Sis, I've got a story to tell. There were thousands of dollars on the table, rent to pay, and lots of phone calls and texts in between. I mean I thought I'd found a perfect match: A mature, seasoned businessperson, a high achiever, and someone who seemingly had a good reputation. This was a win-win situation where we'd talk for hours, share stories, encourage one another, and nurture each other's interests. It was bliss, such a comforting place to finally be after dealing with the financial and emotional challenges of the pandemic.
Then suddenly the calls stopped. I could no longer reach this person by email, phone, or text, yet they were "following" my IG stories, liking LinkedIn posts, or actively tweeting. They weren't deceased or busy. Think I'm talking some raggedy fool I met on a dating site? Nah. I have a whole fiance, sis. This is a case of professional ghosting.
Image via Giphy
I was paid dust by someone I respected and had grown to admire and depend on. I had no reason to believe there was an issue. We'd worked together previously on multiple projects, all of which were completed and paid for.
Actually, this person commended me multiple times on my great work ethic, and offered several projects to me before the ghosting even happened. After a few weeks of silence, I even sent emails inquiring about their welfare—as I was truly concerned. The messages went unanswered. Voicemails. DMs. Nothing. So you can only imagine my utter surprise and disgust when I saw them all up in my social notifications a week or so later.
Listen, I'm not the only one who has dealt with this type of B.S. A recent study found that 77 percent of job seekers have been ghosted by a prospective employer during the pandemic, and 10 percent have reported that they've even been ghosted after a job offer was given.
'Professional Ghosting' Is Indeed a Thing
One subcontractor wrote about her experience early last year and described how it "played havoc with my financial planning, my emotional being, and workflow planning." Another leadership coach talked about how it negatively impacts professional credibility of the person doing the ghosting, adding that it's a "sign of someone who avoids conflict, can't communicate honestly, and perhaps doesn't understand how disrespectful it is." Another freelancer lamented about "the gut-wrenching uncertainty and maddening second-guessing" that's involved.
On the flip side, job candidates have been found to ghost employers and recruiters as well, either due to just not being interested anymore or not knowing how to properly communicate that they've decided to take another offer. This has even hit "crisis" levels during the pandemic, with candidates just going cold and quiet in the middle of the hiring process. But this story ain't about that.
Image via Giphy
The Gall of It All Is...
It's one thing to not get a response after follow-ups about an initial round of interviews for a job, or to hear nothing back after pitching yourself or your concept. There's a healthy understanding, on the part of job- or opportunity-seeker, that not every employer or professional has the time to send follow-up emails to the candidates who didn't make the cut or offer individual feedback on why. I also know that most recruiters and prospective employers aren't even legally obligated to follow up with a candidate or tell them their reasons for going in another direction. I get it.
But it's a whole other jar of stank, unprofessional, annoying pickles when you've gotten an offer or you're in good standing with moving forward toward landing an upcoming project only to be met with passive aggression, vague responses, or no response at all in reference to specific next steps. It's also a whole other thing when you knew the person, thought you had a good relationship with them, and they just cut you off with no explanation, .
It's even more infuriating when the "vetting" or planning process took weeks, if not months, so you'd already put in more hours of work to get ready for the multiple stages of that process and you might have even quit or turned down another opportunity in preparation for the one you thought you had in the bag.
Think about it like this: A doctor can charge people for no-shows. So can a hairstylist, therapist and others who offer quality services. When you ghost them, they see it as lost wages (because they could've given your spot to another paying client or patient in need), and it leads to a disruption of their schedules as well as their money flow.
So... what now?
For me, being professionally ghosted was devastating at the time, not simply for the potential money loss but the loss of respect and relationship with the person who ghosted me. Oftentimes, at least in my case, it's not all about the money. Cultivating relationships takes extensions of the heart and use of time that can never be replaced. I was initially very angry, then bitter, then sad, and I kept wondering what I could've done to cause the sudden cut-off. I mean, it's the lack of closure for me. Then the words of my Granny came to mind: "Silence is an answer."
