When Do You Break Up With A Friend?

You’ve known each other for a long time, but you’ve both grown up and changed along the way. At what point—and how—do you acknowledge that the friendship is no longer working?

I am bad at conflict. It’s embarrassing how bad I am at it, actually, considering so much of my life is based on creating conflict, at least intellectually. In person, however, I might be what you’d call “conflict avoidant.” It’s not my favorite thing about myself. 

Recently, though, I found myself in the most ridiculous space possible in which to experience conflict: Gchat. Having a fight on Gchat is ridiculous, because not only does sarcasm translate poorly, if at all, but it’s completely impossible to be articulate when you feel like you’re racing some kind of weird instant messenger clock. It’s such a bizarre kind of franticness, it seems, at least to me, totally unmanageable. 

If you happened to eavesdrop on our high school conversations, you would know that this friend and I are essentially living the lives we talked about then: me writing in New York City, her, married with various children in the suburbs. This Gchat flare up was a political argument, the sort of which we’ve been having since we were 15 years old. The details of the argument aren’t particularly important, suffice it to say that this person and I could not be more opposite in our politics and what she said rendered me so frustrated that I knew I couldn’t articulate my thoughts in chat format. I told her that I couldn’t have the conversation right then and signed off. True to my conflict-avoidant self, I haven’t gone back into that conversation, or initiated another for over a month now, which brings me to the question: When do you break up with a friend? 

Here’s when I think you don’t: If you realize that this is about your ego, and nothing else, something you may only realize in retrospect. A friendship is the safest place to get hurt, or at least it should be. As in, you should be able to tell a friend when they’ve hurt you, and you should be able to fall down in front of one another without feeling like you can never look at each other again. This vulnerability is what makes it so terrifying, and why it’s so disconcerting that as a society, we undervalue platonic friendships at the cost of propping up and rewarding romantic ones, as though we did not need multiple places and ways to expose our underbellies. 

I’d encourage us to interrogate what it means when we say we like someone: Do we feel like we’re better people when they’re around? Do they bring out something within us that makes us kinder, more reflective, more inspired, more daring? Or is it that we like being liked, and that’s more important than feeling like our time with them is well spent? 

It’s so hard for me to explain what I like about someone, it’s so intrinsic that I often think it’s better to not try to articulate it, but I know what it feels like when I don’t like someone. I want to get away from that feeling, and it’s different from when I know I’m wrong, or being challenged, or when I’m lit up with indignation. The friendships that do the latter require a strange blend of delicacy, brutality, and sincerity, in short, more work. Everyone deserves that kind of attention, but the truth is, not every combination of people can give it to each other, and when it comes down to it, you can’t do it over Gchat.

Chanel Dubofsky is a writer in Brooklyn, New York, and the creator and editor of the Marriage Project, an interview series about marriage in imagination and reality. She has published essays in the Forward, Tablet, Gender Focus and The Pursuit of Harpyness, and fiction at Monkey Bicycle, Matchbook and Quick Fiction. She blogs at Diverge (www.idiverge.wordpress.com).

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