I’ve lost a lot of friends for this piece.
Remember when you were in high school and your bestie accidentally forgot your existence because he/she had met the Shakespeare love of his/her life and no longer had time for trivial matters, like homework or saying hi to the one who’d been there since the Freshman acne massacre?
Turns out the modern Romeos don’t fall far from the balcony, because a world and, hopefully, education away, the tendency hasn’t left queer life. In the past several years I’ve probably lost half a dozen friends to their partners in what, in today’s terminology, would be considered classic ghosting.
As you get older, friendships become stronger and intrinsic to a fulfilling life. They cement you. As such, when they abruptly end the sadness envelops you like a lost Internet connection in the desert.
The first time I experienced this was about five years ago, when a great friend, one whom I spoke to almost daily, nixed all contact without explanation. He’d found a new boyfriend, which I only knew about because of their Facebook postings, chockfull of pics of the happy couple gallivanting around the city, most of which included people I didn’t recognize—I assumed they were the boyfriend’s friends. I was single at the time, as I am now, and would have relished meeting new people.
There were brunches and sojourns and Instagram bliss with others, but there were no more late-night chats or texts between the two of us. Before this time, rarely did a week go by without at least one conversation. I did contact him a few times to be told that we would surely get together soon; just as soon as things settled down. Hugs.
And get together we did, almost. Because, like high school, when he broke up with the boyfriend, I received a heartfelt text about how much he missed me and needed me, and, well, “When am I gonna see you?!” He didn’t mention the breakup, nor did he need to. I called him on it, we made up, he got back together with the boyfriend, and I’ve not heard from him since. I no longer remember what it’s like to miss him.
The other end-ships pretty much followed a similar pattern, though it’s usually marriage that erased our history.
There’s an argument that when you’re married your entire life should be devoted to the partner, friends be damned. I refute that notion. Also, when I hear people say that partnered men should only be expected to spend time with other partnered men I’m concerned at what that says about the disposability of friendship. The assumption there is that we’re all just slumming with pals till Mr. Right comes along.
Any serious relationship, marriage or otherwise, means you’ll have less time to spend with friends. Coupling is difficult and takes work, and if you’re smitten, it’s hard at times to pull yourself away.
Reflecting on my own past, however, I realized that whenever I was in a serious relationship, not only did I make a point to check in on friends, who, unlike love affairs, don’t usually end, I also wanted them to share my bliss. I loved it when people I loved met the guy I loved. Happiness is so infectious it’s almost criminal to shield yourself from exposure.
I also have several friends who’ve gotten married/partnered in the past few years, gay and straight, who’ve managed to remain great friends. We still see each other, we still text and call and make sure we celebrate birthdays. Basic stuff. It’s automatic and it’s understood.
There’s something unhealthy in relationships when contact with the past vanishes. It could arise from an abundance of different circumstances: insecurity in relationship dynamics, fear of exposing its weaknesses, the threat that the new spouse won’t approve of a friend he doesn’t know, the desire to advance your position in gay circles.
Then there’s the big one: The terror that if you don’t live under your spouse’s shadow he’ll leave. I’m sure there’s a myriad of other reasons termination exists, all of which elude the non-consulted dismissed, who’s forced to shrug his shoulders and guess. There’s that little thing of gathering up your courage and telling a friend, “Hey, by the way, this will be our last conversation because…”
It wouldn’t be fair to write this without mentioning that the ghosting can work both ways. Sometimes friends will leave when you’re in a relationship and they’re single. I spoke to a married woman recently who was devastated at the loss of a longtime friend who’d stopped contact after her own breakup. There isn’t a whole lot you can do in that situation except remind the friend that nothing has changed on your end. And that you miss them. But it’s all so frustrating that sometimes you just want to throw your pom-poms up in the air and skip the big game.
I remember a straight acquaintance who admitted she stopped contact with almost all of her girlfriends when she got married 20 years ago, and said that other girls did the same. She regrets it now, and has spent the last decade reaching out. As for me, I’ve given up trying to figure out what’s wrong with me when a coupled friend leaves, or how I can revive the relationship. That’s their mess. I do hope the new gay ghosters don’t also wait a decade for a reunion because this time it might be the rest of us who vanish, like a cold chill, into the darkness of night.
David Toussaint writes about subjects affecting older gay men. If you’ve got a “Daddy Issue,” let him know. --DRT