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What to Do if a Friend Ghosts You
It’s not just a dating thing, and it can hurt. A lot. Here are ways to cope — and move forward.
By Catherine Pearson
In my late 20s, I was ghosted by one of my closest friends.
We met in college and began drifting apart after graduation. He moved to the Midwest for grad school; I stayed in New York, but we visited when our circumstances and budgets allowed, and emailed — frequently at first, then less often. I have tried not to dwell too much on the time when our relationship ended, but I recently dug up my last email to him from 12 years ago: “I’m putting this out there as a final attempt to be in touch,” I wrote in a note that makes me feel a combination of heartache and embarrassment, even now. “I hope we can reconnect.”
He never responded, and I never tried again. It felt an awful lot like being dumped.
Ghosting — when someone unilaterally cuts off communication without warning or explanation — has become a seemingly inescapable part of the modern dating scene , but we pay far less attention to it as a phenomenon between friends.
Yet research suggests that experiences like mine are pretty common. In one study from 2018 , 39 percent of the participants said they’d been ghosted by a friend. And a study published earlier this year found that people often feel just as hurt after being ghosted by a friend as they do after being ghosted by a romantic partner.
“With ghosting, we know that there are four fundamental needs that get threatened,” explained Gili Freedman, an assistant professor of psychology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland who was an author of the 2018 study: “Your sense of belonging, your sense of meaningful existence — that you have a place in the world, and that place is meaningful — your sense of control and your self-esteem.”
Dr. Freedman cautioned that there isn’t any research on the best strategies to help you cope with being abruptly dropped by a friend — and stressed that the bulk of research on ghosting has focused on dating and romantic situations. But she and other experts who study friendship and ghosting offered several approaches that may help.
Validate your experience — and your pain
There is “a certain shame” to being ghosted by a friend, said Irene S. Levine, a psychologist and author of “Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend.” She believes much of it stems from the mythology that you’re supposed to keep your friends for all eternity, when in fact research in the Netherlands suggests people may lose about half of the friends in their social network every seven years.
Simply reminding yourself that fluidity is a hallmark of friendship and that platonic ghosting is relatively widespread can offer some comfort, Dr. Levine said, because it helps normalize the experience.
“Try to step back and remember that not all friendships, even very good ones, last forever,” Dr. Levine said.
It may also help to recognize that being ghosted is a form of “ ambiguous loss ,” a psychology term that describes a loss without information or closure. Marisa Franco, a psychologist who studies friendship, said it is normal to feel sad, angry or embarrassed, and it is normal to ruminate.
Research suggests simply naming feelings without trying to change them or push them away — a technique known as “ affect labeling ” — can offer solace.
"Anything that helps you express emotion will ease grief,” Dr. Franco said. That might include journaling, crying or talking to friends who won’t minimize your feelings. Try to validate your suffering in a compassionate way, she urged, by acknowledging that your feelings connect you to others who have struggled with similar issues — an idea called “common humanity.” (I, for one, have found it cathartic to write this story and realize I’m not the only one who has been through an experience like this.)
Reclaim some control and a sense of connection
Because ghosting is characterized by uncertainty, it can help to “fortify your need for control,” Dr. Freedman said. Focus your time and attention on areas of your life where you feel a sense of agency, she said. Is that at work? Through certain hobbies? Pour your energy into those pursuits.
Christina Leckfor, a doctoral student in social psychology at the University of Georgia, added: “If you think you’re being ghosted, try to fill that void in your life with social connection from other people. If you can try and spend time with close friends or family members, you might still feel hurt by the experience, but hopefully you won’t feel as lonely.”
At the same time, although being ghosted feels deeply personal, it may help to “remind yourself that getting dumped may have nothing to do with you,” said Dr. Levine. She noted, for instance, that your friend might be grappling with mental health issues, an illness or family problems, and they “may not be ready to share — even with a very good friend.”
Consider reaching out once more
Sometimes it’s obvious a friend is done with you, as was the case for me. But often, friendships simply peter out. For instance, an often cited 1984 study among young adults found that physical separation was the most common reason friendships end.
So, consider the possibility that your friend isn’t deliberately ghosting you; life simply got in the way. “Typically, friends don’t go: ‘I will be moving across the state to start a job, and at that time I’m not going to keep in touch as much,’” said Jeffrey Hall, a professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas, who noted that friendship does not have the same kind of clear expectations for behavior that romantic relationships tend to have.
It’s possible that if you get in touch, they might thank you for your persistence, Dr. Hall said.
Even if you never hear back, it can at least help interrupt the cycle of rumination , Dr. Franco said. Taking initiative can offer more closure that the friendship really is over, she said, rather than leaving you wondering.
“You might just say, ‘Hey friend, I haven’t heard from you in a while. At this point, I’m not sure if you continue to be interested in a friendship with me,’” Dr. Franco said. “Try to welcome them to just be honest with you. I think ghosters often think honesty is worse than ghosting.”
Have you ever been ghosted by a friend? Share your story in the comments below.
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Why Friends Ghost On Even Their Closest Pals
I n high school, I was part of a trio: Marlene, Susan and I were constant companions–until one day, for reasons she did not disclose, Susan refused to have anything more to do with me. Marlene tried to stay friends with both of us, but since that meant sticking with Susan, I was locked out. Being cut off by a close friend, someone integral to my daily life, was shattering. But I learned, as I interviewed over eighty girls and women (ages 9 to 97) for a book about friendship , that cutoffs are a common calamity. And so is ghosting .
I heard many accounts of cutoffs and ghosting — both from those who’d suffered from it and those who’d done it. The ugliest stories were about being ousted by a group of friends in middle school or high school. And it haunted not only the ejected but also the ejectors. For example, a woman, Annie, said she still feels regret and shame for not speaking up when, in tenth grade, her entire friends group turned on one member. Annie wasn’t the ringleader, but, she said, “I went along. And we had been very, very close friends.”
Most of those who had been cut off said they didn’t know why. But those who said they’d cut off a friend always told me the reason. For example, a woman, Linda, said she had let a friend stay with her for what was supposed to be a brief time. As the days became weeks and then months, she finally asked the friend to leave. Instead of thanking her for months of hospitality, the friend exploded in anger. “If your boyfriend moves in,” she snarled, “you’ll probably kick him out after a few months, too!” Linda never spoke to her again.
Even when a cutoff is traced to a single outrageous thing said or done, that supremely tellable violation usually caps frustrations that had been mounting over time. For example, a college student recalled a high school friend who “was great and funny and just a riot. She was a hoot, and great to be around.” But the friend’s jokes were often barbed — and made her feel terrible. “It just kind of built up,” the student said. “I didn’t want to keep enduring it.”
Comments about erstwhile friends included: “She made me feel inadequate and intimidated, correcting my grammar and always having done one better”; she “did a number on me, made me feel inadequate, awkward, unattractive”; “She made me feel inadequate and depressed.” All these descriptions include the word “inadequate” — that universal fear that we are just not good enough. And the same fear is part of why it is so painful to be ghosted.
Why cut someone off without saying why? For one thing, explaining opens a conversation, implying you want to work things out, which you don’t. But there’s another reason, too. Many of us find it hard to say anything negative outright, so we swallow our hurt—until it chokes us. Ghosting means still not saying anything negative. Someone told me he calls this “stamp collecting.” When a person you’re close to does something you don’t like, you say nothing, but put a stamp in your book. When the page is filled with stamps, you slam it shut and throw the book at them.
For those who are pondering what they did to cause them to be ghosted, it may help to know the answer may be: nothing. A woman was relieved when–-decades later— a friend who had disappeared reconnected and explained that she’d been going through a tough time and had cut everyone off. Another woman recalled her own habit, when she was younger, of cutting friends off: she’d pursue a friendship , then feel overwhelmed by the closeness she’d created — and flee. A particularly unjust—and pernicious — reason may have been why Annie’s high school group turned on one of their own. Annie recalled that the victimized friend “was good at every sport and cute.” Sadly, it is common for girls to reject a girl who stands out or excels, labeling her “stuck up” or “a snob.”
Sometimes the decision to end a friendship wasn’t made by the friend herself, so both are victims. When young adults live with parents or guardians, the adults may demand a cutoff, because they disapprove of a friend, or — though they probably don’t think of it that way — because they envy the attachment and feel displaced by it. And that, it turns out, is what happened with my friend Susan.
In the years since she ended our friendship, I made many attempts to find Susan, to ask why. But, as often happens with women who marry and change their names, she couldn’t be found. From the moment I decided to write a book about friendship, I was determined to solve this mystery once and for all. When the book was pretty much done, I enlisted the aid of my friend Paul, who has a gift for finding people online. Luckily, Susan has a brother whose name has not changed and whose email address Paul found online. I emailed him, and he replied immediately, cc’ing his sister. Within a few hours — 54 years after our last conversation — I was talking to Susan on the phone. And the very first thing she said was that it was her older brother — not the one I’d emailed, but a different one — who had insisted she stop seeing me, because he felt I had too much influence over her. But looking back, she said, she thinks he was just jealous. And it broke her heart at the same time that it broke mine.
One of the wonderful things about friendship is that we get to choose our friends, an option we don’t have with family. But that also means we can choose to end a friendship — and a friend can choose to end it too. When that happens, it might help to know that others have suffered the same fate, and that sometimes it really is —as I learned was the case with Susan — not because of anything we did wrong. It might, in fact, be a testament to how important the friendship was.
