The serious conversation. The tears. The social media purge. The bitterness. The moving on.
These are all things that happen in a romantic breakup. Usually. Sometimes it’s messier, sometimes it’s cleaner. But it almost always hurts. That’s why every year, we get a new heartbreak song from a top artist or a new rom-com that includes a (sometimes temporary, sometimes permanent) breakup in its plot.
But those things don’t just happen when a romantic relationship falls apart. It happens when friendships fall apart, too. And friendship breakups are something that don’t often get talked about.
Like the pain of a breakup, friendship splits can have lasting effects—on your self-esteem, ability to trust people, and feeling of identity. They can leave you second-guessing yourself, wondering if you were the problem all along, or getting bitter about how the situation went down. It almost always involves grief—the feeling that someone who should be in your life isn’t anymore. They haven’t passed away, but they’re not present, either.
Friendship breakups are more common than people might think. Of the people I’ve talked to about them, they seem more common among women. Since women have tendencies to be conflict-averse and don’t always communicate directly, that makes sense. However, friendship breakups can affect anyone. And whether male or female, it hurts everyone involved.
Why do friendships end?
Think about all of the friendships you’ve had in your life—or at least the ones you can remember (because hopefully, you’ve had a lot.) You’re probably not still friends with everyone you went to grade school with. Even if you had a core group of friends at that time, that core has probably changed. Why?
A lot of times, it just comes down to distance and proximity. Nothing major happened to end your friendship. You simply grew apart. I had a best friend in third grade who moved across the state. I remember laying on my mom’s bed and crying because I would miss her so much. And I did. We were still able to hang out a few times after she moved, but since we didn’t see each other every day, our friendship changed. At some point, the relationship we shared as third-graders ended. I’m still friends with her on Facebook and love to see updates from her, but we’re not swinging on swingsets or playing pretend with each other anymore (that would be weird, because we’re both 26.)
Other times, it’s because something more serious happened. Obvious things, like a betrayal of trust or a disagreement you simply can’t get past. Everyone makes mistakes, but some are easier to forgive in a friendship. I’ve definitely made significant mistakes in my friendships. When one of my best friends moved away for a short time, she told me that she felt neglected by me during her last night at home. It was a behavior I didn’t realize I was exuding, and I apologized to her profusely. We’re still friends even though she lives in another state, but again, our relationship has evolved.
Sometimes, we make mistakes that our friends can forgive, but not forget. A few years ago, I made an insensitive comment on social media that a close friend saw and took offense to. Without my realizing it, he removed me from social media. When I discovered we weren’t friends anymore, I asked him why. After he explained his side to me, I apologized as best as I could, but he said he simply couldn’t let me back into his life. It really hurt, but I did my best to respect his boundaries, and unfortunately, that friendship ended.
Friendships come and go throughout life. There’s your Captain Obvious statement for the day. We go different ways and grow different ways.
After a string of friendship breakups in my early twenties, I wondered if I was the problem. In some cases, I for sure was. Back in college, my best friend’s boyfriend broke up with her and immediately started dating someone he’d met a few months prior. I was absolutely livid. Having just gotten dumped myself, I was watching my best friend mourn a long-term relationship that ended dramatically. I lashed out hardcore at her ex-boyfriend, enough to get me blocked from his social media. I apologized to him later, but the damage had been done. What I did in no way helped my best friend heal. It just made the situation that much more traumatic.
I made choices to end friendships that I deeply regret. I’ve talked about breakups before in previous blogs, and honestly, I could’ve reposted that here and most of it would’ve made sense. Same with how to deal with anger. I’ve even told some of the same stories.
A few years ago, I thought I had a group of “rock friends” that I would never grow apart from. Today, that friend group looks very different. A lot of it changed because of a doozy of a friendship breakup that was one of the most challenging situations in the last three years of my life, and one that’s forced me to do a lot of growing up, reflecting, mourning, and healing.
I’ll keep my story short in this blog. If you want to hear the whole story and how I navigated this situation, I was able to share it with two wonderful friends on their podcast about grief. Feel free to listen and then return to this post!
My “rock friends” were a core group of friends I had in college, and even after we graduated, I thought we’d be inseparable. In college, all of us lived together. After college, three of us lived together. A year later, it was down to just two—me and one of my closest friends. While we were different in a lot of ways, we had a lot in common, and we got along even as roommates. I have so many good memories from that time—so many movie nights, late night talks, dance parties, and naps on opposite sides of the couch. Things weren’t perfect, but they were good.
Something happened. To this day, I don’t know what. I’ve heard pieces and parts from mutual friends about what might have happened, but it remains vague. One spring, it seemed like a switch flipped inside my friend—she didn’t talk to me or interact with me as much around the apartment. If I interacted with her in public, she avoided me or gave me the cold shoulder.
I knew something was wrong. I asked my best friend (not the one living with me) about it. She said I should definitely talk to my roommate. I asked my counselor about it. She gave me pointers for how to approach it with my friend, whether “it” was conflict or something else. I never did, and I regret that to this day. I was too afraid to find out what it might be that upset her. Broken communication was one major thing that, in my opinion, ended our friendship.
