Think of your best friend. What are their favorite movies? Favorite books? Long-term goals? Darkest fears? They’re all questions you can answer, right? Sometimes you even know their answers better than your own.
Whether we have a massive circle of friends or one best buddy, we all have someone we know as well as we know ourselves. We’ve been there for each other through major life events, through laughter and tears, and we come to believe that’s the way it always will be. We don’t live with them or declare “for better or worse” in front of two hundred people, but we have people we love and trust as much as a partner, people we think will be in our lives forever.
But sometimes we lose them, and it can be just as devastating — or sometimes more devastating — than any “real” breakup. When a romantic relationship ends, your best friend is there to help you pick up the pieces. You’ll cry, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry some more, and you’ll ultimately heal. Losing your best friend, on the other hand, feels a lot like having every happy memory sucked out of you by a Dementor, and Professor Lupin is nowhere around to give you chocolate.
(Yup, totally sprinkling a serious blog entry with Harry Potter references).
What really sucks about being dumped by a friend — apart from the actual dumping, and the lack of your best friend to vent to, and everything in general — is that everyone’s response seems to be the same: “It happens. What can you do?”
It’s not like an episode of The Golden Girls; there’s no sympathetic invitation to vent over a cheesecake. Nobody asks how you’re holding up. The way society handles a friend breakup can make us feel like we’re blowing everything out of proportion for grieving, and that’s simply not true.
Friendships end for different reasons, most commonly because people grow apart. Maybe one of you moved away, and all your good intentions to stay in touch weekly turned into the occasional poke on Facebook. Maybe one of you had a baby, and you just don’t have the time for anyone else. Maybe you’ve both found yourselves spending more time with a new group of friends and don’t have much in common anymore. A gradual parting of ways is certainly the most painless form of a breakup, especially when it’s mutual, but it still stings.
It can also be more insidious — plans to meet up at your favorite Mexican restaurant for mango margaritas are repeatedly canceled. Karaoke night becomes a thing of the past. She ditches being your gym buddy. Suddenly you realize you’re the only one who makes an effort anymore. It’s similar to the aforementioned friendship drift but usually happens in a shorter period of time, and it’s almost always glaringly obvious as it’s happening.
And sometimes they can be absolutely brutal. A series of squabbles could lead to deeply-rooted animosity that drives a wedge between the closest of friends. Sometimes, though, there’s a catastrophic blow-out. Accusations fly, a few choice curses are hurled, and the damage is irrevocably done.
That doesn’t mean all friendships end after a fight. Of course they don’t. But what happens when there’s no hope of reconciliation?
According to Georgetown University’s Dr. Andrea Bonior, “Sometimes, there are specific things that you will hold out hope for… but you have to realize your own lack of control in any of that happening.”
This is especially true if you are the party “at fault.” No judgment here. It happens to the best of us. We have a bad day and say things we wish we could travel back in time with a roll of duct tape to stop ourselves from saying. We get caught up in our own lives and forget to take a time out to catch up with our loved ones. We cancel plans one too many times when a friend really needs our advice and support.
And sometimes making amends is equally impossible when your friend is the one to blame for causing the blow-out. Maybe you couldn’t handle their self-destructive drinking and gave them an ultimatum. Maybe they always treated you like a second-class citizen, and you finally called them on it. (Some of you may be saying “good riddance,” but it still hurts). Maybe they did something horrible, something completely immoral or even illegal, and you rightly said, “ain’t nobody got time for that!”
Every friendship is unique. So is every ending.
So, what do you do when you’ve lost your best friend, whatever the reason? How do you heal?
1.) Deal with it. No, not in the condescending, “put on your big girl panties and deal with it,” sort of way. Process your emotions. For many people, myself included, the knee-jerk reaction is to bury it all and hide the pain behind a wall of sarcasm, and that’s not healthy. Even if you’re not entirely sure why it’s over, you have to accept that it is and work through all the pain and anger you’re feeling. Evaluate what happened and why you think it happened. Write your friend a letter (don’t send it) apologizing or venting. Put it down somewhere so you’re not carrying it around with you anymore.
2.) You need some (cyber)space. We live in a world that’s on 24/7, so chances are good you’re following them on more than one social media platform. Unfriend them on Facebook. Unfollow their Instagram. Do not creepily stalk their every move, no matter how tempting it is. Think of it this way: do you really want to see someone who broke your heart out there having a blast with their new date? The same thing applies here. Seeing your friend at the beach with their new bestie will feel like a knife in the heart. And please, please, please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t engage in a social media flame war. Just don’t. Regardless of who was at fault, you will look like the asshole, and they’ll look like the victim. Cyber-bullying is never okay.
