Breaking up is hard to do – especially between friends, and MOST especially when you’re the party left wondering what went wrong.
In this blog post I’m going to explore with you how to process, grieve for and eventually, move on from a friend who has put you ‘out in the cold’ for no discernible reason, leaving you with a boat-load of questions and a heart full of pain.
Perhaps it’s already happened to you?
You’re friends with someone, or a group of someones. Maybe you work together. You could have met at a regular yoga class, or at a bar. Perhaps you bonded over baby bumps & labour fears. Or were you rather introduced via a mutual love of taxidermy…?
Whatever! You’re friends – in and out of each other’s DMs, round each other’s houses and out for each other’s birthdays!
“Make it last forever, friendship never ends!”
You feel really lucky – you’ve been through a lot together, you’ve laughed and cried your way through all sorts of ups and downs, but you feel like you’re tight, and you’ll be friends forever, playing bingo in your nursing home when you’re 90.
“Gosh,” you think to yourself, as you wipe tears of laughter from your eyes after yet another fantastic night out of hilarity, hijinks and drunken mutual confessions. “I just don’t know what I’d do without her…”
And then one day, you find out.
It happens suddenly. Like someone silently flipped a switch. There’s no audible ‘thunder-clap’. There’s not even so much as a ‘click.’ But something has changed. Nothing has happened…but you get a sense of…distance developing.
You get less messages…less invitations to do stuff together. Messages used to flow between you every day, response times predictably fast… suddenly slow. You end up waiting hours…now days…now almost a week before hearing back.
Pictures pop up on social media of events that have happened without you… everyone’s there…but not you. Your heart sinks.
You ask yourself ‘Why wasn’t I included?’
Maybe you’re brave enough to ask – whether you message, call or even try a tentative face to face investigation. You think, “Maybe there’s been a misunderstanding. Perhaps I said something, and she took it the wrong way…I’ll ask, and we’ll sort it out and everything will be ok.”
So, you ask. And she says that nothing’s wrong…that’s she’s busy, things are crazy with work/home/the kids/her mother, yada yada… but everyone’s busy and that never made a difference before. You know bullshit when you hear it, and you realise that something fundamental has changed, and in the cold pit of your stomach you realise it might not change back.
When Things Fall Apart (And You Don’t Know Why)
I know that you want to fix it. You see her all the time and you’re just itching to make things ok. You think about talking to her. And generally I’m an advocate for talking.
But lets get real here. If she wanted to talk about it, she would have spoken to you, rather than phase you out. If she wanted to work things out, then that would be happening. There’s nothing you can do along the lines of forcing the issue that can make this situation better – all you can do is either persist and make things hella awkward (been there, done that!), or accept the new status quo, feel sad and try to move on.
But that can be hard to do with so many unknowns, so many unanswered questions…
We need a rite to make things right
I wish there was such a thing as a funeral for a friendship. Not for the ones that end in a big fight – at least when there’s fireworks people are generally left in NO doubt as to what has gone down, why things are not ok and that this is ‘the end’.
But when an ending occurs without being formally declared, it can be harder to process.
Rituals and rites help us process change.
They put a little container around our feelings, help us put one foot in front of the other while we grieve, and ultimately, they give us something to focus on until we’ve had time to get our heads and our hearts around the new situation.
We are relational beings – we need each other and we depend on our relationships. When those end, whatever the reason, even if we are the initiators, we feel pain, and we mourn.
When I’ve had people bail on me out of the blue I felt like I was free-falling, like key parts that held my world-view together had vanished gone over night. I had to see these people on the school run, and see their posts on social media, see them at work, see them at the park, pretend like it was all good…but it wasn’t – and it hurt.
The African Violet of Broken Friendships
The wonderful Captain Awkward writes with painfully accurate, and mercifully, good-humoured brilliance about broken friendships, observing:
“Unfortunately while our culture provides many scripts for breaking up with romantic partners, it has no template for ending friendships.
There should be a ritual.
