Sometimes friends drift away. Sometimes friends grow apart. But other times, friends break up. I wish someone had told me about this phenomenon in my twenties, a time of transitions, transience, and choices that often result in changing friendships.
When someone pulls back from a friendship unexpectedly, it can be heartbreaking. Suddenly, your buddy is gone. She doesn’t respond to your texts. She’s no longer up for getting together. Maybe she even vanishes off social media. She’s a ghost. You are left wondering why, and the only person you want to process it with is the very person who won’t even call you back.
There are a million reasons friendship break-ups take place. Maybe your interests diverged. Maybe one of you needs a different kind of energy in your life. Maybe you are taking different paths – one of you is having children and the other isn’t; one of you is accelerating your career through a challenging job or graduate school. Maybe you have different styles of parenting, work-life balance, or your marriage. Maybe you did something that your friend found offensive or distasteful. Maybe you were having a bad week, month, or year. Maybe your bring up old hurts or wounds in each other – things that have nothing to do with either one of you.
When a friendship breaks up, here are some things to keep in mind:
- It’s not you. But it’s not them either. It’s not your fault if a friend breaks up with you. Chances are, you didn’t do anything awful. You have the right to feel sad or angry, and mourn the loss of a person who was important in your life. But try not to blame the other person – it’s not going to help you heal, move on, and make new connections in the world.
- And maybe you don’t really want to know why. Does knowing the reason help you? Does it increase the chance you could be friends again in the future? Probably not. And your friend may not truly know why either. Don’t dig or push for reasons unless you are sure you want to know.
- Don’t fight too hard for the friendship. Friends are worth fighting for, but friendships need to be mutual. If your friend no longer wants to invest in the relationship, you have no choice but to let them go.
- Leave the door open. At the same time, a break-up doesn’t have to be forever. Don’t slam the door in their face. Keep sending the holiday cards. Invite them to parties or social gatherings. Wish them happy birthday on social media. Life is long, and friends often circle back.
- Celebrate the space for new friendships and connections. It’s true that there is only a limited amount of time we have in our lives we can spend with people we like and love – one of my greatest struggles and regrets. When one friend falls away, let your other friends soak up the space.
And if there comes a time that you no longer want to invest in a friendship that was once important, try to handle a break-up with honor and grace:
- Take a break instead of breaking up. In a romantic relationship, a “break” is usually code for a “break-up.” Not so in friendships. It’s much more possible to take some time off from a friendship – sometimes even for years – and then pick back up later on. Maybe you move back to the same city, your children grown up, or your professional responsibilities change.
- Don’t burn bridges. Friendship break-ups are one of those situations where the small truth is better than the big truth. You don’t have to hash out all that bothers you about the friendship, or why other friends or passions have taken priority. Just say you are busy at work, or you have other things going on and don’t have the time to text/chat/hangout. And then be gracious. Don’t talk about the person behind their back. Don’t do something so rude you’ll regret it later
- Respect the other person’s cycle of grief. If you initiate a break-up that’s unexpected, your friend will cycle through the stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, sadness, and acceptance. You probably worked through the strong emotions BEFORE the break-up, so it’s only fair to give your friend some time to process.
Friends come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Celebrate connections for what they are, rather than ruminating on where they have gone. We are lucky to connect with other humans, find friendship, and share our lives together. And as humans, we will feel heartbreak when a friend moves on before we are ready to let go.
What’s your take on breaking off friendships? What are the ways you can move on while respecting and honoring what made you friends in the first place?