Three things helped me cope and better prepare to avoid the recurrence of emotional trauma and negative financial impact in the future:
Image via Giphy
1. Stop taking it personal. It's them, not you.
I had remind myself of why I'm great at what I do and why they're in the wrong for ghosting. I also applied grace and thought back on times when I might have made some professional mistakes, been part of misunderstandings that just couldn't be explained at the time, or made questionable decisions related to work in the past. I then thought about the idea that maybe something was indeed going terribly wrong in that person's life and it might be causing them to embrace unhealthy communication and relationship-building habits. I prayed about it, gave it to God and let it go.
It was also helpful to talk to a trusted mentor in the industry to assess the situation and give me balanced, outside-looking-in advice. A huge part of overcoming situations like this is the self-reflection, because I really didn't have control over much else.
If you need to write down your feelings in a journal, block the person just to feel like you've taken your power back, talk to a loved one to get reminders that you're an amazing person, or seek a therapist to deal with your feelings of abandonment, frustration, or anger (yes, sis, it can be that serious), do that as well. Hey, they ghosted you, so this ain't got nothing to do with being petty or dramatic. It's about learning from it and turning a negative to a positive. Word to Biggie. (Just please, avoid harassing the person with more calls, messages, or emails, and definitely don't talk about the person to others. They no longer deserve any extra energy from you.)
2. Focus on other projects and ways to enrich yourself.
Just like when they say there are "other fish in the sea" when it comes to dating, the same goes for your career opportunities. When I was ghosted by this particular person, I had other clients, so I could focus a bit less on the ghosting than if I didn't. (While ghosting can strike a huge blow to the ego, I've always been one to get pretty nervous about putting all my eggs in one basket anyway, whether it's dating, applying for jobs, or working as a freelancer.)
Just remember that there are plenty of other companies or brands who would love to hire or work with you. Edit your LinkedIn page, get more engaged on the platform, and update the settings to reflect the opportunities you're looking for. Find other platforms where you can find a community of support in your industry as well. (There's an awesome list of other platforms here.) Apply for more jobs, and take charge of your journey to be successful.
If you're unemployed, create projects for yourself like building your professional website (or redesign the one you have), and research new ways to get leads on opportunities. Try volunteer work or building relationships via offering another service you love doing and are great at. Expand your network by attending virtual events, reconnecting with professionals you may have lost touch with during quarantine, joining a professional or mentor organization, or applying for jobs in a totally different sector where your skills might be an ideal fit. Being booked, busy, and blessed (or at least present, positive, and productive) is the best revenge.
Image via Giphy
3. Upgrade your vetting process for considering opportunities.
Sometimes we ignore signs that somebody is full of ish in business, just like we do while dating someone. In my case, this person had previously exhibited some pretty suspect behavior related to a previous person they had worked with. They'd insert comments about the other person's personal business during project-related calls with me, and they had a shaky payments and project acquisition process.
Sis, sometimes the signs are there that you might not be dealing with an ideal client or employer. For job seekers, doing a bit more research on a company before even agreeing to the interview can be helpful in avoiding a potential ghoster.
Look up their online reviews, try to connect with someone you know who has worked at the company (or with the particular brand), and find out as much as you can about whether they'd be a good fit for you before the first call—or round of calls—even happens. If you're still impressed and interested, you can peep more red flags during the first round like their urgency to get started with no plan or specifics, or their disrespect of your time when setting up meetings. (I often raise eyebrows on folk who either don't ask me when I'm available and just assume I'll be available whenever they are. Or how about those who don't really seem to be on point when it comes to knowing their own calendar and constantly feel the need to reschedule, for example.)
Ask more questions, get to know people a bit more, and try to build a discernment against BS. Maybe they're a bit overzealous, exhibit signs of stress or anxiety, or they just give you a bad feeling. Their brand or company could have even made the news due to financial problems, workplace scandal, or recent layoffs. Maybe their bare-bones website is a reflection of the type of experience they offer to potential clients or employees or the scarcity of resources. Oftentimes your gut isn't wrong about someone, whether you have proof of eminent danger or not.
