Letter to a therapist: Volume 1
I have been good friends with Janice (not her real name) for several years. We work in the same office and we’ve always gotten along well. Two years ago she and her family actually moved to our neighbourhood, which made us even closer. Until the last couple of months. I don’t know what’s happened but she has stopped replying to my texts, and doesn’t return my calls. I’m feeling like a stalker. We don’t see each other at work anymore because we’ve all been working from home since Covid began. I really miss her. We didn’t argue or have a falling out. I’ve tried to reach out by suggesting meeting up at the park with our kids, or inviting her over for dinner or coffee. At first, she said she was just really busy. But now she’s not answering me at all. When she stopped replying, I thought something must have happened because we used to talk to each other (at least by text) every day. I even went so far as to drive to her house to see if everything was okay. Her car was in the driveway but no one answered the door. My kids have also said that her kids are no longer friends with them in the games they used to play online. I saw her at the park recently (I was driving by) with mutual friends (the ones I introduced her to), but when I ask them, they say she hasn’t mentioned me and that she seems fine. I don’t know what happened. We’re being called back to the office soon and I’m confused as to how to handle all of this. Do I keep trying?
Signed, Missing my friend
Ugh. Just ugh. Sounds like you’ve been ghosted.
If you’re not familiar with the term, being “ghosted” is when someone simply drops you without any warning. Although the term seems to have come about to explain the phenomenon in dating, where someone you dated a few times suddenly disappears and never replies to you or contacts you again, it can also apply to friendships. And it’s not uncommon.
What should you do? Nothing.
Your “friend” is clearly not your friend. You’ve tried to reach out. You’ve invited her to events, and it sounds like you tried to consider other alternatives. Despite all of your efforts, Janice is happily socializing with her new friends, the ones you introduced her.
Ghosting hurts. Absolutely. But people who ghost others are immature at best and terrible communicators. I know you’re sitting there, phone in hand, trying to figure out if you said something to upset her, or have offended her in some way. You’re trying to figure out what you did wrong.
The answer is NOTHING. Because unless someone is willing to discuss such a situation or event with you, the only assumption that can be made here is that they are childish, immature, and that you did nothing wrong.
Transgressions, mistakes, misunderstandings, and disagreements are all opportunities to handle conflict in a mature and reasonable way. They allow us to learn and grow from mistakes (if we’re being confronted) or to talk about our feelings and set boundaries (if we’ve been upset by someone’s behaviours.) Ghosting allows for none of that so the only reasonable assumption to make is that your “friend” has some issues that have nothing to do with you.
As for returning to work, you can treat her like you would any colleague that you don’t know all that well. You’ll be polite when you need to have contact and you’ll be respectful as you would with any colleague. But what you won’t be is friends. Because you can’t be friends with someone who suddenly disappears from you life anymore than you would welcome your spouse home after he or she suddenly moved out of your house without telling you why and then wanted to come back. (Please tell me you’d at least consider therapy first!)
Things to consider if you’ve been ghosted by a friend:
- Avoid gossiping about her to mutual friends. If you’ve asked about her and no one seems to know what happened, you’ll just look petty.
- Losing a close friend is hard. Allow yourself to grieve the loss of your friendship.
- Proceed with caution if she returns. You deserve to be able to ask about what happened and to assure yourself (as much as you can) that it won’t happen again.
- If she does return, you should also be able to talk about how much her behaviour hurt you without her being angry or defensive.
- Occasionally, people will disappear when they are struggling with personal situations. Some people may struggle with mental health issues such as anxiety or depression such that contact with other people can feel overwhelming at times. That’s an entirely different situation. However, this does not sound like the case with the situation above, given that the ghoster was still socializing with others.
- Finally, if this is not the first time this happened where people suddenly withdraw from you, it might be time to check in on how you’re presenting with others. Sometimes it’s hard to see how others might view us. Talk to someone you trust to give you honest (and kind!) feedback about your way of interacting with others.