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Let Inga Tell You: Stop ghosting and start apologizing

Not leaving a cellphone message is not the same as leaving a message, Inga says.
Inga wants to make it clear that not leaving a cellphone message is not the same as leaving a message.
(Los Angeles Times)

Welcome to Auntie Inga’s Geriatric Curmudgeon Hour, pandemic version.

The first topic I will whine about today is Telephone Manners and Ghosting. I regularly read in advice columns about people who meet prospective dates on various brutally cruel, flat-out dishonest dating apps, go out on what seems like a perfect first date, then never hear from the guy again.

The letter writers being women (usually), they just assume the guy is busy at work and therefore unable to answer the two or three or 25 flirty casual follow-up texts they sent. But having given him every benefit of the doubt for three weeks, they finally concluded they’ve been ghosted, that the guy is too much of a coward to say, “I enjoyed it but I don’t think I want to go out again.”

I, fortunately, am not in the dating world, as I have the teeniest tendency to be vengeful. But I notice that variations of ghosting seem to have permeated the social stratum in general. Like failing to reply to simple direct queries like, “Are you available on this date?” or even “How are you?” Is no answer an answer?

There similarly seems to be a preponderance of people, particularly millennial people, who think that seeing a “missed call” on your cellphone is the equivalent of a message. They called. They didn’t get you.

In Gestalt therapy, which was popular in the 1970s, there was a phrase, “Not to decide is to decide.” Is the new version “Not to leave a message is to leave a message”?

Not in my world. A message is a voice mail. Or an email. Or an actual second attempt at a phone call. Auntie Inga has now told you. So stop it already.

Our next topic is apologizing, an ancient form of social interaction, now obsolete, in which a person who has effed up royally takes it upon his or herself to try to make amends to the person to whom he or she was a total jerk.

As I’ve written on several occasions, my personal motto — alas, rarely followed — is “A closed mouth gathers no feet.” I just don’t seem constitutionally able to keep from expressing my opinion (this column being a prime example). Hence, my mouth has swallowed whole shoe stores.

As such, I have had way more experience apologizing than people who utilize at least a two-second brain delay before speaking. But I think it is really important to apologize. If there is one lesson from my parents that really stuck, it’s taking responsibility for your idiotic actions.

In the 1970s there was a bestselling book and movie called “Love Story” with the tagline “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Quite possibly the most moronic tagline of all time.

Love means getting lots of opportunities to say you’re sorry.

It continues to baffle me that apologies, like leaving voice mail, seem to have trended down just as ghosting has trended up.

Why can’t some people ever apologize? By “some people,” I am referring to men. I have lived my adult life in a male-centric world, with two husbands, two sons, two nephews (no nieces) and several male dogs. It should be noted that the dogs don’t apologize either. But at least they look sorry.

I think it has to be a mutation in the Y chromosome, probably started back in cave times when cave wife trips over the mastodon bones that cave guy couldn’t be bothered to pick up after he’d finished gnawing on them. And all Thog could offer was a lame “Gee, you should be more careful.”

I’ve always thought that just because Certain People weren’t very good at actually apologizing, they at least knew in their hearts that they should have. So I was totally astonished to read a Smithsonian “research” article not long ago with the title “People who never apologize are probably happier than you.” Let me first speculate that the authors are world-class non-apologizers.

Anyway, they “tested” (can you tell how dubious I am about this whole line of scientific inquiry?) the common assumption that apologizing will make you feel better. Their “findings”? “When you refuse to apologize, it actually makes you feel more empowered. That power and control seems to translate into greater feelings of self-worth. People who refuse to apologize ended up with boosted feelings of integrity.”

Inga’s findings: If your sense of empowerment and integrity comes from failing to apologize to someone you have genuinely wronged, then you are a world-class jerk. I’m talking to you, “scientists.”

We are all increasingly grumpy in these pandemic times. Me especially. (Can you tell?) I have long felt there is nothing like a good whine, preferably accompanied by a good wine, to improve your day.

So stop ghosting, leave a message and apologize when you’re an idiot. Inga says so.

— Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at inga47@san.rr.com. ◆