Tannen is a linguistics professor at Georgetown University and the author of You’re the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women’s Friendships
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People Are Sharing Why They Decided To Ghost Their Friends, And A Lot Of The Reasons Are Completely Heartbreaking
"She called me while she was on a long drive and said, 'You know, I'm really scraping the bottom of the barrel when I call you.'"
Note: This post contains mentions of suicide, sexual assault, disordered eating, rape, miscarriage, and depression.
While maintaining friendships takes a lot of work and requires a lot of communication (especially as an adult), it can be extremely tough to admit when you realize a friend is no longer putting in the effort.
And even though you've tried everything from sharing your concerns to setting new boundaries with them, their behavior didn't change, and you had no other choice but to ghost them (aka abruptly cut off all contact without any explanation)., similar to romantic relationships, there are plenty of reasons why someone decides to ghost (whether they need space for mental health reasons or to end a long-term toxic friendship) — so to better understand why ghosting a friend was the only option for some, we recently asked the buzzfeed community , why they ghosted a friend (and if they regret doing it). and after receiving hundreds of responses, here are what some had to say:, 1. "she kept calling my newborn daughter 'avery.' my daughter's name is murphy, not avery. i’m not talking once or twice but it happened repeatedly even after i corrected her. i felt like if you can’t even learn my daughter’s name (arguably one of the most important people in my life), then the friendship wasn’t worth it.".
"We text about once every six to seven months now." — molleecoffey
2. "She left me on read when I told her my brother was entering rehab. That hurt more than I can explain."
3. "i had to cut off my former best friend after he failed to check in on me after i had heart surgery. when i confronted him, he accused me of being self-absorbed. i just had heart surgery. it was a pretty big moment in my life.".
"Literally just a simple text would have been enough for me, but he couldn't even take two seconds out of his day to do that. That's when I realized he didn't care about me, so I stopped talking to him. I don't regret that decision, and I would do it again."
4. "He had some financial difficulties a few years back, and I (as I had good disposable income at the time) helped him out with food and bills. Fast forward to last year with the pandemic going on, I found myself with money problems. He offered to repay me for helping him out by helping me with my bills, claiming that I wouldn't have to pay him back. However, one night, he was at my place and we had been chilling out, drinking and watching Netflix. It got really late, so I started to set up a blanket for him to sleep on the couch. He proceeded to throw a fit because he assumed he was 'going to get sex as a repayment for him helping me out.'"
"He threatened to un-alive himself. He left and wrote a note solely blaming it on me (he's still alive, BTW). This situation made me realize all of the toxic, manipulative things he was doing over the years. I cut all contact and completely ghosted him after that."
5. "I had a childhood friend blame me for the end of their relationship to their significant other because I didn't lend them money to fix their partner's car. This was the last straw in a long line of things that had happened before I stopped talking to them."
6. "Our friend group knew that one of our other friends were sleeping with my boyfriend. I found out about it during my 21st birthday party in my house. The friend (we will call them 'A') was a relatively new friend. We became very close, very quickly as she lived by my house with her family. When I found her and my boyfriend in my bathroom together on my birthday having sex, I quietly asked them both to leave and didn’t let on to anyone what happened. I took a minute to cry and then carried on with my birthday party determined to not let it ruin it. Two weeks later, another friend confessed out of guilt that the entire group had known what was going on and nobody told me."
"In the aftermath, she was obviously not welcomed to my house and not welcomed to anything I organize socially. However, I suddenly was no longer invited places, because I simply didn’t want to be around my friend 'A.' Apparently, I was being unreasonable, was told I should 'let it go,' and that me holding onto this issue was making everybody uncomfortable (she had never actually apologized or taken any responsibility for what happened)." —Anonymous
7. "I love my BFF, let's start with that. However, she gets really mad if I don't text and/or call her every day. We're in our mid-40's; we've been friends since we were 11 years old. My younger and only sister died recently, and she got mad I didn't call her after the service. I had stopped talking with her in the spring because of this. I've got a partner, a step-daughter, an aging mom, and a ton of nieces and nephews. I wish she would understand that yes, I love her, but my time is limited because we're not teens anymore."
"We've grown apart but she's still dear to me. I just wish she'd understand what my life is like. She doesn't work, or really have responsibilities, and I sometimes think she can't wrap her head around that idea. But I do love her. Always!"
8. "My awkward ghosting experience with a friend was realizing when he wasn't at all who he made himself out to be. We had hung out for years, we lived near each other, we had friends in common, and we had the same thoughts — all was well, or so it seemed. But during our friendship, I constantly reminded him: I'm not looking for a date, I'm needing a friend. One day, I came home, and there were multiple Valentine's Day gifts outside of my door, and my mother was also with me; it was troublesome to explain to her that I had no romantic feelings for him. He didn't even ask me how I felt about him; he just assumed that I felt the same — so I had to remind him that I wanted him as a friend. A few months later, he asked me if we could date, so I told him 'no' and walked away. I offered to explain everything to him, and he refused to listen."
"So he gave me the 'I'm going to say everything is fine, but really, nothing is fine' attitude, and then blamed me for being 'the bad friend' and told his family that I 'used him.' Every time his family sees me around town, they ignore me. The very last time I hung out with him, we were talking about what we wanted out of life, so I said how I imagined my life (jokingly) as someone rich, in a rich loft, with expensive art and clothing and a bunch of large-breed dogs . He told me that he imagined me barefoot and pregnant, as a non-working housewife, playing best friends with his sister-in-law and 'keeping up' with her pregnancy times so that we could have children the same age as her children. They could grow up and be best friends together, and we could all be one giant, happy family. I immediately ghosted him because I didn't want to associate with someone who spent time planning my future, for himself, without once asking me how I felt, and implying that everything I stood for meant absolutely nothing to him." —Anonymous
9. "I let it slide after she accused my brother of stealing her makeup from her backpack. I ignored it when she was alarmed at how many Black people there were at a recreation center I invited her to for a class. The last straw was when a grown man reached his hands into my overalls, grabbed me and whispered into my ear something vile and walked away. She missed what happened but took the look on my face to mean that I was getting ready to shop lift and told her mother."
"Her mom then told me to straighten up and stop acting 'shifty.' Yes, I am Black and she is white. I couldn't ignore the behavior anymore."
10. "She wouldn't get the COVID-19 vaccine because she's afraid of needles and still wanted to party and be around my newborn baby."
11. "We both were having a rough time at our current jobs and wanting a getaway so we decided to go to Paris because of this great deal a travel company was having for New Years'. We spent almost two years planning and saving for the trip. The day we left set the tone for how the week would go: She almost made us late because she couldn’t find one specific scarf she wanted to bring. She wanted to stop at an ATM to get American dollars 'for the flight' even though we had tight layovers and there was no reason to keep cash on us. Once we got there, she complained about walking. She carried literally EVERYTHING she didn’t need with her and then complained how heavy her bag was. She refused to wear a coat that she brought but then complain about the cold (and ended up getting sick). But the cherry on top was her meltdown at Versailles."
"We both wanted to see Versailles, so we had a private tour scheduled. The tour guide gave us earphones so that we could hear her over the massive crowds inside. They repeatedly told us to stay together. There were SO many people. Well, my friend decided she didn’t want to wear her earphones, lagged behind our group to take pictures, and ended up getting lost in the palace. One of the two tour guides we had went to go find her, but in a place that size — it was a needle in the haystack.
We all had instructions to meet at the golden gates at 1 p.m. sharp. So at 1 p.m., she storms up to me, starts SCREAMING and cussing at me in front of thousands of people, then sits on the ground and cries. She screamed that we LEFT her and that she couldn’t get help because 'everyone speaks French' and had to call the police. This was a 32-YEAR-OLD WOMAN.
The rest of the trip was hot and cold. She just didn’t seem to be prepared for travel at all and found everything an inconvenience.
When we got back, we shared a taxi. I told her to let me know when she got home safe, and that was the last time I messaged her."
12. "I had a 'friend' in college who constantly shamed me for being a prude. I hadn't had sex yet, and she always found a way to bring it up in front of other people — including people I was interested in. Once, she told me that if I died, she'd tell my mother I wasn't a virgin so she'd be proud of me. I constantly told her to stop, but she refused."
"I finally ghosted her after we went to a casino together. I got drunk for the first time, and she ditched me at the casino to hook up with her ex. I never spoke to her again. She still tells people she doesn't know why I don't talk to her anymore." —Anonymous
13. "My best friend of 15 years broke up with me first by text when I was diagnosed with cancer. The only thing I ever asked of her was a little space so that I could navigate the decision process around my diagnosis and treatment plan. To note, I asked for space from *all* of my friends and family at this time because I needed to know that the life-altering decisions I was making were mine and mine alone. This was, evidently, unacceptable because she sent me a text about how friendship goes both ways, and that I was being a bad friend. My heart shattered into a million pieces. About six weeks later, she sent another text: 'Are you done being mad at me yet?' I was deep in treatment and too exhausted and depressed to try to rebuild the trust and friendship we once had. I never responded to that text, and I never spoke to her again."
"Space and time have allowed me the capacity to understand that she was probably frightened by my diagnosis. It is years later, and I forgive her. But I will never forget that she deserted me at the nadir of my life. Actions have consequences, and some stains are indelible." —Anonymous
14. "Well, we weren't actually friends, but she really wanted to be my friend. I 'ghosted' her because I knew I was (and still am) harmful to her mental well-being. She was recovering from depression when I couldn't get help. I was (and still am) at my lowest with my anorexia, depression, and all the other shit I have going on. I knew I'd drag her down with me, so I decided that I would rather not ruin another life."
