Romantic breakups… they suck. Socially, we are better prepared to cope with the loss of a lover. When we lose a friend, particularly a close friendship, that sting of a friendship breakup is especially potent and lingering.
What do you do when a friendship breakup goes without warning?
In addition to losing the friend, chances are there are mutual friends, too. Maneuvering through the painful emotions of the loss of the friend is particularly tricky, in this case. Navigate wrong and you may also lose friends who feel (intentionally or accidentally) pressured to choose allegiances. Your circle of support may end up even smaller. Having been caught in the middle of a friendship breakup, it’s painful and awkward as hell to be in the mutual circle.
“Female friendships can make us feel healthier, happier, less stressed and feel more beautiful,” according to extensive research collected by founder of Girlfriendology, Debba Hauper. It’s no surprise, then, that you can feel especially isolated at the loss of a close friendship.
When I experienced a particularly distressing loss of a romantic relationship I had a friend’s shoulder I could cry on. The same shoulder I leaned on when I unexpectedly lost my father. This woman was also by my side through a betrayal by a partner which sent my entire world on its axis. So when our friendship was threatened, and abruptly ended in quite a volatile and fast fashion, the loss was… palpable.
The person I would’ve normally gone to and talked with about my sadness was gone.
To a point, yes, I faulted her for the demise of the friendship. I was heartbroken. More so, even, than I was the romantic relationship whose breakup she nursed me through. I was angry because logically the situation was so absurd. To me. I didn’t “deserve” the fault and blame coming at me. By my perspective. I never had the opportunity to learn from her what her perspective was. But I was out of my mind with grief.
A friendship goes two ways and you can’t control the agency and filter by which another person views the world any more than you can change patterns of behavior of a person other than yours. You are allowed to feel hurt and mourn that loss. But be cautious with how you act out in your pain. Your pain is not an excuse to act out in a bad way.
I also knew then, as I do now, at the time of the fracture between us, she was responding to a perceived threat to her safety and wellbeing in the best way she knew how with the coping strategies that have served her to that point in her life. I responded in the way I needed to advocate for myself, knowing full well the potential for the fallout that occurred. Knowing what my hard line and boundary was and what action I was obliged to take even knowing what the reaction would be.
I typically am of the choose to be in the relationship over righteousness mentality. In this particular instance, whereas previously I could let go of issues that arose and gave her the space to be “right,” in this case I could not. How I wished I could…. If in the midst of a conflict with your friend, consider what is more important?
Gut checking my responses and actions, I tread as carefully as I could. But, it wasn’t all about me. This was something she was very much experiencing and participating in, as well. There was a pattern of behavior I previously witnessed, and now I was experiencing. While my heart was breaking I also knew there was a particular pathology going on that wasn’t about me. That awareness did not make my pain any less but was valuable for me to begin to process the loss.
I’ve since come to terms with and moved beyond the end of the friendship. Weathered awkward (and at times downright rude) greetings and path crossings. From a distance watched her life evolve and be blessed with joys she was worried would elude her. Silently celebrated the wins I would hear about in her life, and on several occassions debated if sending congratulations and well wishes would be welcomed. Ultimately, I chose silence.
We even evolved to civil and “safe” conversations about work and life. But we are at the point in our lives, now. I have no interest in trying to rebuild the friendship. Based on what I see, there is no interest on her part, too. And that’s ok. From afar, I wish her so much happiness and well being. We had a beautiful friendship and she was a damn good friend to me when we were friends.
I owned my role, but I can’t – and nor should you – take ownership for the work another person needs to do or the actions another person chooses to make. Because it isn’t always about you. It’s entirely possible, during a friendship breakup, especially if it’s messy, your friend is feeling intense pain, too. And could be operating from a place of pain.
What you can do in these moments is respond in a way that is healthy and authentic for yourself. Own what is yours to own and do not take on what is not yours to claim.
Some strategies I employed to help me cope with the breakup
After what I thought was a reasonable, although recent, cooling off period I sent an email requesting for us to talk about the outburst. She declined. I accepted her experience and wishes as I accepted the finality of her choice. Closure is really more of a concept than an outcome. Let it be. If your friend doesn’t want to talk it out or try to reconcile, honor her experience and her preference. It’s not all about you.
Practice kindness and compassion to myself. I reflected on what were lessons I could take from this? In the end, after a lot of self reflection and honest – safe – dialogue with people who knew my tendencies and character faults, I realized I would have acted the same if given a chance for a do over. I put energy into my other friendships, my voluntarism, my PhD work, snuggles with Edie… I put my energy and focus into all of the positive and awesome things I have and have going on in my life. Dogs make pretty much any sad scenario brighter and lighter. Don’t have a dog? Volunteer at a local shelter. They nearly always need people to walk and play with the pups. Not a dog person? Shelters have kitties, too.
Create space. For me this meant unfriending on social media. It seems dramatic and harsh but I needed to focus on my healing. That meant giving myself as much space emotionally and not seeing mutual friends’ tags and updates on her life. Seeing the reminders of ways in which I was no longer part of her life hurt me. Unfriending was not an act of passive aggression or punishment. I knew our friendship was over in the real world so ending it in Facebook, to me, was a natural progression and step.
I cried and wrote about it in my journal. The loss hurt because that emotional investment in the deep intimacy of our friendship was something worth losing. I wrote out things I wanted to say to her – but if you do this, please do not send those letters! Like Dr. Seuss wrote, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” But if you need to cry and you want to cry, cry. Then smile. Even though it’s gone, you had something beautiful. And probably have others, and you will have more beautiful babelicious friendships.
Okay, I could have been less petty. Even when I tried to own my emotions, if she came up in conversation, there were times I didn’t filter as well as I should have. And, wow, that created some awkward. Guess who looked like the petty, emotional fool? And, also, I wish I honored the past friendship and my former friend more. There are times when even if you’re not trying to be, petty can come out with realizing it. So watch yourself.
My mom repeatedly told me as I was growing up a person’s perspective is their reality.
Never is that more observable when coping with conflict. Be as loving as you can be, to your friend and to you. Because, ultimately, you will serve your own experience best by acting with love.