Content Warning: Mentions of Homophobia
“Message Not Sent – This person isn’t receiving messages at this time.”
When I saw this notification on Facebook Messenger, I realised my relationship with ‘gym buddy’ and his classmate had clearly come to the end. I’d been deleted by both of them quietly after texting about how happy I was for receiving a job offer a couple of minutes ago. I did take some initial deep breaths, yet somehow I felt surprisingly numb about it. Such deadpan emotion is learnt only by taking a few steps of self-introspection, which I would like to share with my beloved readers who have been ghosted by someone before (or are yet to be).
Firstly, I realised that my over-enthusiasm towards our friendship had clouded my judgement and affected my behaviour poorly. This would certainly be the major reason for their gentle click on ‘Delete Contact’. I could guess their private chatter:
“That Chinese gay is mental! Can’t he just respect my peaceful summer holiday at home without checking texts and calls from anyone else in the school? Ten essay-like messages in the last three months, Geeez!”
“Yeah, clearly he can’t ever get over it that you already have a girlfriend! Better to just delete him than ignore, cos I don’t think he understands privacy.”
Hear, hear! I’ll admit that my naive actions have caused irreversible damages. And I’m sorry for that. But frankly I don’t think we shared the values to build a strong friendship in the first place. I am a moderate American liberal and an atheist gay man, born and raised under a conservative culture on sexuality in China – and he’s a deeply religious Catholic boy who had never heard of the word ‘condom.’ He is proud of being a model believer and a patriot, and I consistently fail to sustain friendships with people I used to have a crush on. Plus, I would never consider myself as a patriot anymore. Maybe I was just pretending to read the Bible so I could go to church with him more often. Or maybe he didn’t mean it when he said: “We don’t discriminate”, while never agreeing to introduce any of his friends to me because “I like to hang out with different friends privately like this, and I don’t think they are gay.” What a blind fool I was.
However, pure finger-pointing in this valuable magazine is simply childish and worthless. Which leads to my second line of thinking: is deleting people on social media simply a convenient guilt-free act? I am not here to lecture anyone in ANU’s ‘Morality 1001’ class, because I delete people as well – one-time met strangers, spamming sellers as well as angry nationalists – so that I can have a neat and productive social network. I don’t normally delete friends or old connections, but there’s one exception: years ago, I ghosted my gay buddy from high school, because he used to advertise his ultimate pleasure and experience of bareback sex, and I’d thought he wasn’t taking any responsibility for himself or others. So I deleted his WeChat and quit our mutual group chats quietly. I always felt like I did the right thing and ignored the damage I caused to him. Somehow, I’d felt morally superior to him as a rational and mature gay man and I had voiced less hatred towards groups who held contradicting opinions with me than he had. I am a moderate person with a progressive, open mind, and I’m proud of it (just like that model believer). But was I? And am I? Coincidentally, I began to reflect on my potential hypocrisy when this high school buddy sent me a friend request on Facebook the very night before the ‘Sorry Not Sorry You’re Deleted on Facebook’ incident on the part of gym buddy. After long hesitation, I texted this ex-friend on Messenger to ask if he had meant to click and didn’t by random accident:
“…If it’s yes, as much as I believe in a second chance on both of us, I still think we need to talk about what happened before.”
We had a difficult conversation that night, but at last I chose to continue our friendship. He also texted: “Let’s have a new start” with sincere kindness. Then the next day, my late Karma arrived in the most satirical way. After what happened, I picked up the phone and messaged him with the screenshot of how I was deleted: “I can absolutely understand how much I hurt you before right now. I just want to tell you a very late sorry. Hope you can forgive me.” He replied: “It’s okay, all history now.” and
sent me a hugging gif. During that last 24 hours, I’d had the privilege to mend old wounds, have a good job offer, and then briefly felt abandoned, and spent some time of introspection on my social skills. It was suffering, exciting, and also extremely valuable.
So what have I learnt from this exclusive roller-coaster life lesson, before I close this chapter and move on for good?
One: Being deleted by two friends without any explanation is tough, but life goes on. I will find much better, new friends and become a better person. And so will you.
Two: Under my definition, ‘friends’ are people who share mutual interests, who care about what they think of one another because there’s mutual trust and support. If this isn’t the case, such a relationship is less valuable than one with a stranger. Noticing some small details could really help your identification process.
Three: The social network is not a dating/hookup app where you can unmatch people when you suddenly lose interest. Ghosting people comes with severe consequences on both sides, one way or another. Things can get salty when these duo still interact in one community, but the ghostees always suffer the most. So whether you’re a socialist, feminist, vegan, Muslim, or Christian – if you really have to delete a friend someday, then I would at least write a text like this:
“It has been a great pleasure to hang out with you, but I don’t think we can be friends any longer because xx…, it’s for our mutual best interest to have a decent goodbye. God has taught us to love everyone equally, for people were born equal and deserve equity, not because the Bible said so. I wish we will live in a world where all are respected rather than ghosted. You can delete my contact before midnight tomorrow if you want. Farewell my friend, never stop learning and best of luck!”