04.18.13 Love

How to Handle a Houdini: What to Do When a Guy Pulls a Disappearing Act

How to Handle a Houdini: What to Do When a Guy Pulls a Disappearing Act

BY Mandy Hale

There’s not a woman alive who this hasn’t happened to. Regardless of looks, personality, career path, success level, place in life, none of us are immune. And if it hasn’t happened to you yet, you can rest assured…it will. What is this phenomenon I speak of?
The vanishing act.

You’re dating someone new (or you’ve maybe even been dating someone for awhile), and things seem to be going well and progressing nicely when suddenly your love interest starts to pull back a little. Then a lot. Then, before you know it, you look up and he’s gone. Disappeared into the night with the stealth of Sherlock Holmes. No phone call, no explanation- not even a Post-It.

A lot of “experts” will tell you that you could be to blame for a man disappearing on you; you were too needy, too clingy, gave too much too soon– but I’m here to tell you that there are instances when a man disappears for the simple reason that he’s too weak or afraid to tell you that he doesn’t want to pursue the relationship further. Of course neediness and clinginess and giving too much too soon can certainly be factors in the demise of a relationship. However, don’t get caught up in blaming yourself, because at least as often as not, a man vanishes due to his own shortcomings rather than yours.

Here’s the bad news: once a man pulls the vanishing act, he rarely ever reappears. In fact, I’m convinced there’s a remote tropical island somewhere that houses all of our ex-Houdinis. I like to call it “The Island of Misfit Boys.”

But here’s the good news: 1) There are red flags you can look for that will alert you to the fact that you’re dating a Houdini, and 2) There are ways to respond to the vanishing act to ensure that just because your Houdini vanishes, he doesn’t take your dignity with him.

First, let’s look at the warning signs that your Romeo might in fact be a Houdini:

A Houdini typically appears out of nowhere, showing up in your life with the intensity of a freight train or a storm, taking you by complete surprise. The downside of this is that his sudden and unexpected appearance in your life can often trick you into believing it’s fate or magic at work. But here’s what you’ve gotta remember: Houdinis will vanish from your life just as suddenly as they appear.

A Houdini moves at warp speed. Everything about the relationship will feel rushed, from the first time he calls you “baby” to the first time he meets your parents to the first time- and probably last time- he vanishes from your life. As a woman it can be flattering to have a guy who seems so intensely INTO us that he can’t wait to take the next big step; but as the old love song says, “Wise men say, only fools rush in.” Bottom line, most people simply don’t Khloe and Lamar their way into TRUE love. Love doesn’t rush. It takes its time. Infatuation rushes, and most often burns out.

There will come a very obvious and defining moment in the relationship when a Houdini will start to back away. His calls and texts will dwindle. He’ll grow increasingly distant. His sweet lovey-dovey tone will change to more matter of fact and unattached. You’ll noticeably feel the currents shift. When this happens, ladies, the vanishing act is imminent and there’s honestly not much you can do about it. Men who pull the vanishing act typically aren’t mature enough to realize that a simple conversation respectfully ending the relationship is a MUCH kinder, gentler way to make their grand exit than simply dropping off the face of the earth. Or they DO realize it but they just don’t care. Never is a person’s character more evident than at the end of a relationship- and the bottom line is, if he’s the kind of guy who feels okay about just disappearing from your life, you’ve gotta be the kind of woman who loves herself and respects herself (even if he doesn’t) enough to let him stay gone.

Here’s the really ironic thing about the vanishing act that most men don’t realize. At least a decent percentage of the time that a man’s not feeling us, we’re not feeling him either. We ladies are highly intuitive and gut-driven, and we know when a connection is off with a man. So most of the time, the vanishing act isn’t even necessary, because it’s not like we’re going to go chasing after a man we don’t really want, anyway.

For women, the vanishing act isn’t painful because we’re gauging our eyes out or weeping and wailing and gnashing our teeth that a man doesn’t want to be with us; it’s painful because we don’t like being treated as though we are disposable. Frankly, we deserve better. I don’t know about you, but when I close a chapter of my life, no matter how short, I like to do it with respect and dignity. I feel like both myself and the other person is worthy of a better ending than a text message or a vanishing act. However, when that better ending is not available to me, I like to deploy what I call “The Graceful Exit.”

