The Painful Truth About Friend Breakups

*Update: I was asked to do a segment on HuffPost Live about this topic. It was a great experience and I’m so honored to have been a part of it! Check out the video

A while back, I wrote this piece for The College Crush called “Surviving a Friend Breakup.” It was about a painful experience I had with a former best friend, and I couldn’t believe how many readers wrote in to say that they, too, had gone through a friend breakup. What’s a friend breakup? It’s when you and your friend part ways due to a fight, changes in personality and goals that make it hard to maintain a relationship, a move, etc. Whatever the cause, it hurts.

I’ve realized that there are different types of friend breakups. For example, after a traumatic fight you usually have a clean break. While this is difficult to stomach at first, it can be less painful than the other types of endings. This was how my last friend breakup happened. For quite a while I had trouble accepting that the friendship was over, but in a way the abrupt ending made it a bit easier to deal with. The toughest types of friend breakups are by far the ones where the relationship slowly fades away. Instead of talking all day, every day, you text every few days. The messages are more formal and keeping the conversation going may feel awkward. Yuck. Now I know why Neil Young wrote “it’s better to burn out than to fade away.” It truly is.

There are few things more unpleasant than knowing your friendship is tapering off and there’s not much you can do to stop it. Note: this type of breakup is different from growing apart. When you grow apart, you may not talk as much as you did in college, but when you do talk it’s great to catch up and feels like time hasn’t passed. These situations are pretty common in the years after college, and they certainly don’t indicate that you two have broken up.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve realized that I’m experiencing a friend breakup. It’s been a slow fade out, so I didn’t quite get what was going on until about ten minutes ago. The friend in question is actually a guy friend. We frequently talked and texted. It wasn’t always an easy friendship and we bickered often, but we had fun together, and enjoyed offering each other advice. Though it was a relatively new friendship, it felt like we’d always been close. Recently I’d been trying to save the friendship by overcompensating. I’d always start text message conversations, write Facebook messages, and make phone calls to the friend (let’s call him Steve to make it easier).

While Steve would respond to my various forms of communication, he wasn’t trying to have one of our long chats. Today I realized I hadn’t heard from him in a few days, so I texted him to see how he was doing. “Doing well” he said. He’s moving, so I wished him a safe journey and got a “Thank you” in response. Now maybe he’s just busy, but I’m pretty sure the old Steve would have had fired off several comments about how the trip is going, and would want to tell me about what he plans on doing when he arrives at his new destination. New Steve will respond but won’t try to keep the conversation going.

As I sat here staring at my “Thank you” and waited for a “How are you? What’s new?” a light bulb went off, much like it would in a cartoon. We have a “slow burnout” style friend breakup happening here. How did I not see it before? Steve will get settled into his life and our levels of contact will keep dropping. I can create as many witty text messages as I want, but I can’t regenerate the mutual level of interest that we once had in each others’ lives.

If you look at the anatomy of a friend breakup, one of the main factors in a split is when one of the friends doesn’t have an interest in pursuing the relationship like they used to. I can try to stay in touch as much as I want, but if Steve isn’t interested in being friends like we used to be, it’s not going to happen. This can be hard to accept.

If you’re going through a friend breakup of any kind, here are some tips:

  • Focus your energy elsewhere: Even if you’re having a hard time accepting the split, you have to force yourself to stop trying to rebuild what you had. Instead of using your energy on something that is no longer working, use your time to build up new friendships. Get in touch with your acquaintance from work and see if she wants to do something this week. Ask that friend of a friend to meet for a drink. Focus on new friendships and hobbies and it’ll help to make you feel better.
  • Don’t obsess: In the past few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time obsessing about this Steve situation. Was it my fault? Was it his fault? What should I do next? While worry feels productive, it’s not. Try to accept what’s happened and use your time in other ways. Realize that you can’t change the situation and don’t try to change the past.
  • Don’t feel guilty: When you split with a friend, it’s easy to blame yourself entirely. “If only I had…” or “I knew I should have…” you’ll think. No. It takes two people to maintain a friendship. Even if you could have done something differently, the breakup wasn’t entirely your fault. Don’t allow yourself to take all of the blame. You’ll only feel worse about an already unpleasant situation.
  • Limit contact: Depending on the terms surrounding the split, it may become necessary to limit contact with the other person until you feel a little bit better about things. This may include taking their number out of your phone, hiding their statuses on Facebook, etc. It sounds silly, but seeing their pictures from a fun weekend out with friends (not including you) will only make you feel sadder.
  • Don’t reminiscence: In the time immediately following the split, remembering the fun moments you had during your friendship will only make it harder to move on. Give yourself some time to heal before you start remembering great times you had together.

Have you ever been through a friend breakup? Are you going through one now? How did you handle the situation?

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  1. My boyfriend and I went through lots of friend breakups when we started dating. Which is kind of messed up. Ok, it’s really messed up. Basically, a friend in his group liked him and therefore hated both him and I for dating and she turned a majority of his friends against us. We realized that if people are going to act like that, it’s better to have no friends at all. It sucks!

  2. ljmlevine says:

    Wow! That is horrible. Are we in 6th grade? I agree with you completely. It’s better to get rid of those so-called “friends” than to be fake and try to make it work with people who aren’t looking out for your happiness. If they’re going to act like that, clearly they weren’t great people to begin with. Sorry to hear about that!

  3. Loved this, these tips are fabulous thank you!

  4. ljmlevine says:

    Thank you so much, Kelsey!


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