Navigating the emotional turmoil at the end of a platonic relationship, with our columnist Michelle Elman
I was watching Oprah interviewing Michelle Obama recently, when Oprah asked how her friendships have survived the White House, and Michelle said something really poetic in response. She said that it’s like climbing a mountain, and some lost oxygen and couldn’t make the climb. It really resonated with how I’ve felt about some of my friendships, to such an extent that I actually paused the interview to let it soak in.
Oprah then asked how she communicated that, and she responded saying that’s what slow ghosting is for. I deeply respect Oprah and Michelle Obama, but this is where they lost me.
It strikes me as so peculiar that even if we do it ourselves, we can all agree that ghosting is wrong in romantic situations, and yet when it comes to friendships, the way in which it was said was so normalised, with not even a hint of guilt in sight.
As a society, I understand why this is the case. We have very odd ideas around friendship, like that it should be effortless. If a romantic couple said they were going to therapy together, it would be understandable, but if you even suggested it with a friend, it would sound really odd. Instead, we talk about how true friends are the ones that we don’t have to make any effort with, we can drop out of contact with for months, and we will pick up where we left off, as if nothing had happened. I disagree. If you treat your friends as disposable, and make no effort, don’t be surprised when you get no effort back. We treat friendships like second tier relationships in respect to romantic ones, and therefore it is unsurprising we have higher standards for ending a romantic situation than a platonic one.
I am of the belief that you should never ghost anyone, but especially not your friends! If they have been there for you over the course of your life, no matter how short a span, they deserve an explanation. If you had respect for them at some point, then they deserve an ending with respect, too.
I understand it is an uncomfortable conversation to have, but if you don’t appreciate being ghosted, then you need to communicate in the way you would want to be communicated with. This is not the time to list all their faults and everything wrong with them – you don’t even need to go into detail about why you want to end the friendship. You just need to tell them it’s over. If you are unsure, turn it into a discussion, set some boundaries, and see if they respect them and if the situation improves. But if you are certain you don’t want them in your life anymore, you just need to break it to them.
Sometimes an event can happen where your trust was broken, and you feel that you can’t rebuild it, and, in some cases, it is just a matter of growing apart. Whatever your reasoning is, remember that when you have been ghosted in the past, you would rather have known why.
And what if you are on the receiving end of a friendship breakup? Well, that can suck too. The first thing you need to recognise is that you shouldn’t have to convince someone to be your friend, and some of the closure you are seeking might not come from your friend ending it. If you have questions about what went wrong, when things changed, or whether there is any room for a discussion, then absolutely communicate that, but when communicating it, lower your expectations, as you might not get the answer you want.
A big part of moving on is accepting that you can’t change the situation, and to close the door properly; so that means no social media stalking to further your pain, or late night texts when you feel sad and are missing your friend. Take a moment to reflect on your friendship and notice all the things you might have missed in the moment, and all the things that you will learn from this break up, and take into your other friendships.
It might also be useful to write down a list of characteristics and traits you are looking for in new friends, and then it’s time to give yourself a chance to heal. Let it hurt. It is awful when any relationship ends, and often feelings of grief will arise around the loss. You are allowed to feel that. Give yourself as much time as needed, and then remember you only want relationships in your life where they reciprocate, and if someone has left your life, it creates more room for someone new to enter.
Love Michelle x
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