The Pain Behind Friend Breakups
Have you ever broken up with a friend, or been a part of a friendship that went up in flames or slowly faded away? Was that loss in some ways more painful than the ending of a romantic relationship?
Whether your bosom buddy moved far away and you two simply (and, if we’re being honest, lazily) lost touch, or if there was some terrible, heated falling out, a “friend breakup” is a difficult, but often times necessary, life experience.
Most people have endured the heartbreak associated with losing a close friend due to irreconcilable differences. In my own experiences (and yes, unfortunately, that is “experiences” plural), a friend breakup was more excruciating than breakups with old boyfriends, probably because the friendships I lost were with my best friends. I’ve always been so confused by the term “best friend,” especially when it’s applied to more than one person. The term itself implies that there should only be one, individual best friend. But I’m extremely lucky in that I do have more than one best friend — my best friends from home who I grew up with and who’ve always had my back (aka, my woes), the best friends I made in college who were there while I found (and lost and found) myself, and my husband, who opened my heart to an entirely new depth of love, friendship, and intimacy. Any time that I’ve lost one of my best female friends, I’ve been left feeling angry and crushed with guilt, what-ifs, and remorse. I believe this is because women are raised to believe that friendship should last forever, and they are often judged by their ability to make and keep friends over periods of time.
When a friendship ends, at least one of the people involved is left feeling bewildered, ashamed, mad, and hurt. It’s different from the ending of an intimate relationship, where most of us would turn to our closest friends for advice, comfort, and, most importantly, ice cream. But when we break up with a friend, or if we’re broken up with, we’re left feeling alone because the person who we would normally turn to in that type of situation can’t be there for us anymore.
According to Rosalind Wiseman, the author of “Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World,” the groundbreaking, best-selling book that was the basis for the movie Mean Girls, it usually takes a while to realize that the friendship in question is pernicious.
“Once you realize you’re in a toxic relationship, it’s not like you figure that out and then you immediately get the courage up to break up with them,” Wiseman said. “Most women — and men, by the way — are not awesome at communicating in a sane, thoughtful, and brave way when they’re angry. We dodge, we imply, we lose our courage, and we’re unclear.”
Over the years, I’ve parted ways with six people who I considered close friends, three of whom were my best friends. That’s my number, and I’m not proud of it. Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t all on them. I was at fault, too, in how I chose to handle things or approach those people about how I was feeling. But I’ve learned that they came and went in my life for specific reasons that I’m only recently beginning to understand, and I’m a better friend, wife, daughter, and woman now because of those experiences.
The important thing to remember when you’re breaking up with a friend, or being broken up with, is that this person is someone you love, even though you may hate them in the moment. A friend breakup should be handled gracefully and with respect. According to Wiseman, you should only say how you’re feeling in person; not over a text or phone call or dramatic Facebook status. You should be direct and honest, and handle it in person.
“Say what you don’t like, what you want to happen instead, own what you have done in the past that may have contributed to how the relationship has gotten weird, and then, if you need it, say you need some space,” Wiseman said.
As the saying goes, “you are who you surround yourself with.” You shouldn’t feel guilty about ending a friendship if it’s no longer beneficial or constructive, and the breakup shouldn’t negate the positive impact the relationship had on your life. You don’t have to be friends with someone for your entire life for it to have been meaningful. As long as you do the right thing and treat them with respect, it’s ok to do what’s best for you and remove them from your life. And remember, go easy on yourself post-breakup. Friend breakups are a difficult, but necessary, part of life. Outgrowing certain people can help you grow and develop into who you’re meant to be. Speaking from personal experiences, losing friendships, especially when that person was a best friend, will make you feel worse than any breakup with a romantic partner, but once the dust settles and you can see clearly, you’ll realize it was all for the best.
FEATURE PHOTO BY CODY MALDONADO, @cxdy_david