Confessions of a Ghost

Edit: this is part one of a series I’ll be writing on some recent personal growth. I realized I needed to present the context for the rest of the series.

A quick Google search for ghosting pulls up the following definition: “the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.”

It’s considered bad manners to be the ghost, suddenly cutting all ties, denying the other party closure. I wish I could say that I’ve never been a ghost, but that wouldn’t be true.

Before you judge too harshly, allow me to explain: I ghost to protect myself. Maybe that’s selfish; maybe it’s rude, maybe it denies the other person closure. Honestly, I don’t care because there are certain situations where I’d rather leave the other person wondering what happened than have to suffer their abuse when I lay out exactly what’s going wrong and why I’m ending things. There’s a difference between selfishness and self-preservation.

I don’t like digging too far into my personal life on this blog. Well, to clarify, I’m fine digging into my personal thoughts, feelings, frustrations, and processes, but when it comes to my relationships with other people, I like to respect their privacy. I don’t talk much about my family or my friends or my person on this blog, and I don’t intend to start. Therefore, it’s difficult to give a concrete example of the times I’ve ghosted someone.

As tempting as it is to blast a former friend – someone who hurt me, and others, deeply – online, that’s not the kind of person I want to be. Therefore, I won’t identify this person by name; I won’t mention their gender; I won’t relate details of what they did or said, but will instead stick to vague descriptions (now there’s an oxymoron) and generalizations.

Suffice it to say, this person did something that hurt me deeply. In conjunction with what they did to me, they hurt another friend in an even worse way. I tried to confront this person, telling them how hurt I was and how shocked I was at how this person had treated our other friend. Rather than listen, accept fault, or apologize for their unacceptable behavior, this friend (whom I’ve long considered a precious person) decided to deflect the blame onto me, digging up every slightly shitty thing I’ve ever done over the course of a long friendship.

I was shocked and hurt. I own that I’m not always the best of friends. When I’m depressed, I withdraw. I don’t communicate well, and I don’t reach out to my friends. I don’t initiate communication or plan hangouts, or invite people to come over. I acknowledge this. I’ve been working to improve those habits, and I’d thought that this friend understood and accepted that part of me. To have symptoms of my mental health and things I did (or didn’t do) while in the grips of deep-seeded depression lobbed at me like hand grenades both infuriated me and filled me with deep sadness.

At the end of this tirade (sent via text) my friend asked me if I was willing to end our friendship over what they’d done. I could have responded yes. I could have responded with a list of all the things they’d ever done to hurt me. I could have told them all the arguments I never made, all the pet peeves I’d never brought up out of fear of hurting them. I could have apologized and agreed to start again. But in my heart of hearts, underneath everything I show to the world, I’m a stubborn bitch.

This person wanted to pull me back in. They wanted me to submit to their terms: that I was the one at fault, that I was the lesser friend. They were denying what I felt and superseding their feelings over mine (I realize that without context, this sounds more than a little paranoid). As I rage read that text over and over, drafting countless responses in my head, I came to a single conclusion: there’s no way I come out of this on top if I engage. If this is how this person is going to treat me every time I voice a grievance (by the way, this was the only the second time over the course of many years I’d ever told this person off), then it’s not worth it. We weren’t communicating on the same level, and the communication we were having was harmful. So rather than escalate, I ghosted.

I’m not going to go into further detail about the actual situation because the person it involves is online. They’re someone I cared about for a long time, and caring is a hard habit to break. So, please limit comments to the act of ghosting itself. Have you ever ghosted anyone? Why? Have you ever been ghosted? How did it make you feel?

Thank you for reading.

Next: meditations on the nature of friendship.

7 thoughts on “Confessions of a Ghost

  1. I’d never heard the term “ghosting” before reading your post. Now I realize that it has been my modus operandi for pretty much my entire life. As someone who moved far too many times in my life, I have ghosted pretty much everyone I have known. Just pulled up my landing gear and left, never to look back. As a result, I am in contact with no childhood friends, 1 high school friend, no college friends, no one from where I lived for 12 years, etc. It’s all me, not them, and I’m not quite sure why I operate this way. Hopefully, now that I’m happily settled in a place I love, I’ll hold onto the people I now have. At least with Facebook we can now keep some semblance of communication going.

  2. Ah, Dearest Emily, are we feeding off one-another specifically, or are we a part of a larger collective experience in this moment, looking at this issue? I have been obsessing about it lately, because I think there’s an ex-best friend’s wedding invitation in my future that I will have to decline to preserve my sanity…

    In my recent post about friendships, I portray the other side of a story. Someone who’s been ghosted and as a result, ends up feeling haunted, wondering what went wrong.

    In your case, if I read your story correctly, you had a conflict, attempted communication, to “fix” the relationship, and when the ex-friend said “Are we done here?” your silence implied yes.

    My personal experience dictates that it might have felt better in the long run to simply explicitly say, “Yes. This relationship has become toxic and abusive. I do not want any communication with you anymore.” When I don’t do that, I keep hurting inside because I didn’t say my truth, mark the email address as SPAM, and BLOCK them on social media.

    The term ghosting is interesting, and as I discuss in my post, every relationship is different. Some can drift away and no one is affected. Extreme cases lead to PTSD levels of anxiety, like I have on occasion.

    I am the opposite of the traveler who commented above, leaving acquaintances behind; I write letters to friends, pen pals, and send birthday cards (when I remember). I go out of my way to help people move, bring them souvenirs when I travel, and I do not buy Christmas gifts because I shop for people year-round, trying always to think about “who would enjoy this?”

    I know I have hurt people (and badly) but the catharsis of a good face-to-face, WTF happened, is a thing I am always open to experience. Usually mediated, with a counselor, if the hurt goes too deep. I believe conflict is a normal, natural part of making relationships strong…

    …UNTIL and UNLESS they’re abusive. I do not know if one person’s “abuse” is another person’s “willingness.” It could be like trash and treasure. For me, abuse is defined as one-or-the-other-party not having the other person’s back.

    Yep. In a good relationship, if someone says, “Go away,” there’s a negotiation about “how long?” Yes, I will go away, and for the relationship to continue, communication has to happen eventually…so when do we talk about what’s next? If there’s no next, that is the end of the relationship. No ghosting required.

    I grew up with conflict-avoidant parents who modeled two patterns: Avoid conflict at all costs by not discussing things (to the point of denial), or scream at the top of your lungs about them. Neither model ever led to resolution, and my strategy is a direct rejection of both. Friends are a big part of life for me, so I am willing to work hard. But as they say, your mileage may differ. I am NOT AT ALL introverted. We are all unique and wonderful, trying to figure out how to be the people we want to be in the world.

  3. Thank you for such a beautifully written and evocative piece on a painful subject. You’ve captured this wounding on a deeply resonant level. Well done, and I understand your pain. Thank you, Emily.

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