The Ghosts of Friendships Past

The Ghosts of Friendships Past

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.


  1. July 24, 2015 / 8:40 AM

    ah thi happened to me with my best friend and right after i lost my mum too. I have tried so hard to make it right but she just says nothings wrong , she’s busy, having quiet time. Doesn’t even acknowledge gifts for her kids anymore and never sends them. I lent her money she never gave back and she is my sons godmother. She got engaged 32 months ago and i found out through social media. so sad

    • Grenglish
      July 28, 2015 / 10:02 AM

      This is so sad Becky and I am so sorry you had to go through it! Very rude not to even acknowledge gifts though – must be so upsetting. How sad also for your son to lose touch with his godmother! You are awesome, anyone would be lucky to have you in their life x

  2. July 24, 2015 / 8:49 AM

    I’ve never heard that term before, but I’ve definitely done it to friends, and had it done to me. Not good friends though, and to do it to a partner I just don’t get at all. Crikey a long term partner would be bewildered.

    • Grenglish
      July 28, 2015 / 10:01 AM

      I think most of us will have ghosted a friend at some point in our lives!

  3. July 24, 2015 / 9:18 AM

    I don’t think I’ve knowingly done this, but I probably have and have probably had it done to me, sometimes life just gets too busy to keep up with everything doesn’t it?

    I can’t understand doing it to a partner though, the confusion it leads to must be heart breaking…sometimes you’d rather just be told the truth wouldn’t you?

    • Grenglish
      July 28, 2015 / 10:00 AM

      I’d be devastated if a partner disappeared off the face of the earth! Must be so confusing and possibly cowardly.

  4. July 24, 2015 / 10:46 AM

    Like you and like Emma I think I’ve done this myself sometimes but not knowingly. Okay once i did but because she was just cruel with my sister and was talking behind my back. We were really good friends apparently for years but then found out that she was just talking me bad to everyone. So instead of arguing I just ignored any attempt of her contact. But that was in my 20s…
    Sometimes i get the cold shoulder and i wonder if its my fault….i think when we are older its just immature not to tell people when they upset you.

    • Grenglish
      July 28, 2015 / 9:59 AM

      It’s so easy to blame ourselves in these situations but it really says more about them than it does about you.

  5. July 24, 2015 / 10:59 AM

    I have not heard this term before but it is entirely possible I have been guilty of this in the past. I am fairly rubbish at staying in touch with a lot of friends and I do hope they don’t think I am doing this to them…I am just genuinely rubbish. Is that awful?

    • Grenglish
      July 28, 2015 / 9:58 AM

      Not at all! We all have times when we are in touch less – this is just part of life, especially when kids are involved!

  6. July 24, 2015 / 1:17 PM

    I have deep similar wounds too that are slowly healing over. It’s confusing and the worst thing for me is I started to analyse every single thing about myself and come up with results that weren’t even there in the first place!
    I picked at every single thread of my being until I became undone was convinced I was worthless and only then did I finally see it wasn’t worth it. Like me or not, this is who I am.
    I think breaking up with partners is a tricky one to comment on. The friendship is on a different level, more intimate and each one of us has their own way of dealing with a loss.

    • Grenglish
      July 28, 2015 / 9:57 AM

      Oh lovely, it would not have been anything you did wrong and I am so sorry someone made you feel this way – how hurtful! Moving on is hard but so important we let these thoughts go and enjoy the friendships that matter most xx

  7. July 24, 2015 / 8:12 PM

    I’ve definitely let friendships fade away because they’ve become too much hassle or I didn’t feel like I had any connection with that person anymore. Way too late I realised that one of them was a massive mistake because I had lost my best friend. Luckily, I braved it and contacted her last autumn and now she is back in my life. We’ve met a couple of times, chat on What’s App and I’m so pleased I was brave enough to get back in touch. I still feel terribly guilty for being such a horrible friend and letting her go just like that and I’ll always regret not being there for the most important events in her life like we had always dreamed in school…

    • Grenglish
      July 28, 2015 / 9:54 AM

      So fab that you are back in touch! Sometimes it is good to take a break from people, only to realise how much you miss them and want them in your life x

  8. July 25, 2015 / 8:03 AM

    Oh Sarah, I won’t ghost you – hang with me any time. Hope to see you soon, maybe we can organise another dinner date in the autumn xx

    • Grenglish
      July 28, 2015 / 9:53 AM

      Let’s do it! Would love to see you. Will be in touch xx

  9. July 26, 2015 / 11:07 PM

    I adore this Sarah and it really resonates here too. I think perhaps with Theron it’s easier to cut Sean out completely as a way of healing, moving on and I’m guessing he’s no doubt a bit of a hounder! I do wonder like you, though if it’s the easy way out at times. I often think if you are truly upset with someone and it’s a friendship worth salvaging/keeping having it out should help but often it is far much easier to simply walk away plus it ends the to-ing and fro-ing that happens with arguments. And often life is quite simply too short. This has really got me thinking. I’m a big advocate of cutting out negative people in life and I really never give them a second thought once I’ve cut off (ooh I’m hardcore) that said, I do feel sad when longterm friendships end or we outgrow one another (particularly friendships that ended when I had kids and single friends didn’t). I still have a set of close friends from when I was at a school and have made so many great friends thanks to blogging-women who have become more than friends even: sisters. Let’s defintely sort that lunch out girl, loved that we clicked the instant we met xx

    • Grenglish
      July 28, 2015 / 9:53 AM

      Definitely want to see you soon lovely! I’m also a believer in cutting negative people out of my life but is there ever a kind way to do it?? x

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