"Do I regret it? Not one bit. She is (or at least seems) happy now. She has a job, she's off of her meds, she's in a stable relationship."
15. "My friend and I had plans for weeks to see a movie we were excited about. We agreed to meet at a theater about 40 minutes away from our respective towns to even the commute for both of us. This friend has been kind of flaky in the past, so I double-checked with her the day before that we were still on for the movie. She confirmed our plans and asked me to purchase our tickets. When I got to the theater the next day, my friend was nowhere to be found. I called her, but she didn’t answer. Then I got a text from her saying she wasn’t going to make it to the movie, because she and her other friends had all decided to dress up as witches and do a photoshoot together. We’re 26 years old."
"I ghosted her because of the rejection I felt from her standing me up. Never in my life had I felt more alone than being in an unfamiliar town surrounded by groups of people at a movie theater."
16. "A friend came home from college (I could only afford community college at the time) and told me that she had become 'more mature' than me because she was living on her own and going to dance classes to meet boys."
17. "My friend's mother hated me and I couldn’t figure out why. After a few months, I found out. Turns out she was telling her mom she was spending nights with me, when in reality, she was going to jails to pick up men. She wanted 'dramatic relationships' because she thought those had the best sex. She would come home really emotionally messed up, and her mom thought it was me."
"I told my friend to come clean so she could get help, but she laughed at my face. I ghosted her. I couldn’t handle that level of destruction and felt like there was nothing I could do. She was using me. I didn’t deserve that. No one does."
18. "I had a BFF from high school who moved to Europe for college and started acting different, like 'Yeah, look at me. I'm so fancy, I use euros now.' The thing was I was happy for her because she was living her dream life — but each time she came back home for holidays, she couldn't help herself from downgrading me and throwing at me how sad and miserable my life was. At that time, I was suffering from depression, my parents got divorced, and everything was falling apart for me. I just wanted her to be a supportive BFF as I was to her. But then, one day she said to me: 'Maybe your destiny is to have a small and miserable life,' just to say that I would not be better than her."
"Now my mental health is way better. I am a happily married woman and teacher. I have a life I couldn't even imagine I'd have — and thankfully, without a toxic friendship."
19. "We were friends in high school, but now live far apart from each other, and check in every couple of months to catch up. I had two traumatic miscarriages back to back, and became extremely depressed. I stopped texting her back because I could barely function, and eventually she stopped checking in."
"It's been over two years, I'm finally seeing a therapist and on medication to help with my depression. I would love to be friends again because I really miss her. I feel so embarrassed and ashamed at how I treated her that I haven't been able to bring myself to call her." —Anonymous
20. "My best friend of 11 years started dating an ex-boyfriend of mine. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that she constantly talked about how he liked her way more than he had liked me. She’d make comments like: 'I'm going to meet his mom. You never met her,' shoving that in my face. I had moved on, so this annoyed me. I didn’t care that I didn’t meet his mom — I had broken up with him because we were incompatible, and I wasn’t into him anymore, but that didn’t mean I wanted to hear details about him constantly."
"The final straw for me to ghost my ex-best friend was when I called her to talk to her about a miscarriage I was going through with my current boyfriend and instead of listening, she wanted to talk about how much she looooooved her boyfriend. I remember telling her she wasn’t in love, she had only been with him for a month. I also threw it in her face that she was getting 'my leftovers' and that she was better than that. I didn’t want them to break up; I had no control over that. The only thing I could control was to take myself out of that situation. So I did. I blocked her every single way I knew how and it’s now been over a year since I’ve heard from her." —Anonymous
21. "When I was in 8th grade I became friends with someone a year younger than me. He was nice enough, sure, but he would say really homophobic or sexist stuff on occasion (almost never, but sometimes the stuff he said was awful). The last straw was when he purposely misgendered and deadnamed one of my friends."
"I, of course, called him out on it and hoped he’d at least apologize — but nope, he just denied being transphobic and tried to pass it off as thinking it’s weird to change your name."
22. "I had a friend I had known for years, and I started to realize I had feelings for her. I was scared and confused about my sexuality, so I ended up ghosting her for about nine months. I ended up hanging out with her again one day, and a year later, we’re dating!"
"We laugh about it now, but I feel terrible about all the pain I caused her just because I was scared."
23. "She kept trying to sabotage my wedding, no idea why. She blurted out to everyone that my photographer had recently gotten out of jail after I’d asked her not to embarrass them about it. Then she tried to molest a guest with unwanted sexual advances to the point where the guest came to me to ask for help. Finally, the last straw was her calling me on my honeymoon to explain why I should have my marriage declared legally invalid because she felt I wasn't capable of giving consent due to me being under anesthesia a week before. I burned the bridge and that’s it."
"When I told her that I was most certainly capable of consenting to sign the marriage certificate, she countered with accusing me of not believing in therapy — therapy I’ve been in for YEARS when she’s the one who won’t go to therapy. Do I regret this? Of course. She was my best friend, I miss her and her family, and I haven’t been able to trust people or make a single friend since. But can I cope with all this? No, I can’t. This was too much to ask."
24. "She called me while she was on a long drive and said, 'You know, I'm really scraping the bottom of the barrel when I call you.' We had been friends for over 10 years. I helped her through a horrible breakup, supported her in a difficult medical diagnosis, was always there to listen. I hung up and blocked her. I am no one's bottom of the barrel."
25. "it’s pretty messed up, but i planned on ending my life and didn’t want to worry the few friends i had. i ghosted them and hoped that they would forget about me so my death didn’t hurt them.", 26. "i ended up ghosting one of my oldest friends from childhood (we are now both in late 20s) because i didn't recognize the thoughtless, self-obsessed person she had become. she only came to visit me once in nine years but got offended when i didn't travel across the country for all her parties and events, she expected presents sent on her birthday but routinely 'forgot' mine (which she had celebrated with me growing up every year and is only two days after hers), and she stood by laughing while her boyfriend (now husband) was openly homophobic to me. i tried explaining a dozen times how her behavior hurt me and how i missed our closeness, but she always blew me off and said i was exaggerating or only upset with her boyfriend because i had a crush on her (i do not — she's just homophobic).".
"The last straw for me came when she didn't RSVP to my wedding by the date required, ignored my messages reaching out, then sent me her and her husband's menu choices with a week to go before the actual wedding. I told them they had been listed as 'not attending' due to their failure to respond in time and then blocked her. She had the nerve to send a load of text messages asking why she couldn't see me on Facebook anymore and if I could re-send wedding venue details! I ignored them and haven't spoken to her since. My life is better without her but I still miss the friend I once loved so much."
27. "She was incredibly manipulative and toxic. Every time we hung out, she would do nothing but constantly tear me down and belittle me. She was controlling and possessive and hated me spending time with anyone else. It triggered several severe bouts of anxiety and caused me to end up on medication."
"Even getting a text from her put me on the verge of a panic attack, and I couldn't cope. Ghosting was the only way to protect myself. I don't regret it and honestly, wish I'd done it sooner."
28. "I had a colleague who turned into a good friend. We were close for three years. I got pregnant, she was supportive throughout, even threw me a baby shower. Once my child came, everything changed. I had to switch jobs due to child care. She was constantly telling me how stupid my new job was. She constantly made me feel like an idiot. One day, she invited me and my child over. At the time, my baby was just barely crawling. My baby pulled her dog's ear and she lost it. She told me my baby was horrible and hurt her dog"
"She was so upset at my maybe ten-month-old, who had no clue what had just happened. That was my final straw. I packed my stuff up and never looked back."
29. "My friend group started hanging out with a couple that I didn't really like. Nothing bad — their personalities just didn't spark joy but I could still be around them. So I figured they would be more like acquaintances to me and friends to the rest of the group. I'd still go to the occasional dinner or game night to hang out, but then I started noticing that on every occasion, one — or both of them — would make a borderline racist/ignorant comment at me (an Asian American). I chalked it up to them being from predominantly white suburbs. I politely corrected their ignorance, and kept it pushing. (Meanwhile, my friends are from similar backgrounds and have never said ignorant shit.) Eventually, the comments went from borderline to full-blown racist, complete with stereotypes that aren't even worth repeating because of how basic they were. It made me pull back a lot from the group, and this wasn't even what caused the ghosting yet!"
"I assumed that I was the only one that caught the comments, so I finally told my friends about it and they reacted with a 'Huh, yeah, that's how they are.' They didn't say I was overacting or maybe mistaken, just nodded and defended their friends. This was at the height of the anti-Asian hate crimes this year, so I definitely was hyper aware and sensitive to this kind of stuff. But they've definitely advocated against AAPI hate when everyone else was saying it or championed how they'd defend someone if it happened in front of them — and yet, they didn't. There was no support whatsoever. Their non-reaction really changed how I thought of them and is, ultimately, what led to the ghosting, which is a shame because I've known them since college. Coincidentally, I have been looking to move and think a break might be for the best, so I probably won't bother keeping in contact with them when I do." —Anonymous
30. "I had been friends with this girl for over twenty years. On my birthday, she sent me a picture of a dog she was dog sitting and said, 'This handsome guy' and no 'happy birthday.' Then I lost two family members within a 24 hour period. I told her, and she didn’t even acknowledge it. It was at that point I knew she couldn’t see anything past herself."
