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The Gift of Being Ghosted During Tough Times

When the going got tough, I got… ghosted.  Under the cloak of the pandemic I would cheerily chat with friends on the phone pretending everything was fine, when in truth my world was falling apart and I was distraught. I did that for two years. There were, however, plenty of people who did know what was going on in my life. Some relatives and friends with whom I raised my kids and shared holidays and celebrations… silent.  Not a word. In really heavy moments, I had to ask myself a hard question: where did my people go? In my quest for answers I learned what I now call “The Gifts Of Being Ghosted.”

Gift #1: You don’t have to know everything to acknowledge that you know something.

Nobody likes to think “the neighbors” are talking about them, or that they are the topic of chatter in their community. Simultaneously, it is painful to know that the chatter is happening, that the hard task of letting people know you are in trouble is taken care of, and then those people still do nothing with the information. Why not reach out to say “hey there, checking in as you’ve been on my mind” or “I’m available if you ever want to talk or just take a walk”? The kindness of that simple gesture could bring tears to my eyes. While there’s no obligation to take on someone else’s burden, I believe that there is an obligation to be empathetic if you know that someone close to you is hurting. So if we know each other and a little birdie tells me that you are having a hard time, you can expect to hear from me. No questions asked, you don’t even have to respond.

Gift #2: Move on.

This is one of the most painful gifts that I received. I thought that certain people were my friends, my really good friends. People that I had shared life with and truly loved. I called one of my “good friends” to let her know that I was confused by her absence in my time of need, and I couldn’t carry my feelings any longer without speaking with her about it. She knew what was going on with me because our kids are best friends. If ever there was someone I thought I’d hear from it was her — but that didn’t happen. She told me that she was deeply sorry for ghosting me, but that she just hadn’t known what to say or do. At that point, I didn’t either (side note: she’s a therapist). I walked away from that call with a clear understanding that she wasn’t available for this friendship, and as it turned out neither was I (anymore). Truthfully her absence still hurts deeply, but the pit in my stomach immediately disappeared after that phone call.

Gift #3: Some things are too hard to talk about, and you shouldn’t have to in order to get support. 

I have felt like words are sometimes too hard to say. That actually talking about what is consuming my emotional well-being is not something that I can comprehend and certainly cannot articulate. There’s also the reality that saying something out loud means that we hear it, and then it’s out there for everyone else to hear and judge. For me, things can be kept bottled up until I am ready to release it into the ether, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something going on. Let’s not make people tell us every detail of their despair. Let’s not probe, but rather just offer friendship with simple forward facing phrases like “how can I help?”

It’s not all bad, with these very hard lessons also came some positive gifts:

Gift #4: Reminder! Everyone is going through something.

Worry can be very isolating; we get in our own head and can easily become consumed with whatever problem is before us. Add a pandemic and the quiet can be deafening. As I became stronger and things were more settled in my world I was able to make space for socializing and the regaining of my life. I don’t think I have reconnected with one person who hasn’t said “you’re never going to believe what happened to me/my family/my job over the last two years.” We are all going through something, let’s do our best to try and be there for each other.

Gift #5: Second chances.

Historically I’m not someone who gives second changes. Recently I have come to realize that I don’t have the energy or the capacity to carry ancillary anger. I’ve moved on from friends that should have shown up for me and didn’t, and through that I’ve learned a lot about what I prioritize in my important relationships. I’ve come to the conclusion that I cannot hold everyone to the same standards; there are nuances. When I encounter people I haven’t seen in a while and get “how are things” with a head tilt and sympathetic tone, I choose not to focus on their absence but rather I feel grateful for the question. I want certain people back in my life and I’m not too proud to let them know. I’ve been reaching out and getting together with old friends that I have drifted from over the years and that I miss. It feels good; it feels right.

Gift #6: Show up. 

One night a childhood friend asked me to dinner; I was overwhelmed and anxious because I hadn’t not shared any of my strife. Once I got to the restaurant, I quickly learned that she had sensed there was a problem and called my husband. She told him she was worried about me and needed him to fill her in on whatever I was not strong enough to talk about myself. Then she made a reservation at my favorite restaurant and was already seated when I arrived. In another example, after a very public absence from a social function, I received some messages from people that I wouldn’t consider “inner circle” but were in my community. People who acknowledged my absence, and reached out to let me know that they missed seeing me. I felt seen and cared for in both of these pivotal situations. That is what it means to show up, both literally and figuratively.

Being ghosted and abandoned is awful. It left me with more questions than I could possible find answers too, and honestly it was also embarrassing. How could I have been so wrong about the people I brought into my life?  With time and healing, some people will continue to hear from me, and others will not. I will have no loose ends because I’m saying my peace and allowing people to show their truth, and that includes me. My friend group looks different than it once was, but it feels authentic to this moment in my life. My painful reckoning has taught me new lessons about adult friendships and how important they are. I cherish those friends and family that remain in my life, and I am deeply committed to being someone they can rely on. And, I owe it all to being ghosted.

Getty image by Nathaniel Alvaro Ceniza / EyeEm

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