I read in The New York Times that Charlize Theron ended her relationship with Sean Penn by ‘ghosting’ him. Ghosting is a term used to describe a way of ending a romantic relationship by cutting off all contact and ignoring the former partner’s attempts to reach out.
While I have no idea if the article is true, the act of vanishing from someone’s life without explanation seems to me a little harsh.
Or is it?
While I do not recall ghosting any past boyfriends, I am sure I have ghosted one or two platonic friendships over the years, although I did not know there was an actual term for it at the time.
In my twenties, I approached new friends like an excited puppy, bounding towards them, wagging my tail and licking their face. Inevitably, a few weeks later when we had run out of things to talk about, or wine, I would realise that we actually had nothing in common at all… and so the slow fade would begin.
While remaining nice and cheery in tone, I would suddenly be briefed on a big work project that meant I was unable to meet for drinks. The project would keep me busy for a couple of weeks, or until the phone calls stopped. I wasn’t trying to be mean, quite the opposite.
As a young woman, I thought simply disappearing from someone’s life was a kinder and less confrontational way of extracting myself from a friendship that had, in my eyes, simply run its course.
It is only now I question if I really was letting them down gently, or just taking the coward’s way out.
At the time, it was certainly easier for me to avoid a big falling out. I felt no animosity towards anyone, just no longer had the same desire to hang out. Would admitting this have been fairer on them, or served only to lessen my own guilt?
Friendships change, people change and lives change but how do you tell someone you once cared about that you don’t want to be friends with them at all anymore? Maybe I am being naive, but could it be more considerate to slip quietly away and preserve the many happy memories you share?
It was potentially less awkward to phase a friendship out before the invention of social media. Now, the ghosting is more obvious as friends totally disappear from your own timeline, but you see them liking and commenting all over the place on someone else’s.
Now I am in my forties, I have a solid group of wonderful friends in my life who I’ll never ghost. If I have not seen them in a while, it is because our family lives are genuinely busy. When it comes to making new friends, I have learnt to take my time before making new BFFs as ghosting a work colleague, school gate mum, or someone who shares many mutual friends can create quite an uncomfortable atmosphere, as will a big confrontation.
I have personally been ghosted several times, online and off, but my feelings only got hurt when someone I considered a true friend stopped returning my calls. My emails also went unanswered and I heard through the grapevine (and the magic of social media) about events that I had not been invited to. When she dealt her cruelest blow of all and unfriended me on Facebook, I was totally crushed.
I finally got the message and stopped trying to make contact, but felt incredibly confused about it all. Even now, I do occasionally wonder what I did wrong. Maybe her silence indicated no more than there was simply nothing left to say. Or, perhaps our friendship was as transient to her as the fleeting acquaintances of my youth. I will never know.
And, it is the not knowing that delivers the hardest punch of all, right in the pit of your stomach, with the power to haunt you for a lifetime.