Breaking Up (With Friends) Is Hard To Do

Women relaxing with drinks and conversation
Two years ago, my two closest friendships, both spanning nearly 20 years, ended within months of each other.  And I still haven’t quite gotten over it. 

Lisa was my party friend, the one who was always pushing me to do new things.  When we first met, Lisa told me there was too much gray, beige and black in my wardrobe.  She was always dragging me shopping, making me buy colorful clothes that fit instead of hid my shape.  Lisa introduced me to yoga, thrift shopping, and loving without a safety net. 

Lisa wasn’t the friend to go to when you needed solid advice.  If you were about to call him again when you knew you shouldn’t, Lisa was not the person who would tell you to stop.  If you woke up, looked at him and wondered “what the fuck is he still doing here?,” Lisa wasn’t going to judge you.  She’d ask how it was.  Only if your report was less than enthusiastic would she tell you to get rid of him and keep it moving.  She was the friend who didn’t judge, the friend you went to when you needed to feel better.  Being with Lisa was fun. 

Stephanie was the practical, analytical friend.  She was my confidant.  She could break down a situation and give you all the reasons you knew, and many you didn’t, for how and why to change it.  Stephanie got my sense of humor better than anyone.  We would talk several times a day, every day, and the conversation never got old.  At times, she and her family were more family to me than my own family.

Things change.

Lisa was in a difficult marriage with a philandering spouse.  They’d broken up and gotten back together more times than I could count.  She couldn’t be convinced to quit him for good.  There was always a reason to stay, to take him back just one more time. 

Yet, every time she took him back, a bit of her inner light dimmed.  She grew colder and more bitter, more wary — not just of him, but of everyone — each time she took him back.  

Stephanie was able to break down and analyze everyone’s situation except her own.  She was great at giving counsel to others, not so great at receiving it.  She, too, wound up in a toxic relationship.  The more people tried to warn her about her partner, the more withdrawn she became.

There was a definite breaking point with both Lisa and Stephanie, but the specifics don’t matter.  Lisa chose her man over one of her best friends, at a time when no one but Lisa thought that was a choice she had to make. 

With Stephanie, it was too hard to watch her suffer.  She wanted to save him, but was doing nothing to save herself.  The more she tried to help him, the more he resented her for it.  She was in pain.  But she believed she had to endure, for the sake of the relationship and their children.   

Both Lisa and Stephanie were loyal to a fault — to someone other than themselves.  They both put their partners’ and their children’s needs ahead of their own.

And as I started doing more to rescue myself, first from my marriage, then from other unhealthy situations, we reached a point where we were simply incompatible.

The rift with Lisa remains.  My kids ask all the time when we are going to see her again.  I eventually had to tell my daughter about the breakup.  My son is still too young to understand.  I wish there were a way to repair it, but I don’t see it, not yet.

Stephanie and I have started talking again, but only after she left her toxic boyfriend.  She is slowly and painstakingly working on rebuilding her life.  It’s very hard for her.  I wish I were able to support her even more.  But I know from experience that she will have to do this mostly alone.

Every day, I miss their friendship.  I miss the giggles.  I miss having that girlfriend to whom you dish the blow-by-blow about the new guy, the girlfriend who will look at your toes and drag you off for a pedicure, or who will come to your house and call you out about all that damn cat hair all over the damn place.

My therapist gives better, more solid advice, but it’s not nearly as much fun.

And truth be told, at a certain point in your life, making new friends is way harder than dating.  You meet people you like, but you don’t have the energy to pursue a friendship.  You share some things, but you don’t let it get too deep.  You don’t have the emotional energy to expend.  You don’t really want to invest that much of yourself into another woman anymore.

We women tend to hold our friends to even higher standards than the men in our lives.  As a result, when a friend fails us, it can hurt more than a broken romance.  I was relieved when my ex-husband and I finally separated and our divorce proceedings began.  But I was depressed when I broke up with Lisa and Stephanie.

I’ve learned to let people go when they walk out of my life.  It’s always tempting to try to hold on.  But after a few unreturned phone calls, I let it go.  People seldom give you the “real reason” why they are leaving your life, and you probably wouldn’t want to hear it, anyway. 

I tell myself the person who left realized that he or she can’t be in my life for me the way that I want or need them to be.  That is hard to accept, but when you put it that way, you can acknowledge that the person who left has done you a favor. 

I’ve learned from my daughter not to feel as guilty when I’m the one who initiates the breakup, especially when cutting someone out of my life who is a bad friend.  My daughter loves her friends deeply, but if she feels she is being dishonored, she will call them out and cut them off.  She values her friendships, but she values herself even more.