31. "i'm autistic and have never felt much of a connection to almost all of my friends. i've ghosted dozens over the years and not felt once ounce of guilt or regret. as arnold rimmer once said: 'i have come to regard you as... people... i met.'".
32. "We were pretty good friends for a while, but there was something toxic and narcissistic about him. What really made me rethink (and, ultimately, choose to ghost) this friendship were two factors: 1) On my 25th birthday years ago, he showed up late and started complaining about the restaurant I had chosen to celebrate at (I created a poll on Facebook, and sushi was the most popular choice). He constantly complained about how my plans for my birthday dinner were stupid because they did not cater to his needs or what he liked to eat."
"2) We had a discussion regarding a TV show we both liked, and when I presented an opinion that he disagreed with, he proceeded to constantly interrupt me and tell me how I was wrong. A few months later, I posted a picture of a duckling on Instagram, he commented with his opinion, and I commented with mine. He then proceeded to say that all I cared about was being right. Over a picture of a duckling...really?"
33. "I ghosted because she had been a toxic friend for years but convinced me she was an amazing friend and made me feel guilty whenever I got angry at something she did because 'of all the things she’d done for me.' The icing on the cake was when I found out she had slept with my ex who I was still in love with and sleeping with myself."
"I cut all ties immediately after finding out, even though it was months afterward, and I had the worst guilt about it. Toxic friendships mess you up just as badly as toxic relationships."
34. "She was a girl I had wholly trusted; she was one of my closest friends. So when I was sexually assaulted by my housemate, I ran straight to her house. I was crying and shaking and I could barely talk. I always like going to her when I was upset because she would distract me with something else and I could forget what I was worried about. Well, on top of realizing that this method was less about me and more about her not interested in listening to my problems, I also discovered that when I reported the assault and asked people who were involved (or who had witnessed the impact it had on me) to send a statement, she never actually sent one. She'd told me she would. She even cryptically told me she wasn't going to lie for me, despite me never asking her to. I think she guessed I'd never see the statements, but I was shown them by the case investigator and she hadn't written one."
"To be fair, she had always been absolutely awful as a human being, and I don't know a single one of our mutual friends who don't have a hateful story to tell about how she's mistreated them — but I've always stood up for her and still invited her to events anyway. But this was the last wake-up call for me. I couldn't forgive her for this after she saw me in the state I was in and after she knew I had spent six months in the darkest hole of my mental health, so I officially cut ties. I don't encourage our friends to invite her to things anymore and because they have a lot less patience than I do, everyone was all too happy to see her leave our lives for good. My attacker was found guilty of sexual assault, despite her not sending a statement — and that's the biggest relief to me since this whole disaster."
35. "I dated A LOT and fell in and out of love easy — but she judged me for it, often. But when I fell in love with my now-husband of 17 years, and voiced my fears of the future, she said, 'Well, you're both so desperate for love, you will MAKE it work out.' Right then and there, I realized she was a narcissist and was never supportive of me. I just never called her back. It was the best thing I ever did — plus, I heard it still drives her nuts that she doesn't know why. Ha!"
36. "Earlier this year, I saw two people I considered my closest friends for the first time since the pandemic. (It’s actually three people, a husband, wife, and daughter — but the husband wasn’t there at the time). They tried to hug me, but I said I wasn’t comfortable with that yet, but I had the vaccine and I assumed they had it to since I didn’t think they would have tried to hug me otherwise. Well, I talked to them for a bit to catch up, they took their masks off (this was at a time where places said vaccinated people don’t have to wear them), but I kept my mask on just to be safe. However, after talking to them for like 15 minutes, I found out they were not getting the vaccine and one of them went on this long spiel about how she didn’t believe in it, and I just felt so disgusted that they’d put my and others' health at risk like that. I made an excuse to leave and although I've seen them hanging out at the same place a few times since then, I’ve avoided them."
"They've said 'hi' to me like nothing has changed, and I've said 'hi' politely but would just leave when before, I would sit and chat for hours. It really hurt to cut them off because I truly loved spending time with them but even now, when I seen them, they’re still walking around maskless. I know it’s possible they could have changed their minds, but just the fact that they were so careless in the first place and were acting like nothing had changed when they first saw me, made me lose my respect and trust for them."
37. "I gave her a job, let her live rent-free, cat-sat for months at a time, and helped her through everything. She rewarded me by trying to get me fired to cover up her own plagiarism."
38. "There are a lot of reasons why I ghosted: She was always late. She would ghost for weeks. Once, during my very busy end-of-school-exams time, she showed up an hour late to go hiking. The final straw was when I invited her to be my guest at a dear friends' wedding. They were having a three-hour Cambodian ceremony. She didn't fill out any of the required paper work that was needed to get into the venue. I reminded her the week of where the location was and at what time. She knew it was a lengthy Cambodian ceremony that usually takes three days, but was being squeezed into an afternoon. The day of, however, I don't hear from her at all. I get to the venue and wait outside for a few minutes. She finally answers and says, 'I'll get there in a few hours, or you know, I might not make it.'"
"I was so hurt. There were two other friends who would have really enjoyed this tea ceremony, but I chose her because I knew she was going through a tough time. I told her not to come, since I didn't want her walking in mid-ceremony. I enjoyed myself, but right as I was about to leave, she shows up, four hours late. I told her that I had to get back to my school work. She got really huffy with me and we never spoke again after that." —Anonymous
39. "I ghosted a friend after my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I helped this friend move multiple times, was a regular pet-sitter for her, and tried to be supportive when her relationships ended — but my mom started to get sick and this friend was not supportive in return. She never asked how my mom was doing and she always acted surprised when I brought up that my mom was sick and going for tests."
"She would always bring the conversation back to her problems. I decided it was more important to focus on my family, and I stopped initiating conversations with her. The few times I heard from her were when she wanted favors. Each time she never asked about my mom so I never responded." —Anonymous
40. "My best friend of eighteen years made out with a guy I was dating right in front of me despite me having to tell her in advance not to try anything with him (I know, hindsight, right?), and subsequently, she brought him home. I struggled with this but I eventually forgave her, because the friendship was worth more to me than any guy could ever be. Somehow, though, I got the blame for this: she called me one morning when I was in a very deep depression and said she needed to not talk to me for a while because I was apparently the source of all her troubles in life — that was news to me!"
"The worst part of it, and the moment when I finally decided to cut her out of my life, was the day she texted me to let me know she was ready to continue the friendship. I got the text while I was being admitted to a psychiatric hospital due to trauma I received from the same guy who raped me, which was during the period she decided to cut me out. It was the most difficult time of my life, and I couldn't even tell my best friend about it. Several years later, and I'm happy, healed, and thriving in life and in a solid long-term relationship with my future husband. Swings and roundabouts, I guess!" —Anonymous
41. "I had enough of how she treated situations as if she was the victim, when, in fact, she was the one who made small problems turn into unnecessary drama. When things don't go her way, she'll A) Harass and gaslight the person until they rescind, B) Ask other friends (who don't know the whole story) to 'talk' to the person (letting them do the dirty work), or C) Shit-talk about the person on social media and change the narrative to make her the victim. She was my best friend and I've always called her out on this behavior, but she never listened and always insisted that what she was doing was right, and that she is a 'justice warrior' (her words, not mine)."
"I think I've started to suspect her of having a 'Inferiority superiority complex' (i.e. generally having a giant-ass ego where she thinks she's better than everyone and can 'save' them from their problems, while also having very low self-esteem and constantly engages in negative self-talk). Afterwards, she became hostile towards the guy she was seeing (only because his friends didn't like her). The last straw was when she still refused to take responsibility for her actions and behavior towards the situation that it alienated everyone (even the guy, who then called it quits). And she wonders why no one likes her."
42. "I had to ghost a friend recently because of her husband. He is a total sleaze ball and used to make inappropriate comments about me, groped me without my consent, and even pulled a knife on a guy I was flirting with. He got sober, but when we were at a recent party, he still continued to make comments on my looks and was comparing his wife to me in front of her."
"She is a little insecure in the relationship (he's cheated before) and the night culminated in her basically going on a slut-shaming rant. I realized that I was just done with that whole dynamic, blocked them both on social media, and moved on." —Anonymous
Have you ever had to ghost a friend? Do you regret doing it or did you feel better after the fact? Let us know in the comments below.
Note: Some submissions have been edited for length and clarity.
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How—and When—to Ghost Someone (Yes, There's a Right Way to Do It)
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A Friendly Ghost Story
ANDREW MAMBO, BYLINE: Hey, y'all. Before we get started, we want you to know today's episode mentions suicide and depression. So if you need to skip this episode, please do. And if you're struggling with thoughts of suicide, please reach out for help. We have resources on our episode page, which you can find at npr.org/invisibilia. OK, here's the show.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
YOWEI SHAW, HOST:
From NPR, this is INVISIBILIA. I'm Yowei Shaw.
KIA MIAKKA NATISSE, HOST:
And I'm Kia Miakka Natisse.
SHAW: So, Kia...
NATISSE: Mm hmm.
SHAW: At the show, we've been talking about how - among the many things the pandemic has radically shifted is this one relationship that doesn't normally get as much attention in our culture - our friendships.
NATISSE: Oof, yes. I moved home during the pandemic, and I've just really been missing my friends.
