How to Deal During a Friendship Breakup

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. 

friendship breakup

Image credit Evan Kirby @EvanKirby2

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. 

friendship breakup

Image credit Evan Kirby @EvanKirby2

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. 

friendship breakup

Image credit Evan Kirby @EvanKirby2

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. 

XO, Jennifer

friendship breakup

 

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Choosing Courage to Ride the Wave of Vulnerability

“Rather than deny our vulnerability, we lean into both the beauty and agony of our shared humanity. Choosing courage does not mean that we’re unafraid, it means that we are brave enough to love despite the fear and uncertainty.” ~Brene Brown

Years ago, a man I was dating could sense I was holding back and my block was preventing us from moving forward. He said to me, “you know, it’s okay for you to be vulnerable.” You would think Thor directed a lightening bolt at our clasped hands because I bolted. Tucked my tail and ran like a terrified puppy. By the mere thought of sharing with him my battered heart and letting him see my pain. Mind you, I literally did make a quick exit, and there’s no way to elegantly hoof it when still wearing a walking cast. The hobble is not dignified or efficient.

He became the first man I ghosted. *I know, I know….* And it was brutal! I was such a coward. He’s a good man, and he treated me remarkably well, and he deserved far better than what I gave him. And it was painful for him. Both of us were clumsily trying to navigate dating, both having experienced similar trauma of discovering our significant others were unfaithful to us. Years later, we reconnected.

Funnily enough, he reached out to me after seeing a young woman hobbling on crutches which reminded him of our first date. We are friends…. after he read me the riot act for disappearing. Which I accepted. He’s happily married to a wonderful woman and they share a healthy, beautiful, blended family.

And then the day came,

when the risk

to remain tight

in a bud

was more painful

than the risk

it took

to blossom.

Risk ~ Anaïs Nin

And I’m often still that clumsy, scared puppy when comes the terrifying thunderclap or being called upon to share my intimate parts of me with others. However, here in Oaxaca, that’s more likely to be fireworks exploding overhead than actual thunder…..

Costa Rica Surfing Nosara Vulnerability

I’m currently dealing with a lot of vulnerability and exposure in a way that I normally tend to work very hard to avoid. I’m absolutely, definitely, without a question the person who will cut and run and avoid authentic connection in almost every scenario in effort to avoid being emotionally eviscerated again. Even though, so far, I’ve proven that you will be able to recover from every loss, broken heart, abandonment, and betrayal. It doesn’t always feel like that is possible, but I have a 100% recovery rate.

Here’s a rub, though: there are times during which channeling massive courage for authenticity and vulnerability will not be rewarded by receipt of the outcome you put yourself out on the very ledge of exposure for…. and it sucks so hard! Aaaaah, that feeling is the worst when you’re emotionally naked, and the lights are on, and… and… and… no.

A few years ago, when I was nearly hysterical from what I was then experiencing as a vulnerability exposure fail, a friend said to me, “it’s scary and it’s hard to show people our ugly.” Yes. It’s scary. And it’s hard. It’s hard to constantly live in your truth. Because when you’re being truthful and authentic all of your time, you’re going to turn off some people because they don’t tune in to that vibration. But it’s not easy, and again, the fear factor, for me, is intense.

Also, trust. Can I trust my instincts regarding this person? Can I trust this person? If I open up my heart, is this person going to take that vulnerability to hurt me? Because… that’s what happened before.

I’ve held myself back. I lose out on the possibility of the kind of connection I want, and I also deny someone the opportunity to receive all the weird, wonderful, quirky, and beautiful parts of me that lie beneath the surface of fear and anxiety. But the part of me that craves that connection and depth doesn’t call to me as loud as the part of me that begs me to stay closed to protect myself.

I learned that fear through a traumatic abusive relationship. I came to accept I wasn’t worth more than what he told me I was worth, through his hurtful words and his injury afflicting actions. Then, another one, this time a true wolf in a friendly skin told me I hadn’t come as far in my recovery and ability to protect myself from a predator (when you learn your ex is a convicted felon as he goes back to prison… yeah that happened). Trusting myself, and trusting others… that’s hard. It’s scary.

Costa Rica Surfing Nosara Vulnerability

I keep coming back to this picture from when I went on a (divine) yoga retreat in Costa Rica a couple of years ago. When my friend snapped this picture of me, I had no idea she was even there. I had just been wacked in the back of my head by my longboard on what was one of my most awkward falls I ever made when surfing – and just believe me when I say I wipe out better than I ride.

But my smile is so real. There was nothing anticipated or commanded. This sunburned mug is radiant with sheer joy. If I had let my anxiety and self-conscious nervousness about how not-good I am at surfing get the better of my earnest desire to ride those perfect baby swells (I know my limits of my skill level), I wouldn’t have ever known how delicious and fun Costa Rica waves are for long boarding.

One of the things about surfing – especially at the beginning, is learning how to read the wave and determine which ones, and when, are good to ride. Because I don’t get to surf often, I miss quite a few, and in the split second of hesitation, that wave is gone. But there’s more. There’s always more!

