Every so often, I lose a friend. It rarely happens all at once. It’s usually subtle, a missed call leads to a missed event, leads to missed opportunity to reinforce a bond. Miscommunication quietly creates schisms in what was mistakenly thought of as a solid foundation. A joke that didn’t land so smoothly could lead to feelings of resentment. And, if the offended friend isn’t the type to nip conflict in the bud on sight, it simmers. It boils over into a weird frenemy tea, in which someone who knows you deeply begins to dislike you, and may not care enough to tell you. In the few times I’ve tripped the trigger on my friends anger and been on the bad end of a meltdown, it’s left me shaken and leery, but grateful – because at least I know why they want to discontinue the friendship. And that’s better than the slow fade. I think being ghosted platonically is worse than being ghosted romantically.
My best friend in high school ghosted me platonically once we got to college, and I’m still nursing abandonment issues from it. We were extremely close. Now that I think about it, I haven’t had a platonic friend as close since, and I probably never will. Partly because I don’t know that I have the capacity to be as open in that way anymore. And I’m not sure that capitalism allows us time to nourish non-monogamous relationships as working adults. But watching someone you once loved dearly slow fade out of your life is hard. That experience left me paranoid and hypersensitive, especially because I can’t even recall a serious fight during the friendship. It’s as if my former friend woke up and decided they didn’t want me in their life anymore. When that happened, I went a little crazy for a while thinking about all the things I may have done to warrant that behavior. And friends aren’t supposed to make you feel that way. Friends aren’t supposed to leave you in an emotional limbo, second-guessing your place in their life and how fast it’ll change.
As I’ve gotten older and lost friends in less dramatic ways, I’ve realized that platonic ghosting is not even a hard choice as much as it’s a natural byproduct of growing apart. Life as a working adult is hard, and sometimes you just don’t have available emotional bandwidth. But where do healthy boundaries end and where does emotional distancing begin? How many times should you overlook an awkward interaction or hurt feelings before you decide to cancel someone? Do friends owe you an exit interview?
These are the thoughts I’ve been pondering this summer. So much has changed in my life in such a short amount time. And as a result of travel I’ve become someone whose closest relationships are with those who are miles away. Is that a situation unique to my generation, or is adulthood designed to slowly isolate you? I don’t have the answers, Sway. All I know is, lately I’ve been thinking deeply about what friendship means; what loyalty looks like, and if I’m even giving the quality interactions that I’m suddenly so hungry for from the people around me. If I’m being honest with myself, I’m probably an okay friend at best. I try really hard to be what I think my friends need me to be, sometimes to the detriment of being what I need me to be. As with all relationships, the firmer my boundaries are, the better the friend I can be to those in my life. Unfortunately boundaries are usually made after someone has crossed them.
And if that’s true, friends that are no longer friends feel like sacrifices for a better version of my future self. Even with all the friends I’ve “lost” I never quite felt lonely in their absence but sharper and more aware of who I am for better or worse. And maybe that’s a lesson: that a real friendship, despite how it ends, always teaches.