SHAW: I have gotten to hang out with my friends in person.
NATISSE: Lucky you.
SHAW: (Laughter) But it's been awkward trying to figure out everybody's personal boundaries around safety and comfort, you know - like, who you're going to hang out with and how.
NATISSE: Oh, God, so many awkward conversations.
SHAW: Anyway, we've been talking about all this at the show. And it got us thinking, let's do a season on friendship.
NATISSE: Yeah. It's such an INVISIBILIA topic. I mean, it feels very ambiguous. There's no legal rules or clear cultural scripts for how to do friendship, at least not in the same way that we have for, like, family or romantic relationships.
SHAW: This will not be a definitive book or anything. We will just give it the INVISIBILIA treatment.
NATISSE: You know, overthinking, lots of uncomfortable questions, plus some really good stories, too.
SHAW: So I am kicking the season off with today's episode. You know how we put a call out for stories on friendship a while back?
SHAW: Well, one kind of friend mystery kept coming up.
RUTWIJ: This guy ghosted me basically out of nowhere.
JAMES M: He just vaporized with my Millennium Falcon.
HAYDEE: She just wouldn't return my calls. Maybe she's mad.
RUTWIJ: Maybe he was just a shitty person.
HAYDEE: I was heartbroken for years.
JAMES M: I miss the guy, but I miss my Millennium Falcon more.
SHAW: So I think we talk a lot about ghosting in the romantic context, right?
SHAW: But it also happens with friends, obviously. And the reason I want to talk about friend ghosting today is because I think it's an example of a larger problem with how friendships tend to end - like what happened with one of our listeners.
DANA LIZIK: I just remember there was one particular instance where she called me. And I looked at the phone. And I was like, ugh, I can't do this. And I just didn't answer.
SHAW: This is Dana Lizik. And a couple of years ago, Dana ghosted a good friend of hers when she learned her friend was pregnant.
LIZIK: My inner feminist is really angry at me because I know that women are able to do everything and anything.
SHAW: To be clear, Dana was excited for her friend. But she was also worried about their friendship changing.
LIZIK: I am now 30 years old, and I do not want children. And I struggle when my friends start to have children because I feel like they change. And I feel like they, you know, of course, obviously, want to spend a lot of time with their kids, talk about their kids. And I'm just not interested.
NATISSE: Dana - she's like, oh, you're having a baby? Congratulations. You just lost a friend.
SHAW: It's, like, the exact opposite reaction that society expects you to give.
NATISSE: Right. Exactly, exactly. I really respect her, like, ruthlessness about it.
SHAW: Yeah. And Dana wasn't always like this. In fact, she has an epic ghost origin story. Dana used to work as a performer at Disney World. And one day, it was time for Dana to switch out from her shift, to get out of a character costume. And there's a mom at the front of the line who's been waiting and shoves her child at Dana to get one last photo in.
LIZIK: This kid was, like, grabbing onto us and, like, hanging from us.
SHAW: So Dana's coworker steps in. Somebody called a character attendant whose job is to, like, manage guests. And she's saying, I'm sorry. I'm sorry - trying to be really nice.
LIZIK: And the woman got so mad because she didn't want to continue to wait in line that she actually physically hit the character attendant.
LIZIK: I - she kind of, like, slapped her across the face.
SHAW: Oh, my gosh.
NATISSE: This woman was doing all this for a photo? Wow.
LIZIK: And we were trying to get this child, like, off of us and our character attendant. It was like - it could have been some kind of movie 'cause she was like, go, get out of here.
SHAW: Escape - run for your lives.
OK, so lots to unpack.
NATISSE: Yeah, for sure.
SHAW: But back to Dana ghosting her friend - Dana knows she's being unfair.
NATISSE: I can understand why she would be like, oh, I don't know if I could, like, parade around this opinion about babies just because it's a hot take. But if this is really her friend, like, shouldn't she be able to, like, have this complicated conversation?
SHAW: Well, I asked Dana. And she says it didn't even enter her mind as a possibility.
LIZIK: Adult friendships are so hard.
SHAW: What about a conversation to, like, end the friendship? - to be like, here's why.
SHAW: Are you cringing in your body right now?
LIZIK: I am. I am - like, my shoulders are up to my ears.
LIZIK: It's so - that's so hard, right? Like, 'cause how do you even have that conversation? Hi, I know we've been friends, but now we both got a lot going on. And so I think we should just end the friendship. That's cool with you, right? Like, what?
NATISSE: That's, like, the harshest breakup.
SHAW: I should point out that, you know, there are all sorts of serious reasons why people ghost, of course. Listeners told us stories about sexual assault allegations, abusive relationships, COVID misinformation, racism, on and on. But what Dana did to her friend, you could argue, is just an extreme version of how most friendships end - in avoidance.
EMILY LANGAN: That breakup conversation is exceptionally rare with friends, right? We just don't do exit conversations. We don't say it's over. We don't do the dividing of the assets that you might do in a romantic relationship.
SHAW: This is Emily Langan. She's a friendship researcher and associate professor of communication at Wheaton College. And she says that research has found that when friendships end, they tend to end by fading out - you know, canceled dinner plans, endless games of phone tag - rather than with, like, a sudden confrontation, and definitely not a breakup conversation.
NATISSE: Why do people avoid? Like, what is that about?
SHAW: Well, Emily has lots of theories.
SHAW: Maybe it's because conflict is coded as negative in our culture, and we don't know how to work through conflict. Or maybe it's because we don't have agreed upon milestones for the start and end of friendships in the way that romantic relationships do.
LANGAN: So we talk about it in class as the RDT - the relationship-defining talk. That's not at all uncommon in a romantic relationship to have an RDT. It's really super uncommon in friendships, though.
SHAW: Another theory Emily has is maybe we don't think it's normal for friendships to end...
LANGAN: We assume it's supposed to last.
SHAW: ...When, in fact, they do. There's some research that actually suggests 70% of our close friendships in adulthood don't last longer than seven years.
NATISSE: Jeez, the seven-year itch, but for friends.
SHAW: So Kia, would you be into normalizing friend breakups?
NATISSE: Yeah. I mean, I feel like that's healthy. And it's nice actually to, like, have an agreed upon ending instead of it just being like, I hope I never run into that person again because it would be mad awkward.
SHAW: So I was all Team Normalize Friend Breakups, too. But there's research that suggests that fading friendships out can leave the door open to reviving them later. And when I asked Emily, she was not on Team Friend Breakup, either.
LANGAN: There's a difference between normalizing breaking up and normalizing ending.
SHAW: Emily told me a story about a friend from years ago. Basically, she was feeling neglected, like she was way down on her friend's priority list after his wife, his kids and other obligations. But instead of breaking up completely or doing the fade out - you know, the avoiding thing - she and her friend decided to sit down and talk about ending the friendship they had...
SHAW: ...And maybe start a new kind of friendship.
LANGAN: I think that's the only time I've ever had any conversation like that. And I remember saying, I get it. You have a lot of family demands right now. And I said, based on that, I'm going to walk away here a little bit. We're still friends, but I'm not going to prioritize this friendship like I did because I don't think you can either.
SHAW: And how was it received?
LANGAN: It was fine, and we understood it. He and I are still friends, but he's not in the inner circle. And I'm glad I did it.
SHAW: For the record, Emily's not saying friends should never break up. That can be healthy and necessary, of course. She's saying let's normalize friendships ending, and let's normalize conversations around different options for how they can end or transform.
LANGAN: So if we normalize different forms of trajectories, then shorter relationships could be of merit and value. Longer friendships that are at a lower simmer would be valuable. Relationships can go in a variety of different ways - that they aren't linear, that they don't always have the same predictable lifespan.
SHAW: After the break, I have another ghost story - a listener who goes on a decade-long quest to force the hard conversation, come what may, to find out why he was dumped, if he was even dumped. There will be travel to faraway islands, discovery of hidden identities and, at the end of the road, a different way to think about friendship endings.
SHAW: That's when we come back.
SHAW: When I first read his email, it had the same effect on me as a good breakup song. The words were simple and direct. The feelings were raw and larger than life. And I was left with the image of someone definitely not over it yet.
JAMES HASSELTINE: My name's James Hasseltine. I'm 33 today.
SHAW: Like, today's your birthday?
SHAW: Oh OK.
SHAW: James is a professor of education in South Korea. And about nine years ago, his close friend Tim disappeared on him. Here's the last thing James remembers saying to Tim the last time they saw each other.
HASSELTINE: I'm sure before he left, I said something to the effect of like, oh, well, let's do this again soon, Tim, or, like, just kind of general plans to do something soon. And he was like, yeah, sure. You got it.
SHAW: It didn't make sense to James for lots of reasons. For one, they were each other's first best friend in college. Like every freshman in the history of mankind, James had been anxious about finding his people.
HASSELTINE: And so when September rolled around, I was, like, really praying. I was like, God, give me the nerdiest, geekiest roommate just like me.
SHAW: And so when Tim walked in, this pale, black-haired, cheerful looking guy with a monotone voice...
HASSELTINE: He was like, oh, hey. I'm Tim.
SHAW: He felt like he hit the roommate jackpot. They were into the same things - video games, Dungeons and Dragons. And then there was just the kind of friend Tim was. The ghosting feels like the opposite of his character.
HASSELTINE: You know, he was just a really funny, really helpful guy. Tim's friendship was extremely unconditional. He just wanted to be your friend on your terms.