You'd feel a lot less offended about a potential ghosting if, in the long run, the person or brand was not up to par in the first place, so exploring involvement wasn't really worth your time anyway.
The moral of the story is...
Nobody deserves to be professionally ghosted, and at the end of the day, it might even be an unavoidable part of life. Direct, specific and consistent communication are true indicators of great leadership, and these have been the main common factors among many of the awesome clients and brands I've been blessed to consistently work for or with.
I now operate the same on this as I have in the past while dating: Not to toot my own horn, but most men have never even had a chance to ghost me. I'd see the passive aggressive, suspect red flags super-early, and I'd kindly decline and delete. (I also approached dating with a deep sense of the fact that power is with me, not them. I do the choosing. But again, that's another story.)
I've always known that any man who wants me will make his intentions clear quite early, and he will almost immediately begin consistently communicating or taking actions to show he's serious. I look into his background and try to get to know people who know him, no matter how we met. (My fiance knew he wanted to marry me the first week we met. He's a Jamaican man who does not hold his tongue nor waste time. He also knew I thought he was crazy for even admitting that, and I reiterated that I had no plans of marrying for several years. He simply slowed his roll and showed, through consistent and deliberate action, that he was serious. Four years later, we're still together.) Any real boss operates the same way to tap into top talent, nurture relationships, and protect their reputation.
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Here's Why Very Few Relationships Can Actually Be 'Platonic'
Recently, while in an interview, someone asked me if I think that men and women can be just friends. I didn’t even hesitate to answer; my response was immediate, “Absolutely.” What I followed that up with is what intrigued them — “Life has taught me that not a lot of male/female dynamics are ‘platonic,’ though.” When they asked me to expound, the interview ended up taking a whole ‘nother turn.
As a writer who really pays attention to word meanings, something that can be a bit frustrating about our culture is the fact that based on whatever is popular at the time, folks will just up and change the original definitions of words to suit a particular agenda or whim — and the word “platonic” 1000 percent fits into this category. And perhaps that’s why we seem to continue to go in circles about whether or not people of the opposite sex can (and should) be friends and what that even can (and should) look like.
Let’s talk about it for a bit. Because as a word-literal type of individual, while again, I absolutely believe that men and women can be friends, at the same time, I think it’s about as rare as a red diamond to truly find yourself in a friendship that is…platonic.
It’s Time (More) Folks Knew What ‘Platonic’ LITERALLY MeansGiphy
So, let's do first things first — let's define what it literally means for something to be platonic. If you go to your favorite search engine and put something along the lines of "What does platonic mean?", the first thing that you're (probably) going to see is a ton of dictionary definitions that say something along the lines of "of, relating to, or being a relationship marked by the absence of romance or sex" (Merriam-Webster), "designating or of a relationship, or love, between a man and a woman that is purely spiritual or intellectual and without sexual activity" (Your Dictionary) and, my personal favorite, "purely spiritual; free from sensual desire, especially in a relationship between two persons of different sexes" (Dictionary). Yeah, bookmark that last one; I'll be circling back.
Keeping this in mind (and please do), where does the word "platonic" actually come from? From what I've researched, the philosopher Plato once penned something entitled "Symposium." In it, he addressed the topic of two people sharing the kind of love that is free of any type of sensual desire, one that is based on divine love alone. An author from the 1800s broke it down this way: "Platonic love meant ideal sympathy; it now means the love of a sentimental young gentleman for a woman he cannot or will not marry." A write-up on Merriam-Webster's site stated that "The term platonic was initially used to mock non-sexual relationships, as it was considered ridiculous to separate love and sex, but eventually this connotation faded away leaving us with today's notion of close friendships." Yeah, we used to live in a culture where love and sex were not separated. Hmph, that's another article for another time, though (check out "We Should Really Rethink The Term' Casual Sex'").
Anyway, as with many things (especially in our culture), the word "platonic" is kind of used in "broad strokes" these days (bromances, female friendships, etc.). However, because there continues to be this forever discussion — and oftentimes debate — about whether or not men and women can be "just friends," I'm going to tackle this topic strictly from that angle — from the place where platonic actually originated.
