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Last week, I realized that I didn’t get my Christmas letter from an old friend. It’s not that I missed hearing about her genius kids or her fabulous trip with her adoring husband, it just seemed unusual. Or maybe not. Over the past two decades our friendship has dwindled: I send a card; she sends a letter.

We met and bonded in the 70s while our kids were in nursery school. We had similar interests: We supported the passage and ratification of the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment.) We worked part-time during the day and attended college in the evening pursuing our degrees—an oddity at the time.

Although we were traveling on different paths professionally, we were tightly knit, or so I thought. We were best friends and soulmates. We shared our worries as well as the good times that is, until life happened.
Her husband was transferred to another state. My first husband died. We found ourselves on different life paths journeying further away from each other.

Why do some friendships last a lifetime while others fizzle out over time? Why do some friends mysteriously disappear from us, sometimes without warning or explanation?

It may start with a text that goes unanswered. Then it’s a dozen. Our calls go to voicemail and the silence sounds like thunder. We worry about our friend. What else could explain her sudden disappearance?

Eventually social media gives us the answer. She is alive and posting and we’ve been ghosted—and the sting bears no resemblance to Casper the friendly ghost.

Ghosting is the most unfriendly and cowardly way to end a relationship. When ghosted, all communication ceases without offering an explanation. The term was used primarily in the context of dating. However, ghosting is occurring more often in friendships, on social media and in professional relationships.

When friendships fizzle and die, most times there is no defining moment. We try to reassure ourselves that everything is fine, only it’s not. How long does it take to send a text? We didn’t see it coming; or maybe we did. The end of a friendship heralds the silent years where we simply fall out of touch.

Yet, these were the friends who graced our holiday tables. We shopped and dined together. They helped us navigate very difficult times. They were an intricate part of our lives.

Friends on social media can block, ignore or simply disappear into cyber-space or the “cloud.” Rejection (like all rejection) on social media hurts. But, it’s nothing new, we’ve been doing it for years. It’s akin to not answering a phone call, voice mail or email.

When I was gainfully employed, I oversaw a large staff. An employee stopped coming to work without notice. Impossible to contact, we had to scramble to fill her shift. I was angry, disappointed and thought it strange, back then. Nowadays I realize that I was ghosted.

I know a gal who was ghosted in the romance department. By all accounts it was painful and confusing. She dated this guy for less than two months. The last date with her “almost” boyfriend went well and then, nada.

She texted him a few times. I cautioned her to stop texting, citing that no response is a response. She stopped texting—instead, began driving past his house. Out of desperation to get answers, she knocked on his door and was greeted by another gal.

Finally, she got it: Like Humpty Dumpty she had a great fall and her broken pieces were visible. She went through a mourning period (although I thought her “almost” boyfriend was a double dipping scoundrel.) While I listened to her, she listened to sad songs, stayed home and wallowed in self-pity.

I was ghosted when my husband, Sweet Frank, died. (A natural occurring phenomenon when widowed.) Coupled friends gradually stopped calling. I was in life’s cold basement and not much fun, I suppose. One “friend” did call when I was having a difficult day. She gave me two minutes then said, “Have yourself a good cry” and hastily hung up. I never heard from her again.

There is a psychological toll to be paid when being haunted by your ghost. One might feel the sting of ostracism and social rejection. Some studies show rejection triggers the same pathways in the brain as actual physical pain.

Lack of communication leaves folks in a mind-boggling limbo where they don’t know if, or how, to respond or act. All this can be difficult for folks who are sensitive to feelings of rejection and ambiguity—and most of us are.

We wonder: Was it something we did that ended the relationship? Did we offend our co-worker? Did our partner leave us for someone else? Ah, me! The questions are endless.

Why do some relationships last a lifetime and others fizzle out? It’s the million-dollar question.

However, I know for certain, if you have been ghosted, it doesn’t reflect on your worth. It reflects on the ghost being seen.

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Celia Marszal-Iannelli
Celia Iannelli is a native New Yorker enjoying a second career — in 'retirement' — as a freelance writer. She lives in Jamesport.