The Graceful Exit realizes that she’s worthy of an explanation, but that she may not get one. The Graceful Exit seeks closure, but not at the expense of her dignity. The Graceful Exit doesn’t cry, yell, bring drama, throw fits, or try in any other way to manipulate a man who doesn’t want her into sticking around.

She makes a solid effort to reach her Houdini in a calm, rational, classy manner and ask for a few moments of his time, either by phone or in person, whenever possible. Why? Because frankly, I think the “He’s Just Not That Into You” culture has given men too much of a pass. We’re allowing men to simply vanish from our lives with zero explanation or accountability, shrugging it off as “Well, he’s just not that into me.” NO. This is not okay.

If a man has been actively pursuing and wooing and doing everything in his power to stir your affections for him for a week or a month or even a DAY…he owes it to you to tell you in a direct and upfront manner when that pursuit is coming to an end. If a friend just disappeared from your life without explanation, you wouldn’t just let it slide, would you? So why are we so quick to do it with a man?

She realizes that once she has done all she can do to give the Houdini a chance to explain himself, and he’s still hedging… the only thing she can do is let it go. The thing is, most of the time a Houdini is a well-oiled machine. He has a “love ‘em and leave ‘em” operation that he’s been running since LONG before he made you his latest target, and “Explain yourself to the girl you just bamboozled” isn’t typically on his to-do list. So if you make contact in an effort to gain clarity and closure and he responds with excuses and evasiveness and shadiness, do yourself a favor and LET HIM GO. You have done your part. You have been every inch a lady, and you’re far too dignified to keep wasting time trying to teach him to be a gentleman.

When all is said and done, a Houdini actually does you a MONUMENTAL favor by disappearing from your life before you could get any further caught up in his not-so-magic tricks. Houdinis aren’t always bad guys- they just haven’t reached a level of maturity that allows them to see that any boy can woo and pursue a new girl every two weeks, but it takes a real man to dedicate himself to just one woman.

After all, the most magical thing about love is that it doesn’t take tricks and pizazz and abracadabra to win a woman’s heart. All it takes is a man who realizes that the catch is even better than the chase.

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mandy hale
Mandy Hale is affectionately known around the world as "The Single Woman™.” In just over two years, Mandy has garnered a massive Twitter following of nearly half a million people from across the globe. In her home state of Tennessee, only Al Gore and Dolly Parton have more followers! With a heart to inspire single women to live their best lives and to never, ever settle, Mandy cuts to the heart of the matter with her inspirational, straight-talking, witty, and often wildly humorous take on life and love. She’s also not afraid to talk about the many realities of being single in a world that still asks, “And WHY are you still single?” Less of a life coach and more of a big sister, best friend, or mentor to women as they walk the single girl walk, Mandy is the voice of every woman experiencing the incredible, beautiful, magic, tragic highs and the many challenges of single life. While she doesn’t have all the answers…she’s brave enough to ask the questions. Whatever life and love throws at her, she maintains her fierce belief in happy endings; and every column, Dash of Sass, or 140 character encouragement she sends comes straight from an honest, real, authentic place. Connect with Mandy online at TheSingleWoman.com, Facebook or on Twitter @TheSingleWoman.


  • LadyinRed

    It can be part of a dating life. I look at it this way — I look to see if it was something with my behavior so I can change. Secondly, sometimes men disappear because they just do and then he did me a favor as it opens the door to a mature man who is better for me and me better for him.

  • Gillis

    I do a lot of online
    dating and often find myself in these types of situations. I’ve gone out with a
    lot of guys who outwardly showed a lot of enthusiasm for a while, even to the
    point that it seemed too much, and then abruptly disappeared without an
    explanation. For a long time, I would just delete their number and let it go,
    but the truth is, it often left me feeling confused and hurt, and I’d wonder
    for months if I’d done something wrong that they weren’t telling me about. Only
    recently did I make the decision to reach out via text in situations where I
    was left feeling confused or unsettled. My message usually says something to
    the effect of, “Hey, ___, I never heard back from you. I’m fine if you changed
    your mind about things, but I wish you’d communicated that instead of
    disappearing on me. If you want to talk, I’m here, and if not, I wish you the
    best of luck!” I’ve done this four times, and all four times, the person has responded,
    and all four times, we’ve been able to clear up misunderstandings and end
    things on a peaceful note. Most of the time, it wasn’t anything I’d done. This
    has restored my faith that people really don’t mean to hurt me, but that
    perhaps they didn’t know how to communicate. And it helps give me the closure I
    need to move forward. Communication is so important, and it’s empowering to know
    that you can speak up for yourself and say something when you’re treated in a
    way that doesn’t feel okay.