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” ~Brene Brown

When you’re told repeatedly you’re not worthy of love and sincere affection without conditional approvals, your mind can hold onto those messages. Despite a hell of a lot of work I’ve done to reclaim myself and recover, I still have triggers. But those aren’t my truths – only as much as I want to allow myself to continue to subscribe to that story. I still have doubts. It’s like that song from Bob Dylan, Just Like a Woman.

Whether puppy or little girl, I have to willfully force myself to stand present in front of someone, whether a new friend – usually a man wanting to build an emotional connection – I have to resist and push down the initial reaction to run and choose to be courageous. I’m a good emotional runner. But a terrible physical runner. Too many ankle and foot fractures.

And so also goes with finding the courage to continue to take the exposure and painful anxiety of vulnerability. We get better at what we practice. Sometimes the ride will be good. Sometimes we get knocked in the head by a surfboard. Right now I’m feeling the knock in my heart. But I really don’t want to miss any more waves because I hesitated.

Vulnerability is not for anyone faint hearted! If you want to live authentically and with appropriate vulnerability, you have to be a warrior. A love warrior! And better yet, be ready for the ride.

XO,

Jennifer

Nosara Costa Rica Surfing Vulnerability .jpg
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How to Support a Grieving Friend This Holiday Season

Chances are, like me, you probably have someone close to you who is experiencing his or her first holiday season without someone dearly beloved and painfully missed. Cliches exist for a reason, and what they say about the holidays being an especially lonely time for many people certainly rings as true as the Salvation Army bells outside your local CVS, Winn Dixie, Galleria, you name it. If you have a friend who lost someone this year, a pretty sure bet is your friend is in some extra need of love and spirit this holiday season. But how, right? How can you support a grieving friend when navigating your own holidayness?

You’ve probably heard and read about “holding space” for someone. What does that really mean, anyway? Well, I’ve determined it means a lot! The gist of it is how you can support someone in need. Without judgment, no matter how well intended. But, here are four things you can do to hold space for your grieving friend and make his or her holiday season less like a vacuum and bring some love into that void your friend is surely feeling. Really, anything will be recognized and appreciated.

Ways to hold space for a grieving friend this holiday season

Snail mail. Send a card. Go ahead and send a standard holiday card in your big batch. But find another card – not a sympathy card – something more nondescript. Write out a brief note to let your friend know you’re thinking about her. The card is great because it’s physical. It can be touched and held. Reread if wanted. And doesn’t force your friend to face a conversation she may not want to have. I’ll tell you this: there were numerous times I wasn’t excited to talk to people, even people I dearly loved. It exhausted me when merely getting through a day exhausted me. But I loved, and for a loooooong time I held onto, every single card. Another reason the card works so well is because it’s a break from the influx of happy holiday cards. Don’t get me wrong; I loved those, too.

 

Invitations help. Perhaps my busiest holiday calendar ever was the Christmas of 2012. Planning my party attire and which cocktail dress I would wear for each party was an excellent antidote and distraction. Which I know contradicts what I wrote in Number 1! But it helped. I did not accept every invitation, but I sure as heck appreciated and felt included and loved with every invitation I received. When making an invitation, be specific. When someone would invite me for lunch I’d vaguely respond. But when someone said, “I’d like to take you to lunch on Tuesday, are you available at 11:00? I’ll pick you up and we can go to the hot bar at Whole Foods….” I accepted. What she did was she eliminated any burden for me to plan and also created a specific image for me to look forward to.

 

Doorstep treats. If you live in the same area, consider dropping by with a bouquet of fresh flowers or a pot of herbs (Trader Joe’s makes my flower world go round). There’s something about fresh botanicals in a living space that makes it feel more vibrant and beautiful. Not into flowers? How about a magazine, some baked treats from a cookie exchange, or a box of herbal tea. It would be acceptable to bring them by when your friend is home as well as dropping off on the door step to greet your friend when she returns home. If you don’t live nearby and you have the budget, a small something, whether a book, a gift card to take herself out for a cup of coffee or tea, flowers,…. Will go a long way. Something to encourage her self care.

 

Pick up the phone. Even if you leave a voice mail, and yes I dodged some calls because I was lacking energy, consumed with grief, you name it…. But for every voice mail I received those words embraced me as fully as a hug. Drop a quick line or send a text message to simply say, “I’m thinking about you.” You don’t need to be a close friend to reach out. In fact, some of the unexpected contacts were among the most touching.

 

I found the first year following my dad’s unexpected death excruciating and crushing, particularly that first run of weeks from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. There was not enough fudge, cookies, and wine to get me through the season. I was lonely, but I also wanted distance… my emotions were as volatile as winter weather and storm patterns. Too much time with anyone would render an eruption of some sort. Too much time alone lead to hours in an unmade bed, greasy hair, and well, you can see where I’m going with this. It wasn’t pretty. But those were all reasons why I needed to know from my friends that I still mattered to them and they were still standing by my side. I am grateful for my friends who understood I wanted to share stories one minute, then cry another, and needed to be alone the next minute and respected my needs… and understood my moods were not to be taken personally or a result of them.

