Ghosting. It’s a term we use now to vanish from people we choose to disassociate ourselves with. The affected party’s texts are ignored, calls go unreturned, dates cancelled. It sucks. It’s unfair. It’s cowardly. It’s also the epitome of incivility. I believe if you’re pissed off, say so. Or don’t want to hear from someone for whatever reason, tell them. We’re all adults. So why fade into nothingness?
No one is immune. We’ve all had great friends and romances that went off the deep end. Usually there’s some kind of disagreement, or a natural parting of the ways. Your relationship came to its natural end. Both of you might look each other up one day to see how the other’s doing; no ill will. Or you might even still send Christmas cards, enclosing a note stating how you all must get together, and soon. Then nothing happens.
Or there’s the friends that vaporize, for no reason you can determine. Sure, maybe you said something. Or didn’t act the way you’re expected to. Whatever it was, that person never let on what it was. If a friendship breakup is inevitable, no one let you in on it. We’re supposed to just know. Silence is the great communicator here. But what is it really saying?
During my youth, I had a friend named Anne. We were both outcasts in grammar-school society. Maybe that’s how we got to know each other. I was that weird kid, the one with too much in the smarts and savvy department (straight-A student, and I knew a thing or two about, well, things). My zit-covered face, awkward gait and weird body shape didn’t exactly land me in the cutie clique, either. I didn’t have many friends, but the ones I had were solid as a brick house.
Anne showed up in the sixth grade. We hit it off instantly. She, too, was a brainiac with a wicked sense of humor. We told jokes no one got, which made us even weirder than we already were. We both had parents that took us to museums, plays, concerts – cultural events that typical sixth-graders held little interest in.
We grew up, went to college, got our first jobs and made our way out in the world, still keeping quite close touch. We called each other almost daily and whenever we had a free weekend, visited each other. Through boyfriends and broken hearts, we confided our deepest secrets and our sincerest hopes that one day, we’d find someone that cared about us as much as we did about each other. And that we’d be millionaires.
Then one day, Anne dropped off the face of the earth. I had no idea why. At first, I thought something awful happened. She didn’t return calls or emails (this was before texting and cell phones, mind you). So I wrote her a letter. What’s up. Are you all right. Can I help. I’m here for you, as always. After three weeks, she called me at work, angry. Apparently, I turned into a good girl who could do no wrong – and she meant that in the snarkiest imaginable way. How I though I was all that. How perfect I seemed to be. And so on. Confused, I asked Anne why she never mentioned this to me before. She replied I should’ve known. She came to visit me and after hours of talking it out, we cleared the air. She misunderstood my intentions during a difficult time for her; I tried to help but she interpreted it as trying to run her life. Maybe I was, but I didn’t mean to. But both of us felt so much better once we cleared the air. Our friendship resumed as if nothing happened.
Until it vanished once more.
This time, her friend Al told me I wasn’t alone. Anne dropped him like a hot sausage. No reason given. Soon, I heard from another friend of Anne’s. Same thing. Apparently Anne was shedding friends like a dog’s hair in spring. At first it bothered me, but after awhile, I let it go. I can’t force someone to like me, or even be friends.
While in my twenties, I had another good friend, Trish. We were part of a group, several of whom were gay men. Trish was close to Dave. Very close. Part of me wondered if she had longings for him. But Dave had Mike, and they were deeply in love. If they’d been around today, they would’ve married, for sure. As it turned out, Mike had AIDS and passed very quickly. All of us were gutted, but Dave was devastated. Trish was there for him 24/7, trying her best to ease his grief. Before long, Dave was diagnosed with HIV. He chose to live his life as if every day mattered. He made us all laugh, even as his days grew shorter. He died with all of us surrounding him with love, and it was his greatest wish that we’d continue treasuring each other and live the life he never could.
Shortly after, Trish retreated into her self-imposed exile. We wrote it off as grieving. Hell, we all felt that hole in our lives that only Dave could fill. She neither answered our phone calls or the door. One of our group actually showed up at her job to check on her. She gave a cursory greeting, yet remained distant. Her tone implied none of us were to bother her. In fact, anyone associated with our circle never heard from her again. Apparently, we were too much of a reminder of Dave and the good times we shared. If he were alive, I know he’d give her a proper dressing down. He was like that.
And then there was Bella.
Tough as nails, yet a real softie inside, this self-made woman rose up from the depths of poverty into a modicum of wealth. She owned several homes, traveled the globe, yet always had time for a phone call or a cup of coffee. I can’t tell you the number of times we cried on each other’s shoulder or cheered each other on. There were no secrets between us. Bella could be relied upon to keep everything hidden. She was absolutely the definition of nonjudgmental.
Bella couldn’t make my wedding, but she took me and my new husband out to the nicest dinner we couldn’t possibly afford shortly thereafter. We were included in everything in her lives, no matter how big or small. Birthdays, housewarmings, new puppy, her flowers blooming in her garden for the first time – we were welcomed with open arms. Even when troubles began in our marriage, she listened to me and offered advice and sympathy. When I told her my husband cheated on me, however, something changed. No, Bella didn’t cheat with my husband. But she implied it was all my fault that he’d want to cheat on me. When I asked her why, she gave no reason. She wished me a happy birthday and promptly disappeared. I mentioned it to my now estranged husband. He seemed as surprised as I was. And he hadn’t heard from her either.
I miss all of these friends more than anyone could know. I’ll never what it was that upset them. Or earned their mistrust. I do have friends who’re straight with me, through thick and thin, 24/7/365. None of us are perfect, no matter how hard we try. So I mourn the passing of these friendships, cherish what came between us, and value those who honor me with their continued presence in my life, and allowing me to be a part of theirs.
Really, it’s all I can do.