Ghosting a friend is cowardly.
Ghosting a friend is selfish.
If a friend ghosts you, it’s all about them being a Bad Person, and not because you’ve done anything wrong.
But…. here’s the thing. One survey suggests that as many as 50% of us have been ghosted at one time or another – and the same survey shows that almost as many of us have been the one who’s done the ghosting.
Including me. I’m sure in my time, I’ve ghosted people.
I felt worried about posting this article, because according to myfriendson social media, ghosting is despicable, and I’m sure lots of people won’t agree with my actions.
However, I actually have two theories about ghosting.
- It’s like masturbation. Many of us do it, but nobody wants to talk about it in polite company.
- Sometimes it’s the only way to end a friendship without one or both of you being badly hurt.
Ghosting a Friend: My Story
I met Sarah (not her real name) at a social event. As a single Mum it’s hard to make friends, so I was thrilled to find someone I clicked with. Our friendship started with coffee dates and lunch. Then movies and family get-togethers and trips away.
Sarah was a lot of fun, and kind. The sort of friend who would walk your dog in the rain, or run a stupid errand to rescue you. She was really, really funny. She could make me laugh like nobody else I know.
The other thing about Sarah? She had the Worst Luck Ever. Seriously. If she took a flight it was delayed. If she bought a car, it caught on fire. If she went out for the day, she locked herself out of the house. Her life lurched from disaster to catastrophe.
The longer we were friends, the more I wondered if Sarah’s mishaps were more than just mishaps. I wondered if she actually had depression or anxiety.
Certainly, she was erratic, forgetful and unreliable. At times, she’d go AWOL for days or weeks at a time. She would regularly forget small jobs or tasks, and a small problem would spiral into something far bigger. Inevitably, this would cause Sarah to blame herself and get upset, and everything just got worse over time.
As her friend, I think I really tried to be supportive. I would offer advice, and practical support and sympathy where I could. Was it frustrating when Sarah forgot to do something? Yes. But I regularly reminded myself that if Sarah was struggling with depression (although she never agreed with this) then she was doing the best she could in a challenging situation. That doesn’t mean watching someone struggle for years at a time isn’t hard. Being their friend is hard.
I know that we all have quirks and problems, and we should accept and love people regardless. But we’re also human. It’s hard to never mind being let down, or being stood up, or having to pick up extra commitments to plug a gap someone else left. Especially when it goes on for years at a time.
Although I tried not to show when I was annoyed at being let down or forgotten, sometimes it couldn’t be helped. But if I tried to talk about my feelings, or how we could make our relationship better, it would cause more problems than it fixed. Sarah hated if you were ever frustrated or disappointed with her, and the tearful crisis that resulted could last for weeks. She’d feel rotten for messing something up, and I’d feel rotten for hurting someone I cared for (again).
For all those challenges, I loved being friends with Sarah. She could be frustrating and exhausting sometimes, but she was also a fun, loyal friend and someone I really respected. Some of the very best times of my life were with her. I did my best to focus on the positive and not to dwell on that little resentful feeling deep in my gut. This went on for almost ten years. Things only really changed when I went through a tough spell in my own life.
2018 rolled around and I wasn’t depressed, but I was sort of sad, and anxious. It was the sort of mood where you sometimes cry in your car and lay awake at night. And you post on social media about the tough time you’re having.
Luckily, my friends rallied. They called for long chats, took me for walks on the beach, bought me coffee. Sarah? I didn’t hear from her for almost two months. Nothing. Nada. For whatever reason, she couldn’t be there for me. I told myself not to mind (although it did) because Sarah was struggling with her own stuff. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t really hurt, though.
A few months later, Sarah reappeared, in the midst of another crisis. Her dog was sick, she hadn’t got insurance, and needed money. I gave her as much as I could afford, but she didn’t even acknowledge it, much less offer to pay me back. I was already hurt by Sarah ghosting me for two months when I was struggling, and this just made me feel worse.
I didn’t say anything, though. Because I thought Sarah would just have another meltdown where I was (again) the person who made her feel bad about herself. So I tried to swallow my feelings, and we did have a couple of nice chats. I made plans to meet her for lunch. I arrived at the coffee shop a week later and Sarah wasn’t there. I checked my phone to find that she wasn’t coming. No explanation, nothing. She just… couldn’t make it.
Part of me still second guesses myself. But that was the day I knew I had to walk away.
I realised that being friends with Sarah was like pouring all my energy into a leaking bucket. No matter what support I offered, her issues never changed. When I was on top form, it didn’t matter so much. But when my own life was challenging, Sarah didn’t just not help, she just made things harder than they needed to be.
According to Psychology Today, “People who ghost are primarily focused on avoiding their own emotional discomfort and they aren’t thinking about how it makes the other person feel,” but I think that’s a massive over-simplification.
Ending my friendship with Sarah wasn’t an easy decision. It was actually one of the hardest decisions I’d ever made. But sometimes friendships evolve to a point where they are unhealthy for everyone involved. I felt frustrated and hurt, a lot of the time. Sarah told me often that my attempts to help her made her feel useless.
We could have talked about it at length, but I don’t think it would have helped. Having had numerous heart to hearts over a decade, I knew that Sarah would become tearful and upset, she would feel attacked, and resent me for making her feel less than she was. I knew also that my own mental health was pretty fragile, and I didn’t have it in me to go through that confrontation, knowing it had never made any difference before.
To ghost someone means to completely disappear, not acknowledge messages, and never speak to them again. I didn’t go quite that far! I just got busy. I took longer to reply to messages. I didn’t accept invitations. I unfollowed Sarah on social media, and removed her from my followers.
I did get a text from Sarah, a few weeks later, asking why I didn’t follow her social media any more. And while I didn’t offer a full explanation, I just said that some things she’d said and done made me very uncomfortable, and I couldn’t really watch that at the moment. And that was it. She never asked for details, and I never gave any.
Rather than ghosting being a terrible thing, I feel like we just let the friendship come to its natural conclusion. Maybe it was cruel or unfair. I can’t ever say for sure.
But what I do know is that it felt like the best choice for everyone concerned, in that situation.
What do you think?
If you liked this post, here are some other posts about ghosting a friend (from the perspective of the person being ghosted) that you might enjoy:
- Ghosting: How to Let it Go by Rice Cakes and Raisins
- What to do when you’ve been ghosted, by Miss Tilly and Me
- My Cyber-Sadness Journey, by Living Unplugged