3.) Speak no evil. You might have friends in common, so it’s going to be rough explaining why you two aren’t BFFs anymore. Be vague and polite. Something as simple as, “oh, we just don’t see much of each other anymore,” is a perfectly acceptable response to any questions you may be asked. Resist the urge to talk shit about your former friend. Even if you have the very best of intentions and want to protect your joint friends from a malignant narcissist, you’re going to come off as spiteful and childish. Eventually they’ll find out the truth on their own, possibly when your ex-friend slips up and badmouths you. And even if that never happens, you’ll still have the satisfaction of knowing you handled yourself with grace and civility.
4.) Don’t look back in anger. I’m not gonna lie. The first few days post-breakup are going to be hellish, but try not to connect every single thought in your head to that person. Don’t dwell on how you’re never going to finish binging that one show you both love. Stop tormenting yourself because you said this when you should have said that. Realize that the end of your friendship might be the only closure you ever get. The last thing you said to them might be the last thing you ever say to them, and that’s okay. They may never call out of the blue to apologize for being such a shithead. Similarly, if you reach out in search of closure or to reconnect, they might not answer at all. You might not like the answer you get if they do.
5.) Eat that pizza. Go ahead and do it. The same romantic-relationship-breakup tips apply to friendship breakups, too. Order that pizza. Have a glass of wine (but make sure you stay hydrated, too). Eat the entire pint of ice cream while watching late night reruns of Mom with your mom. Just don’t make a lifelong habit of it. There’s a thin line between indulging in self-care and the Pizza Hut delivery guy knows my cats by name.
6.) Do a little dance. Or meditate. Take a yoga class. Relax and take some time for yourself. Do something to get that adrenaline surging if that’s more your speed. You can even tape their picture to a punching bag and go a few rounds if it makes you feel better. Hey, nobody has to know. What happens in the gym stays in the gym.
7.) Netflix and avoid people. If you really want to finish watching that show you used to watch together, go watch it. Let it be your show from now on. Or if you’re just not ready for that yet, watch your favorite movie, or maybe watch something that makes you laugh in case your favorite movie is, say, Grave of the Fireflies. (I highly recommend Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby. It’s hilarious).
8.) Take a nap. No, seriously. The upset of losing a friend can keep you up late at night trying to pinpoint exactly where it all went wrong, not to mention crying your eyes out because you’re lonely, damnit. Experts recommend a 20 minute catnap to boost your alertness and concentration. If you have more time, 45 minutes has been proven to improve your memory, and a 90 minute nap makes up for the 90 minute sleep deficit most of us cope with on a daily — or is it nightly? — basis.
9.) Get by with a little help from your friends. Find a new Netflix binging buddy in your friend group, or go out and make new friends! Take that pottery class you’ve wanted to take ever since you watched Ghost, and chat with someone with a shared hobby. Or hit up that acquaintance you’ve always meant to go see a movie with because she’s a laugh a minute. You can get through this, and you will.
10.) Reach out. If the grieving process seems to last forever, and you just can’t let go of what happened, there’s no shame in seeking professional help. Sometimes all you need is an unbiased ear and a shift in perspective to turn the corner. Grieving isn’t a linear process. You’ll have bouts of sadness months down the line when you thought you were “over it,” and that’s okay. But if you find yourself at a loss, please reach out. There are computer and phone-based options like Talkspace and BetterHelp if you don’t have the time or don’t want to talk in person. (I’m not sponsored by either service, by the way. I’ve just read good reviews).
The end of a friendship can feel like the end of the world. There are thousands upon thousands of songs about the end of a romance, but there’s no Unbreak My Heart written for the death of a friendship. I’m not sure why since it’s ultimately the same sentiment rattling around in our skulls: they don’t want me anymore.
Sex and the City and Beaches have given many of us the unrealistic expectation that friendships are forever, so we’re completely blindsided and confused when a friendship does end.
Don’t let a lack of cultural sensitivity bring you down when you already feel like you’ve hit rock bottom and started to dig.
Treat a friendship breakup with the same respect as you would a romantic breakup. Don’t push yourself to “get over it” in the blink of an eye, but don’t torture yourself over what might have been, either.
If you gradually outgrew each other, look back on the good times fondly. Even if your split was fraught with screaming, a painful ending doesn’t negate the happy times that came before. One day you’ll be able to remember them without the whole requiem-of-a-Dementor thing going on. And if, upon reviewing your friendship, you realize you were being taken advantage of or even abused, you’ll be able to say, “thanks for the memories even though they weren’t so great.”
Have you ever gone through a best friend breakup? How did you get through it?