First comes the shock of it all, then the denial that it’s really and definitively over. You might transition to a brief or extended period of mourning, and eventually you’ll come to accept the status of your relationship. Sounds a lot like breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, right?
These stereotypical grieving phases can be applied to platonic heartbreak, too. I would argue that breaking up with friends is equal to, if not greater than, ending a relationship with a romantic partner. After all, friendships generally last longer than boyfriends, and they are enveloped in many more rigid expectations. Most of us view love relationships as almost inevitably finite; breaking up with a boyfriend is pretty much expected in our culture, especially in our young adult years. However, friendships are so often perceived as life-long, and it can be an unexpected and devastating feeling to learn that these types of relationships can also have a shelf life. Remember the quote, “Boyfriends come and go, but friends are forever”?
I’ve experienced my fair share of break-ups with friends–some initiated by the friend, others initiated by myself. Some have ended well, others have been contentious. Some don’t really have an official end; instead, we grow apart so subtly, like silk slipping through idle hands, that the break-up is difficult to detect.
When I graduated college, I mistakenly assumed that these break-ups would be a thing of the past, and as an independent adult I would be smart about cultivating meaningful and lasting friendships. So far, it seems adulthood only increases the incidence of losing friends. I’ve come to realize that maintaining a friendship–like any relationship–requires dedication from both parties. If there is not a mutual desire there, a break-up is almost inevitable. When this type of relationship is officially terminated, there are some important things to keep in mind:
Don’t force anything.
If it seems clear that your relationship is on the way out, it’s best to avoid trying to manipulate the situation in your favor. For example, if a friend stops taking your calls and answering your text messages, it’s clear that he or she is not currently interested in communication. Even if you feel that it’s unfair, continuing to reach out will only serve to push your friend further away. You’ve made your feelings clear, so now is the time to let the situation be and stay open to whatever happens next.
Each person is to blame, and that’s okay.
People tend to think they can pinpoint exactly when a relationship begins to disintegrate, which often leads to one party placing fault on the other. And yes, maybe one person really did act in a concrete way that contributed to the end of your friendship, but it’s hardly fair to attribute the breaking point to one incident alone. By taking responsibility for your role in the friendship, you can more easily see the implications of your own actions and it will be easier to learn from them and move forward.
This sounds harsh, but hear me out: more often than not, you and your estranged friend share mutual friends. It can be very, very tempting to ask questions about your ex-friend (i.e. has she been asking about me? is she as sad as I am?), but try your best to avoid this interrogation. It not only puts your friends in an uncomfortable position, but it also feeds any residual anger/regret/guilt associated with your break-up. Separate yourself from that temptation for as long as is necessary–if that means spending some reflective weekends alone, that’s totally fine.
Sometimes you’ll never get the closure you want.
Endings often come with a need for closure, which is to say that one or both parties find a certain comfort in acknowledging a relationship is over. Unfortunately, many friendships end without such a recognition, and it can be upsetting to feel as though they ended on ambiguous terms. It’s important to remember that, while helpful, closure is not necessary for you to move on with your life. If your instincts tell you that the friendship has reached it’s end, there’s really no need to rehash the situation with the other person, especially if you’re both still in a defensive position.
Have you ever broken up with a friend? Any advice?
Also by Molly: How to Stop Over Analyzing and Feel Happier
Related: Love – How to Let Go