In the end, she was the one to say something. She told me our friendship had become toxic. She said we couldn’t be friends “right now.” It legitimately felt like being broken up with. That entire day afterward feels like a haze.
I asked my other friend if I was toxic after that interaction. And what she said stuck with me, and it’s been something I’ve tried to hold on to for the last three years.
“People aren’t toxic. Situations can be.”
Together, my ex-friend and I created a toxic situation in our apartment. One where we couldn’t talk to one another about what was bothering us, and one where we no longer trusted each other. I contributed to the environment, and so did she. After the “breakup,” we still had three months left on our lease. Living with someone who you used to care deeply about but now resents you for reasons you don’t know is painful. I lost a rock friend. I lived with a stranger.
Not much happened the last summer we lived together, other than both of us taking the occasional passive-aggressive digs at one another. She left a wine glass I’d given her as a gift next to a full trash bag in plain sight, ready to be taken out with the garbage. I took the coffee maker into my room after she made a mess of grounds on the counter. Slowly, I erased myself from our living space. Super petty, but not justified. We were both going through the stages of grief while still living with one another.
It’s been over three years. The pain is still there. And like I said before, that experience has changed how I make friends. It was a time in my life that shaped my identity. When I realized almost a year later that I needed to go back to counseling, it was something I talked about often. And today, the emotions still bubble up, especially when I get it in my head to “check up” on my ex-friend. Sometimes, I find things that are obviously pointed at me and the damage I did.
A friend of mine has described it as a burn on my skin. It’s not healed, so when it’s touched, it hurts a lot. It elicits a strong, immediate response. And when I’m tempted to touch it, it slows the healing process. I’ll touch it out of pride, out of anger, out of fear, and boom. All the feelings are back.
It was a life-shaping event, but it shouldn’t have to define me now. Just like any friend breakup in my past, it can stay in the past, while I take with me the lessons I learned. It doesn’t mean I have to be perfect. It doesn’t mean I’ll never make mistakes again. But it does mean I can be a better communicator, a sympathetic ear, and a good friend, Lord willing.
Pain truly is one of life’s greatest teachers. It’s taught me a lot of things about friendships, good and bad. I hope the things I’ve learned can be helpful to you. If you’re like most people, you’ve probably experienced a friend breakup. And if you’re like most people, you probably don’t talk about it much.
Be patient with yourself. Just like in any breakup, healing won’t happen overnight. It’s going to hurt for a while. And it’s okay to be in that hurt for a while, too. After my friendship breakup, I vented a lot. I cried a lot. I obsessed over figuring out what went wrong. Then, I decided to write down the things I was feeling after the breakup: unloved, unworthy, and toxic. Then, I went to Scripture and found God’s promises. I am loved by Him, worthy through the blood of His Son, and I am His imperfect child. It helped me work through a lot of feelings.
Don’t lash out. In the age of social media, it’s really easy to say or post something you regret (believe me, I know.) And I’ve gotten close to lashing out more than a few times. Now, when I see or hear something that upsets me, I take a moment before rushing to conclusions. I imagine myself as a rock in a river, and the thing that was said is flowing around me, not through me. It’s shaping my outside, but the inside stays the same. It’s a trick from Stoicism and doesn’t work perfectly every time, but it at least helps me keep my emotions in check before I do something I regret.
See them as three-dimensional. After a breakup, it’s easy to heap the blame on the other person for hurting you, and then wish misery on them. After all, they’re such an inherently awful person to have done that to you. They must be like that all the time—a hateful, evil villain. But mustache-twirling, scheming Disney villains don’t exist. Even the worst of us are sometimes kind and thoughtful, and even the best of us are sometimes deceitful and cruel. Turning your ex-friend into a cardboard cutout to throw darts at doesn’t do you any favors—say nothing of them. By doing so, you’re growing bitterness and distrust in your own heart.
Set a boundary. Remember the friend who cut me off after the insensitive Facebook post? Later on, he reached out to me to see if I wanted to get coffee. At that point, I did not want to reconcile. Before, I had begged him to forgive me and be my friend again. But after talking to a counselor, I realized that I shouldn’t have to beg for people to stay in my life. A friendship you beg for is not a friendship you want. So I set my own boundary—because of the way he confronted me even after I apologized, I didn’t want that friendship. I spent a long time begging people to stay in my life, falling over myself apologizing because I never believed I could make it right. I’ll say again: You shouldn’t have to beg people to stay in your life.
The mouth speaks what the heart is full of. That Proverb came into my mind as I was struggling to sleep last night, debating whether or not I should either write or post this. My heart has been full of bitterness over friends I’ve lost. But I’ve seen what bitterness does to people. It compounds the hurt and the pain. Over time, I’ve tried to let go of the bitterness. And by the grace of the Holy Spirit, I’m slowly being set free from bitterness and distrust. My heart will never be 100% full of grace. But by being patient, tempering my anger, realizing someone’s humanity, and setting boundaries, I hope to grow a little bit more in my own heart and speak grace even to those who have caused me pain.
I hope this helps start more conversations about friendship breakups. They are real. The feelings that follow are valid. And you are not alone in your experience.
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