There are two types of people in the dating world: cowards and communicators. Me? I’m the latter (admittedly I’m in the process of breadcrumbing someone but I’m telling you because I am, as I said, a communicator).
While it’s not nice, cutting off communication with someone you’re dating without warning, AKA ghosting, is easy. There’s no muss, no fuss, and the break-up is out of sight and out of mind. Telling someone you’re just not that into them? Hard. There’s a ton of muss, a lot of fuss, and texting a rejection just doesn’t feel good.
But ghosting is incredibly selfish and cowardly, in my very strong opinion, because leaving someone hanging is worse than communicating your true feelings, even if they’re negative.
The realization that being ghosted is far worse than getting a rejection text is what prompted Ethan Fuirst, 24, to make Long Bad Text, a short documentary about rejections and modern dating. It started as a small project for “shits and giggles,” but over the eight months the Jewish filmmaker spent interviewing friends, and friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends, it became something way more intimate.
Fuirst is no stranger to the aforementioned long bad text. Actually, being on the receiving end of one was the real catalyst for his documentary. Long Bad Text takes a look at how people react to break-up texts and dissects the seemingly universal format. Over email, Fuirst answered all my hard-hitting questions about getting rejected, and shares a plot twist that truly brings the documentary and his dating woes full circle.
What prompted you to create this documentary? What were you hoping to get out of it? What *did* you get out of it?
Ain’t those the questions! The film was born out of my realization that the anxiety of waiting for a guy to text me back was worse than receiving a text saying he wasn’t interested. As I talked to my friends about rejection texts, I noticed that the messages we were all sending and receiving had a shockingly similar format. So instead of letting it go, I made everyone (including myself) get in front of the camera to talk it out.
I now realize that I made a film about my fantasy: ultra definitive pieces of communication. After watching my own interview a million times, it was clear how obsessed I was with communication being black-and-white. It makes sense that I want people to be honest but it’s batshit crazy that I expect people to always be so definitive with me. I’m definitely an advocate for long bad texts but I think I personally need to learn to live in the grey areas a bit more.
Have you ever ghosted someone?
I’ve gone on mediocre dates after which neither party reached out but I’ve never stopped replying to someone I was actively messaging. Especially since becoming a long bad text evangelical, I wouldn’t dare ghost.
How many long bad texts have you sent?
Only a few to be honest. But one guy recently screenshotted my long bad text and tweeted it. It got a bunch of likes. Gooooood for him, I guess. Turns out I’m not the only one exploiting rejections for my own creative pursuits! (But please don’t ask me how many long bad texts I’ve received.)
You said that when someone sends a break-up text it takes a lot of vulnerability and courage, and that illustrates how badly they don’t want to be with you — which you described as being kind of sweet. Can you elaborate? In what way do you find that to be sweet?
This is my hot take. It obviously takes vulnerability to say “I like you” but I would argue it also takes vulnerability to say “I don’t like you.” The easier route would be to ghost someone. So I find it to be a sweet gesture when someone goes out of their way to be honest and say, “You’re not for me.” Don’t get me wrong, sending a long bad text won’t win you the Nobel Peace Prize but it’s a mitzvah.
Did you find a common theme in the delivery of the long bad texts?
You know those conspiracy theories about cave drawings in North America matching Egyptian hieroglyphics? Like when the same symbols are drawn independently by different people across the history of humankind? Long bad texts are exactly like that. All the texts used a nearly identical format. It was bonkers! They look something like this:
1. Introductory-and-yet-formal “hey.”
2. A phrase about being “honest” to warn the reader and set a confessional tone.
3. Some reasoning for why they don’t want to go on another date i.e. they don’t feel the connection they are looking for or aren’t over their ex.
4. Long bad texts usually compliment the person that was being rejected!
5. Long bad texts almost always end with some flaccid suggestion that both parties remain or even become friends.
What was it like asking Mark, someone who rejected you, to be in the video? Were you nervous? What was his reaction?
I had an absolute blast! I texted Mark asking him to be a subject in the doc. I fully expected him to never reply. Within an hour, he texted back saying, “I’m in!” God knows why he agreed to go on camera about rejecting me but I’m so grateful that he did. I had the time of my life interviewing him about the rejection. If you watch my face during the interview, I’m beaming. And he brought his boyfriend!
Is it better to be short and sweet in your “long bad text” or to add more context?
The big question debated in the interviews and behind the scenes was whether or not you should include compliments while rejecting someone. I land on the side of yes. There’s of course a chance that the compliments are interpreted as an attempt of absolving oneself of the rejection guilt. But there’s also a chance that the compliments are taken to heart! Flattering someone might genuinely soften the blow and remind them that they’re not some boring bridge troll that no one will ever love.
Did this project give you personal insight into how you connect with people romantically?
I’ve become so obsessed with how to end things properly that I’ve completely lost sight of the fact that the goal of dating is not to end things. Whoops!
There was another person who sent you a long bad text whom you didn’t want to interview. Why not?
The whole film is built around a long bad text someone named Jake sent me. We chose not to interview them for the project. We started pre-production only a few weeks after they sent me that text so it still felt fresh and would have been weird to ask them to go on camera so soon. It was also very important to me that the film end with me finding closure for myself. My friend Kayla brilliantly says on camera that “you can’t create [closure] for someone else.” Confronting Jake would have been asking them to give me that ending. I’m more interested in a story in which someone builds their own closure.
Do you know if Jake has seen the film?
As soon as I finished the film, I texted Jake for the first time since they rejected me. We got coffee and I told them that I made a short film about the long bad text they sent me. Jake was such a good sport about it and I even made them watch the film in front of me! Since then, we text all the time, we’ve hung out, seen movies, and now have tickets to Tony Kushner’s play at The Public. Sometimes someone sends you a rejection text because you two aren’t meant to know each other at all and sometimes they send you a rejection text because you’re actually meant to become great friends. I’m fortunate enough to have found a lot of the latter.