Sometimes Sandy Roffey disappears from her friends’ lives without explanation or doesn’t engage at all. Here’s why.
Ghosting is the term for breaking off relationships by doing nothing. By disappearing from someone’s life by simply not being in it, not responding to them, and failing to tell them why. Those who have been ghosted cite this as a painful and confusing behavior and those who have ghosted have their own varied personal reasons for doing it, ranging from “it’s easier” to “it’s for my personal safety.”
But what happens when you’ve been ghosting people and didn’t even know it?
Everyone has tough times, or times where they just need some space. In the last fifteen years I’ve lost my father, two brothers, both in-laws, several extended family members, and three pregnancies. I’ve had cancer, severe postpartum depression and celiac disease, and somewhere in the middle I got lucky and had three children, the last at the tender age of forty. To say that life has been busy or complicated would be a gross understatement. Let’s just say that it’s been easy to tell myself “I’ll get in touch with so-and-so next week,” only to find that months, or sometimes even years have gone by.
I’ve held a career in Early Education, where I’ve worked with some of the best people I will ever have the honor to meet, and I’m part of a large Italian and Irish family of which I am one of fifty plus first cousins. So why, on any given Saturday night, am I never out with them? Why do Facebook invites sit in my events folder, often left unanswered? Why do I never “friend” anyone, leaving it to them to send me that invitation instead? Why have I seen people I hold in such high esteem maybe once or twice a year at the grocery store, and in some cases less than that?
The Good Men Project Writers Group is a place I can go in the nice, safe world of cyber-space. In the conversation about ghosting that occurred this Tuesday, I could joke that ghosting is like the real-life version of “de-friending” on Facebook. But I paused when writer Theresa Byrne made a comment that gave me a sudden insight into my own behavior that at once had me thinking “ah-ha” and “oh, no!”
It’s a thing. People do it, and they’ve always done it but now we called it something different. My friends & I used to call it “the fade” or “they faded out” … They just disappear.
It occurred to me that I have been guilty of accidentally ghosting my friends and family for the better part of the last 15 years.
It’s not intentional. I’m extremely introverted—I work through panic attacks before I go anywhere (even taking my two year old outside), so my ability to “reach out” can be limited. Picking up the telephone is, for me, akin to torture. I can post the movie of my life on Facebook all day long, and for the most part, it’s full of great scenes. But on the cutting room floor lie the moments in between where it’s difficult to just get out of bed. I don’t leave those moments out because they’re a negative part of my existence; for me, they’re commonplace and just something no doctor or pill has ever been able to heal. But they’re not what I want people to envision when they see or think of me.
The downside to that is that it leaves no explanation as to why I don’t interact, and, if my sudden self-awareness is correct, probably makes it seem as if I don’t care.
Oh, I make plans, sometimes. There are bright days where I think I want to see my friends and family all the time. I want to keep in touch with the people I’ve known who have changed the way I teach, who have taught my children to read, who have made me a better person. That’s the one reason I’ve been grateful for Facebook–without it I would probably have no idea what’s going on in my extended family’s lives or wouldn’t have been able to keep track of friends
Perhaps those same friends have spent years wondering why I didn’t bother with them, or maybe they just decided that if I couldn’t or wouldn’t put forth the effort then why should they?
I do have a few incredibly close friends who it had become easier to leave the house for, because, well, I always leave the house for them. I have my mother and brother, who give me reasons to leave the sanctity of home for the sanctity of family. And I have my husband, who is the most supportive, loving man who, to put it bluntly, knows my shit. Like gradual exposure therapy (where one becomes slowly desensitized to a phobia or anxiety), they’ve gotten me used to leaving the house if I’m leaving it for them, and I’ve been content with that.
But realizing that a behavior is harmful to someone else is the first step towards changing it.
To the friends I haven’t kept up with: I apologize. My intention was never to hurt you; though, perhaps selfishly, it was to keep me safe. Safe from having to leave the house and go places every day the way “normal” people do, and from the stress of trying to have conversations with others while the anxiety in my head was shouting louder than words.
I know I won’t change overnight. I’m not made that way. I work in baby steps—put my shoes on, and take a few breaths. Help the baby put her shoes on, take a few more. Brush my hair. Brush hers. Stop for my keys. Stop for my phone. I’ve committed to getting her outside daily, as hard as that is, because she’s not like me. I won’t change overnight, and immediately stop ghosting good people in my life. But just like the twenty minutes it takes me to go out to the front porch, I’ll get there eventually.