I’ve had more best friends than I’ve had hot dinners.
It sounds so callous to say it, but I’m a chronic friendship ghoster. As soon as I feel like the friendship has run its course or the other person is heading in a direction I don’t like or agree with, I will just disappear over time, until it’s as if we never knew each other at all.
At school, there was the girl who made everything a competition, which made me feel uncomfortable.
There was the university friend I went on multiple holidays with until our friendship fizzled out after a particularly rough weekender festival where we’d clashed heavily on how best to spend our time. She also wanted to abandon the tent at the end and I argued that we shouldn’t.
More recently, there was the work friend I arranged a hen party for, but who would also turn around and talk to me at every given opportunity, impacting my work.
All gone from my life, with a few ignored WhatsApp messages and missed birthdays.
I am not proud of this behaviour and some recent deep soul-searching has made me realise that it must stem from my own lack of self-esteem.
A compulsion to avoid confrontation, my ingrained worries about being left behind – a legacy from my early years of being the only one standing alone in the playground. Perhaps I subconsciously think that it’s just easier for me to leave than be left?
I thought this attitude had changed when I met Elise* in 2011, when I was 20. We started working together at a late night bar. The shifts were long and difficult and we bonded over 2am shots in the only nightclub nearby when they were over.
Before long, we were doing everything together from going shopping to making backpacking plans. We even spoke about the other one being a bridesmaid at our future weddings. This was it, I thought, a true friend I’ll have for life.
Over time, things became rocky. She didn’t like that I was in a relationship with someone she didn’t get on with, and I didn’t like that she’d begun taking heavy drugs on our nights out and borrowing money, forgetting to pay it back.
Things escalated one evening: we both said some nasty things, she poured a drink over my head and I left. I never spoke to her again after that night.
Since 2016, I’ve thought of her as this ghoulish figure in my periphery, my insides squeezing at the things she said to me about how self-absorbed and selfish I was (conveniently forgetting the things I said to her, like how I thought she was so out of it all the time and I was embarrassed to be around her).
I had justified us not being friends by telling myself we were ‘toxic’ together. But were we actually, or had we just argued and I’d slipped away again, avoiding the issues and confrontation, like always?
To finally confront, out loud, my habit of cutting people off was therapeutic
Cue the twilight zone of coronavirus and lockdown. These are super strange times we’re living in and being given the gift of time has led to many of us making resolutions for when this is all over – myself included.
One of these resolutions is to right my past wrongs, as best I can. One evening after too much red wine, I agonised over whether I should contact Elise to try to make peace, but eventually I did.
I messaged her on Instagram, the one link we’d kept between us, silently watching each other’s lives progress. Keeping it simple, I asked if she was okay and if she’d like to ‘meet’ for a drink on Zoom – the go-to lifeline for friendships and family during lockdown – to which she agreed.
In the morning, I was overcome with that stark dread of having to follow through on plans made when you’ve been drinking, but talked myself into signing into our arranged Zoom call the following evening. I was worried that we’d end up arguing again, or worse, that we no longer had anything in common and nothing to say to one another.
Reader, it was lovely. Not awkward at all, the years melted away and we caught up on the gaps in our knowledge of each other. It felt surreal to see her, albeit on camera, after four years of nothingness. It was also exciting – almost like a first date, with every possibility laid out in front of us.
We did talk about our fall out. Me, admitting that my relationship had been awful but that I hadn’t come to that realisation on my own yet. Her, explaining that her drug use was short-lived but had sent her spiralling into depression.
I felt so awful that my ghosting of our friendship had potentially fed into her feeling that way. I also realised that I had truly missed her. After we fell out, I moved away from the area and our friendship groups no longer crossed. Elise had tried to contact me a couple of times via social media but I, regrettably now, had not responded.
To finally confront, out loud, my habit of cutting people off was therapeutic. Although I felt ashamed, embarrassed and heartless while explaining, I also felt clearer in my own head about why I ghosted her, and others in the past. Although not defensible in my hurting of people’s feelings, I understood better that it was a form of misguided self-defence. It’s something I’ll definitely be working to correct for a while.
After our Zoom call, I felt almost euphoric. I’d been able to say things I’d wanted to say for years, finally. We’ve agreed to meet up for dinner when restrictions end to try to – if not totally rebuild – at least heal what was broken.
During lockdown, I have also reached out to other old friends I had lost contact with, whether through my defensive ghosting process, or just through life sending us in different directions.
I’ve been overwhelmed by the response and I can feel weight after weight being lifted from my shoulders as people I thought I’d never have the chance to speak to again accept my apologies and absolve me of the guilt I carry.
I’m so grateful to have been given the chance to apologise to the people I cut off. To say truly: ‘It’s not you, it’s me’.
I hope that through reconnecting with old friends I had left behind, I can not only heal them of the hurt they must carry because of my actions, but heal myself too.