Losing friends like fingers: the pain of being ghosted


Losing friends like fingers: the pain of being ghosted

The film The Banshees of Inisherin, currently on Disney+, takes a look at the disturbing practice of cutting off all contact with someone. HERMAN LATEGAN reflects on a phenomenon which can border on tyrannical sadism.


ONE day his best friend ignores him. He is devastated.

They are old drinking buddies who often meet in a bar on a small island off the coast of Ireland. It is cold, it is green, there are sheep. A chilly wind blows over the thick, green grass and ghostly plains, the salty sea roars. Everyone knows each other.

In the movie The Banshees of Inisherin, Colin Farrell plays the character Pádraic and Brendan Gleeson that of his friend, Colm. One day, the older Colm decides not to talk to Pádraic. Pádraic did nothing to him. Colm is blunt — he simply doesn't like his friend anymore. He finds his bar talk boring.

Pádraic pleads with him, asks him what he did wrong. Colm wants to leave a legacy now that he is on his way to the grave. He is a violinist and wants to work on a piece that will live on after his death. His younger friend's boring conversation interferes with his creativity.

He is serious: if Pádraic dares to talk to him he will cut off a finger, a kiss of death for a violinist.

Pádraic pleads with his friend not to abandon him but the quarrel out of the blue has dramatic consequences. Pádraic does speak to Colm and the first finger is cut off. The younger man's mental health deteriorates and there are tragic consequences.


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The writer and his swans

The author Truman Capote was the darling of New York's social butterflies and wealthy women. Their husbands were tycoons and trusted them with the gay Capote, court jester, intellectual, raconteur and famous author of books such as Other Voices, Other Rooms, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood.

His entourage of beautiful women were known as “The Swans": thin necks, beautiful bodies, jewels, and elegant dresses and shoes. Among them were Lee Radziwill (the sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis) and Gloria Vanderbilt. They hung out at the most expensive places to eat, partied at Studio 54 and he was invited for lazy vacations on their ostentatious yachts.

The Swans shared their confidential problems with him: the secret affairs and the sexual peccadilloes. As befits any writer, Capote one day wrote a 13,000-word article for Esquire about his circle of friends.

A writer does not keep silent about what happens to him. What were they thinking? Everything is material for a book.

The article, “La Côte Basque” (named after a top restaurant in New York), appeared in November 1975. The idea was that he would write a roman à clef (a novel in which real people or events appear with invented names) about his confidants but that he would disguise them.


Unfortunately, he didn't veil them well enough. The day the magazine appeared, the phones in the posh penthouses of The Swans, from the Upper East Side to the Upper West Side, rang non-stop.

After that they ghosted him and never spoke to him again. He was taken off every social list, his support networks ripped from under his feet.

Capote had already abused cocaine, alcohol, tranquillisers and marijuana. After the rejection, he collapsed dramatically and his mental state and addictions got so out of hand that his liver collapsed.

He died a broken man just before his 60th birthday. His enemy, the sourpuss and conceited writer Gore Vidal, called it “a wise career move". Even in death he was crushed.

His book about his social life with The Swans, Answered Prayers, was never completed but parts of it were later published. About the title of the book he said: “More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones." Indeed.

Royals, politicians and other turncoats

Examples of ghosting are legion. It would appear that the geek with the cauliflower face, Prince William, ghosts his brother, Prince Harry. Yes, even in royal houses there are disturbances. Why people have an interest in this family is a sign of people's backwardness.

Two friends of mine who were close in college have not spoken to each other for almost 30 years. Plans to reconcile them are impossible. One of them won't tell me why she doesn't want to make peace, she just shakes her head.

A decades-long good friend, with whom I came a long way, cut off all contact with me after his retirement. He does not answer phone calls or emails. It is quite childish for an academic on his way to 70 to not even provide a reason.

The writer Karel Schoeman was known for his ghosting. One day he was your friend and the next he looked right through you. I once asked him if he still had contact with someone who did a rare TV interview with him. When I mentioned his name, he told me he had never heard of that person. Huh?

When I worked at a glossy magazine, there was a top journalist who displeased the editor. This journalist was completely ignored by her and she walked past her desk with her nose in the air. She  received no assignments for articles and was excluded during meetings. But this journalist didn't mind her at all. She sat at her desk staring straight ahead for three full months, until they offered her a package.


Then there was the time when I was employed by e.tv. Politicians can ghost you too. I remember this incident clearly.

The journalist Iman Rappetti covered a press conference for e.tv where then-president Thabo Mbeki was chit-chatting about something. Next to him sat the smug Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi and of course his barking and growling bullfrog, Essop Pahad.

Rappetti dared to ask a question about Mbeki's dishonest friend, Jackie Selebi. Pahad looked like his head was going to explode. He lashed out at her during a live broadcast and humiliated her, simply for doing her job.

Fraser-Moleketi laughed heartily, so did Mbeki. Obviously he did not answer the question and Rappetti and the public were therefore ghosted.

What to do?

The Guardian asks in an article why ghosting is considered acceptable? What if it is not only rude and buffoonish, but can also cause psychological damage? The article looks at the unpredictable world of online dating in particular.

A young man says people who court each other on apps feel like consumer goods to him. If you don't like the person, you are summarily and metaphorically thrown in the trash.

Men in particular are responsible for this. Women will often ignore you if they don't feel safe with you. Ghosting on dating apps is now so mainstream that the YouTuber Gustavo Victor Carr shows himself on Instagram drinking a cocktail in a restaurant and chatting animatedly with an empty chair.

Ghosting, writes The Guardian, diminishes our collective sense of humanity, the fact that we make mistakes, forgive each other and move on with grace. Experts describe the character traits of someone who can ghost you as bordering on psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism.

The latter are those who are guilty of cunning manipulation and high levels of self-interest, and they have a tendency to see other people as a means to an end. They are petty and lack empathy, with an unemotional view of the world; their primary interests are power and status, and they will do whatever is necessary to achieve their goals.

The Guardian provides a quote by Martin Luther King that is still relevant today: “In spite of these spectacular strides in science and technology, and still unlimited ones to come, something basic is missing. There is a sort of poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance.”

♦ This is not an academic article on ghosting and readers who are struggling to process rejection should please get professional help, because this phenomenon can activate many dark demons in you.

♦ VWB ♦

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