“Dear Friend, please take this African Violet as a symbol of the close and wonderful friendship we once shared. Please enjoy it in good health, and if you are having a problem or just want to chat, please call someone else from now on.”
Brutal Truth – No One Owes You Their Friendship
Oof! Bit of a truth punch to the gut, right? But actually, once you’ve got your breath back, perhaps it’s not all bad, is it? No one owes you their friendship and you don’t owe yours to anyone either.
No one likes everyone – even YOU don’t like everyone – right?
If you want to get some useful perspective in the wake of a painful friendship break-up, maybe try this exercise:
Think of someone you don’t like
Maybe someone you were once close to but you’ve changed, or she has and now if you saw her in a shop, you’d dodge the other way and avoid her. Do you loathe her? No. Is she evil? Not even a bit. She might have adopted a hoky religion that curls your toes. Maybe she’s overly intense. Perhaps you find her a little boring these days. Whatever.
Bottom line – you are not interested in hanging out with her.
Would you want to explain that to her and in so doing hurt her feelings? I’m guessing, no.
Would you like her to keep trying to fix things between you? I imagine not.
Are you plotting her grisly death? Again I’m guessing that’s also a negative.
But if she was on fire, I reckon you would totally stop what you were doing and help to put her out.
Chances are, this is how your ex-friend feels about you.
She doesn’t want you erased from the face of the earth.
She just no longer feels the desire to meet you for coffee, get falling-down drunk with you or watch re-runs of Friends together.
Bottom line: She’s allowed to withdraw her friendship.
She’s allowed to not talk about her reasons.
And you’re allowed to be sad about it.
Not All Friendships Last Forever (And that’s ok)
Once you realise that the Spice Girls were wrong about this (and a bunch of other things,) and that not all friendships will necessarily go the whole distance (in fact MOST won’t,) it can be easier to look at an ended friendship in a more optimistic fashion.
People come and go from out lives all the time, and sometimes we have mistaken someone who rocked up for a reason or a season for someone who was going to stick around for a lifetime – you know that poem, right? I’ll stick it at the end of this piece for you to (re)read.
Instead of clinging on and staying attached to ‘how things used to be’, you can take a minute to think of all the good stuff that the relationship brought into your life, whether that’s an enduring love of Game of Thrones, a new appreciation for The Beatles, or the secret to making perfect crepe suzette.
The relationship is over but it’s end doesn’t erase the wonderful times you had together.
How To Move On From A Broken Friendship
Take as much time as you need to come to terms with the death of this friendship. Cry, vent to the friends and family that doubtless still count themselves lucky to be in your life. If the feelings aren’t going away, maybe go to therapy to process, work it through and let it go.
By all means run a little internal audit of your behaviour and if you spot particularly self-centered or annoying tendencies at work in yourself, maybe work on that – hire a therapist, go on a yoga retreat, smother yourself in butter – whatever floats your self-development boat.
But maybe don’t try to go back.
There will be new friendships to be made, other people to drink tequila and fall down with.
It’s going to be ok.
And if you need someone to talk to, about this or anything else that’s bothering you, you know where I am…
Here’s that friendship poem I mentioned earlier. Have a read. See what you think.
Reason, Season, Lifetime Poem
People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
When you figure out which one it is,
you will know what to do for each person.
When someone is in your life for a REASON,
it is usually to meet a need you have expressed.
They have come to assist you through a difficulty;
to provide you with guidance and support;
to aid you physically, emotionally or spiritually.
They may seem like a godsend, and they are.
They are there for the reason you need them to be.
Then, without any wrongdoing on your part or at an inconvenient time,
this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end.
Sometimes they die. Sometimes they walk away.
Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand.
What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled; their work is done.
The prayer you sent up has been answered and now it is time to move on.
Some people come into your life for a SEASON,
because your turn has come to share, grow or learn.
They bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh.
They may teach you something you have never done.
They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy.
Believe it. It is real. But only for a season.
LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons;
things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation.
Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person,
and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life.
It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.