Getting Ghosted: What Dating Can Teach Us About Business Development

A man approached me at a party a few months ago, asking me to spend some time with him. Just a few days later, we spent a wonderful two hours together. I came home excited about where this relationship might go, telling friends and colleagues how elated I was about its potential. A few days later, I emailed him. No response. In the weeks that followed, I reached out by both phone and email several times. I still haven’t heard back.

If you’ve ever gone on a dream Tinder date only to have your new boo promptly disappear, perhaps you can relate. But in my scenario, this man was a prospective client who, initially, seemed thrilled to learn about my business and find ways to work together. After meeting with him and his dynamic team, I left completely exhilarated by the conversation and with 16 pages of notes. I spent hours putting together a preliminary proposal for a huge scope of work in an industry I love with the potential for exciting collaboration. My proposal was met by radio silence.

I’ve had plenty of potential clients decide not to proceed. While it can be frustrating, I tend to bounce back quickly. This was different. The unfinished nature of it all plagued me with self-doubt.

I found myself circling back over the following scenarios

  • He’d approached me initially! What had changed? Maybe I’d offended him in some way, or he heard something negative about me.
  • Maybe he’d met someone else – someone more experienced or savvy.
  • Maybe he was hit by a bus and suddenly the whole business was in turmoil, but I didn’t know because no one was responding to my email.

Like someone ghosted after a few great dates, I could deal with the rejection, but I wanted closure. I wanted to know why. I could list all kinds of horrible scenarios. In practice, though, they were just stories I was telling myself, and this Branch Walking (or catastrophizing) was entirely counterproductive.

When I heard the Dalai Lama speak in New Orleans, he said something to the effect of, “This will pass. You have to let it." I could have kept ruminating on the situation, but I wasn’t learning anything from it. Or as Elizabeth Gilbert writes in Big Magic, “You don’t need to conduct autopsies on your disasters." As time passed, success turning other prospects into clients helped me get my groove back and affirmed what I knew in my rational mind: it probably had nothing to do with me.

Yesterday, I ran into my business suitor at a networking event. When we initially made eye contact, it seemed like he might walk away. Instead he greeted me warmly, teasing “I didn’t want you to think I was trying to duck you.” Over the course of our pleasant conversation, he explained that things had been busy and said he’d “be in touch."

I’d love that, but I’m not holding my breath.

A version of this piece was originally published by Forbes.