I Was Ghosted by My Lifelong Best Friend
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I Was Ghosted by My Best Friend

He was my ride or die, until suddenly he wasn’t

Photo montage of a man holding a cell phone
Shutterstock

I had a best friend once. Back in our 20s, we shared an apartment in a decaying New England industrial town, where we quaffed stouts and pilsners and generally trashed the place.

We took a pilgrimage to Bruce Springsteen’s hometown together, and on one Halloween we hiked with girlfriends through a deserted Connecticut forest that was said to be the site of an accursed village full of witches and spitting cats. (We found nothing but a couple of stoned bikers.) 

I was sure we were closer and far better than actual brothers, because my real brothers and I did not get along, and they were certainly not my friends.

When I was a stressed-out beat reporter at a small newspaper in Santa Cruz in the late ’90s, I envied his burgeoning freelance career in Manhattan. “You can do this, too, if you want it,” he assured me.  

I briefly moved back to the East Coast, and we lived within two hours of each other. But our wives didn’t get along, making our hangouts awkward and strained.

After grad school, I moved back to California and my wife and I had a baby. For a freelance story, my best friend and I met up in Pennsylvania for a “bros-only biking trip” on a rail trail — but my wife, stuck at home with a colicky baby, kept calling.

A few months later, our communication dwindled to almost nothing. Then we stopped talking on the phone at all. My emails went unreturned for weeks, sometimes months, and the ones I received had a new evasive and disingenuous quality.

The essayist and memoirist Vivian Gornick once wrote, “There are two categories of friendships. … In the first category, one clears the decks to be together. In the second, one looks for an empty space in the schedule.” We had somehow moved from one category to the other. 

Our emotional distance reached the point where I emailed him and asked what was wrong. “Please let me know if I have done or said anything to hurt or offend you,” I wrote.

His response came fast. We were living “a million miles apart,” he explained, and our lives were so busy. He left me with a “talk soon, can’t wait to catch up,” that struck me as warm, efficient and elusive.

It felt like the ending of something. We had broken up without ever saying the words.

We keep in touch in superficial ways on social media. On Facebook, you can kid yourself that all is well with a semi-estranged pal. After all, you can still watch his child grow in photos. You see your lost friend travel the world. But it’s like watching another life through the glass panels of a terrarium. You feel your face on the glass, but there’s no getting through. 

I still have a pic of him on my wedding day, carefully pinning a boutonniere to the frilly shirt of my tuxedo. He has an expression of kinship — of true brotherhood — on his face. He’s concentrating, trying to make sure the floral arrangement stays on my shirt, while also making sure he doesn’t stick that pin into my chest. 

I know those two men aren’t quite the same anymore. But that snapshot helps me take stock of what remains. Some people would argue that true friends stick with you through it all. But perhaps certain relationships have defined life spans. They grow, burn brightly for a while and fade away. 

That doesn’t mean those friendships were never real or invaluable. I know otherwise, because that wedding-day photo is a testament. The colors haven’t faded. I see the picture and remind myself of what true friendship looks like.

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