We’ve all had a friend or romantic partner who suddenly stopped returning our texts, blew off movie night and unfollowed us on social media, leaving us wondering what went wrong. In fact, this behavior is so rampant we have a new term for it: ghosting.
In the age of ghosting, we ask that people have the courtesy to tell us when a friendship or romantic relationship is over ... but their silence can speak volumes. So why is actual closure so important? “The ending of any friendship is always a disappointment,” says Irene S. Levine, a psychologist and author of “Best Friends Forever: Surviving A Break-Up With Your Best Friend.” “The closer the friendship was, the worse the hurt if it ends. But it is especially painful when a friendship ends unilaterally without having had the opportunity to participate in the decision.” But Levine says we only think we need closure. “Often the reason for the breakup has more to do with the other person than it does with them,” she explains. “Or, it may be an issue of timing.”
Here’s how to cope when you’re getting the cold shoulder.
You can’t always expect someone else to give you closure. “You can try to contact them to talk, but if they don't respond or don't want to talk, it's time to try something else,” Brenner says. “If they are willing to talk, keep it limited, don't expect too much, have questions you want to address prepared in advance, set a certain amount of time, and don't try to get back together with them.” The sooner you accept that they probably aren’t going to call you back, the sooner you can focus on moving forward.
The old adage “it’s not you, it’s me” is often true. The other person may have outside stressors, health problems, timing issues or any number of other reasons to end the relationship that you don’t know about, so don’t assume you did something wrong. “Appreciate the good experiences you had with the person,” Levine says. “Don't catastrophize and feel insecure about your ability to make and keep friends. Not all friendships last forever.”
If you’re constantly checking their Facebook page or wondering why they pulled a Houdini, Brenner suggests trying a cognitive behavioral technique called symptom prescription. Give yourself a short amount of time each day (maybe ten minutes) where “you not only give yourself permission to obsess about it, but you instruct yourself to do so,” Brenner says. “This can work because it fosters a sense of control over one's feelings, creating better regulation, and sets a boundary around anxious reactions, creating a sense of safety and containment.”
Instead of binge-watching “Orange is the New Black” or drowning your sorrows with Ben & Jerry, try a new activity or spend more time doing something you already enjoy (meditation, perhaps?) to provide a pick-me-up. “Pick activities you enjoy which are wellness oriented, avoid excessive alcohol consumption or extremes of any sort, and keep up social engagements with supportive, positive friends,” Brenner says. Disappointment is a natural reaction to the end of a friendship or romantic relationship, Brenner adds, but if you don’t dwell on those negative feelings, they should fade within a few weeks.
Of course, some of us deal with ghosting better than others. “People who are more resilient and secure will feel a greater sense of healthy control over the situation, will be able to put any feelings of rejection, betrayal or loss in context, and move on without too much distress,” says Grant H. Brenner, a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and co-author of the book “Irrelationship: How We Use Dysfunctional Relationships To Hide From Intimacy”. “People who are less resilient, have an insecure attachment style, or a poor sense-of-self [that is] based more on being in a relationship than [on] who they are themselves, will have strong negative reactions to ghosting.”