It's Not Me, It's You - the Art and Sadness of Friendship Break-ups

BlogHer Original Post

Years ago, during a particularly difficult time in my life, I spent the day with a friend. She didn't have a car, so I picked her up and took her to lunch and shopping in a nearby city.

She complained all day long. She had to walk to work. She hated living in the city. The grocery near her was terrible. And oh, enough about her - what did I think about her? I was a counselor - didn't I have any advice? She never asked me how I was doing, or responded to anything I said about how much my life may or may not have sucked at the time.

I took her to the grocery store on the way home. She didn't thank me for the ride when she hopped out of my car, and far from her request that we "do this again real soon," I never spoke to her again.

I don't remember exactly how I handled the end of our friendship, and I can't say I was proud of it then, or am now. I'm the kind of people-pleaser you generally want on your team. I took some hits from others who thought I was being mean, or intolerant, or needed to pull "one more chance" out of the hat. But for whatever reason, I just couldn't do it. I'd finally gotten less patient with toxic personality traits, and carrying way more than my share of any sort of load in a voluntary relationship. This was the first time I'd quite simply said, "Enough," (even if it was under my breath) and meant it.

It wasn't easy. If you break up with a romantic partner, you can write a pop song or bad poetry (please not both!) and try to move on. Outside of the "can't we still be friends?" dilemma, no one expects you to maintain a daily or even intermittent relationship with a person who either just isn't that into you anymore, or about whom you've decided the same. Breaking up might be hard to do, but it's pretty normal.

Breaking up with a friend? Not so simple, and a bit more unusual. But sometimes, quite simply the best, if certainly difficult, option.

Julia Feldmeier's article in last week's Washington Post addressed this challenging life choice. She considers the various ways a friendship can end - the so-called "quick and dirty", or the more drawn out, some might say passive-aggressive approach.

First, an unreturned phone call and an ignored text message. Then a delayed e-mail, mildly apologetic, but, alas, life has been so hectic, so busy. You'll get together soon, really! The use of exclamation points is intended to suggest sincerity, earnestness...This, of course, is misleading. It's the phaseout, the nonconfrontational and oft-preferred method of ending relationships.

She concludes,

That is why breakups are so bittersweet. No matter how unsatisfying or destructive our friends may have become, we've invested in them. Bound to us by shared experiences and memories, they're hard to delete from our lives. Nostalgia is difficult to shake loose.

Perhaps that's why so many of us hope for the subtle phaseout: a way to distance ourselves without burning bridges. We keep the door open for the small possibility of reconciliation, the chance that they'll change, that we'll change -- or that circumstances will find us together again, in need of company, if not friendship.

WikiHow asks,

Has your friendship with someone become so dramatic, unhealthy, or troublesome that it needs to end for your sanity? Is the only reason why you're still friends with this person because you don't want to hurt their feelings or incur their wrath of you deserting them?

If so, they give a seven-step process to deal with it, including the way-too-difficult:

Decide to what extent you want to 'break up.' Do you want to bump it down from 'best friends' to 'close friends' or even to 'acquaintances?' Do you want to stop hanging out, or even talking, altogether?

Carmen from Diasporic Discontents has had some break-ups with friends that felt just fine, but a recent one has her reeling.

A long-time friend and I recently "broke up" and it's been having the strangest effect of me. I've been experiencing an entire spectrum of emotions and fluctuate between them all at the drop of a hat...I've been going through the five stages of grief pretty rapidly.

Vikki Ortiz, who blogs about the "adventures, disappointments, relationships and revelations of 20- and 30- somethings living in Milwaukee," for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is making some similar decisions.

I think breakups with girlfriends are, in some ways, even harder than breakups with guys, because they go against everything we've told ourselves about friendship since we were little. We signed our fourth-grade yearbooks with "Friends Forever," and honestly believed that's the way it would be...

After fourth grade, however, you start realizing that circumstance has a lot to do with why you are friends. If you don't have the same teachers, classmates, neighbors, roommates or whatever to talk about, you really have to find other ways to relate. History can only get you so far.

To complicate things further, your personalities begin to mature and evolve, which is mostly a good thing - except that it also can make us unrecognizable to the people who only knew your "before" version.

That's the situation I'm dealing with right now.

Brian Finch of Acid Reflux (also Miss Retrovirus) writes a lot, and well, about living HIV positive, and a little bit recently about a friendship running its course.

Just as with a boyfriend, one cannot just overlook the bad stuff and focus on the good in hopes of it just going away or not being bothersome. You can be a giving, caring, and a good person. But if the negatives remain, the resentment builds.

Sometimes the break-up isn't inevitable. Felicia C. Sullivan wrote recently on the Huffington Post about "How to Prevent the Best Friend Bust-up", after a potentially friendship-ending conflict with one of her closest friends. They found that communication was key, and often difficult - a funny thing in a world where it's supposed to be so easy.

It's a tragic irony that in our technologically advanced society, where one is able to reach someone in a myriad of ways (text, phone, email, blackberry, and the dinosaur: the letter), communication breakdowns run rampant and can destroy a friendship. Set aside time to have those critical conversations, preferably in person. Never engage in the email flame-war! Even with our frenetic schedules, Kate and I made a point to do the mid-week check-in.

Lain Ehmann, aka Knit and Purl Grrl of Scraphappy wrote an article a few years back called "Now It's Time to Say Goodbye: Ending Friendships", which Little Kou recently posted.

For many women, friendships are among the most important things in their lives. Some assume that the longer the duration of the friendship, the better the friend. But that's not necessarily true... The decision to terminate any relationship should come only after you've concluded that the connection is unsalvageable and you're better off without that person in your life. Remind yourself that ending things is the best decision in the long run, and that doing so will make room in your life for more positive, nurturing people.

Something inside of me snapped, or died, or whatever happens when something breaks off or ends, the day I decided to "break up" with my friend. This was not unusual behavior on her part, and I started to wonder why I tolerated it. I didn't have anything left to give, much less the will to approach the subject. I just knew that whatever I needed in my life at the time, she didn't have it. And more than that, she was sapping my energy when I just didn't have any to spare.

Sometimes you just have to take care of yourself. A good friend will help you out with that important task, and chances are any break-ups in those essential, supportive relationships really are just "breaks".

Laurie White blogs at LaurieWrites

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