By your mid-twenties, I think a friend breakup is something that many of us have experienced, and it’s funny, because there’s no real protocol for how it should be done or even an acceptance that it should be done at all.
For boyfriends and girlfriends, we know the drill, in theory if not in practice. It’s not unusual for a romantic relationship to run its course and one or both people to realize that they’re not happy any more or they’re fighting too much or they just don’t want to spend their time together. They’ll have a conversation, either calmly or in the middle of a fight, and say something like, “I don’t think we should be together anymore.” Maybe tears are shed, maybe not. Maybe it’s emotional or maybe it’s a long time coming. Maybe you can be friendly later or maybe you’ll never speak to each other again.
No matter how a romantic break up goes down, though, it’s not unprecedented. Unless you’re married and/or say “I do, forever and ever,” there’s no expectation that the two of you are tied for life. Yet, for some reason, we expect our friends to be our friends indefinitely. We may acknowledge that we may drift apart some if one person moves away or starts a family or gets a very busy job. Yet the reality is, very likely someone who was the perfect friend for us at 16 is just not going to be the perfect friend for us at 26.
I’ve had a few friendships that I have outgrown. Either I’ve realized I don’t like the woman’s negative attitude or I don’t like how much she talks about herself or I don’t like her immaturity. A character trait that used to not bother me so much suddenly really grates on me. And yet, for some reason I let these friendships continue on way longer than they should have, because I just don’t feel comfortable saying, “It was great, we learned a lot from each other, but I just don’t think we’re a good fit anymore.”
It’s a really easy temptation to just “ghost.” To just slowly stop answering text messages and phone calls. To answer vaguely, “yeah, we should hang out,” when you see each other at a party, but then never follow through with it. This is the coward’s way out and I know it. And it’s funny, because I’m not someone who normally eschews tough conversations. Yet, for some reason, when it comes to friendship breakups, I worry that having a frank conversation about why I don’t want to hang out with someone any more will just be unnecessarily painful. “What will it really achieve, other than to hurt their feelings?” I reason with myself.
At least with a romantic partner, there’s an understanding that you’re breaking up with them so you can go find a person who is a better fit for you. But it’s not like friendships are monogamous. A frank and well-defined friendship breakup, while necessary in terms of freeing up more time and emotional energy, is not truly required in the same way.
I used to try and force friendships to last beyond their expiration date. A few times in my life, I’ve had a serious falling out with a girl friend and when I’ve felt that loss acutely months or even years later, I’ve sent the said person an email or written them a letter in an effort to reconnect. I used to be so close to this person, poured so much time and energy into them, and I miss that deep relationship we had. Convinced it was still lurking there just beneath the surface, my attempts to draw it out have only resulted in awkwardness. Emotional connections, while intense in their peak, ebb and flow. While some last forever, many inevitably go out with the tide.
Have you ever had a friendship breakup? Did you have a conversation, did you just start avoiding them, or did it happen organically?