Ghosted? Try Putting the Relationship in “Park”
Say you had a good relationship with someone, but you grew distant over time. Or it might have been a new relationship, and you never got as close with this person as you wanted to be. You may have tried to rebuild and connect again, or may have held back from fear of rejection bouncing between wanting to reconnect and not knowing what to say or do left to pray and send thoughts and wishes to open a dialogue.
After a long period of silence, just when you had stopped thinking about it, something happened to bring this awkward relationship to the front again. You get your chance to work through the matter each rediscovering the hidden desire of “a better relationship.” Just when you feel your prayers have been answered and the matter finally seems settled, the other side of the relationship ghosts you.
At first, you think it must be a busy day or perhaps they’re dealing with a family emergency. You try again to reach out. They respond, but not in the same spirit as before. Your gut is telling you something’s up. You wonder and ponder some more. Think and re-think about where and what has broken down. You pull at your hair and even lose sleep.
Why? Because you care. You yearn for closure, and all you can think is “Why?” You don’t have a clue of what happened, and you remain unsettled. What do you do now?
Accept That Something Has Changed
When you’re ghosted, it’s almost never clear why. If you did something wrong, you deserve to know so you can fix it. However, you can’t read the person’s mind, so you have no idea what it will take to get things back on track. Being in this state of not-knowing is awful. The best way to stop suffering is to open up and have a discussion, but it takes two.
Put the Relationship in “Park”
People don’t always give you the chance to put all the cards on the table and try to make things right. It’s heartbreaking, and you grieve these relationships. It can feel as if this relationship has died or you are completely betrayed. But at some point, when you feel you’ve done your best, you have to find some kind of closure and move on. That doesn’t have to mean writing that person off. It means accepting that something has changed, and you may not find out why. You can be ready to jump back in when they’re ready to talk— until then stop punishing yourself with endless worrying and “put the relationship in park.”
Follow these steps to “park” the relationship and keep it safe until the other person is ready to open up:
1. Put Yourself In Their Shoes
First of all, there are two sides to every relationship: even your relationship with God. Try putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and be open-minded. You’ve probably already gone through every possible scenario in your mind, but try focusing on what has actually transpired between you. What was said and done that might be significant?
Consider that they may be wondering what happened too. You may not love this person the way they want to be loved (or talk to them or treat them in ways they appreciate). Maybe they feel upset, or offended, wondering “why does she do this?” Maintaining a relationship takes work, and you can’t do it all yourself. The other person may be processing on their own without telling you.
2. Examine Your Intentions
To stop the circle of thinking and rethinking, ask yourself two questions: “Have I had good intentions in handling this relationship?” “Can I look into the mirror and say to myself, ‘I have given it all in this relationship?’” Be honest!
If you answer yes to both questions then it’s time to accept reality and stop circling around the challenge on your own.
3. Reach Out One More Time, When It Feels Right
You can’t offer an explanation or apology if you don’t know what went wrong. While it can be unnerving to open yourself up to potentially hurtful feedback, opening the conversation is the only way to move forward. Prepare yourself by asking yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”
Sometimes what stops us is not knowing how to start the conversation, here’s an example to help get you started.
“Thank you for your friendship! Our connection is precious to me. Over the last several weeks I have not heard much from you, and you haven’t replied to my messages. I am worried that something happened to you. Health issue? Family issue? What is it? As time has gone by and I still have not heard from you and my gut is telling me that something happened between us. Perhaps something I have said or done caused you to re-think our friendship. I hope you will let me know the reason. Sharing might not change your feelings about our friendship but it would provide me an opportunity to explain and learn from it. I am ready whenever you are. Take care until we meet again.”
If you’re able to have a good conversation and get back on track, that’s great! But if not, you’ll have to continue the process of shifting into “park.”
4. Mindfully Shift Gears
Parking this relationship doesn’t mean you don’t care about this person. Rather the opposite: you care enough that you’re holding space for them. You’re giving the relationship time to resolve on its own. You’re giving both parties time to demonstrate good intent. There may be something happening at the other end that has nothing to do with you, but the circumstances are preventing them from communicating. As this gets resolved, you may hear from them again, or hear through the grapevine that they may need support. You can offer to help if needed, but if they’re still ghosting you, then you need to stay in “park.”
You can still send love and be grateful for the time you shared every day. I found this mantra helpful in these circumstances: “I am releasing you and our relationship to God. It is not up to me anymore. I am ready whenever you are.”
5. STOP Asking and Create Your Own Closure
When you park a relationship, give it time and space. Don’t check it every day, that’s not parking! Mark Manson has some great insights on closure and letting go: he writes, “relationships don’t end because two people did something wrong to each other. Relationships end because two people are something wrong for each other.” Park it, hang your keys somewhere, and do something else.
If you’re grieving or hurting, try to get those feelings out. Seek out the people who are willing to talk. Ask your wolfpack to have a discussion about times they have held back from sharing what they’re really feeling. Write about it in your journal. It’s not about what you write, it’s about letting emotions go.
Finally, recognize that “parking” isn’t the same as totally cutting someone off. You can reach out on special occasions like birthdays, celebrated moments, or gatherings that you’re both invited to attend. Allow yourself to grieve for the relationship, but remember the lesson from the story at the beginning: your relationship may be sick right now, but it’s not dead. You’ve done the work to keep it alive until the other person is ready to move into drive.
Get insights, tips, and techniques to build your relationships and resilience in Alice’s newsletter: Tang Talks.