Monday, March 4, 2024

The Friend Breakup

June 12, 2010  
Filed under Coffee Table

By Semhar Debessai —

Friendships and why splitting up with friends can be more heartbreaking than parting with a significant other.

“On to the next one…”

– Jay-Z.

When you break up with a significant other, there seems to be a standard course of action for recovery that ultimately, hopefully, ends with what the aforementioned song quote affirms: Moving on. Finding a new one. (And, hopefully, one better!)

But what of the ending of those relationships that are nearly, though in different ways, as intimate as the one with your significant other? I’m talking about friendships.

In the Wall Street Journal, columnist Elizabeth Bernstein highlighted that difficulty astutely:

“There are no rules or even societal norms for friendship breakups. Friends who want to split don’t go to counseling or get a mediator or a lawyer, as divorcing couples do. And there typically aren’t a bunch of nosy relatives willing to intervene and relay messages, as there are when a split is within a family.”

If you followed Bravo TV’s reality series The Real Housewives of New York this season (don’t worry, it relates), you saw the deterioration of the sister-like friendship of two show favorites: Bethenny Frankel and Jill Zarin.

Public (and publicity-driven) circumstances aside, what struck me is their last (onscreen) meeting during which Jill made similar sentiments when referring to their friendship’s undoing: “I feel like we were married, and… [now] we’re separated.

So while different, like a marriage (at least your marriage), you think a true/good friendship will last forever. And the deterioration of both can leave similar, lasting scars.

In the dating world, the title of boyfriend can change at any given moment—due to very specific deal breakers commonly cited in romantic relationships like infidelity, fighting too much, and the “I’m in love with someone else” scenario.

With the title of friend, you don’t so much anticipate an end without a reason other than, that they weren’t really your friend in the first place.

To clarify, when I say friend I’m talking about a real friend. The person you go to when you want to cry about important things; or laugh about stupid things; or watch trashy reality TV (or have moments of trashiness) without judgment. (For starters…And for men it’s most likely, vastly different).

With that said, I’ve broken up with exactly two friends that fall under that category. The first one, we “broke up,” got back together, and then finally broke up again for good.

One thing I’ve learned: it takes as much effort, if not more, to maintain a healthy friendship (at least among women). Sure, we go through phases where the friend annoys us, complains all the time, maybe even flirts (unknowingly) too much with a guy you have a crush on. But so what in the end? Is this a fatal flaw on their character? Most times, it’s not. (And in those “most” times, usually a one-on-one sit down and a couple martinis will reignite that platonic flame.)

It’s hard to get over the end of a good friendship, though. Inevitably you have good memories (and pictures) that are unique to the relationship and the person with whom you shared it with. And even though you may think of a former lover in a similar fashion, at least when you move on to a new significant other, the expectation from them is that you have moved on. Another friend will never be “a new friend” as “the new boyfriend/girlfriend” will be. In a sense, he or she fills this open role in your life (most of us praying to goodness that they do a better job at it than the last one). But while you may have many good/great/best friends, the loss of one will always be just that—a loss…an empty seat, much like that one in the front row of the White House briefing room (at time of print), unable to be filled in the same fashion as its previous occupant.

The range of emotions one feels post breakup, I believe, are different than that of the BF/GF scenario–such as, you feel like you could’ve tried harder to make it work. Communicated better. Looked at it from their point-of-view more. Guilt/regret. It sucks! Because as much as the other person may be in the wrong, the obligation as a “friend” seemingly supersedes any issues of pride or even correctness. In a romantic relationship, we usually only feel guilty if we’ve done the other person wrong or if we were the ones doing the breaking up–even when we have no desire to return to the relationship. And if we’ve been wronged… at least we have a reason to hold the grudge for awhile. Which brings us to…

Anger. But why wouldn’t they understand your point of view, either? Or tried harder? Or communicated better?

Delusion or too-high expectations. When I discontinued a six-year friendship with a former college roommate a couple of years ago, I was certain of her complete fault in the occurrence that became the final straw–still am. But the difference is that, at the time, I was dead-set on getting an apology from her, as if that would solve the problem. But that would’ve only been a temporary remedy to the longstanding problem in our relationship: she was nice when she wanted to be, and selfish most other times. On my end, my mistake was that I’d given her a pass to be that way many times and brushed it off as it being “just who she is,” only to realize much later that who she is and had always been was bringing more negativity than positivity in my life. (By the way, I never got the apology but I found closure with that realization.)

Anger, again. It’s so easy to hold on to this feeling, especially when someone you don’t expect to hurt you does. I consider my sister like my best friend and although we can never stop being sisters, there was a time when I thought we’d stopped being friends. In that particular case, I was the one who had hurt her unknowingly, but her refusal to communicate that effectively or my refusal to hear her caused a three-month-moratorium (the longest to date) on any dialogue between us. (Let me take this moment to say: Love you, sis!)

Social warfare. With a romantic relationship, usually you keep your friends and he/she keeps his/hers, whether or not you were responsible for the relationship’s demise. In a friendship breakup, however, there seems to be the need to establish allies in this battle of hurt feelings. There’s a high chance that you shared the same friends and may run into each other often. Who will feel the least awkward sometimes depends on who has the most cronies in their corner.

Immature? Possibly. Survival tactic? To some degree, I think so. The support of friends is almost essential in getting over any breakup, and if there are mutual pals involved, the important thing I had to learn–and am still learning–is to use them to help you do just that talking to get over it, as opposed to talking to fuel your fury.

Did I mention you feel angry?

The truth is, I’m no certified expert on the how to of relationships, romantic or otherwise. But there seems to be more docs and books telling us how to deal with the former when the latter can be just as heartbreaking. For me, the outward acknowledgment of a friendship’s end and thinking about how to move forward has been healthy.

Considering down the line whether you want them in your life and to what capacity–Facebook friend? BBM buddy? Occasional coffee companion?–is also healthy (and it’s totally OK if you decide that you don’t). Should I ever get my apology from the college ex-friend, I’m not totally sure I won’t accept it. But that chapter, for me, has closed and once you’ve decided in absoluteness that their negative actions will have no bearing on your happiness, it’s hard to allow the seemingly positive ones to affect you as well.

As for the high school friend, I genuinely have no hard feelings for her. Adequate time and space (two states worth to be exact) was given for it to be something completely different than what it was all those years ago–and that’s perfectly OK. That also largely has to do with the fact that we’ve both grown into different (more mature) people.

They say about romantic love, it’s better to have done it and lost than to have never at all. With friendships, I’m afraid the sentiment isn’t so easily applicable. If you’ve reached a crossroads in your own friendship, do consider that the one emotion that remains after the anger and guilt and more anger, is the one reason it could possibly still work out: you honestly, truly and wholeheartedly care.


3 Responses to “The Friend Breakup”
  1. If more people could actually stay friends after a break up there would be a very small divorce industry and children wouldn’t be shuffled around like pawns. I believe if people really want to it is a special privilege that everyone should aspire to.
    Nicola – Divorce Planner

  2. Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!


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