It’s official: The term “ghost” is a verb as well as a noun. In fact, the term was just added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary this month (February 2017). It is defined as follows:
To ghost: To abruptly cut off all contact with (someone, such as a former romantic partner) by no longer accepting or responding to phone calls, instant messages, etc.
The increasingly common phenomenon of ghosting someone (or being the unfortunate victim who’s been ghosted by someone else) isn’t limited to lovers. In platonic, as well as romantic relationships, people often don’t have the courage or inclination to tell someone outright that they’re too demanding or high-maintenance. Instead, they simply disappear.
When friends are too needy
By definition, friendships are supposed to be mutually supportive relationships. We all try to help our friends whenever we can although at any point in time, one friend may be the giver and the other the receiver. Then roles reverse fluidly depending on timing and circumstance. In healthy friendships, things generally balance out in the end so neither person feels consistently drained and fatigued.
Sometimes, however, the scales tip so far in one direction that one friend feels as if she has a ball and chain attached to her ankle. The situation feels so hopeless that she feels she needs to escape, ghosting her once-friend without any warning or explanation.
If you have ever had the misfortune of being the person who was ghosted, you probably felt devastated. Without being able to talk about what happened, you may have been forced to look inward and do your own post-mortem to figure out what went wrong. Here are five possible reasons you may have been ghosted:
1) You’re unreliable.
Friends should be able to depend upon one another. If something bad happens (e.g., a death in the family), a good friend shows up to lend support. If someone loses a job, good friends are empathetic and encouraging. When good friends make plans, barring unforeseen circumstances, they should make every effort to keep them. In general, friends count on each other to be dependable. If you are so busy and self-involved that you can’t be there for your close friends, you need to figure out why.
2) You’re too possessive.
Perhaps, you don’t have as many friends as you would like to have so you become overly dependent on one person. You encroach on your friend’s time, always demand more, and get angry if you find out she’s spending time with someone else, whether it’s her partner, mother or another girlfriend. Expecting your relationship to be totally exclusive puts friends in an untenable position.
3) You’re unwilling to accept boundaries.
In any relationship, people need to be able to define their personal space and set comfortable boundaries. For example, neighbors need to know if they can visit without calling first. Colleagues need to know whether it’s okay to sit down in a friend’s cubicle at work while the person is involved in a project. Girlfriends need to decide how much they share about their spouses and lovers versus what they keep intimate and private, without being subjected to invasive questioning. Friends need to be sensitive to each other’s needs, ascertain them when they are uncertain, and mutually agree upon boundaries. A corollary: Friends need to be able to say “No.”
4) You’re a lazy friend.
It takes two people to nurture a friendship. No one wants to be the only one extending invitations, scheduling get-togethers, or making the effort to stay in touch. Similarly, it’s hard to keep up one-sided conversations. Relationships thrive on give-and-take.
5) Your life is riddled with crises.
Yes, stuff happens and friends are there for each other when it does. But if your life is in constant turmoil, you may need a therapist rather than a friend. Persistent complaints about major life issues like chronic illness, severe depression, substance abuse, marital problems, or domestic abuse — ongoing issues that wax and wane but never seem to relent — can make a friend grow weary, sapping the joy and energy out of the friendship. Your friend may not know what to say anymore or simply not feel up to the task of helping lift you out of your misery. Instead, she may simply want to jump off the emotional roller coaster.
The bottom line
Understandably, being unilaterally dumped by someone you once considered a friend is awful. But looking at it from the other person’s perspective, no one wants to be saddled with a relationship that’s painfully draining and unrewarding.
How do you deal with being ghosted? “Loneliness is not a life sentence just a natural, temporary interlude," writes journalist Marla Paul in her book, The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making and Keeping Friends When You’re Not a Kid Anymore. “Friends are a renewable resource,” she says. Figuring out what might have gone wrong and changing your behavior will lead to stronger, more enduring and more satisfying friendships in the future.