It can be hard, especially for women, to risk pushing another person away by holding that person accountable for their actions, but it is the right thing to do.  It’s how you enforce your standards for how you expect to be treated.  People who care about you won’t mind being held accountable.  People who would rather leave?  Let them go.  It may hurt, but in the end, it’s the best thing they could do for you.

I miss my friends, but I accept it.  Our relationships changed because I changed.  And for those changes, I have no regrets.


20 Responses to “Breaking Up (With Friends) Is Hard To Do”

  1. Tweets that mention Breaking Up (With Friends) Is Hard To Do « Carolyn A. Edgar -- Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Carolyn Edgar and Nubyjas Wilborn, Carolyn Edgar. Carolyn Edgar said: Breaking Up (With Friends) Is Hard To Do: […]

  2. Tara Says:

    Been there. It’s hard but as you say “I miss my friends, but I accept it. Our relationships changed because I changed. And for those changes, I have no regrets.”


  3. Sara Says:

    I’ve been through this a few times, but both times (when it counted) were because of things I did wrong, ways in which I pushed people away, alienated or offended them. It’s one of my more endearing qualities, what can I say? Anyways, with one, we are finally friends again. It took 6 years again, with me trying for contact on and off over the years. Then one day, she just returned my email, and we are as good as we can be considering the distance and the years spent apart.

    The other, a woman I loved as deeply as I think you can love someone platonicaly, she and I still do not talk. It’s not for lack of trying on my part, but for whatever reason she is not able to accept me back into her life. As horrifically painful as it was to lose her, I was able to heal that wound…but it was almost like she had died. When I talked/talk about her, I remember/ed the good times, the same as you might do with a deceased family member.

    The last was a man, and for some reason, it’s the most complex of all of them, probably because there were (are) romantic feelings involved. He recently came back into my life, but I feel like in trying to get some answers from him (the same answers that pushed him out of my life the first time), I will end up pushing him away as well. Although I can caveat that with the fact that I am 99% certain that he is lying to me about nearly everything he says regarding “us”, so maybe his exit won’t be so bad.

  4. A.Smith Says:

    I think in many ways maintaining deep friendships is much harder than keeping a romantic relationship going. One blog post I read talked about their being invisible ties that you don’t want to taut or too loose — but you can’t really see them. I think that’s an interesting way to describe it and very poignant.

    I’ve never been good at breaking up with friends. Even when I know its’ what’s best, I struggle to see past what used to be (and in turn imagining what could be). Every friendship I’ve had that ended, ended because the other person did all the work. A lot of them I’d really like to thank for that.

  5. dawn summers Says:

    Thanks for writing this post! Like I mentioned on twitter, last year I also ended things with my bff of twenty years ago and it was sucky and painful and sad, but one of the worst thingsw as feeling like nobody really cared/understood why you’d be so upset about “breaking up” with one of your girls. There’s not the same level of sympathy and “aww” that you get when you end things with a guy.

    And I definitely agree that finding “girlfriends” gets so much harder once you’re older. I met my bff on the school bus in highschool and most of the friends I have now are from law school. In some ways, I think I hung onto my friendship with ex-bff because of this difficulty general, but also because I’m very shy and am not the type to warm up to new people easily. But ultimately she changed too much (time old story of cool, self confident spirited girl moves in with man and goes into june cleaver “my boyfriend says –” “my boyfriend did —” “well, my boyfriend likes” mode to the point where you wonder if you shouldnt just become friends with the boyfriend instead since he’s all she can talk about and no longer has any experiences or interests of her own. I accepted that, but then when that morphed into “dawn you really need to get a guy…stop looking for a job, just get a husband like me.” It was like O_O…yeah, this relationship has clearly run its course, peace to you and your husband.

  6. kenwheaton Says:

    “At a certain point in your life, making new friends is way harder than dating.”

    Amen to that.

  7. Pearatty Says:

    Hi Carolyn! Here’s my thoughts (which I think you know already) on the matter:

    So, first, I think women are really bad about ending friendships without being up front with the friend that that’s what’s happening. We complain to high heaven about the guy we’ve been dating for 5 months who just stops calling, but then end 20-year friendships the same way. And then the friend says “what’s going on, did I do something?” And we say “No, no, I’m just really busy right now.” And then bitch to our other friends about “geez, why can’t she get the message?” I’m guilty of this myself, though not recently. It’s cruel, and it’s weak. If that’s what happened to you, I’m sorry for you, and don’t think you should excuse it. But I have the sense that it’s you that did this to your own friends.