SHAW: And finally, it wasn't just James that Tim ghosted. They were part of this really tight-knit crew. They even had a name - 208, the number of the dorm room they all moved into sophomore year. And James tells me 208 did everything together - ate meals, played Super Smash Brothers, took classes, partied, then got in trouble for partying.
HASSELTINE: The hall director came and declared that we were the worst room in Occum, which was the name of the dormitory. And we took a lot of pride in that.
SHAW: Plus, Tim was the guy who brought everyone together in the first place. And he had a special role. He was the lovable eccentric of the group. He had catchphrases like a TV sitcom character.
HASSELTINE: He would say, like, oh, you damn kids all the time.
SHAW: He was the subject of multiple inside joke songs, like his own theme music.
HASSELTINE: Which was like...
HASSELTINE: Tim, Tim, Tim, Tim.
SHAW: They never knew what Tim was going to say or do next. All of a sudden, he would start wearing tie dye shirts and only tie dye shirts. And then he would just announce...
HASSELTINE: I'm a bell peppers guy. I'm going to be eating a lot of bell peppers all the time.
SHAW: For breakfast, lunch and dinner?
HASSELTINE: Yeah, for, like, a while.
SHAW: He was so beloved, 208 even created mythology around his quirks.
HASSELTINE: A place called Tim Island.
SHAW: Where there were thousands of other Tims just like him. But the island got bombed by the U.S. government, and Tim was the only person who escaped.
HASSELTINE: He was the last of the Tims.
SHAW: So that was 208 and Tim until 2012, when Tim sailed right out of their lives.
SHAW: The only conflict they can point to is a sink of dishes. After graduating, the 208 crew - they moved into a house. And it's that awkward transition from college to adulting. And Tim was getting fed up with some of his roommates for the late-night partying and dirty dishes. And James was trying to mediate.
HASSELTINE: It was really dramatic at the time. The other roommates - I think they had a very, like, you know, 21-year-old attitude about it. They were like, come on, Dad. Don't come down on us.
SHAW: Tim ended up moving out. But he came to a friendsgiving party, and it seemed like there were no hard feelings. He was laughing and drinking. But after that party, he stops returning their calls, stops responding to texts. And they can't reach him on social media, either. Just poof, like he's gone back to Tim Island.
HASSELTINE: At first, I was, like, offended that he was ghosting me in particular because I thought that I had stood up for him and, like, kind of put myself on the line fighting with our other friends on his behalf. And so I felt like it was really unjust.
SHAW: But even in his feelings, James tries again. Over the next nine years, he keeps trying.
A standard text message.
Over the phone.
Messages to his Reddit account.
SHAW: But no luck.
HASSELTINE: This is an email that I sent to him.
SHAW: So James - he starts cycling through possible theories like a detective, but like one who never gets new leads.
HASSELTINE: November 2015.
SHAW: Maybe it really was about the dishes.
HASSELTINE: It's been a long time since we've spoken, Tim. I think I understand why you didn't want to hang out with us anymore.
SHAW: Maybe Tim had gone straight edge...
HASSELTINE: But I've quit smoking now.
SHAW: ...And didn't want partying friends.
HASSELTINE: I can't have any negative effect on you now. I'm on a different continent.
SHAW: Maybe Tim had gotten into self-help...
HASSELTINE: So much has happened to me that I want to tell you about, and I want to hear about your life, too.
SHAW: ...Or religion.
HASSELTINE: I really just want to hear from you.
SHAW: Maybe it was Tim being the bad friend...
HASSELTINE: I stuck up for you the whole time and afterwards.
SHAW: Or maybe it was them who were toxic...
HASSELTINE: I had a dream the other night that I met with you.
SHAW: ...Who deserved to be cut off and replaced.
HASSELTINE: Please write back, Tim, please, even if you just want to tell me why you don't want to be friends any longer.
SHAW: And then James - he might cycle back to the first theory...
HASSELTINE: I really miss you.
SHAW: ...And blame his friends for the dish fight.
HASSELTINE: Yeah, this one's pretty pathetic. Tim - dude, I still don't know why you're ghosting me all this time because you never told me. I guess that's the point of ghosting. It's almost 10 years now. Please message me back. Please stop ghosting me. And that was the last one.
SHAW: In case you're thinking, hello? What about boundaries? Well, James has also had that thought. Over the years, he says he's felt like a nuisance at times, like maybe he should respect Tim's decision to ghost. And that's why he never showed up at his doorstep. But eventually, he'd conclude the relationship was too valuable to at least not have a conversation about what happened. And also, he just couldn't stop thinking about Tim. He was haunted.
STEPHEN ASMA: When your friend ghosts you, then all you have left is this kind of spiritual or mental memory that haunts you. And you no longer have any kind of embodied experience with them.
SHAW: This is Stephen Asma. He's a philosophy professor at Columbia College with a wide range of interests - psychology, neuroscience, mythology. And also, he invented something called Monsterology. It's the study of monsters, like zombies, vampires and ghosts, as a lens to better understand ourselves and our culture.
ASMA: My view is that monster stories are ultimately coded ways of helping us.
SHAW: I wanted to talk to Stephen, to ask him what it means for us to tell each other this real-life ghost story. And he told me, well, ghost stories generally serve a function, as cautionary tales.
ASMA: The traditional ghost story would have been told, like, around a campfire, you know? Do you tell little kids, hey, don't go into the woods at night because there's a monster there? Well, you may not think there's a monster there. But you don't want your kids going into the woods at night because it very well could be a dangerous place for all kinds of other reasons. It's designed to make you actually afraid of the right things.
SHAW: What Stephen told me about traditional ghost stories got me thinking. So what are we trying to warn ourselves about, then, with this contemporary ghost story? Well, seems like the basic moral there is, even though technology has made it easier than ever to ghost, let's not treat each other like this because of the pain it causes.
ASMA: Two things driving you nuts when the friend ghosts you - it's - one is sort of in your head, and the other is really in your heart.
SHAW: Stephen says one is physiological. Studies have suggested that when we create strong bonds with our friends, we get a flood of oxytocin and internal opioids, the same system that's activated in a mother and baby during nursing. So when a good friend disappears all of a sudden, Stephen says it's possible we go through a kind of withdrawal.
ASMA: This might sound reductionistic (ph), but, you know, you're feeling miserable and stressed at work and you get home and you call your friend, and it's almost like eating a chocolate cake because you get all this - these wonderful endorphins in the system. Now all of a sudden, you can't contact that friend or have any interaction with them, the system can't recalibrate.
SHAW: And then there's what's happening in your head, this cognitive mystery.
ASMA: It's the ultimate cliffhanger.
SHAW: Which some research on ghosting suggests can lead to something called ambiguous loss, where your grief is frozen because you don't have closure.
ASMA: You can't figure out why it happened. And you keep spinning these scenarios to try to find some cognitive resting place for your mind. And so the ghosting friend keeps you in this terrible state of pain because you can never rest like, oh, that's the reason, or that's the explanation.
SHAW: Why do you think Tim's ghosting has haunted you so much over the years?
HASSELTINE: Mainly because I thought it would be an easy situation to resolve - like, that if I could just speak to him, I bet we could work this out.
SHAW: Coming up, James gets a break in the case and sees his friend ghost in a new way.
SHAW: So it's been almost a decade that James has been trying to solve his friend mystery, to get to Tim Island. And in March of this year, he's like, this is ridiculous. I got to find Tim to talk. Even though James feels a bit like a stalker, he goes on one of those find-a-person websites. And he comes across Tim's sister-in-law and sends a message. And the next day, James is in the middle of his workday when he sees a response flash on his phone.
HASSELTINE: And it was honestly like a shot through the heart. She said, hi, James. I'm so sorry that no one has told you, but Tim passed away last year on March 20. We were looking forward to his wedding with his fiancee. I'm still in shock, even though it has been a year. I'm sorry that you had to find out like this. And the next thing I say is actually really stupid. I said, (reading) I can't believe this. I don't think you would lie to me about something this serious, though I know there was a reason Tim wasn't speaking to his old friends. And if this is a ploy or something because Tim just never wants to speak to me again, I'll accept that, but is it seriously true that he died? - is the next thing that I said.
SHAW: But it was true. Tim had died.
SHAW: And at first, James doesn't know the details. After he gets the news, he leaves work early and walks out onto the street in, like, a daze and calls two members of 208.
HASSELTINE: And we all, you know, just wept over the phone in complete shock and credulity.
SHAW: I'm so sorry. Did you feel like you were getting closer to, like, understanding what had happened?
HASSELTINE: No. I felt more in the dark than ever. And I was really confused.
SHAW: But then James asked the sister-in-law for the fiancee's name, to pass along his condolences. And when he reaches out, he finds a Tim he doesn't recognize.
SKYLER CONWAY: I was honestly shocked to hear from him.
SHAW: This is Skyler Conway (ph), Tim's fiancee. They met three years ago while working at a mental health care provider. He was a residential monitor. She was a security officer. And from the moment they shook hands, Skyler says she felt connected to him, like they were the same person.
CONWAY: I thought he was really cute, very, very beautiful smile.
SHAW: Skyler tells James what happened to Tim, that he was getting his master's degree in clinical mental health counseling and that he was really depressed around the time he passed away by suicide.
CONWAY: He felt that his degree in clinical mental health counseling was going to be useless. He was very stressed about the amount of debt he accumulated.
