Mind the gap

Cosmo Landesman debates with Róisín Lanigan

Róisín: When is it time to ghost a friend? To cull them? When does a sin of friendship stop being pedestrian – not texting back quickly enough, failing to split the Uber, not telling you (or telling you too harshly) when an outfit is objectively shit – and become cardinal in nature? For Rebekah Vardy, that point came when Coleen Rooney unfollowed her on Instagram. In court transcripts of the “Wagatha Christie” trial currently rumbling through the High Courts, Vardy texted her agent: “OMG, what a cunt,” over this transgression, which she said constituted “falling out behaviour”. For Rooney, the point presumably came when she discovered Vardy might have been selling stories about her to tabloid newspapers. Whether Vardy did or didn’t, the friendship is clearly severed beyond repair.

If it’s not already clear, I’ve been unashamedly obsessed with the Wagatha Christie trial (I love gossip!). And it’s made me ruminate on the right time to cull your friendship group. When I think of the people I’ve stopped talking to through the years, the reasons are less explosive than Becky and Coleen’s: they moved away, I moved away, repeat ad nauseum. The reasons usually come down to ennui actually – there’s nothing worse than listening to someone drone on about house prices, credit scores or promotions to make you realise it’s simply too boring to be friends with them anymore.

Oftentimes I’ve found this happens with male friends more than female friends (it will not shock you to hear, Cosmo, that I think men are worse). There’s an expectation, an unfair and sexist one I would say (shock again, Cosmo!) that women, being naturally more nurturing and socially attuned, will continue to cultivate friendships where men won’t. In mixed-gender friendships this assumption has often meant that texting, socialising and birthday cards are one-sided until I get petty and annoyed and simply halt communication. Mature, right?

While my finished friendships may have ended in rather pedestrian ways, that’s not to say the ex-friends didn’t do awful things (although none of them, as far as I’m aware, have tried to make a few bob by leaking my gossip to The Sun). Some of them were and are excessively rude. Maybe they were serial cheaters. Some of them probably voted Brexit, although they had the sense not to tell me about it because then they’d have had to listen to me drone on about my own views. I ignored all of these things when we were friends, and perhaps that’s the wrong thing to do. It’s embarrassing to admit I give people excessive leeway, if I consider them friends, to treat me and themselves and others badly, until we eventually fall out of touch in a pseudo-natural way.

Perhaps this is amorality (Cosmo, I feel you have more expertise in that area than I do, so please advise.) But I actually think it’s just a hatred of confrontation. Perhaps that’s why I love the Wagatha Christie trial so much. It’s entertaining to watch other people call their friends and ex-friends out for bad behaviour because, despite what lifestyle magazines might tell all young women – Cut all toxicity! Embrace positivity! – I simply can’t do it myself. I’m bad at friendship culling. I’d much rather be quietly judgemental and gossip behind their backs. Somehow, Cosmo, I imagine you don’t feel quite the same, even if I do sincerely hope you gossip about me behind my back to everyone you know.

Cosmo: Róisin, I wonder if your generation is less friend-friendly than mine? You lot have friends, but what you really crave are “followers” on social media. (Is that unfair?) Maybe we’re all less friend-friendly these days – I mean, who has time for friends anyway? Actually, I have loads of time for my friends – all three of them.

And Róisín you’re the ghosting generation. I don’t mind being dumped, but I hate being ghosted. In the past eight months, six friends have disappeared from my life without an explanation. They don’t return my calls or texts and never bother to get in touch.

When I complain about being ghosted people tell me I’m being “paranoid”, “over-sensitive” and “needy.” One friend tells me, “People are just busy… it’s nothing personal.”

Oh yeah? Presumably, they see other people and return their calls but not mine – what do you call that? (Smart move, right Róisin?) The truth is, we make time for the people we really want to see – the others we let drift or drown.

In the pre-digital age when a friendship was finished you both knew the reason; they’d behaved badly or you had behaved badly. Now you’re instantly deleted – or ghosted – from someone’s life without an explanation. This leaves me totally perplexed. Was it something I said? Was it something I didn’t say? Have I become a bore?

There’s only one thing worse than being ghosted – when you’ve ghosted someone and they haven’t even noticed! How rude is that?

So why end a friendship? You make a distinction between small transgressions – like not texting back sooner or being honest about an outfit you’re wearing – and big ones like political opinions or being seriously boring.

I think you’ve got it the wrong way around; I say don’t sweat the big stuff. It’s the small misdemeanours that really matter. True friendship is expressed in small acts of tact and consideration. It’s these unexpected and thoughtful acts that count and not the grand heroics that come in the wake of a crisis.

I don’t need friends to “be there” for me in an emergency – I can dial 191 for that – no, I need friends to return my fucking phone calls, to turn up on time for lunch and not send me a text saying, “So sorry! Am running an hour late. I’m such a flake! xx”. No you’re not a flake – you’re a narcissistic, self-absorbed, crappy friend! Me, I keep the rules of friendship simple: just return my calls and answer my texts within 48-hours or fuck off and DIE!
Phew. Sorry about that… where was I?

I’ve had friends who have lied to me, bored me, gossiped behind my back and we’re still close. What I hate is rudeness or indifference. When a friend told me she had forgotten we were meeting I ended the friendship.

You’re right, most friendships just end naturally. A sign that it’s over is when you arrange to have that “catch-up” lunch or coffee because you feel guilty for not seeing a certain old friend in a while.

The reason you haven’t seen them is that secretly you don’t really want to. You’ve known each since you were five years old or you were at uni together – but you don’t have much to say anymore. You don’t want to see them, you don’t want to dump them – so you have a quick “catch-up” lunch or dinner once a year. I say: better to pull the plug on the friendship that let it carry on in a vegetative state.

I know you hate confrontation Róisín, but if you’re going to ghost me then man up and let me know the reason why! OK?

Róisín: Look, I know I’m not in a position to be giving out friend advice. As previously outlined, I am a hypocrite. I love gossip and drama but I hate confrontation and conflict resolution and you’re right, as a member of the ghosting generation I would always always prefer to be ghosted or blocked or unceremoniously removed from the group chat rather than dumped in the traditional sense. Hear in detail all the things about me you don’t like? No thank you. I’d rather invent reasons for that in my own head that are inevitably worse than anything you could come up with. 
Having said that, if I can give you one piece of advice to take away from our friendly exchanges it’s this: followers are not your friends. And for all the fire emojis and retweets, nobody would crave more followers over more actual, real-life friendships. Actually, two pieces of advice: maybe get over the small misdemeanours of friendship. They’re annoying but they do, at least, constitute good bitchy gossip for you and your other friends.

Cosmo: Róisin, thank you for your friendly advice on friends: now take it and shove… only kidding!

Look, you’re wrong to think I dislike you because of your love of gossip, drama and your fear and hatred of confrontation – pluck, pluck, you big chicken! I love that stuff too.  And by the way there’s nothing about you I don’t like! My love is unconditional – my friendship, on the other hand, is fickle.

Being “unceremoniously removed from a group chat” wouldn’t bother me as I don’t belong to a chat group. It’s being unceremoniously removed from a life that I hate. And I agree followers are not friends – but people seem to crave the same approval from both groups.

I don’t follow anyone on social media. And I have never tweeted in my life – although I hear through my helpful friends all the nasty things people tweet about me!  But hey, what are friends for?

Journalist Cosmo Landesman believes that journalists should not bore readers with lists of publications they’ve written for or books they’ve published

Róisín Lanigan is a writer and editor based in Belfast and London


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