Yes, Men and Women Can Be Just Friends. But…Giphy
At this stage in my life, I'm pretty sure that I have more male friends than female ones. There are layers of reasons why, yet I think a huge one is because I like the balance that masculinity brings to my femininity (especially as I'm learning to embrace different aspects of my femininity, intentionally even more). And while every single one of my male friends is respectful and is a super safe space in my world on every single level that I can imagine (and have been for years now), there are probably only a couple who I would say 100 percent qualify as being…trulyplatonic.
Why would I say that? Well, I'll illustrate this point with something that one of my male friends once said to me. He's super cute. He can sing his ass off (and definitely has one of my favorite speaking voices). People see us out together often, and some have told us that they assume that we've had something going on at some point. Anyway, after hearing someone share their theory about us, I told it to him.
Me: "I told him, 'He's my brother. We would never mess around.'"
My Friend: "Correction, you are like a sister. You are not my sister, though. Under the right conditions, you could still get it."
When I shared that exchange with another male friend of mine, he basically cosigned on the sentiment: "Shellie, I have never approached you like that because I really respect you. I want to be good for you for the rest of our lives." (That reminds me: check out "Question: Is The Man In Your Life Good 'TO' You? Good 'FOR' You? Or...Both?" when you get a chance.)
Then I went to one more guy homie and ran both statements by him: "Girl, yeah. If I didn't want to keep you in my life long-term, I would've tried to holla a long time ago!" And he and I have been friends for almost 20 years at this point. When did he get around to telling me this? Eh, maybe two years ago. LOL.
So, my takeaway from all of these "for real?!" exchanges is even though men and women can be just friends, there is a certain level of intention, self-control, and ability to see into the future (on some level) that must go into account — because, just because something more-than-friends-like may not have gone down, that doesn't mean there isn't a "dormant seed" lying around somewhere…whether it's one-sided or on both sides of the friendship dynamic.
As you can see, I just provided you with three instances where the male friends in my life; we've had nothing sexual or even physically intimate beyond a hug when we greet each other in nature — although things aren't exactly platonic if there is some sort of attraction or sexual/romantic curiosity that simply never got explored. Because again, according to Plato, a platonic relationship is free from all of that kind of…tension — or possibilities. Zero. Nada. Zilch.
And now you probably get why I entitled this article in the way that I did…right? I mean, just think about it — out of your male friendships, where is there NO sensual desire or dormant romantic interest…on your side and/or on his? If you're not sure about "his"…have you ever asked him? Or them? Because again, once I really let the definition of platonic sink in, I think maybe two guys in my life totally fit the bill.
This brings me to my next point.
Are You Platonic? Or Are You Friend-Zoning?Giphy
Now that you know that probably 70 percent of the people you know (both online and off) have been using the true meaning of platonic all the way wrong, let’s go about deeper: when it comes to your friendships with men, are they genuinely platonic or…is it more like you’re friend-zoning them?
A few years ago, I penned an article on the topic entitled, “Before You 'Friend Zone' Someone, Read This.” If you’re skimming this on your lunch break, I’ll summarize friend-zoning as knowing that a guy has so-much-more-than-platonic feelings for you, yet because you basically want to keep the benefits of the friendship or even his emotions around, you will string him along on some level.
Personally, I can’t stand friend-zoning. I think it’s selfish, with some sprinkles of manipulation and wasting someone’s time. Don’t agree? How would you feel if a guy was friend-zoning you? (Yeah…exactly.)
This all needs to go on record because, knowing that a guy wants to “take it there” with you (whether sexually or romantically), you not full-on addressing it and/or giving him just enough hope to take you out, listen to all of your stories about other men and give you the attention that you need knowing that he doesn’t have a shot in hell — that is NOT a platonic friendship and honestly, you’re not being a good friend at all. Friends protect each other’s hearts, not abuse them.
