Sorry I ghosted you: an Autism relationship tale

This post doubles as an apology. One I feel I need to offer after researching ‘ghosting’ and its effects on the person left behind. In my case, I’m referring to the people in the various friendships that were, at the time, typically thriving. And still, that didn’t stop me ghosting you.

I’m sure it didn’t (and perhaps still doesn’t) make any sense, but ignoring your texts and calls, avoiding you at all costs, dropping off the face of the planet and bunkering down in the safety of my house, was all I could do.

I had to keep up appearances, you see. With family members, at work. And the energy spent masking in those environments meant I had nothing left to give to you.

Telling you how I felt wasn’t an option either – if I didn’t understand what was happening (that I was in fact an undiagnosed Autistic person), how could I explain it to you?

I did feel shame, however. Deep, gut-twisting shame that I was – to the outside world at least – taking the coward’s way out.

As psychologist Kelsey M. Latimer puts it: People who are more likely to ghost tend to have personality and behaviour traits that are avoidant, manipulative, and self-centred. This from a health professional who, according to her website, can provide full psychosocial-educational assessments (including gifted, specific learning disability, and autism assessments). Geez. Where do I sign up!

I have also read of other health professionals who consider ghosting a passive-aggressive form of emotional abuse, and a type of silent treatment that borders on emotional cruelty.

For me, I now know, I wasn’t being manipulative or self-centred, although at the time I was definitely thinking more about myself than you.

Instead, my sudden retreat from our friendship felt like survival – my Autistic brain screaming at me to reduce the amount of activity in my life and, consequently, the number of people.

It was necessity, not personal, even though it may have been confusing and hurtful and left you questioning everything about the friendship we had and the person you thought I was. Take meagre comfort that you weren’t the first (of course, someone was), nor, unfortunately, will you likely be the last.

Social media, I have been reminded of recently as I (uncomfortably) find ways to share this blog, doesn’t make things any easier. For me, it seems all forms of socialising are an effort. Every phone call, each text exchange, the posts I now make on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

I don’t have to physically see you for it to drain me. Exposure to sensations, actual or virtual, fatigues me in every possible way – mentally, emotionally, and physically – and is why I’m far more at ease staring into the white spaces of my computer screen, writing this (largely) one-way blog.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy socialising. I just prefer things one on one or in small groups, and, after I’ve seen you, I need plenty of alone time to feel centred again.

These days, as I struggle to overcome the utter exhaustion caused by Autistic burnout (a consequence of all the years spent trying to ‘fit in’) alone time – time to recover, for that’s what it truly is, recovery – is what I crave more than anything else.

When I was younger, unless I was at home with my parents or sister, or with a very few, select friends, I wouldn’t speak, not ever. Gradually though, teaching changed me – an odd vocation for someone who didn’t like to talk, I know.

Eventually, I started telling people I was a ‘chatty introvert’ – a description I held on to until discovering, just last year, the real explanation for the way that I feel.

I am still an introvert in every sense, and am overwhelmed by social anxiety in many situations, especially in large groups, when I’m with people I don’t know or don’t know well, or whenever I’m required to make small talk. But what I mistook for chattiness (and my habit of interrupting you) is actually verbal processing – my primary way of interacting with the world.

If you are someone I was once friends with and I disappeared from your life suddenly and without explanation, I sincerely hope this post helps you understand the reasons. It’s like my mind was willing but the flesh was weak. Or perhaps it’s the other way round.

Either way, nothing I’ve written is any sort of excuse. And I am truly sorry if I confused and hurt you. But none of it, not even this apology, means my ghosting days are behind me. That’s because I’m a bit like the groundhog, hiding in its den, needing to be coaxed out like it’s Groundhog Day. It’s warm here, and I’m comfortable, and if I do see my shadow and don’t like the look of it, you can guarantee I’ll scurry back inside, without hesitation, for several more weeks of winter.

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  1. Thanks for this, I feel less alone about having ghosted some people (I have been ghosted too, but I feel bad about having done it to anyone – like you, I never meant to do it. And I didn’t know I am Autistic until recently)

    • Glad it helped a little, Sarah. It definitely isn’t something an Autistic person can help doing, and knowing you’re Autistic can go some way towards providing an explanation for yourself, and for others. Take care, Glenn

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