When Friends Break Up
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“Those moments can be very painful, but sometimes we should let certain friends leave our lives.”
We don’t often think too much about our relationship with our friends. We don’t tend to work on them, communicate within them, or bring them to therapy with us. Maybe we should!
Friends are vital in our lives. Recent studies on loneliness have found that a lack of social connection is about as bad for us as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. These relationships can be passionate and powerful. They tend to sustain much longer than most romantic relationships. When a friendship ends, it can break our hearts.
We don’t keep every friend we’ve ever made, of course, but most friendships end with a whimper—we slowly stop seeing each other as often and eventually lose touch. Most friendships end so quietly we don’t even notice.
Others end with a bang. Sometimes there is a big fight or a sudden icy silence. Big changes, like starting a family, becoming sober, getting a new job, or being diagnosed with a serious illness can be revelatory in terms of who sticks around. I have a friend who, when she became pregnant, stopped drinking and going out late at night. When her focus shifted away from partying and towards taking care of her body and her baby, she discovered that she didn’t even like some of her closest friends. As painful as that was, she also became closer with the friends in her life who were supportive of her pregnancy and showed up to help. As her priorities changed, so did her friends.
Those moments can be very painful, but sometimes we should let certain friends leave our lives. Our friend relationships tend to mirror whatever patterns show up in our romantic relationships. If we struggle to set boundaries or communicate our needs with a partner, for example, we probably do that with our friends, too.
Sometimes those patterns need work—figuring out our own internal baggage will usually improve our relationships in general. But sometimes doing work on ourselves means getting our of certain toxic relationships.
I’ve seen my friendships end (with a whimper or with a bang) when I’ve finally stopped putting up with people who never get back to me, never ask me how I’m doing, consistently show up late, or otherwise don’t consider my needs or feelings. Others ended when I realized that certain people always left me feeling exhausted, depleted, and bad about myself. Many simply shifted when it became clear that our values and life paths were different. (Read about the benefit of walking with friends.)
It’s important that we find compassion for ourselves and for others in those moments of change. Becoming sober might threaten a friend’s relationship with drugs or alcohol. Becoming pregnant might bring up jealousy or fear of changes in the relationship. Going back to school or getting a new job might bring up insecurities about someone else’s career. All of this is okay. We all have the right to feel our feelings and the responsibility to care for them, and our friendships don’t always survive those shifts. We must give ourselves the space to mourn those losses. They are big losses.
On the Plus Side...
The good news about friendships is that they don’t require monogamy, the way most romantic relationships do, so when they end, it doesn’t have to be forever. Our life decisions don’t rest on what our friends want, the way they can when we are deciding to get married, move house, or have a family. Friendships can leave our lives, but they can come back, too. Most friendship breakups are about changing life stages, and that is an eternally moving carousel. We can work to keep our connections with others when we find ourselves on different paths, but it’s also okay to let go for a while. Sometimes the paths will naturally wander back together again, and we might just discover a new friendship with an old friend.
Want more? Read “Self-Discovery Through Your Circle of Friends.”