I’ve been secretly struggling with something during the pandemic…I’ve been going through a friend breakup. If you’ve ever lost a friendship over the years you know how painful it can be. It can happen for big or small reasons, to short or long term relationships. But when it does happen, it almost feels like a death. It can actually be harder than a romantic breakup because in our society no one ever talks about friend breakups and it feels weird to say you’re even sad about it! There aren’t really movies about friend breakups, a ton of articles on “how to get over your ex friend”, or mainstream coping tactics like bingeing ice cream or going out on the town with the girls to get over it.
Breaking Up With Friends
Have You Ever Had a Friendship Breakup?
When my friend Helena shared the article, “Have You Ever Had a Friendship Breakup?” from A Cup of Jo, I felt a huge sense of relief. Finally someone was talking about what I had been privately grieving all year. The article is beautifully written and talks about both sides to a friend breakup…from being ghosted, to doing the actual ghosting, and just even having a falling out – it’s shitty either way. I’ve been on both ends, and it can be incredibly painful and confusing.
At least with a romantic breakup, you pretty much know what you both did wrong. You have a big argument or you just realize you’re not compatible, you talk about it, and then you part ways. There’s more closure you know? But for some reason, with a friend breakup there never really is. It’s not like you say to your friend after years of friendship, “I think you’re selfish and resentful, but let’s try and work it out and still be friends…” No, lol. Obviously that’s an exaggerated example of something you’d actually say. But what I mean is, it’s very uncommon for women to confront other women about what’s bothering them. And when they do, in my experience, it has resulted in the end of the friendship.
In a romantic relationship, there’s a different element where people are willing to change, take advice/feedback, morph…but in a friendship, that element isn’t really there. It’s more black and white if that makes sense?
I felt like I needed to give a little more personal background on the friend break up scenario I’ve been going through. I know that when people have shared their own stories about this, it’s really helped me cope, so here goes…
The one I’ve been grieving and trying to process this past year was one of my oldest friends.
We had known each other for 20+ years. We had lost touch a bit over those years because we went to different schools and lived across the country from one another. But we always managed to check in periodically. We grew closer later in life when she got engaged because she wanted me to be a part of all of the wedding excitement and events. It was wonderful to spend so much time together during that year. But after that, we went back to our normal periodic check ins. As time went on, she became extremely unhappy at her job and always seemed down when I’d ask about it. I would try to share something positive or exciting about my own job. But she could never listen to it and would make an excuse to get off the phone or change the subject right away.
Over time, her resentment toward me became unbearable and extremely hurtful.
I tried to brush it off. But ultimately, we got to a place where we just had nothing in common anymore. And our calls or get togethers felt like obligations. We never laughed or had fun together…we were just stuck in the past, talking about people we knew 20 years ago. The last straw for me was when I confided in her about something really upsetting that happened. She was one of the only people I told because she had known me the longest/and knew the context of the situation. After I poured my heart out to her, I thought I’d hear from her about it, via a supportive call or a text, or just a “How are you holding up?” but nothing came and weeks went by with no contact.
I was devastated and embarassed that I had opened up to her. After that, I finally saw the writing on the wall. We were holding on to the past, but nothing else was holding us together. I never felt good after talking or hanging out with her. And if I could never share good news about my job or lean on her during hard times, what was the point of this so-called friendship? Months later, I did confront her about my hurt feelings after she asked where I had been. Unfortunately she got extremely defensive and tried to deflect. I had zero energy or desire left in me to salvage something that wasn’t working in the first place, so I let it be.
Today, I feel a huge sense of relief without her in my life.
I no longer have to live in the past and I no longer have to hide my happiness or joy to make her feel better. The best part is, that all of the energy and time I spent on that relationship has been put into so many other people and areas of my life that have blossomed during this time. Although I feel relief and have strengthened relationships around me, just the loss of someone who has been in your life (whether they were super supportive or not) is hard to wrap your head around. It’s still a shock to the system when anything like this happens. And it takes time to fully move on from.
Lack of Closure
I think the overall lack of closure that comes at the end of a friendship is what’s so hard. If you’re the one being ghosted, you’re usually clueless as to what you did wrong, and become hurt, confused, embarassed and/or upset. If you’re doing the ghosting you can feel guilty and ashamed for leaving them in the dark, but may not know what to say, and no longer have a desire to continue the friendship – even if the person changes. Even if there’s no ghosting involved, but there’s confrontation or an argument, it can often feel like there was so much left unsaid with a friend breakup.
A few of you were DM’ing me asking how to approach these tricky scenarios. And to be quite honest, I’m really not sure. Every case is SO different and complex. Which is why, in the past, I liked to talk about them with my therapist before making a hasty decision I may regret. What ultimately has helped me is…
The best advice I can give you is this. Life is SO short and you need to focus on what makes YOU happy. If a friend no longer makes you happy, and repeatedly drains you, brings you down, puts you down, shows jealousy, resentment, or anything that makes you feel BAD, then it’s probably time to say goodbye. You don’t have to say goodbye forever though! Many friendships can grow, evolve and change. Be open to that and know that is perfectly normal. I’ve had friends who I’ve naturally drifted a part from for no reason other than we lived far away. And then we came back together years later like no time had passed.
I’ve also had friends who I just couldn’t relate to anymore so we lost touch. But years later found ourselves in similar situations and reconnected. I’ve also had friends who had been continually toxic for years and years. And who I knew deep down would never change. I made a pact with myself that I’d never let them or their bad energy in my life again. Sometimes people come into your life for a reason, but they’re not meant to be there forever. Cherish the good times you had, and let anything negative fall away. Every single situation and friendship will be different. But whatever your circumstances are, remember to trust your gut instinct.
If you don’t know how to tap into that instinct, ask yourself, “Does this friend make me feel good about myself when I’m with them or talking to them? Can I be my 100% genuine self with them?” The answer to those questions will be very telling.
Just know that it’s OK to outgrow a friend. It’s OK to put yourself first. It’s OK to pull away from someone that makes you feel bad about yourself. And it’s normal to feel guilty or ashamed around a friendship breakup because it’s HARD! It’s uncomfortable, sad, painful – regardless of which side you’re on. Do all the self care things to process and move on from it. Go to therapy if you think it will help you. Open up to your other girlfriends about it (they may be struggling and embarassed to say they are too!) And most importantly, give yourself time and space to heal.
I’ll end with this quote (source unknown); “The people who are meant to be in your life will always gravitate back towards you, no matter how far they wander.” If a friend is meant to be in your life they will, if not, let them go.