SHAW: She says she had heard about Tim's college friends. She knew that Tim had a best friend from college named James and some roommates he'd lived with. But she had no idea that James had been trying to reach Tim all these years.
CONWAY: I had no clue. It was mind-boggling to me. Like, the only thing Tim had ever told me about his friends was the argument they had over dishes and that he moved out and that he essentially ghosted his friends.
SHAW: I ran past Skyler all of James's theories about why Tim ghosted. And it turns out some of them were true.
One theory was that they had been bad friends from the start, and they had pushed him away.
CONWAY: That theory, unfortunately, is true. Tim had felt that they had crossed the line. And Tim just didn't want to be friends with them anymore - as well as trying to become a more professional person. He always would refer to his friends as being more nonprofessional. He felt like he needed to grow up.
SHAW: Another theory is Tim had replaced them all with better friends.
CONWAY: Nope. I was his crew, just me and him. He never made any friends after ghosting James and the rest of the crew.
SHAW: And then Skyler tells James she thinks there's another reason Tim ghosted. She says that Tim was diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder, or AVPD, though some people I talked to simply call it avoidant personality. It's a mental health condition characterized by extreme social avoidance, feelings of inadequacy and fear of rejection and often associated with depression, anxiety, significant distress, even impairment.
CONWAY: I think it made him feel like an alien. He used those exact words right before he passed away. Tim felt that he can never connect with people. And when we connected, he almost couldn't believe it. It's something he's always wanted. He was 30 years old when we had met, and I was his first girlfriend. He felt like an outcast.
SHAW: James hears all this and is completely in shock. It was like keeping a photo in your wallet of someone you love and, one day, finding out you had the wrong photo all this time.
HASSELTINE: One of the things that I kind of comforted myself with was the fact that, like, well, Tim, being the great guy that he is, has probably just found another group of friends who appreciate him more or are better friends to him than we were. And it turns out that that's not true.
SHAW: James had a lot of questions.
HASSELTINE: And so I wanted to ask, can you help me understand what happened to my friend or help me understand my friend better?
SHAW: After the break, James takes a ferry to Tim Island with the help of another ghost. And a note, that suicide is preventable, and if you or someone you know is possibly considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741. One of the first things James did after learning about Tim's avoidant personality disorder, before he even reached out to us, was what any good nerd does - he started researching. He discovered that he was not the only one who hadn't heard about AVPD, that it's an underrecognized and understudied disorder. And it's true. The researchers I talked to said there's been debate in the field about how to categorize AVPD, whether it's an extreme version of social anxiety disorder or its own distinct thing. And that's why more work needs to be done to find effective treatments. And the more James read, the more he wanted to know. So he posted a long, heartfelt message, almost like an essay, really, on a subreddit for people with AVPD.
HASSELTINE: I made that post on Reddit, more or less, looking for help, trying to understand.
SHAW: He wanted to understand his friend Tim better and what had happened between them and what it was like living with AVPD. Then came dozens of responses - personal anecdotes, messages of support, which he says were all really helpful. But James still had questions. So we connected him with someone who was willing to talk.
Well, yeah, I'd like to say thanks, again, for taking part, Andrew. It is good to meet you.
ANDREW LATTIE: Hey, James. How's it going?
HASSELTINE: Good. How are you?
LATTIE: So far, so good.
SHAW: Andrew Lattie (ph) lives with his wife near Denver. About five years ago, Andrew was diagnosed with AVPD. And you should know that AVPD affects people differently. For example, Tim was able to go to college, hold down a job and was working on his master's degree, while Andrew - because of his AVPD, he had to drop out of college and isn't able to work. Even setting up this conversation has been hard on him, though he told me he's determined to talk to James and be part of this story, even if it only helps one person.
LATTIE: Part of the reason that this - I'm able to do this conversation now is because I know that I'll be able to kind of ethically ghost you guys, if that makes sense.
SHAW: But there are other ways that Andrew and Tim feel similar. Like Tim, Andrew has struggled with suicidal ideation, though he now sees a therapist every week. And that's helped. Like Tim, Andrew also feels negatively judged in everyday interactions, even if that's not what's going on, which, for Andrew, can blow up into debilitating spirals. For instance, when Andrew was a freshman in college, he showed up to the first day of music theory class, and the professor asked a bunch of questions he didn't know how to answer - a tiny, awkward incident that led to a series of escalating, painful feelings and events that wound up with Andrew getting evicted from his dorm room.
LATTIE: I never went back to class again because I felt so ashamed and embarrassed that I was there, that I didn't know what I was doing. And then - and when I wasn't going to that class, I was feeling so bad about that, that I stopped going to all my classes. And then at that point, I basically locked myself in my room.
SHAW: And like Tim, Andrew can appear to fit in with others just fine while secretly feeling like he's wearing a mask, which James wanted to understand better.
HASSELTINE: My friend who had AVPD - I spent a lot of time in social situations with him. And he seemed, to me, really positive, resilient and even outgoing. And I didn't really have an inkling, say, that he's putting in a lot of effort to more or less - to mask and to fake it in order to get by.
LATTIE: You know, I have been called very charismatic. I've been told I'm a really good speaker. But these are kind of just the things that I think that the people I would be around are going to want me to do and say. Like, if I was around a louder friend and only a louder friend, then I would be a little bit louder. And if I...
LATTIE: ...Was around, you know, some quieter friends, then I would, you know, shift to that.
HASSELTINE: I feel like maybe I observed that in Tim as well, the kind of mirroring according to whom you're with, just trying to match their energy, basically. So...
LATTIE: And I'm even doing that right now, so (laughter).
SHAW: But probably the biggest parallel between Tim and Andrew is the ghosting. Andrew guesses he's ghosted a couple hundred people by now, mostly friends he met online through gaming and a small circle of friends from high school after graduation.
LATTIE: Part of the pain of it all is that you still want those friendships and everything. And it hurts you to do things like ghost them and to not talk to them. Like, I slighted you. Of course you're going to reject me because that's what you should do. So I'm just going to go ahead and not talk to you anymore so that you can't reject me. So it - you know, in that way, it's kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy where I cause you to reject me sort of thing.
HASSELTINE: Do you ever think about - even, like, in - abstractly or just, like, fantasizing about contacting the people you haven't spoken to in a long time?
LATTIE: Absolutely do.
SHAW: Eventually, a couple of Andrew's high school friends were able to make contact with him again, even after being ghosted for years.
LATTIE: And by just through sheer force of will, they keep messaging, and they keep talking. And I eventually will talk back because that's kind of what it takes.
SHAW: They'd cracked the code, done the very thing that James had tried to do all these years with Tim. So James wanted to know how. Andrew says the key to their success, besides relentlessness, was small talk - not calling attention to the time that had passed, not blaming him - nothing emotional.
LATTIE: Like, my friend who texted me the other day and said, oh, hey, you know, I found this energy drink we used to drink when we were kids. And I was like, oh, yeah, that was cool. So like, you know, I was able to do that. But if he had said something like, hey, man, I'm really missing you. How come you're not talking to me anymore? That is, you know - that's very triggering. It's like, oh, my gosh. What have I been doing? Like, he hates me. You know, it spirals.
HASSELTINE: What you just said, you know, it kind of confirmed a suspicion that I've had for the past couple of months now that basically, like, the things that I was writing to Tim were maybe, like, the worst possible version of what I could have said to him, which was, like, very emotional, very desperate things, like Tim, I miss you so much. I really want to speak to you. Please, please, please just write me back, which I'm sure did not help him and probably made him feel worse about it.
LATTIE: I mean, I am not going to put words in anyone's mouth or, like, say that, you know, he felt a certain way because I really don't know. But I think that just hearing that - like, that kind of thing - it would make me - it would cause me an immense amount of guilt. Because, well, gosh, if I did that to them now, I'm just going to cause them more and more pain. If I keep talking to them more and more or, you know, if I do text them because I know that I'm going to, you know, eventually cut them off again, you know, maybe not forever, but for - it's still going to cause them more emotional pain.
HASSELTINE: Almost like a harm reduction thing. Like, by cutting them off at this point, I am doing a kindness to them.
LATTIE: A favor, exactly. I would probably personally at some point stop reading the emails, especially if I have a strong relationship with that person.
HASSELTINE: Right. Right.
HASSELTINE: If I had known what I know now back then, you know, potentially, things could have worked out differently between he and I.
SHAW: But of course, Andrew is not Tim. Like he said, he can't know how Tim truly felt. And so if we're being honest, at the end of the day, James will never really know the full answer to why Tim ghosted, what percentage was AvPD, what percentage was Tim wanting to break up, to move on, like his fiancee had mentioned. In other words, James is still haunted.
HASSELTINE: The more positive part of me says, like, I do have the explanation now. But - and I would like to think that I do. There is a cynical part of me that says, like, you're just using that as an excuse. Like, you don't have the full story. You never will. This is just a convenient thing you can tell yourself.
SHAW: But while doing research about AvPD, I came across this article that helped me reframe this ghosting story and friend breakups in general.
KRISTINE DAHL SORENSON: Hello. Hi.
SHAW: One of the authors was this clinical psychologist and AvPD researcher, Kristine Dahl Sorenson. She led the first qualitative study on what it's like to live with AvPD. And there's this one paragraph where she explains that people with AvPD in the study weren't just lonely because they avoided people. They were lonely because they weren't able to develop their identity in the way that other people do.
