“I’ve been friends with her for 10 years. I just saw on Facebook that she’s been in town hanging out with our other friends, but not with me. When I ask her if she’s mad at me, she dismisses me, but then I don’t hear from her for months.”
“She still wants to hang out with our old group of friends, but I hate some of those people now. I am just done with all of those people, and she doesn’t get it. We just don’t have much in common.”
“She’s been a selfish friend, and I’m tired of it. I’m over with the friendship.”
“I don’t even recognize her personality anymore.”
We’ve all gone through it: the friend breakup. You shared history with them. You trusted them. You loved them. And now that friendship is dying, or already over, and you don’t recognize the person you shared so much with.
The friend breakup is most prevalent in your 20s, when you are starting out in the world and really defining yourself with your choices in a way you couldn’t do while you were in school. Unfortunately, when you start to create the life you want, you are selecting some beliefs and behaviors, and rejecting others, and sometimes a friendship doesn’t endure this.
I wish I could say that most friendship breakups are mutual, but it’s normally very one-sided: one person feels surprised, hurt, and abandoned, while the other person feels pressured, guilty and maybe a little angry. With those emotions on each side, things can get really, really ugly, especially if both parties don’t acknowledge that this is what is happening. Here are some of the causes of the friend breakup:
- One friend believes she has nothing in common anymore with the old friend.
- There is resentment due to past history.
- One friend is more successful than the other, and both friends feel judged by each other and left behind.
- New friends are shinier objects and the old friend is repeatedly put in second place, or not considered at all.
- One friend has a new value system that the other is not comfortable with.
- One friend does something unforgivable in the eyes of the other friend.
What to Do if You Are Approaching a Friend Breakup
The most important, honorable thing you can do is acknowledge that this is happening if you are the friend who wants to cut the ties. It’s immensely cruel to make someone suffer through small rejection after small rejection because you don’t want to cut ties. Hearken back to the days when you valued this friendship, and treat it with the respect it deserves. From there, there needs to be one conversation, preferably in person or over the phone, about what you two want to do about it. You’ll notice that I said ONE conversation. More will only drag out the agony. If one party doesn’t want to do a single conversation, then you’ve got your answer right there.
If you have a successful conversation and decide to keep it going, fantastic. You’ve avoided this painful experience. (I will also tell you that you are in an extremely small group of people who have revived a friendship that is on death’s door, so thank your lucky stars.)
If it doesn’t end well (i.e., if both parties don’t clearly agree to take steps to shore up and restore the friendship), then here’s what you need to do. It’s really, really tough, but in the long haul, you’ll thank yourself for doing it: You need to write a very nice, loving snail-mail letter to your friend thanking them for their friendship and that you will always think of them with great love and affection. Wish them well in the future. Keep it short and sweet. I do not care if you are lying through gritted teeth, or that your eyes are scalded with tears when you write it. Do it. Stay classy, you.
After that, cry a lot to yourself and move on. Slowly shore up your existing friendships, and maybe make new ones. One foot in front of another. And as soon as you think you can pull it off, send the former friend a holiday card each year. That’s it. Just keep doing it. Don’t hope for anything, just send a few happy wishes their way.
Here’s why: As long as things don’t end brutally, and you keep lines of communication open, there is a very good possibility that when you are older, say in your 40s, that your friendship can be revived because time has softened the intensity of the sadness and loss, and the good times and affection have pushed their way into the forefront again. I’ve seen it happen again and again, as long as there wasn’t a scorched earth breakup. The friendship won’t be the same, but it can still be very lovely. However, that’s in the future. I know you feel terrible right now, even more so if you are the one being let go. I promise it will get better.
Life will look up again. You’ll be swell. You’ll be great. If you don’t believe me, ask her.