“I ghosted my best friend and it was the best decision I ever made”

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Ghosting has become somewhat of a buzzword, a trendy shorthand for a mode of behaviour that’s become a Millennial habit enabled by social media and smartphones: a way of surgically removing someone from your life. It sounds cruel and heartless, but what if it's for the best? Here, writer Nellie Eden, 27, explains why she ghosted her best friend – and how it turned out to be entirely necessary. 

It's 5.30am and I'm sitting on the toilet flicking through a stranger's Instagram.

I've been here for about fifteen minutes. Despite the shards of light now slicing through the window behind me, the porcelain sink I'm resting my head on suddenly glowing with a subterranean sheen and my eyes tearing with tiredness, I can't stop – my thumb keeps running over pictures of her.

I am doing something I said I wouldn't do because I knew it would hurt. I'm looking at pictures of my old best friend and her new life without me. I no longer recognise her. I'm aware that reads like a line from a teenager's diary, but that's just how she makes me feel, even now – infantile, blabbing, lost and trapped in a permanent state of arrested development.

Do I sound dramatic? A textbook case of female hysteria, sentimentality and sensitivity? Maybe it is, but it's what seeing pictures of the only woman – the only girl – I've ever eliminated from my life does to me. I'm repulsed and relieved all at once.

You see, I quietly and clinically ghosted my closest friend of five years, eleven months ago, to save my sanity and, in the long run, it will be the wisest decision I've ever made.

For years I was manacled by her opinion, wounded by her snubs and left ruminating on my own inadequacy by her manipulative and erratic behaviour. She was what I call a “lighthouse person”. When you're aglow in her broad beams of warmth, nothing feels so affirming, so good, but when she swings suddenly away, it's as if she's walked into your birthday party, blown out all the candles and popped every balloon in the room.

I cannot quite explain the grasp she had on me but her clutches left deeper imprints in my skin and my mind than any ex-lover and it pains me to write that. 

For years I was manacled by her opinion and wounded by her snubs

I met her at my first job. We got talking in a particularly horrible pub at an obligatory post-work drinks thing. “I know you” was her opening line. “You went to university with my housemate. You have a twin”.

I was affronted and amused. I drank her in. Diminutive, dark, with flashing eyes of black liquid, she was dressed like a door girl from the 1980s; a pinstripe suit, huge clip-on earrings and sling back court shoes. Not a trace of make-up. No bag. Alone. Without context, without a history, she had arrived into my life and nothing would be the same again. 

We chatted more, drank more, laughed more and got a cab to a house party. Stood in a noisy dark hallway some hours later she slipped her arm through mine: “We're going to be great friends. I can feel it”. A knowing nod, a Cheshire Cat grin. 

Then the ‘courting’ began. Theatre tickets, gifts, compliments, surprises, endless parties, a mutual agreement to dump our boyfriends. It was quick, quasi-romantic – intense and opiatic – I felt high all the time. Old friends complained. “She's so far up your arse” said one. Then they too were beguiled.

Her magic is difficult to write. She made you feel you could do anything and that you deserved everything. Loving and demonstrative her emotional generosity was a new largesse I'd never before encountered and I leant heavily on it. When my ex began dating someone I knew, it was her who picked me up. Everything was always ok when we were together. 

Around a year and a half later, things started to change.

Slowly at first until gradually I felt as though I'd been shut out of my own home. She began to change the locks on me. 

Constant lying and endless manipulations. There was the time she casually told me about falling out with all her ‘ex-friends’. Then my calls were screened. My texts would flash 'read' and lie dead in her inbox. I would discover she had gone clubbing when she'd told me she was staying in. I'd see her tagged in a group picture, smiling glibly, next to my ex-boyfriend. I tried to stay calm but I couldn't.

When she'd eventually get back to me I clung to her every word, read between the lines of all her communications. Became frantic.

Then one evening I arrived at a party my oldest friend was hosting. I had texted beforehand asking if she was going to be there. No reply. I arrived. There she was at the end of a sofa next to my ex's new girlfriend. One arm intimately thrown around her new friend’s shoulders, engrossed in conversation.

“Are you OK?” asked the host. “No” I replied too loudly. She turned her neck to look at me – and I headed for the door. She followed me out into the street. “Do you hate me?” I spluttered. “Are you mad?” came the response. Silence. “I admired you when we first met, because you were strong.” 

Slowly at first until gradually I felt as though I'd been shut out of my own home. She began to change the locks on me.

The nail in the coffin. It confirmed to me she knew that she'd built me up bit by bit, and now, like a game of Jenga, was removing crucial pieces. Why? Who knows. I would lie awake wondering why she no longer loved me and I hated myself for it. Maybe I was mad. I tried to see it through her inky eyes but no matter how I looked at it, I found spite. 

I cut contact last summer. I was reading Elena Ferrante's much-feted Neapolitan novels that centre on two girls and their mythical but fragile friendship. Elena, the protagonist, obsessively compares her life to her friend Lila's. There is a line that reads “What I lacked she had, and vice versa,” Elena reflects, “in a continuous game of exchanges and reversals that, now happily, now painfully, made us indispensable to each other.”

I pitied Elena and I pitied myself and I decided no more pity.

That's when I deleted her number and cleared her from my head. I erased her, Orwellian-like, from my own history.

When mutual friends ask what happened I just smile and say “I think we've grown apart” and I change the conversation.

She tried for the first six months to get in touch. Every time I'd see the familiar series of numbers flash up on my phone screen some deep buried part of me ached. I considered doing as she had once done to me and breezily answering her calls as though nothing at all had happened but I knew deep down that despite the immediate relief hearing her voice might bring me, I would be opening up a Pandora's box of unspoken pain and hurt.

I erased her, Orwellian-like, from my own history.

I wanted to be happy again and that was not possible with her in my life. 

I am lighter now and happier. I am not anxious, deferential and scared. That's not to say I don't miss her, but I do not miss how she made me feel. There are moments when I get a kick out of taking the control back. I wonder sometimes if I am in fact attempting to punish her and then I distract myself and get on with my day. 

Sometimes the only way to feel well again, is to cut the sickness out and let the scars heal.