There's a lot of writing on the topic of ghosting. Mostly in romantic relationships — how to ghost, when it’s OK to ghost, how to tell you’ve been ghosted — but there’s the odd story on friendship-ghosting, where two people platonically fall apart. It seems like everyone I know has either done it, or had it done to them, and their reactions vary wildly, from justified to enraged to despondent.
I’ve read these accounts avidly, living vicariously through them. I’ve been in a long-term relationship longer than the concept of ghosting has existed, and it’s always been fascinating to me. Why do people ghost? Why not just be upfront with the person? Harder in the short term, sure, but at least you’re not leaving the ghostee in relationship limbo, unsure of where they stand or what they’ve done wrong.
I was so intrigued with the thought of it. I find all relationships with social media inherently interesting, because I’m convinced we have the opportunity to watch how human communications evolve right before our eyes. For that reason, I’ve always felt lucky to not have been ghosted — it sounds like a horrible feeling. But there’s been a bit of jealousy thrown in the mix, envy that I’d never done any ghosting, or been ghosted. I feel like I’ve kind of missed out on a rite of passage.
But then I realized, after probing my feelings on the topic, part of why I’m so interested in the motivations and foundations of ghosting is because I have been ghosted.
My first-ever best friend, at the tender age of twelve, consciously decided we were no longer friends. She neglected to tell me that, unfortunately.
I was ghosted before the word existed.
Back before ghosting was a well-known term, back before cell phones were ubiquitous, or Facebook was popular, or even before puberty in my case, my best friend made the choice to no longer be my friend.
Not that I knew that at the time, of course.
All I knew was that it felt like one day, we were begging our parents to let us sleep over after the sixth-grade sock hop. And then the next, she was no longer my best friend, or even my friend at all, for no reason I could divine.
I’d joined dance classes because she did dance. She took Spanish because I was in that course. We were official BFFs, with the tacky charm bracelets to prove it.
And then, at no particular point, she was blanking me in the hallways and pretending she’d lost her invitation to my birthday party. She sat next to new people in class, ate in her teacher’s classroom instead of having lunch with me in the cafeteria, stopped replying to my emails (the only form of electronic communication we really had back then).
I didn’t understand. There was nothing I’d done wrong, no particular event after which she’d started to change. It felt like, simply overnight, she made the decision to phase me out of her life. I never knew why.
Because I was twelve and uncomplicated back then, I sort of gave up understanding what had happened. I made new friends, started swimming and dropped dancing, doubled down on my studies. I more or less forgot about it — enough that when the vocabulary to describe my experience came into existence, I didn’t think I’d ever been ghosted.
Looking back, it had a much deeper impact than I realized.
Here’s my weird quirk: I’m always borderline-convinced that my current circle of friends is perpetually on the verge of dropping me.
It sounds ridiculous that I hadn’t connected the dots before now — friend ghosts me without warning, so I worry future friends will do the same —but like I said, I forgot it had happened. I absorbed the loss and moved on.
When I finally put two and two together, it was like I was struck by a lightning bolt.
That’s why I worry every mistake that I make could be the one that makes them leave me.
That’s why I fear that any misstep, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, might cause them to rethink their choice to regularly spend time with me.
That’s why I obsess over every small incident, trying to analyze for clues which might give me warning I’m about to be ghosted again.
It’s not a mystery, it’s not an unexplained phenomenon — it’s simply because I actually have been ghosted before, and I’m afraid it’s going to happen once more.
I don’t really have the words to describe how much unacknowledged unhappiness this event caused me.
It made me doubt myself for years, believing there was something wrong with me as a person, that made me unlikeable, knowing in my heart that sometime soon, without warning, I’d be alone and friendless because of some unexplained way that I was.
Some of you might think, “Good grief, you were both twelve, get over it.” And you’d be right — it’s silly that one event has had such an impact on my life. But I can’t deny it has.
Can you honestly say that if your best friend, with no warning or explanation, one day simply stopped being your best friend, you wouldn’t first question yourself? You wouldn’t first think, there’s gotta be something wrong with me that would make her do that?
It was for an unexpected reason.
In the end, years later, I was told — not by her! — what had happened, and why:
It turns out she was deeply religious. I wasn’t. And that was the end of it. A mutual friend explained that, when my ex-friend was asked one day why we no longer spent time together, it was because she could no longer remain friends with someone who didn’t believe in God.
I wasn’t an outspoken atheist; she wasn’t an evangelical Christian. We didn’t really discuss religion (partly because we were twelve). I never knew my lack of belief caused her consternation. She certainly never told me.Deep down, a part of me believes that can’t be it. After all, she managed to remain friends with other people of differing beliefs — why not me? A part of me persists in believing that still it’s something to do with my personality. I’m too annoying, repetitive, unfunny, try-hard, boring, stupid. Something.
Surely, if it were simply religious differences, she could have given me a warning.
I try to remember that, yes, we were young, and for all I know she had outside influences telling her what to do, and that actually I’m lucky to know why it happened. Maybe she was having religious doubts, or other events happening in her life that I’ll never know, which caused her to ghost me.
But it still hurts.
I might never be able to accept it.
Honestly, I think I might always struggle to understand why I was ghosted. I think a part of me will always question if it was something more — some personality trait I could switch off, if only I knew, and avoid losing more friends. It’s possible I’ll always worry I’ll be ghosted again.
Even with over a decade in between us, I still cringe to remember the number of times I reached out to her apologizing for the unknown way I’d wronged her, only to be rebuffed or ignored. I remember how many times I’ve tried to subtly ask people what it is about me that they find so annoying, so I can change myself once and for all. I still feel shame for some undefined quality that makes people want to not be my friend.
All this because I was unexpectedly ghosted, and every time a friendship fell apart after that, no matter what the reason, I believed deep down it was for the same unknown trait in myself.
I still think she did the wrong thing — no matter how difficult it feels, no matter how much you worry it’ll hurt the other person to hear, it’s always better to have closure.
Today, social media and technologically-based relationships make it easier than ever to phase a person out of your life. But I was ghosted before I knew what ghosting was, before we had cell phones and Tinder.
As much as I wish it hadn’t, it changed me as a person, how I view my relationships. I will always wonder what motivates people to simply decide another human being isn’t worth the effort of a goodbye, no matter how technology plays a part.
Should the day come I have to break up with a friend, I will do it the hard — and right — way.