Relationship Tips

What Friendship Experts Want You To Know About ‘Unghosting’ an Ex-Friend

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In an ideal world, you’d be about as likely to ghost a friend as you would to literally vanish into thin air. But sometimes, life gets in the way of our best interests or judgment, and we ghost—and not just romantic partners, either. In fact, in a 2018 survey of more than 700 people, 32 percent of respondents reported having ghosted a friend, and 39 percent said they’d been ghosted by a friend. (And chances are, these numbers are even higher now, in the wake of an era marked by social distancing.) The good news? Undoing the emotional damage of ghosting may be possible with, well, unghosting.

Just like it sounds, unghosting means consciously reappearing in the life of a friend whom you’d previously ghosted, says psychologist Marisa G. Franco, PhD, professor, speaker, and New York Times best-selling author of Platonic. “It can be beneficial to unghost a friend because you might be able to give them the closure that they need to move on,” says Dr. Franco. Doing so could also make you feel better about yourself for having sought to correct an unethical act, she adds.

“People are often more open than we might think to the idea of us re-engaging with them, particularly if we're willing to take accountability.” —Marisa G. Franco, PhD, psychologist

Of course, there’s also the potential for unghosting to wholly rekindle a friendship that either had no good reason to end when it did or for which the reason that it ended is no longer relevant. “It's important to remember that people are often more open than we might think to the idea of us re-engaging with them, particularly if we're willing to take accountability,” says Dr. Franco.

That last bit on accountability is key, though. After all, returning to your position as someone’s friend isn’t so simple as waving your magic unghosting wand and jumping back in where you left off. To wit, just showing up again does not “entitle you to their understanding, their forgiveness, or their desire to restart the relationship,” says friendship expert Danielle Bayard Jackson.

To be as fair as possible to this friend whom you’ve, indeed, ghosted, know that the onus is on you for an explanation of why you disappeared and why you're returning to the picture now, says Jackson. Without these important pieces, randomly unghosting a friend is as one-sided and potentially harmful of a decision as randomly ghosting them was in the first place.

Below, friendship experts share how to determine whether it’s a wise choice to unghost an ex-friend, and when it is, how to do so respectfully.

When it's not a great idea to unghost an ex-friend

It might seem odd to even consider unghosting a friend whom you ghosted because of their bad behavior or just some level of deep incompatibility—but nostalgia or sentimentality can be a powerful force. Even so, that's not sufficient reason alone to unghost.

“Let’s say you ghosted a friend because of a toxic emotional dynamic that wasn’t working for you or because of some egregious offense they committed, and then you’re looking through your old photos, and you’re like, ‘Well, we did have a good time, so maybe I should reach back out,'” says Jackson. While it’s natural to miss someone whom you’ve let go of, that emotion doesn’t always signal the need to reconcile, she says. “You have to really ask yourself, ‘Do I have any evidence that things would be different if I went back to them?’ Revisit the old you and where you were mentally and emotionally when you made the decision to withdraw communication, and ask yourself, ‘Do those reasons still exist today?’”

If nothing has changed in you or your former friend to make the friendship more sustainable the second go-round, unghosting the friend likely wouldn’t be a good call for either of you. Not only are you returning yourself to an unhealthy position, but you’re subjecting your friend to the same. “If it wasn’t a good friendship, this person may not necessarily want to hear from you,” says Dr. Franco. “You want to be sure that by unghosting, you wouldn’t just be forcing yourself upon them.”

Oftentimes, the desire to re-up a not-so-great friendship could spring more from your personal mental state than from what the friendship has to offer, anyway. “If you’re lonely, that could push you to move into relationships that aren’t as good for you,” says Dr. Franco. “So, if you're feeling that way, it’s probably not the time to unghost because your desire to re-engage is clouded by your loneliness, which can prevent you from seeing whether the relationship was really a good one in the first place.”

The case for unghosting

It's only a good idea to unghost a friend if some circumstance related to your initial ghosting has meaningfully shifted. For example, if you or your friend have experienced a significant life change since the ghosting, or perhaps your decision to ghost actually had little or nothing to do with the friend, unghosting could be just the thing you both need to gain closure or even restart the friendship.

