One terrifying aspect of the adulting process that isn’t discussed nearly as much as it should be is the inevitable friend breakup.
I used to envision it as a gradual, natural falling-out that would leave me much breathing room to mourn and heal. But the pandemic rapidly and quite brutally pointed out which of my connections were established on a true, time-tested bond, and which ones were built on mere necessity and proximity. And if you’re anything like me, trying to accept this just sends you on an express trip down the stages of grief.
Maybe I’m overreacting, I would tell myself in true gaslighter fashion. Maybe I just need to sleep on this, only for me to wake up the next day feeling exactly the same, or sometimes even worse. I guess it’s the longstanding belief we have that these bonds aren’t meant to be broken, which probably explains why there are very few resources that teach us how to navigate such situations.
Armed with a newfound sense of self and a limited capacity for all kinds of BS, I’ve realized that it is more flawed to keep forcing people in when they no longer fit. In fact, I’ve actually learned valuable lessons from each of them.
The friend breakup that taught me how to respect my boundaries.
We spent so much of our time together that we were frequently viewed and regarded as a singular entity — the last thing I wanted as someone who was just starting to explore university life.
There was this constant push and pull between not wanting to leave her behind, but also desperately needing to carve out my own space.
It reached the point where she would lash out at me and make me feel like I had to apologize for spending time with other people. While we tried our best to keep things civil, it seems both of us only knew peace when we weren’t in constant communication anymore.
Overly dependent friends can be draining over time. They might not realize it because of their instinctive need to cling on to others for support, which makes us feel horrible for thinking poorly of them in the first place. After all, we’d have to be on a whole new level of heartless to deprive someone of the support and attention they obviously need. But while it’s possible and even necessary to give them empathy, this doesn’t mean they get complete and unprecedented access to our time and energy.
“We teach people how to treat us,” life coach and author Susie Moore shares with Good Morning America. “So we can lovingly respond more slowly,” maybe redirect them to alternative sources of help until we become less available overall.
The friend breakup that taught me why loyalty is my number one non-negotiable.
I was never a big believer in staying silent to keep the peace, especially when it comes to issues that directly affect me. So when someone I trusted started wielding my deepest fears to hurt my feelings, I knew a huge confrontation was about to take place.
During this painful time, I expected my best friend to stand by my side. But being the Miss Congeniality of our batch, she chose to step away from the issue completely instead of extending any form of support. Worst of all, whenever I’d explicitly ask her to take a stand, she’d accuse me of pressuring her into making a decision she didn’t want.
People pleasers are generally in denial that they’re hurting others in the process, even though we explicitly tell them so. Choosing neutrality is indicative of maturity, they might say — which isn’t exactly wrong. But if this isn’t a belief we subscribe to, we should feel no pressure to change our stance for the sake of salvaging the relationship. Personally, I feel losing someone who would rather avoid conflict to save face than cement their position as a true friend doesn’t seem like that much of a loss.
The friend breakup that taught me to be unapologetically proud of myself.
The problem with these “friends” is that they actually possess redeeming qualities. Mine, for instance, matched my sense of humor almost exactly: we often messaged each other jokes and memes back and forth, in rapid succession. This made her absence during key moments in my life incredibly palpable. When I would gain academic achievements or freelance opportunities, she was either out of reach or making active efforts to dodge these topics in our conversations.
In times like this, we tend to rationalize their actions: weaving whole narratives out of one-sentence excuses to justify their behavior. Occasionally, we have the tendency to downplay what we’ve done instead of celebrating our well-earned achievements.
But it bears repeating that one of the main tenets of friendship is treating their successes as our own, and vice versa. Those who can’t be happy for us have their own issues to work through, and it’s not our responsibility to wait for them to sort those out before we can feel fully happy about ourselves.
The friend breakup that taught me expired relationships don’t mean beef.
This was the most painful one I had to deal with, primarily because I never thought it would happen. High school best friends are supposed to be forever: if we made it through the era of our bad hair days and petty arguments, we could do anything. But despite sustained efforts to keep our conversations alive once we entered college, she and I slowly ran out of things to say. No build-up to a huge fight, no formal closure.
We have the unique capacity to shapeshift into different versions of ourselves that will be unrecognizable, sometimes unacceptable to those we’ve outgrown. Apparently, that’s okay! And that doesn’t always mean a bitter end to a meaningful bond. We can simultaneously honor the formative memories we’ve shared and acknowledge that we aren’t meant to make any more together. Though I have no proof, my gut tells me we’re always silently cheering each other on. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s reading this article right now.
I’m about to close this chapter of my life and move on to meeting people in the workplace, where opportunities for shared vulnerability are few and far between and genuine interactions can sadly be marred by office politics. But nevertheless, I’d like to think I’m more prepared to take this challenge on, and less likely to take it to heart when they don’t flourish. I am not defined by my failed friendships anyway. Rather, I’m a product of the learnings they’ve equipped me with, and the love given to me by those who chose to stay.