In the last half-decade, one of my best friends broke up with me.
Nothing bad happened, per-say. It was a slow fizzle-out, exactly like a relationship long past its sell-by date. Looking back over the messages, you could even say that I’d been ghosted. For every “been thinking about you recently, bro” and “guessing you’re busy and that’s why you haven’t replied, hope you’re cool”, there were short answers, months of radio silence, non-contact.
Dan and I had known each other for years, so the lack of interaction was strange. We’d been on holidays together and had the kind of bonding experiences I remain resolute in not telling anyone about to this day. I knew his parents and he knew mine. In short, we were always there for each other
The family part was important. When I was growing up, my parents were separated, our finances were messy and we moved around a fair bit. So, someone like Dan seemed to be a secure presence in an otherwise insecure life. Our friendship wasn't like those of my other male mates, who bonded over Call of Duty and banter. We connected on a deeper level.
During university, I went through a tough break-up and Dan helped me get back on my feet. Dragging me out of my self-imposed, black-out curtain bedroom lair, we’d stay up through the night, just chatting about our lives. There were other friends in the house we shared but this was special. Daily, we had our private time together, where we smoked weed and listened to music, then ventured onto more substantial things: how we were feeling, what is life, all the important stuff you generally read of men not talking to each other about, though we were.
When Dan and I eventually 'split up', the experience wasn’t dissimilar to coming out of a relationship. The gnawing in your stomach when you realise someone you loved so dearly is no longer in your life – that was there. So, too, were the sharp and soft emotional pangs, building into a hollow, encroaching sadness that came to define and dampen each day. Why had this happened?
Our break-up wasn’t sudden, either. This was a protracted decoupling from one another. With each un-replied message and cancelled meet-up, I started to feel like a crazy ex-boyfriend. Again: what had gone wrong? To this day, I’m still not entirely sure, and it fills me with a very deep, distinct sadness. Loving and losing someone really hollows out your soul, sapping it of life.
We talk a lot about the psychological impact of ghosting – how it causes feelings of ostracism and rejection. So, as I get older, I wonder how my experience with Dan will affect me as I move into later stages of adulthood. It’s been well noted how terrible people in their mid- to late-twenties are at making friends, and this is especially true of men – we’re too reserved in the wrong places.
I haven’t always been a socially anxious person. There are events that have led me to where I am in life – some late-teenage trauma here; a sprinkling of early-twenties fuck-ups there. And my friendship with Dan, I think, has been one roadblock to getting close with new people in life. Like failed romantic relationships, there’s a tendency for these things to sit with you, informing future interactions.
And then I realise that thinking this way is all bullshit. At least parts of it, anyway. My friendship with Dan was one interaction with one person out of many interactions I’m likely to have with many different types of people throughout my life. Being ghosted on by someone who I really cared for, who had my back as much as I had theirs, really sucks.
But you know what would suck more? Letting a question I can never answer come to define my entire existence. Maybe you have your own thing spinning around your head – someone leaving your messages on 'read.' If you do, I hope you get to let go.