We talked so much online that we became unable to deal with the emotional fallout of our lives IRL.
"You make me sick."
"Let's meet up soon."
These are the last words typed to me by three people I thought would be in my life forever, but who no longer feature at all after I took the decision to write them out completely.
Ghosting—the act of ending a relationship by ignoring someone's attempts at communication, or blocking them on social media—has gained a deservedly shitty reputation. But it's exactly what I did to my boyfriend and two best friends.
Before I start, let me just say that I know what it feels like to have someone pull a Casper on you. I've done the casual dating thing and had guys just evaporate after weeks of messages. It's cruel and cowardly and so replicating this action wasn't a decision I took lightly. But I guess you could say my world view changed somewhat after losing my dad to cancer last year, and finding that some of my closest relationships had disintegrated.
Emily and Kate were two of my best friends growing up. From age 12 to 22, our friendship revolved around experiences over substance: festivals, parties, and the various lies we'd tell our parents to cover it all up. A desire to turn bad decisions into good stories kept us pretty tight but our friendship was always one Snapchat away from oblivion. As teenagers we must have ghosted each other three or four times on MSN and MySpace. But things were different then—we'd just make up at school the next day, staging a digital truce by re-adding each other when we got home.
But by the time we reached our 20s, we'd communicate with each other so much online that we became unable to deal with the emotional fallout of our lives in person. When my dad died, we hadn't seen each other for weeks. When neither of them reached out, I was upset. I realized our friendship didn't exist anymore.
When you hit the un-friend button as an adult—even though it's a petty, juvenile act—you're cementing the end of a friendship that you don't have time to mend in real life.
I didn't want to have to explain myself when they hadn't even bothered to speak to me after my dad passed away. A recent study revealed that 53 percent of people under 30 would end a relationship via digital means, versus 27 percent of those 40 and over. For me, ghosting seemed to be the appropriate method of ending two friendships that existed entirely through the online approval of photo "likes" and chats on messenger.
When I deleted them on Facebook and unfollowed them on Twitter and Instagram, I knew there would be no going back—even though reversing the process is pretty easy. Work and travel commitments on their end and grief and bitterness from me meant that we weren't going to bump into each other in the pub or park like old times and pinky-promise never to piss each other off again. When you hit the un-friend button as an adult—even though it's a petty, juvenile act—you're cementing the end of a friendship that you don't have time to mend in real life. Things just... go on, which is what has happened in my case. But I'd be lying if I said that I didn't hope for a phone call or a knock on the door afterwards.
Ghosting hasn't left me feeling liberated or brought me closure, though. Instead, I'm left in a state of digital limbo. Knowing the girls as well as I do, I'm certain they cyber-sleuth me like I do them, but the only way to repair things now is to meet IRL because none of us want to be the first one to send that add/follow notification. It's sad to think that the breakdown of a combined 24 years of female friendship didn't warrant a face-to-face conversation, but I'm still fucking angry at how cold they were when I needed them.
I adopted a similar vanishing act when it came to ending a relationship with my ex. We met online when I was traveling, desperate to escape my dad's terminal illness. In retrospect, the situation was primed for me to let the wrong person into my life. After eight months, I cut all ties, blocking him on Facebook, WhatsApp, Gmail, and Flickr and changing passwords when I realized he'd been creeping my accounts for months. I removed him from my life in the same way I found him—with the click of a button.
It was easy to do as the majority of our relationship was conducted online. We lived in separate time zones, thousands of miles apart. Unlike the situation with my BFFs, we had no mutual friends and zero chance of bumping into each other. Again, it was an indicator of how weak our relationship really was. If you think you could actually ghost someone, you probably don't think that much of them in the first place.
This year the Office of National Statistics declared Britain to be the loneliness capital of Europe. Maintaining relationships online through messaging removes the negative barriers of social interaction, speeds up intimacy, and makes us all think we're closer to one another, but in actual fact, it strips away emotional attachment. Ghosting friends and partners is indicative of the brittle nature of the bonds of association which keep our generation constantly connected; we can swap people in and out of our lives like profile pictures, especially when we don't have to hold ourselves accountable to them in real life.
Ghosting did allow me to end terrible relationships, but it should always be a last resort. It has generally amplified the feelings of grief I was already experiencing and left me feeling empty. I'm still haunted by the memories of my dad's bear-like frame shrinking before my eyes, while the three people I cared about were nowhere to be seen. If I learned anything last year it's that nothing is constant. The ties to those you love are easily broken and the arteries of family and friendship can be blocked off by anger, loss, and illness. Surrounding myself with real-life, meaningful interactions is now more important than ever.
Names have been changed.
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