"Maybe you didn’t have the bandwidth for the friendship, but you didn’t say that. That ambiguity is what really tends to harm people, because we have a lot of trouble grieving ambiguities." —Dr. Franco

“Maybe you were just going through a lot, and you didn’t have the bandwidth for the friendship—but at the time, you didn’t say that,” says Dr. Franco. “That ambiguity is what really tends to harm people because we have a lot of trouble grieving ambiguities. In this case, unghosting can be the first step in healing and reconciling what was otherwise a good friendship.”

How to actually do the unghosting and get back in touch with a former friend

1. Apologize and take accountability

No matter how upsetting the reason for your ghosting may seem to you or how much you’ve also grieved the loss of the friendship, your ghosted ex-friend undeniably got the worse end of the stick. As a result, your first step in unghosting has to be an apology with an acknowledgement of the harm you may have caused, says Dr. Franco: “A good way to unghost might be to say, ‘Hey, I was thinking of you and how I hadn't been responsive in the past. I'm so sorry. If you're open to it, I'd love to share what happened. Thank you so much for considering.’”

At that point, if they respond, be prepared to, indeed, address the reasons why you left. “Remember that no one is questioning the validity of whatever your reasons were,” says Jackson. “If it was a mental-health issue, or you were caught up in financial distress, or you were burnt out at work, or it was an issue within the friendship that you didn’t know how to communicate at the time—all of that is valid, but it does need to be said.”

This opens the door for reconnecting, whether it’s just to attain closure for both parties, to revive the relationship as it was, or to create some new version of a friendship between the two of you.

2. Remove as much ambiguity as possible about why you’re unghosting

After they get clarity on why you disappeared, your ex-friend is next going to wonder: Why are you back now? And that’s another area to be direct, says Jackson. “If I were to text a friend I had ghosted and just say, ‘Hey, I’ve been thinking about you, and I want to reconnect,’ they’re going to think, ‘What’s going on?’ and ‘Do you want something from me? Are you just reaching out because you want to apologize, or are you trying to get back to hanging out again?’” This is why a key part of unghosting a friend is “doing the generous act of making it clear for them why you’re restarting communication,” says Jackson.

If the reason is a renewed friendship, also be sure to outline why you think things will work out more smoothly on this second attempt, Jackson says. For example, if you ghosted the friend because you were overwhelmed with work or family obligations at the time, you might describe how you’d handle that differently in the future, as in, “If that happens again, I’ll be sure to schedule a text or email in the evening so you know I’m not ignoring you,” or “I’ll make a point of initiating additional hangouts whenever my schedule clears.” In any case, it’s helpful to provide some reassurance to the ghosted friend that it won’t happen again, says Jackson.

3. Avoid defensiveness

Your reason for offering an explanation for the ghosting is not as an excuse or defense for your actions, but as a pathway to closure for the person left hanging. As a result, it’s important not to veer into the territory of over-explaining so much so that it seems as if you’re more interested in clearing your name than either reconnecting or helping your friend move on. “You need to leave some space for them to feel whatever hurt or sadness or indignancy they feel,” says Jackson.

In the same vein, certainly do not shift blame onto your friend for the fact that you ghosted them, says Dr. Franco. “Even if they played a role in the conflict, you made the decision to handle it in a way that wasn’t direct or upfront, and no matter what your friend did, you should take accountability for that decision and the harm that it might have caused.”

4. Acknowledge that they may not welcome you back into their life

While it’s within your power to unghost and to do so with the utmost respect for a former friend and friendship, no unghosting behavior gives you full control over how the ghostee responds. “There are indeed consequences to our behaviors when we don't act kindly and morally to our friends,” says Dr. Franco. Even the most honest and explanatory unghosting may not lead a particular friend to want you back in their life—and that’s okay, she adds.

Perhaps they don’t respond to your message at all, or maybe they respond by declining your invitation to reconnect, whether because they’re still angry or upset, or they just don’t care enough to recommit. In any of these scenarios, it’s important not to push the matter and to respect their decision, says Dr. Franco. As they know all too well, a friendship only succeeds if all parties involved are mutually invested, anyway.

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