Friendship Break-Ups: Let’s Talk About Them

Abigel Lancaster

We’ve all been through a friendship break-up, whether it be a gradual growing apart from one another or a big disagreement that ends in the two of you never speaking again. No longer having the person you felt able to confide in is really painful, and it can take a long time to get used to life without them. Despite this, we may find ourselves invalidating the way we feel about the situation, and questioning why we have such an emotional response when it was “just a friendship”.

It’s interesting to compare how differently romantic and friendship break-ups are perceived. With the end of a romantic relationship, you are expected and almost encouraged to go through the so-called ‘five stages of grief’ as an inevitable part of healing. By contrast, a person may be dismissed as melodramatic for having a such a strong emotional response to the ending of a friendship. But are the two feelings really so different?

we never consider the possibility that our friendships could end

Of course, friendships are less exclusive in nature, but I would argue that this almost makes the friendship break-up process more difficult to come to terms with. Romantic incompatibility is not necessarily indicative of any major character flaw for either person involved and, in a best case scenario, they can even continue to be friends and have some smaller level of involvement in each other’s lives. But because friendship is such a universal and formative part of life, the sense of finality brought about by the end of one can feel really bizarre and isolating. 

I think a big difference between the way we view friendships and romantic relationships, particularly at a younger age, is that we never consider the possibility that our friendships could end. Much like their romantic counterparts, not all friendship break-ups are made equal. When we hear the term, we may imagine it has to involve a massive argument, similar to those many of us would have had in our friendship groups in secondary school. I think these can be particularly difficult because of the pressure to ‘take a side’, dragging more and more people into the messy situation. Perhaps what is more common in adulthood is more of a gradual growing apart from one another, often because you are no longer in such close proximity as when you started the friendship.

It’s natural to feel a sense of grief

My most recent experience with the breakdown of a friendship was more like the latter. We had gone to different sixth forms, and naturally spent far less time together. I hesitate to say that we drifted apart, as I really did try to keep in touch – it had been the most significant friendship in my earlier teen years, and I could make my peace with the fact that it was always me who asked to meet up. But for a long time, it seemed that the efforts were ignored, the messages never replied to. Eventually, she apologised, and stated that she felt it was best that we no longer be friends, and this was both difficult to hear and perhaps the closure I needed to begin to move on from the whole situation.

I think a vital part of healing from the breakdown of a friendship is acknowledging the situation and how it makes you feel. In other words – it’s okay not to be okay! It’s natural to feel a sense of grief because, in a way, you are mourning the loss of a relationship and the presence of a person that was important to you. Anger is also valid, even in more amicable situations. I know I felt somewhat unjustified in my feelings of anger as my former friend had been quite tactful in the way that she worded herself, and this left me feeling as though I was being melodramatic or getting worked up over nothing. Whatever your emotions, give yourself the time to process them.

Friendship break-ups can be a lesson

Overall, the breakdown of a friendship is a horrible situation, but one that all of us are bound to go through at some point. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and, whilst you don’t need to feel ‘grateful’, in some ways you might find the situation to be a blessing in disguise. Friendship break-ups can be a lesson in what not to put up with, as well as possibly helping us to examine our own behaviour and the way we navigate future friendships. My experience reminded me of what I should value in a friendship and made me appreciate the friends that did make the effort all the more.

Abigel Lancaster

Featured image courtesy of Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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