In a perfect world, no one would ever end a personal relationship by abruptly stopping all communication with no explanation—In other words, “ghosting.” However, sometimes life gets in the way, and we ghost.
What is unghosting?
Psychologist, professor, speaker, and author Marisa G. Franco, Ph.D., says that unghosting means reappearing in the life of someone you had previously ghosted. “It can be beneficial to unghost a friend because you might be able to give them the closure that they need to move on,” Dr. Franco explains. She adds that it can also make the ghosted feel better about themselves for having tried to correct an unethical act.
Even though the process of unghosting can feel awkward, it has the power to re-establish a friendship that ended needlessly. “It’s important to remember that people are often more open than we might think to the idea of us re-engaging with them, particularly if we’re willing to take accountability,” says Dr. Franco.
On the flip side, simply re-appearing doesn’t “entitle you to their understanding, their forgiveness, or their desire to restart the relationship,” as friendship expert Danielle Bayard Jackson explains.
How to unghost a former friend
Apologize and take accountability
No matter how distressing the reason for your ghosting may be or how much you’ve mourned the friendship, your ghosted ex-friend got the worst of it. Dr. Franco says the first step in unghosting is to apologize. According to Dr. Franco: “A good way to unghost might be to say, ‘Hey, I was thinking of you and how I hadn’t been responsive in the past. I’m so sorry. If you’re open to it, I’d love to share what happened. Thank you so much for considering.’”
If they are open to speaking, explain why you left. “Remember that no one is questioning the validity of whatever your reasons were,” says Jackson. “If it was a mental health issue, or you were caught up in financial distress, or you were burnt out at work, or it was an issue within the friendship that you didn’t know how to communicate at the time—all of that is valid, but it does need to be said.”
Be clear about why you’re unghosting
Once you explain why you disappeared, it’s best to be clear about why you are back so that your ghosted friend isn’t left with even more questions.
If you simply tell them that you were thinking of them and wanted to reconnect, they may wonder if you were motivated because you want something from them, or at a minimum they may be unclear about why you are trying to reconnect. Are you just apologizing, or do you want to start hanging out again?
Your explanation is not a justification or defense for your conduct but closure for the individual left hanging. Over-explaining can make it seem like you’re more interested in clearing your name than reconnecting or letting your friend move on. Jackson says, “you need to leave some space for them to feel whatever hurt or sadness or indignancy they feel.”
Dr. Franco advises against blaming your friend for being ghosted. Even if they played a role in the conflict, you chose to handle it indirectly, and no matter what your friend did, you should take responsibility for that decision and whatever hurt it caused.
Acknowledge that they may not want you back in their life
You can unghost an old buddy with respect, but you can’t control how the ghostee replies. Dr. Franco says there are consequences for behaving badly toward friends. Even the most honest explanation for unghosting may not bring a buddy back, she says.
They may not react to your message or decline your request to reconnect because they’re still angry, unhappy, or don’t care. In all of these situations, respect their decision, says Dr. Franco. A friendship only works if both parties are invested, as they know.