The Friend Breakup: What it Is, How to Recognize it, How to Handle It

“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.”

Sadness (Photo Credit: Ernst Rosca via Wikimedia Commons)
You can feel very alone when a friendship dies. (Photo Credit: Ernst Rosca via Wikimedia Commons)

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.

A friend breakup is as sad as a romantic one. (Photo credit: Bert Kaufmann via Wikimedia Commons)
A friend breakup is as sad as a romantic one. (Photo credit: Bert Kaufmann via Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Look, an Icelandic rainbow, next to a waterfall too! Things are getting better. (Photo in public domain.)
Look, an Icelandic rainbow, next to a waterfall too! Things are getting better. (Photo is in public domain.)

Life will look up again. You’ll be swell. You’ll be great. If you don’t believe me, ask her.

La Merm knows everything's coming up roses. Trust in her. (Photo in the public domain.)
La Merm knows everything’s coming up roses. (Photo is in the public domain.)

 

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Moretta

Moretta will take that applause. Her Twitter is https://twitter.com/GobezMoretta.

7 thoughts on “The Friend Breakup: What it Is, How to Recognize it, How to Handle It”

  1. …the last friend breakup I’ve had lately, I suddenly cut ties with the other person. I’m sure that made her feel like shit, but it was all I had the spoons for with her anymore, really. She is a very toxic person, and I’d only tolerated it for so long because I thought the things she said when she was angry only came out of her history of abuse and she didn’t mean those things.

    Welp, as I found out, she meant every word she said. She was a manipulator, and she manipulated me, my friends, and the group that she called friends. How much of it was intentional and how much wasn’t, I will never know, but I decided to drop that shit like it was a flaming sack of dog crap.

    She made a break from the rest of the group, so I made a break from her too.

    Seemed legit.

    The best thing to do? Prolly not. But I don’t have the spoons to take the excellent advice here with it (it happened not that long ago), so unfortunately, this is what I’ll have to settle for.

  2. The friend breakup can definitely be difficult, and I’ve gone through a lot of them over the years. As I discussed previously, I’ve had to end a lot of friendships with white women and especially as I became more vocal and outspoken about how I approach racism and misogynoir (i.e. our values did not mesh well). Sometimes, with other friends, we just grew apart and no longer had much in common. Those were easier for me because it usually ended on good terms, sort of us discussing that we weren’t really so much friends as acquaintances, and that’s okay too. Having been on both ends, wanting to end a friendship and having someone want to end a friendship with me, I’ve found that being straight-forward is the best way to move forward. Great advice.

  3. Wise words! I think one of the toughest parts of these types of situations is mutual friends. When you meet up in a group and all of a sudden two people in the group don’t see eye to eye? Awkward. I’ve been on various ends of this type of situation and nobody wins.

    I can also bear witness to the fact that friendships can be rekindled. I never thought I would again be on speaking terms with some girls who were cruel to me when I was about 15. But time put a lot of perspective on teen drama and now I’m friends with them all (on Facebook at least, we don’t live near each other) and I even hung out with one of them at Christmas when she was visiting her family. Happy ending!

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