    • Lily

      I am guessing online dating does give guys (and even girls) to act irresponsibly because people have no common friends/people together and if a guy disappear he didn’t have to let anyone know what he’s done. It’s the same principle of people doing shady things online (like cyber bullying)…They can just go back and pretend to be the perfect guy/girl they are without others knowing what they did to a stranger.

      I also think that guys now a days like to jump into quick infatuation without really giving it time to know the other person. They think that if things don’t work out they can just quickly jump ship and meet another person elsewhere. It does makes me feel like my dating life is really dim as this kind of attitude is setting the relationship to failure because the other person just won’t put in the necessary time and effort to really know the other person. Everything is just about infatuation and instant chemistry….But I guess this is just how the world works and we can only hope for the best and don’t give your heart out so easily.

    • Gforce27

      I love the message you write to you’re ghosts…it’s perfect. It isn’t judgmental or angry, it clearly states what you would have liked instead, and then leaves the door open. Nice! I’m going through this right now, with someone I had a real attachment to as a friend before we became lovers–which makes the fade out so much more hurtful. I think saying something along the lines of what you came up with is especially appropriate. Thanks!

  • Izzy

    The same thing happened too me and I now see I was stupid to fall for his game, but after 4mths of chatting everyday, morning and night over long distance he did the houdini and it’s really hurt me. He swore to me that if anything changed between us he would tell me, when a last questioned him, but I guess that was a lie and that’s what upsets me most, that I didn’t deserve the truth even when I asked.
    Maybe it’s his way of keeping his options open and not burning his bridges but that doesn’t sit well for me so I burnt the bridges for him. I deactivated my chat account and unfollowed/unfriended on all social media because I need to move on and the last thing I want is to be reminded of him in my feeds when I’m trying to mend my heart.

    I doubt he has noticed, such has been his houdini act but as the saying goes
    “If they don’t chase you when you walk away, keep walking”.

  • Xmasgirl

    I would like to say thank you for posting this. It is somehow comforting to know I am not the only decent woman out there this has happened to. I am suffering from this right now and I can tell you the pain is intense! This is the last man on the face of the earth that I would have imagined would have pulled a “Houdini” on me, especially after such an intense connection and closeness and meeting my family and future planning together. I definitely deserve an explanation and made several attempts to get one with no avail.
    I am learning to live with the pain and disappointment and hope someday to find a man who is worthy of the calibur of woman I know that I am.

    • Maria

      Hi Xmasgirl, sorry to hear that your houdini went as far as meeting your family. I would say to protect yourself in the future you might want to give it some time and really know this person before you let him get too close. As the article mention a true relationship takes time to build and just because it’s “intense” doesn’t mean it’s real. Haven’t said that the man is also not a good man if he agrees to meet your family when he knows deep down he’s not ready to have a serious relationship with you. You are lucky to have this man out of your life before it’s too late.

  • eds

    I can relate to this.. Makes me feel a bit better..

    • PreetieS

      I had a Houdini but I sensed it, before he left, so I wrote him a letter that hinted that whatever plans he thought I had with him, were mine alone and he was being presumptuous. I also hinted that even though he thought I was totally into him…it was a role play for me as much it was for him. Haven’t heard from him since but feel retributed and there is a sense of preserved dignity.
      it wasn’t straight out but used a lot of parallels…trust me it helped BIG time

  • carrie

    I really appreciate this article and the comments. I have just experienced a Houdini act for the first time which has left my baffled and hurt as I really try to be an honest, upfront person.. It is just like the article says. .I could deal with this strange relationship ending but not with this insulting abrupt disposal. It’s not just my own ego, for me it’s a matter or principle.and common courtesy.you just don’t treat people like that. Anyway, it helps to learn that others have had similar experiences and all you strong women out there have inspired me —thanks for sharing your stories. Well, live and learn ladies and remember.life is too short to waste more time lamenting losers.

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