When it comes to ending relationships these days, there seems to be only one way to do it. And that’s to not do it at all, and just disappear into the ether – or, to give it its technical term, to “ghost” someone.
Ghosting is everywhere; a study earlier this year found that 80% of millennials have been ghosted at least once. The other 20% have presumably only managed this feat because they’ve been the ones to run off first.
I am very firmly in the 80%. Back in my dating days, people ghosted me so many times that I once made a boyfriend promise that he wouldn’t do it too. So he dumped me by text message instead, which, while being a welcome change, wasn't much better.
But, among all these disappearing acts, what I never expected was that my best friend would vanish. So, when after almost a decade of friendship, she just stopped replying, it hurt more than any breakup ever did.
I first met Rachel* during fresher’s week when we moved into the same corridor in uni halls. We bonded over a love of George Foreman grills, and a hatred of Virginia Woolf. We went to the pub so often that the bar staff saved us a table every night. I’d crawl into her bed hungover after a night out, and when we graduated and moved to opposite ends of the country, we’d speak on the phone for two or three hours at a time.
And then, around three years ago, a decade after first meeting, she just stopped replying. There was no big fight, no real warning, no anything – she just went. Texts, phone calls, emails – nothing got a response. She’d drifted from the rest of our uni friends after she moved up north, but I got in touch with her new friends there to check she was OK. They told me she was fine, just busy. And then I heard nothing at all for almost a year.
I had absolutely no idea what to do with myself. Rachel was the one who’d seen me through the countless disappearing dates, and now she was the one who’d disappeared. I wanted to sit around in my pyjamas and wail down the phone to someone, but I had no idea who that someone should be. I was hurt, and totally stumped.
Society just doesn’t afford a friend breakup the same emotional clout that it does a romantic one.
Because it turns out that when you break up with a friend, you go through all the same stages as you do with a boyfriend – the disbelief, the wondering what you did wrong, the endless guilt and feeling that you’ve somehow wronged them in a terrible way. You wonder if you’ll manage to keep hold of your other friends, and worry that if you turn to them for comfort they’ll feel like you’re asking them to choose sides and will wander off too.
Society just doesn’t afford a friend breakup the same emotional clout that it does a romantic one. So, somehow, you just have to find a way to move on. Which isn’t always easy.
Kate’s* best friend disappeared on her nearly ten years ago, and she hasn’t heard from her since. “I don’t think I’m fully over it, even now,” Kate says. “I suddenly realised that it was always me getting in contact with her, so I decided to see how long it took her to contact me. A whole year went by, and I didn’t hear a thing. I was very ill at the time, so sent her an email to explain – but I never got a reply to that, or any other messages.
“I felt really angry at first, like I’d been abandoned by someone I thought I could rely on. Over time that anger has mostly gone, but it’s still sad and confusing.”
Unlike Kate, I did eventually hear from my vanishing friend. She sent me a card when I got engaged apologising for disappearing, but I was too hurt to go back to how we’d been. We now have the same relationship I have with my exes: the odd like on Facebook, and that’s it.
It’s inevitable that over the years, some friendships are going to come to an end. The person you loved when you were 18 and hugging a bottle of Glen’s vodka may not be the same person you want in your life when you’re nearly 30. But being ghosted by a friend is a particularly brutal experience.
I was lucky; in what was a complete reversal of my early twenties, I had a supportive boyfriend who I could turn to about my ghosting friend. And he understood that we should take friend breakups more seriously. They may not have a whole industry of bad TV and movies that you can watch and empathise with while demolishing a block of cheddar, but that doesn’t mean they’re not tough.
We all know to be kind to the person whose boyfriend has ghosted them. It’s about time we started doing it for people whose friends have wandered off, as well.
*Some names have been changed