friendship break-up

How to handle a friendship break-up

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  • There's no rule book for losing a friend

    I had a break-up recently. Which, as someone who’s currently planning a wedding, isn’t a sentence I thought I’d have cause to write. But it wasn’t my fiancé who ended it with me. It was my friend.

    I hate to admit it, but I’d never been dumped before. It might sound naive, but I was shocked by how much it hurt. One minute you’re chugging along quite nicely, and the next, someone else has made the decision that you’re never going to be allowed to speak to them or see them again. And there’s no right of reply. The choice is made for you – all of your control is taken away. It’s a horrible feeling.

    But what happens next? Friendship break-ups don’t carry the same emotional cache that romantic ones do. When it ends with your romantic partner, your friends are expected to rally around, to support you. Whether it’s pouring tequila down your neck, feeding you Ben & Jerry’s or listening to you talk about him until you’re hoarse, there’s a routine to it. The people who love you know how to support you through it. But when it ends with a friend? There isn’t a rule book to follow. It wasn’t even that I didn’t know how to behave in the aftermath. No-one else seemed to either.

    There’s a clear set of rules when you break up with a romantic partner. Your friends aren’t supposed to date them. You can legitimately avoid them at all costs or continuously rant about them and people are sympathetic about it. But if you weren’t sleeping with the person who dumped you, somehow you’re expected to forfeit all of that emotional response, and no-one seems to know what is and isn’t okay.

    For instance, who gets custody of the friends? Most of us share a friendship group with our close friends, but if the two of you suddenly aren’t on speaking terms, are they supposed to sit awkwardly between you in the pub, or take it in turns to invite one of you and not the other?

    In reality it seems like no-one gets custody. People are even less inclined to take sides in a platonic break-up, and that might have an affect on your social life. But that doesn’t have to be the end of the world.

    The person I broke up with tended to take responsibility for a lot of our socializing, so when I was summarily ejected I worried that I’d end up seeing less of people. But I realized pretty quickly that relying on someone else to organize your social life for you is pretty lazy, and that if you take charge of things for yourself you get full control of what you do and who you do it with. Which (spoiler alert) is actually infinitely better and more satisfying. Who knew?

    I won’t pretend for a moment that losing a friend is easy, especially if you go back a long way. It’s important to allow yourself to grieve, just like you would over a romance. But the truth is, it’s easy to hold on to something long after it’s gone toxic. Because we have multiple friends and (generally) just the one romantic partner at a time, we’re much less likely to get rid of a friend than we are a boy/girlfriend. But maybe that’s a bad thing. Perhaps those friendships end up doing more damage than we realize. If your ‘friend’ isn’t happy for your successes, isn’t interested in your life, or can’t support the things you’re trying to achieve, you might be better off with the short-term pain of a break-up than keeping them around.

    After the initial pain a break-up is, usually, a good thing. It’s a chance to reassess who you are. Maybe it’s taking the plunge and getting a brave new haircut, or pulling your trainers on and remembering how much you like the ache in your legs after a proper run. But whatever it is, when someone hurts you (and make no mistake, a relationship doesn’t need to be romantic to be hurtful) it’s the perfect chance to be kind to yourself.

    The time that you would have spent with that person is time that you’ve suddenly been given back – it’s a gift. Rather than wasting it, use it to cherish yourself and to focus on the people in your life who make you feel good. Of course when there’s a schism in a friendship group it’s always going to affect your social life, at least a bit. And that’s really hard. But all you can do is focus on the upsides. There’s always a reason behind a break-up, and the chances are if things have run their course, it was getting toxic. And no-one needs that in their life.

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