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7 Reasons Why Even Close Friends Could Ghost Us

2. They could be dealing with trauma.

Key points

  • It's not just real or potential romantic partners who employ the painful strategy of ghosting.
  • The ubiquity of social media makes cutting off correspondence with them ever more viable.
  • Being plunged into uncertainty can have toxic effects on our sense of identity, safety, and self-esteem.
  • Thanks to the negativity bias, our brains have evolved to assume the worst, including why others no longer want our company.

Being ghosted hurts. The closer the ghoster, the worse the hurt.

When we're ghosted by near-strangers whom we formerly "knew" only online — maybe only for minutes — we can console ourselves by concluding that they suffer from social anxiety or are a jerk.

When new friends ghost us, we can tell ourselves: OK, we really hit it off at first, but after a few Fortnite games they realized I'm not as hilarious, sporty, or interested in allosaurs as I first seemed.

But being ghosted by a trusted friend is its own savage undertow.

At first, we wonder whether this is really happening: Are their messages shrinking, telling ever less about themselves? Gotta go! Bye!

If at this point we ask them whether anything is wrong, they might send smileyface emojis and say Nope. But soon they stop initiating contact. We start every exchange.

Now we feel like those sad-sack kids at school who wandered up to everyone, clearly unwelcome, pleading: Wanna play?

Seeing our name or number on their screen, does our friend now cringe? Eye-roll? Groan?

Soon they stop answering at all.

Scrambling for footholds, we wonder: Are they in circumstances too sad or scary to share — even with me? (This could be Reason 1.) Maybe a trauma has rewired their mind, changing their priorities? (Reason 2.) Maybe they're busy, overwhelmed at home/school/work, with no spare time. (Reason 3.) Maybe this isn't personal.

But then it is. Passing the point of mere conjecture, we can tell.

As if ejected from a plane without a parachute, we spin through space, no longer recognizing landmarks, wondering what we did wrong because surely this is our fault. Things always are.

Whomever we were while they loved us, we have ceased to be. Every third door/car/tree we see evokes our old jokes, days irradiated. Ruined. Run.

Whatever forged our bond — laughs? secrets? — is thin air, invisible, a dismissed history. Their disappearance disproves not just that we matter but, to some degree, that we exist.

Wondering burns.

When a live-in romantic partner pulls away, we tend to know both soon and why — because they are too close to maintain stealth or must confess in order to escape us and move on. By contrast, friends retain the luxury of ghosting us.

We want answers, but also desperately don't. Asked why they've left us, would they say we've changed? (Reason 4.) That we're now boring, ridiculous, offensive, gross? Anxious, obsessed, depressed?

What un-bad thing could they possibly say?

Maybe it is about them and not us. Maybe we haven't changed but they have, embracing new passions far from ours. Maybe they have outgrown us. Maybe we are what/where/how they've stopped wanting to be. (Reasons 5, 6, and 7.)

Will we ask them? Asking feels like pleading (which it is) to hear bad news from someone who thinks we no longer merit being told.

What is this misery? What is this warp-speed freefall?

It's grief — with secret ingredients.

Mourning someone we loved then lost, we undergo denial and despair. But this lost one did not die, really. They left — "died" to us, while staying visibly alive for others. Why?

Something about us "killed" them — not bodily but emotionally, interactively, as friends.

This makes us feel like criminals. Guilt spikes our grief. As does shame for having been too dense or oblivious to forestall whatever went wrong. It's also fear — of dying friendless.

Ghosting grants us one weird trick: We can choose to believe that it is not our fault.

But human brains have evolved to assume the worst: It's called the negativity bias. So not blaming ourselves, although we meant no harm, is preternaturally hard.

Facebook image: Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock

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