Trigger warning: this feature discusses toxic diet culture and disordered eating.
In 2017, I ghosted a friend. A good friend. A friend for whom I'd put on a bridesmaid dress I hated, swallowed my nerves and traipsed ahead of down a very, very long aisle in 40 degree heat at her wedding.
Lucy* and I had been friends since school and had forged a clique of two based on our mutual struggles with our weight. While everyone else in our friendship group was donning bikinis during our girls holidays, we'd sit — cloaked in our T-shirts — under a shaded palm tree and talk about which bits of our bodies we didn't like and what diet we'd start when we got home.
We'd huddle together at lunch and talk through the calorie content of our school meals that day and, several nights a week, we'd stick together at the back of sweaty gym classes.
Her friendship made me feel less alone, less like someone on the peripheries of life watching on and offered me a sacred space in which to voice my most vulnerable thoughts. That was, until I changed my attitude to dieting and weight.
But there was much more to it than that. She was the only person that could make me snort tea out of my nose as I laughed uncontrollably, or who would come to the cinema to watch rom-coms that everyone else was too 'cool' to see. She
When I turned 26, after years of treating my body as a foe, I decided enough was enough and I went to see both a nutritionist and a therapist. It opened my eyes to the destructive behaviour I'd thought normal for so long and helped me to see the other options, and ways of thinking, available to me.
The only problem was, it left Lucy and I with little to talk about.
Reluctant at first to let the friendship go, I tried to gently shift its parameters. I made a concerted effort to talk about other aspects of my life, outside of food and dieting, and I tried to organise activities that didn't revolve around eating. It was hard. For me, it was a welcome shift, but for her, it felt like judgement and abandonment. I felt we struggled for things to talk about in our meetings and became more and more aware that I felt drained by our meetings.
'Just tell her what's going on for you,' my mum told me, when I broke down in tears during a shopping trip. 'She's your friend, she'll understand.'
But I didn't agree — I was sure she would feel betrayed by my change in attitude. So, I stopped texting her back.
It wasn't easy. Her texts became more frequent and frantic as she battled with the idea that I no longer wanted to talk. I felt sick each time her name popped up on my screen, and sicker still as she began to leave voice mails begging to know what she had done wrong. I didn't want to hurt her, but I'd gone too far, and I couldn't think of another solution.
That was four years ago, and though at the time it was the right thing for me, during lockdown I've had a lot of time to think. I've scrolled through her social media feeds, looking at pictures of her with her newborn son and reading captions about her new job and feel compelled to reach out and tell her how pleased I am for her, because I am.
When COVID-19 cases in the UK reached their peak last year, I found myself wanting to check that her and her family were OK. And I've started asking our mutual friends about how she is doing — 'really well' is always the answer that comes back.
I'm not the same person I was when we first became friends, but nor am I the same person I was when I ghosted her, and neither is she. And, the truth is, I miss her. I'd give our friendship another go, as two mature, healthy people, if she messaged me today.
We were young when our friendship formed, not yet able to advocate for our bodies or understand what was really good for us or not and, on reflection, I think it was just a naive friendship, rather than a toxic one. We weren't intentionally encouraging each other, we were just two young people looking for someone whose struggle felt similar to our own.
In fact, I think we could build a friendship afresh, as grown-ups, built on years of love and understanding, without getting bogged down in priorities it looks like we have both grown out of. Perhaps I'm being naive, but a reconciliation no longer fills me with dread.
The question is how do I go about? And, perhaps more crucially, is it even a good idea?
To get some answers, I sought the help of psychologist Dr Becky Spelman, of the Private Therapy Clinic.
'Years have gone by since you first ghosted your friend. It's good to recongise that you will both have had the opportunity to grow and change during that time, so it can be beneficial to reach out and see where this friend is now in her own life,' Becky tells me.
'Your friend may or may not have changed her views and rather than leaving it to uncertainty, by reaching out, it will answer the question of whether or not the friendship is retrievable.'
Of course my story is pretty specific, but I did also ask Becky what her take was on trying to rekindle a ghosted friendship that didn't have the same controversial issues at it's core.
'If you value the friendship and respect the person, you should try to get in touch so that you don’t suffer an unnecessary loss,' Becky says. 'If your friend doesn’t respond or doesn’t want to continue the friendship however, it’s a good idea to tell them how you feel about that decision, so they are aware of this and the chapter can be closed.'
She advises that you 'explain that you are disappointed that they have decided not to give you another chance' but ultimately need to respect their decision and 'wish them well'.
And, if you do decide to reach out, she has three pieces of advice to follow:
Accept responsibility – acknowledge it wasn’t acceptable behaviour and you understand how it made your friend feel.
Invite discussion – tell your friend that you’re open to discussing how it impacted them and how you value your friendship.
Look forward – as well as analysing what happened and why, it’s important to look to the future. If your friend wants to continue the friendship, outline what you’ve learned about yourself and explain why you won’t ghost them again in the future.
Beat is the UK's leading charity dedicated to helping people with disordered eating and eating disorders. If you or someone you know is struggling and want to seek help, call their helpline on 0808 801 0677 or visit their website for more details.
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