SORENSON: In so many different ways. It has to do with the way you interact with your parents or your closest family or family of origin. It has to do with how you move throughout your adolescent years with friends and all the experiences you create in kindergarten or school or eventually in work. And it's all relational. You become who you are in relation to other people.
SHAW: So all the tiny social exchanges people take for granted - the acting, reacting, talking, telling, listening - she's saying, that's how we come to know and be ourselves - through the people around us. It's not a new idea, the relational self. But I don't think we appreciate enough, in this highly individualistic culture, how our friends play an essential role in this hidden machinery of the self, how much power we have over our friends, for better or for worse. And for James, at least, he's grateful for the fingerprints Tim left in shaping him, giving James the encouragement and space to figure out how to become himself.
HASSELTINE: I think that, you know, in the beginning when I first met Tim, when it was just him and I in our freshman dorm, I more or less felt like Tim was, like, a kindred spirit, basically. And you know, there was kind of a sense that, like, oh, I'm not alone in maybe being a quiet, geeky, dateless guy. Like, here's another one. I'm not such a loser after all. And that was a comfort.
SHAW: The last time I talked to James, maybe I was thinking about the Tim, Tim, Tim, Tim song. Maybe I was thinking about all the friends out there who aren't able to have a friendship-ending conversation, even though they want to. And so I asked James a weird question.
In the tradition of 208 - you all love a good inside joke song. If you could come up with a song that one could send to a friend as, like, a cue to have the friendship-ending conversation so it's not so awkward, what would it sound like?
HASSELTINE: Oh, boy.
SHAW: How does start?
HASSELTINE: Well, it starts off soft and acoustic...
HASSELTINE: ...And melancholy.
SHAW: And maybe the lyrics are what these two friends would say to each other in this conversation.
HASSELTINE: Right. Right. (Singing) Here are the lists of my resentments and the ways you've disappointed me.
SHAW: Well you know, we actually have voice memos from a bunch of listeners that I feel like I could chop up and try to make musical.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BREAKING UP AND BREAKING DOWN")
SAVANNAH GOCHOEL: I feel so horrible that I let four years ago.
VJ KIOSIAN: We were so close.
GOCHOEL: I feel horrible I never called.
SARAH CHARLEY: I forgive you.
KATHRYN ASHLEY-WRIGHT: I wish we had closure.
ALICIA BUXTON: Honestly, I don't want to talk.
HASSELTINE: And then - after kind of breaching it calmly, then you could switch for the electric guitar and sort of break it down in a more shouty, emotional way.
THIN LIPS: (Singing) I'm not waiting maybe. I know you're cross.
CHARLEY: I'm really pissed at you.
BEATRIZ FERNANDEZ: You just brought so much drama.
THIN LIPS: (Singing) It's hard to be the one that fronts the cost. I know I'm the one that lost.
DELANEY: And I hope you're doing well.
SHAW: That's it for today's show. Thank you to my friends, the band Thin Lips, for this seriously perfect and amazing breakup song you just heard. The name of it is "Breaking Up And Breaking Down." You can listen to the full song on Spotify and, I don't know, maybe start a movement. And a big, big, big thank you to Andrew Lattie, the AvPD subreddit and everyone who spoke to us about AvPD so we could learn more about it.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. You can find more resources about suicide prevention and avoidant personality disorder on our website.
NATISSE: Coming up this season - now that we've broken up, we're headed to the awkward beginning and messy middle of friendship. Like, what happens when you take away the ability to choose your friends? Why do we have lines between sex and friendship? Plus, one possible secret weapon, totally out of left field, for how to get closer to our friends.
NATISSE: This episode was produced by the one and only Adelina Lancianese and edited by the ever so patient Luis Trelles with a big assist from our incredible intern Alicia Qian and our unstoppable research fellow Jo Nixon. Adelina, Alicia and Jo all helped with the reporting and research. Fact-checking by Naomi Sharp and Ayda Pourasad, mastering by our technical director Andy Huether. We also had help from Micah Ratner and Rhitu Chatterjee.
(SOUNDBITE OF LOUIE ZONG'S "GHOST CHOIR")
SHAW: Thank you to all the ghosts and ghostees who spoke to us, wrote us, left us voice memos, share their hearts with us and contributed to this episode. In this week's newsletter, we gathered a friend breakup playlist for you and one ingenious listener hack for how to break up with friends - an exit interview of sorts. You can sign up at npr.org/invisibilianewsletter.
And to all the researchers we spoke to - Lisa Lampe, Thomas Khullar, Amy Johnson, Omri Gillath, Gili Friedman, Leah LeFebvre, Steve Asher, Marissa Franco, Pauline Boss, Mark Caldwell, Susan Matt, Luke Fernandez - we learned so much from you. Thank you. You can find a bunch of interesting articles and studies on ghosting and friendship endings on our episode page.
Finally, additional thanks to Phillip Dacus, Charles Capps, Claire Zlotnicki, Andrew Young, Karen Rude, Jessica Lanyadoo, Heather McGraw, Beatriz Fernandez, Isaiah Shaw, Youngmi Mayer, Arielle Kleighburn, VJ Keosian and Pamela Mallinga.
NATISSE: This season of INVISIBILIA is produced by me, Kia Miakka Natisse, Yowei Shaw, Andrew Mambo, Abby Wendle, Rhaina Cohen, David Gutherz and Justine Yan. Our supervising producer is Liana Simstrom. Our supervising senior producer is Nicole Beemsterboer. Neal Carruth is our senior director of programming, and our senior vice president of programming is Anya Grundmann.
Theme music by Infinity Knives, and additional music in this episode provided by Physical Fitness, Rick Klaras, Firephly, Connor Moore, William Cashion, Tom Pile and Running Dog Music and Louie Zong for the viral hits "Ghost Choir" and "Ghost Duet." See you next week.
SHAW: OK, Kia, without naming names, have you ever been ghosted, or have you ever ghosted a friend?
NATISSE: I'm sure there's someone out there who thinks I ghosted them. But I am such a thorough ghost that I've probably just forgotten it completely.
SHAW: On that note, we do have somebody waiting to talk to you.
SHAW: Addie did a little digging.
NATISSE: Wait, what?
ADELINA LANCIANESE, BYLINE: Just give me one second. I've just texted her. She's expecting my call. So hold on. Let me put my phone on speaker.
(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE DIALING)
NATISSE: I really have no idea who's going to be on this phone call.
SHAW: We're kidding with you.
NATISSE: I was really - I was like, there's only one friend, and I still don't think, like - she - I - we worked it out (laughter).
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.
- Main content
What to do when a close friend ghosts you, according to experts
- As we get older, we have fewer but more genuine friendships.
- Losing a friend can come with grief, which makes it tougher to recover from.
- Friendship experts says some friendships are worth fighting for.
In budding romantic relationships, being ghosted after a date or two seems to come with the territory these days. Sure, it stings, but it's relatively easy to bounce back from a failed love connection, especially one that started online. But when we're ghosted by a longtime trusted friend , our grief can be intense and difficult to navigate.
By the time we become parents, our friendships feel more solid and reliable. We might have fewer friends, but they're more genuine. It's no wonder that losing a friend can be a tough blow to recover from . Here's why ghosting happens and how to find closure.
Why do friends ghost us?
Friendships break down when one person is consistently considering their needs over the other person's, said Dr. Marisa G. Franco , a psychologist and friendship expert. "There's a concept called identity affirmation. The idea is, I'm able to see my friend for who they are. I am able to respect the ways that they want to live their life," she told Insider. That means supporting a friend's dreams even when their values don't align with our own. If we can't, the friend probably won't stick around.
We rarely break up with somebody who leaves us feeling good, said Shasta Nelson , a friendship expert and author of " Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness ." "Research shows that we need five positive emotions for every negative emotion for a relationship to stay healthy. By the time we're breaking up, that ratio has usually gotten reversed," she said.
In friendships, we tend to avoid conflict at all costs. "If we can think about conflict as a way to enlighten each other so that we can treat each other better, it can be a healing force rather than a destructive force," Franco said. Addressing our issues is the only way through them.
How to let go and when to hang on
There's a lot of shame surrounding friendship breakups, Nelson said. "We feel like every single friendship is supposed to last forever, and if they don't there's something wrong with us. But not every relationship is going to last," she said, so learn to let your relationships ebb and flow.
It's important to recognize your loss and grieve it in a healthy way. Holding in our feelings leads to "the rebound effect," Franco said. "When we try to suppress something, it ends up coming back stronger. Your feelings have to be felt for them to pass," she said.
Friendships that have brought you happiness in the past are probably worth fighting for. Even a difficult conversation is worth having if the person has added value to your life, said Smiley Poswolsky , a friendship expert and author of " Friendship in the Age of Loneliness: An Optimist's Guide to Connection ."
"Take the time to send a handwritten letter and just say, 'Hey, I've missed you. I wanted to reach out. You mean a lot to me. I'd love to have a conversation about our friendship.' Then your cards are on the table and you've made the effort, and that's a beautiful thing," Poswolsky said.
"We can't force somebody to interact with us, but we can reach out to say, 'Is there any chance you'd be willing to tell me what happened between us or what you're feeling right now? I want to try to fix it or at least apologize to you,'" Nelson said, and if our friend isn't open to a conversation, we have to forgive ourselves and our friend, doing our best to learn from the experience.