to be single, right?

Another reason to build a rich and rewarding life for yourself: even if you were to meet someone tomorrow and fall in love and get married, SLAP, you could still wind up alone. Not because "The Close Enough" ghosted on you or ran off with a mutual friend, but because people have this bad habit of dropping dead. People get cancer, people get hit by cars, people get dead in all sorts of creative and alarming ways. If we don't gives ourselves permission to discover and then do the things that give us joy regardless of our relationship statuses, SLAP, we're setting ourselves up for misery—and making it easier for shitty people to exploit or abuse us. Someone who knows you live in terror of being alone will feel free to terrorize you themselves because they know you're unlikely to go anywhere. You don't want to give someone that kind of power.

Like I told this gay dude a few years back...

Romantic partners aren't the key to happiness—they're not even a shortcut to happiness. The true path to happiness is creating a life for yourself that makes you happy whether you're partnered or not.... Half the mail I get is from people who feel trapped in awful relationships; some don't just feel trapped, SIS, they are trapped. And even a happily partnered person can wind up alone. You can be with someone for five or ten or twenty years and then lose him to an accident or an illness or a bigot.... Romantic partners aren't the key to happiness—they're not even a shortcut to happiness. The true path to happiness is creating a life for yourself that makes you happy whether you're partnered or not.

A few practical tips: Get back into therapy and make sure your therapy sessions—which you're paying for—are focused on whatever it is you wanna work on and that your therapist has the situational awareness you need to work on those issues. If you stay on the apps, invest less time and energy in the men you're matched with in advance of a first face-to-face meeting. That means no more marathon, weeks-long text exchanges with someone you've never met and might never meet and who might not be single or might not look like his pictures or might not even be a man. Exchange a few texts to establish interest and then ask them to meet up for coffee or a drink. If you're too busy at work on a particular week to meet up with someone in the next few days, stay off the apps that week. If someone can't meet up with you or ghost on you, block 'em and move on. Don't torture yourself by checking to see if he's online. Stuff him down the memory hole.

And finally, SLAP, ask your friends if they've noticed any destructive patterns or self-sabotaging behaviors you might've missed. You could be doing something wrong, something you could correct—or control for—with a little conscious effort.

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