A platonic friendship means that you both have no interest in each other, and, as Plato put it, while you may have a strong and solid bond, it’s spiritual love that connects you. And what exactly does that mean? Spiritual love also deserves its own article, yet the gist would be that you recognize there is a purpose in your friendship, yet it’s about wanting what’s best for one another and even helping each other to get there.
For instance, a platonic friend of yours may know that you desire to be married one day, so he has no problem setting you up with a good guy in his life. And if things go well, he would have no problem standing up as your own best man (without feeling like he’s dying inside) because he never saw you beyond anything but a friend. A guy in the friend zone doesn’t move like this; he likes you too much to help you move on with someone else. See the difference?
Why Relationships Should Start Off As NON-PLATONIC FriendshipsGiphy
Before I end this with some tips on how to properly care for the few platonic friendships you may actually have, since the use of the word may require a bit of mental reprogramming, I do think we should also address that if you've got a good guy in your life, who right now is a friend and either you've never thought of him in that way or the topic has never come up — he's someone that you may not want to brush off.
What I mean by that is, it's one thing for there to be absolutely no interest in someone vs. never considering it before — and the reason why you might want to give it some thought is because, ask any healthy married couple who's been together for more than five years and I'll bet you my next rent check that they will say that the best relationships are birthed out of friendship (check out "Are You Sure You're Actually FRIENDS With Your Spouse?").
Yeah, just because you've filed someone in the "I see him as a good guy" category, that doesn't automatically mean that y'all's friendship is platonic. For instance, I have a male friend who is fine and I adore on many levels, yet the reason why it would never work on my end is because there are certain relational standards that I have that he does not meet. However, don't get it twisted — I've considered him because, on so many levels, we "fit." So, the mere fact that I ever seriously thought about him on that level means that we are "good friends," yet it's not exactly platonic.
I'm not free of potential sensual desire…I just choose not to act on it. Yet because I get the value of having friendship as the foundation for my own future marriage (should life play out that way), I am wise enough to know that I would've been a fool to not at least…ponder him and the possibilities.
So yeah, if there is a male friend in your life that the thought of dating or having sex with him doesn't make you want to throw up in your mouth, there's a pretty good chance that it's not a classic platonic dynamic — and you might want to consider if it could/should go to the next level — if not immediately, eventually. Because there's a pretty good chance that if you are thinking that way, he probably is as well.
Protect Your Genuine Platonic Friendship(s) At All CostsGiphy
Let me end this with how one of my platonic friendships rolls. We both think that the other is attractive, yet neither of us is attracted. We both give each other opposite-sex insights. We both have said that the mere thought of dating each other makes our noses turn up like there’s an odor in the air. And even when I try to imagine us together, my mind goes blank. I love, love, LOVE this man — oh, but it is absolutely nothing more than platonic — and he feels the same way. It’s as close to familial love without being blood relationships. It’s a rare dynamic, and that is what makes it so special. There is definitely a spiritual type of love there; no more, no less.
If you’ve got someone in your life who you feel the same way about (again, it’s got to be mutual; he must feel that way, too), you’ve got a gem of a situation going on because there is nothing like having the kind of friendship where you and a guy can hang out, exchange perspectives and thoroughly enjoy each other’s company, knowing that’s all it is and will ever be. Things will never get weird. No one’s feelings are gonna get hurt (from the whole friend-zoning thing). You don’t have to walk on eggshells. You can just be.
And that’s why I’m all for platonic friendships. And listen, if you’re blessed enough to have even one in your lifetime, be fiercely protective of it. Don’t take it for granted. Nurture it in a way that your male friend needs (because it probably won’t be the exact same as your female friendships). Y’all, platonic friendships are so bomb because, if it’s honored and protected correctly, it’s the one male friend that you can probably keep for life because even your romantic partner will not find it to be a (true) threat — hell, they honestly could probably end up becoming (some level of) friends with your platonic homie as well.
I hope that I broke this all down enough to where, when you decide to use a word to describe your opposite-sex friendships, perhaps you will pause and ask yourself, “Wait, is this a platonic friend or a good or close friend?” Because the clearer you are on the differences, the easier it will be to know how to maintain your friendship — and feel about your friend. Feel me? Cool.
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