    Also, it’s a sensitive subject for me when people say they broke up with a friend because the friend had a toxic partner. I know how annoying it can be. But if I were your friend “Stephanie” my attitude would be, “hey, I was in a really difficult, toxic relationship, and you abandoned me.”

    I’m going to say that you’re not allowed to dump a friend because of a toxic partner unless you’ve made a genuine effort to work around the partner, and be up front with your friend that that’s what your doing. As in “Stephanie, I’m going to say this once. I love you and always will. I don’t enjoy Dick’s company, and don’t care for what I see of your relationship. I’m never going to talk about Dick with your again, unless you tell me you want to. But let’s you and me get together on our own, when you want to hang out.” If you do that, and “Stephanie” gets pissed, well, you’re no worse off than if you’d just blown her off.

    What toxic people do is isolate their partners. By dumping your friend, you’re playing right into the toxic person’s plan.

  8. Pearatty Says:

    Ah, and I had this thought as well:

    If your Stephanie withdrew because she didn’t want to hear it, then that’s on her. But I think we assume that it’s obvious to the person in the relationship how we feel about thier partner, when it often isn’t.

    And I also get how annoying it can be to hear someone bitch for years about their partner without doing anything about it. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to say “you know, Dick’s been doing that since you were dating, and I think you’re right that it’s wrong, and will think you’re right the next time, and the time after that, but I’m tired of hearing about it without you doing something about it. So I’m not going to listen to stories about Dick anymore. How about those Mets?”

    Thanks for your post — very thought provoking.

    • carolynedgar Says:

      I do appreciate all of your comments. Although we’re not so close anymore, I still care very much about these women and don’t want to put their business out there, so I was circumspect about the details. Even writing this much of the story was hard. I hope you continue to read my blog.

  9. Onika Pascal Says:

    Again, you’ve written something that hits home. I too broke up with my best friend of 18 years…2 times. I admit I was the pressuring friend to get up & go when down in the dumps (when she wanted to stay there), but she didn’t stay. Left with no explanation. Last message I got (3 months) ago was, “I didn’t pay my cell phone bill, that’s why you’re not hearing from me”…I attempted to blog about it MANY times, but it hasn’t manifested. I have no words. I’m hurt.

    I have other friends whom I love & cherish dearly…they all ask for her, but we were friends from my 1st day of high school…to the end, through our college days, and kid bearing moment, our divorces…and now she’s gone…she met someone…hope he loves her as dedicated & sincerely as I have.

    But I’ve silently accepted it and let go.

  10. MidwestDominicana Says:

    This is a subject that is just not addressed often enough. I think it’s already difficult for women in general to find true friends in other women because we are so much on guard about so many things and society pushes us to be competitive against those who could really be what we need to be stronger. I have always generally had more guy friends than girlfriends. Guys are terrific in their own right, but they can never be the girlfriend who understands just exactly what you’re going through. It’s like the conundrum of the male GYN….but moving on. I think that as women and nuturers, we have a tendancy to want to be protective of and for our friends…at least that was my problem. I cared too much.

    When I met my ex-bff, it was kismet. I didn’t believe in soul-mates until I met her and as one of the other posters mentioned, I loved her as much as you can love anyone platonically. It was like we were sisters from different parents. We “broke up” nearly four years ago when she chose to marry the guy she confided she was “settling” for over her true love because she was not able to get her way. They had known each other less than a year.

    Fast forward, she is divorced and our friendship is no more. It has taken me up to this year to actually not have every other waking thought be about her, how she’s faring and if reconciliation is in our future. I went through every phase of the break-up rollercoaster. It did and still does feel like a death. I miss her like crazy, but I am finally moving on and wishing only the very best for her.

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  13. arieswym Says:

    This is a great post and it gave me a new perspective to considered as I’m in the process of breaking up with my friends. We haven’t been friends as long as yours but it’s still a more difficult process than I envisioned.

  14. seks filmy Says:

    Wonderful blog! I dont imagine Ive observed all the angles of this subject the way youve pointed them out. Youre a true star, a rock star man. Youve gained a whole lot to say and know a lot about the issue that i think you ought to just teach a class about it!

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  17. VegasSeven Says:

    I didn’t know others also broke up with their friends too. I have had to break-up with several. Not a fun thing. But just got so tired of the abuse and couldn’t allow their sad stories and negativities infect me anymore. The door is always open though. If they ever want to re-start the friendship, I am here for them. And in the meantime, I can always find other people to be-friend. I don’t take anything too personally.

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