The first time was in high school. The friend I used to have sleepovers with became the one who avoided me in the hall. She stopped returning my texts. Long before ghosting was a term, she was disappearing in front of me. Of course, I tried to hang on. I felt more and more desperate, drowning in her silent sea.
I still remember the last time we grabbed coffee. It was up near the National Zoo. I was trying to have the courage to say,
“What the fuck? What happened? Why don’t you acknowledge me anymore? The least you could say is why you’re treating me this way.”
But I didn’t say that. I don’t know what I said, probably small talk. At 15, I didn’t have the strength to overcome my own fear of conflict. Still, she was clear that she didn’t want to be there. She had that nervousness about her eyes, fearful she’d be seen in public, with me.
It was over. I let it go. I didn’t know how to express my anger, my grief. Do I still blame her? It’s hard to blame someone who no longer exists. We’re both different people now, strangers who share a bit of history.
Yet, I wish I had an answer more solid than silence.
The next time I had a friend ghost was in college. She was my best friend. I was her personal counselor, the confidant through boyfriends, family drama, and academic struggles. She introduced me to my sorority and Sex and the City. I shared my mother, Passover, and New York City.
Looking back, it was never meant to last. We were warped: I only knew how to give, and she needed to take. I was still struggling to acknowledge my needs. I feared the minute I needed something, friends would leave me. So I set the pace for untenable friendships, setting up my own destruction.
By junior year, we were breaking apart. Depression made me unable to be her adviser. When I reached out, needing help, she refused to be there. My problems were too big, too much on top of hers. Soon, she had others to fill my place in her court. Like an old courtier, I felt myself slowly disappearing into the shadows.
I set the pace for untenable friendships, setting up my own destruction.
So, I tried to do an experiment. If I stopped reaching out to her, stopped trying to be her friend, would she call, or text, even think of me? She gave me the silent treatment, her eyes skimming over me.
Why? I don’t know. Perhaps I broke some rule I didn’t know existed. Perhaps it was just my punishment for no longer serving the queen.
Either way, we slipped past each other. It was over without a word. By our senior year we were polite, but there was too much history to be anything more than ghosts.
Letting her go in silence is my biggest regret from college. Not because I wanted to keep our friendship, but because I never had closure, only an imagination full of potential answers.
“People are always coming and going,” my friend Sammy likes to remind me. It’s becoming a part of life I expect. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve ghosted out of a few people’s lives. For that, I’m sorry. It’s easier to remember how you were hurt than how you might have hurt others.
Our lack of expectations around friendships is a problem. I don’t think I’ve asked to be someone’s friend since I was five. Just as the beginnings are casual, we expect the endings in the same way: amorphous, slow, silent. People slip away.
“We just grew apart” How many times have you said that? Sometimes it’s true, but sometimes, it’s just an excuse.
Sometimes you’re just too afraid to have conflict. You’d rather just ignore someone and put them aside. Maybe it’s also about power: make them ask, make them beg to understand. I’ll admit, I’ve hoped for that once or twice with silence.
Sometimes, though, you’re too afraid to ask why. You’re too proud to ask why someone doesn’t want you anymore, even as a friend. You believe you don’t need them. You pretend it doesn’t matter.
But it does matter. The feelings aren’t addressed. Sure, there’s no yelling, no mean words. But you’re left with it all inside yourself. There’s no resolution. You can move on, but it’s slower and harder. It taints the memories of your friendship with that cloud, that lack of conclusion.
Endings happen. Things fall apart. Very few relationships can or should last a lifetime. It’s time we started talking about it. It’s time we stopped putting up with ghosts.
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