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Asking Eric: How do I get over the guilt of ghosting a friend?

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Dear Eric: I did a bad thing — I ghosted a friend. The friendship made me uncomfortable. I thought he had romantic feelings for me, or maybe he just wanted more from the relationship than I did.

Since I had moved to a different city, I became very slow to respond to texts/calls and basically stopped. Then the pandemic hit and he reached out to see if I was okay, and still I did not respond. This was cruel. I think about it regularly and have spent therapy dollars talking about it, and still I have done nothing.

I hurt someone who cared about me, and I want to apologize for that, but I don’t want to open the door to a relationship. Can you help?

Friend: You may have ghosted but you’re the one being haunted. The way to exorcize your guilt is to own up to your part and see if there’s a way to make amends. That being said, it’s important to listen to your initial discomfort.

You’re not obligated to put yourself in a position that could harm you as recompense for an unkind act. So proceed with caution here — make a script with your therapist and figure out what your goals actually are. You don’t want to reestablish a connection; you just want to clear the air.

Consider a letter instead of a phone call or text. I think you’re holding yourself to a stricter standard than you need to and are causing yourself misery.

Friendships ebb and flow all the time. Sometimes the hardest part is acknowledging that a connection has changed or doesn’t feel right anymore. I asked Anna Goldfarb, author of “Modern Friendship: How to Nurture Our Most Valued Connections” and the Substack newsletter Friendship Explained, for a helpful script:

“I like the ‘gracious, direct, and warm’ method when declining invitations,” Goldfarb said. “‘Thank you for reaching out, Becky (gracious), but I’m not available to get together for lunch this week (direct). Have a great day! (warm).’ Repeat as necessary.”

By the way, when talking about your situation with Goldfarb, she had a different read than I did; it’s worth considering:

“Studies show social rejection hurts as much as physical pain, so you feel like you’ve harmed him and are racked with guilt. But I’m not convinced an apology is in order. We are not morally obligated to respond to sporadic unsolicited messages from acquaintances who live in other cities. That’s the risk this friend took in texting you out of the blue; you may not respond. Them’s the breaks!”

What you want to focus on is your emotional health and well-being. Sometimes we don’t get it right when communicating with other people. We can always apologize and try to do better, but you don’t have to torture yourself with what you imagine is your former friend’s emotional state.

Dear Eric: I have an extremely close friend who lives in “parking challenged” Los Angeles and uses a handicap parking sticker for pure convenience.

He was initially issued this permit more than 10 years ago from his orthopedic surgeon, when he had hip replacement surgery. The permit is automatically reissued to him without the necessity of proving its continued need. He hasn’t done anything to dispel this, but I find this distasteful and makes me think less of him. I am a physician, and in my state (Illinois), issuing handicap permits is highly regulated. Should I confront him on this?

Sticker: You should speak up for the sake of your friendship. This is going to keep festering. You may be wondering if there are other areas where you and your friend see morality differently and what that might mean. This doesn’t have to sever your friendship, but keeping your thoughts inside will only magnify them.

Now, your friend may actually have a reason for continuing to need the permit, which you may not know about. He’s not required to disclose his medical status to you and you shouldn’t press, but be open to the possibility that it’s not just for pure convenience. None of us should ever judge someone for using a handicap permit just because they don’t “look” disabled.

However, if it is for convenience, he may see this as a victimless offense, which isn’t technically true. If he’s in the last handicap-designated space, where does a person with mobility issues park? You don’t have to get into a political debate with your friend. Some might argue that all this is the city of Los Angeles’s fault for not properly regulating their parking stickers.

Okay, fine. That’s neither here nor there in your friendship. We owe it to our friends, and to society, to “call them in” when we see them doing something that might be harmful to themselves or others.

(Send questions to R. Eric Thomas at eric@askingeric.com or P.O. Box 22474, Philadelphia, PA 19110. Follow him on Instagram and sign up for his weekly newsletter at rericthomas.com.)

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