One of the characteristics of meaningful relationships, be they romantic or platonic, is that you put a lot of yourself into them as well as energy and time. All of that combines to potentially leaving you heartbroken when that person through their actions gives the impression you no longer matter to them. Their indifference can cause you to wonder if you ever truly knew them, if they actually cared about your welfare like you thought they did, or if you misread the nature of the relationship. Truth be told, I have been on the receiving end of a handful of such experiences, both in romantic and platonic relationships; I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.
In the interest of preserving the identity of someone from my past, let’s call them K; forgive me for deliberately being vague with details like location or time. K was someone I had gotten to know when we first met whilst we were training together about twenty years ago. We weren’t on the same course but socially ended up moving in the same circles. We developed a good friendship where we shared the highs and lows of our life with each other, commiserated over failed relationships and celebrated when romance blossomed for either one of us. Later on I got to know K’s significant other, enjoy spending time with them both. Sometimes we lived in the same cities but eventually ended up living in different places where it wasn’t so easy to see each other. Despite the distance we would visit one another and chat over the phone fairly regularly. Somewhere along the line K started initiating contact less and less till eventually I was the only one making the effort. When K stopped responding, there was no falling out or argument to point to. I cycled through memories of years gone by wondering if there was something I had been doing wrong. Unable to identify anything definitive, it seemed like one day I had a good friend and then overnight they ceased to exist. With that friendship gone, it was like my life was lacking something I had grown used to believing was as certain as oxygen. For years afterwards, whenever I saw something that K would love, my first instinct was to call. Not being able to do so, it definitely felt like a sibling had died.
I have since recognized that in the long run unbalanced relationships are generally unhealthy. For the most part if someone can’t provide the kind of friendship that works for you, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are a bad person, they’re just not capable of being there for you in the way you need. Who we are is constantly changing and the people who have been part of our life may sometimes no longer fit our new reality. People move on, and it’s important to remember that not all friendships are for life, some lasting just for a moment or a season. That’s okay, and there shouldn’t be any shame in admitting that. However many people could do a better job of the manner in which they walk away from people who care about them.
Though we are all victims of our circumstances, as adults it is up to each of us to learn how to be kinder versions of the people life tries to turn us into. Modern life, with all its demands on us from all-consuming jobs to mobile phone notifications, can make it difficult to have time for self-reflection. Finding ways to make it easier for all of us to reflect on the implications of how we live our life, can enable us to be more considerate, be that as citizens or friends. The attention paid to interpersonal relationships in education and training can also go a long way to shaping this. The phrase “hurt-people, hurt people” springs to mind, which makes it even more important to be thoughtful in our interactions; the way we treat friends can have longer lasting implications than we might realize. This works both ways, for the dignity with which some wonderful people have treated me, has modelled behaviour I am lucky and proud to have learnt from.
Beyond the framework that some people might get from religion or culture (with their inherent biases), where do we learn how to treat others? Mostly we learn from our family, the people around us (friends & colleagues) and depictions we encounter in the media or the arts. The experiences we have in all these interactions shape how we go on to behave towards other people and the way we regard them. People within our online and local communities are also great depositories of wisdom and finding ways to both capture and signpost that, is something we could all benefit from. After all, none of us have got life completely figured out. It makes me wonder what life lessons other people would like to pass on…
To get top-up training in being a decent a human being, I know firsthand how valuable philosophy and self-help books can be so in that spirit here are a few articles with insights on friendships fading into silence;
Here’s How to Deal With Being Ghosted
Why Friends Ghost On Even Their Closest Pals
‘I think I’m being ghosted by my closest friend. How do I move on with my dignity intact?’
Why I ghosted my best friend
5 reasons your friend may have ghosted you, because we know you need closure
‘We went to therapy to save our friendship’
How to End a Friendship
Image: ‘The Purple Shall Govern’ by Mary Sibande