 

I was then, and still am, terrible at asking for help. When I most needed gentle love, I was the least able to ask for it. The grief was too strong, and I was too focused on trying to look like I had my you-know-what together. I could see it in my friends’ faces. They were concerned and they wanted to love me and comfort me. I thank God for my friends who did not forget me during their holiday hustle. Your friend will fell and will remember the kindness and love you give.

 

Having deeply reflected on what could have been said or done to help me, I believe there is no “right” thing to say or to do. There’s no fool proof recipe – this isn’t a Toll House cookie. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways you can stand up – or sit down – with and support your friend who is grieving a lost loved one this season. Acknowledge the loss and the pain. If she opens up, listen. Just listen. If you know the loved one, share stories.

 

By being “there” and showing up to support a grieving friend in a way that is authentically you to offer your space, thoughts, and energy, you’re going to give one of the best gifts of the season.

 

Have a very merry and lovely holiday this year. Lots of love to you.

 

XO, Jennifer

Ways to hold space for a grieving friend this holiday season

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Despite my persistent whining, crying, and moaning about being “stuck” still in Phoenix, my reality is I’m close to leaving. The number of weeks I am here is longer than the original intention. But, by the love of family – the kind you make not the kind that is kin – and friends, I still have a “home.” Even when crying about being “homeless,” Mom Two, Kathy, assures me I have as long as I need to stay with them. Which, I appreciate. More than appreciate. Dad Two, Pete, greets me every morning with a daily reporting on my progress, challenges, how I’m addressing those challenges…. Between Pete and my dissertation chair, Dr. Dale, I have more motivation to find every conceivable way to complete my data collection interviews than a gymnast training for Rio.

***With, of course, more sugary and fatty diet options… of course. Metaphorical back flips, not physical. Heck, I am so out of shape right now, I can’t even do a handstand, anymore. Not even on a wall. Can’t kick that robustly enlarged bottom up over my shoulders without risk of throwing out my back and breaking my neck.***

I told Pete and Dr. Dale they are very much the personality equivalent of dopplegangers if ever existed. Right down to their ages, education and backgrounds, military service, vast professional accomplishments… oh, and ultra type a and insane alpha male dynamics. With senses of humor, and affections for me… when not wanting to kick me in my tush or neck, I’m sure. Between those two and their tough love philosophies, even if I wanted to be a lazy loafer, I’d have no chance of succeeding on that front.

What bothers me is I don’t have an equitable way to repay them for their love and generosity to Edie and me. Not only do I have their shelter, I receive their counsel and wisdom from very successful and moral lives lived. It does not matter whether the talks are over split pots of coffee and morning paper reading with Pete or midnight margaritas (who am I kidding – full witching hour cocktails were consumed) with Kathy. There is no possible way I can even come close to bringing them the value they give me.

I love and respect these two as my own parents. Heck, they were both as actively involved in raising my best friend and me in high school as my own parents. Where Amy was, I was, and vice versa. Heck, we even wore each others’ clothes, constantly. The only things that were off limits to each other were bras because her “ladies” were much more developed than mine. Still are.

I’ve spoken with Amy about my feelings and discomfort. I’m not used to being in a position of accepting help. I’m not good at asking for help. I am intensely uncomfortable with that vulnerability to another person. That discomfort and extreme unease of letting myself go to any state of personal interdependence or -any- dependence is a common theme in my many failed attempts at relationships. In fact, numerous men called me out on it. I know it. That is deeply rooted within me.

I had lunch with a couple of friends this week. We spoke about my discouraged optimism and my challenges with lack of progress on data and relocation. We spoke, specifically, about the difficulty in vulnerability and accepting help and love for the sake of loving help. Struggling to not feel as though I am taking advantage of someone if I take their assistance.

I know how much joy I receive when I help someone who sincerely needs and receives my help. I helped many friends with no expectation or wish of reciprocity. But, I have a hard time even considering I could be the person someone wants to help. I don’t know why, I just do. And, so as my friends made sure to observe to me on Friday, my dissertation data collection going badly – worse than I could have predicted – and the necessity for me to remain in Phoenix under Mom and Dad Two’s care and supervision, might be a life lesson for me to learn.  And the lesson might be to receive help without ability to neutralize.hipster swimming pool float for dogs

After all, Edie has her own pool boat float. I promise you she. does. not. love. The boat or her doggles.

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This goofy little group is probably too young for me, but their sounds are definitely too perfect for a Tuesday night spent writing cards and notes to mail, snail mail style, to friends around and out of town. 
I can’t be part of a minority who loves to receive handwritten cards and sweet letters instead of APS and Discover Card statements, right? I’m telling myself that grading papers for my grad students tonight is not a “better” use of my time than inscribing thoughts on cards I hope will make some ladies smile. 
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