When Friends Break Up

Some friendships naturally dissolve. And others end awkwardly, painfully. 

The end of a love affair is big business. Think about the books, songs, and movies about break-ups; it’s a never-ending flow of artistic release.

But what about when we “break up” with a friend?

Sometimes, a friendship’s evolution is organic. We take the hint, phone calls go unanswered, and we let it be. We move on. You used to work together and now you don’t. Your kids aren’t in the same class anymore. It’s not a huge issue, it just is.

These changes are not really break-ups. You might cross paths with this friend again, even decades later, and pick up where you left off. Circumstances have brought you together again and it’s pleasant, or even wonderful.

Other times, there is an awkward shift. Whether gradual or sudden, expectations no longer match, values change, one of you does something or, the balance is simply off. One wants more out of the friendship than the other. Feelings get hurt.

I have been on both ends of this.

Once, I had to break up with a friend, officially, after trying to be subtle. A friend I was trying to leave called and confronted me with “Are you upset with me? You seem to be pulling away.” This was after rejecting offers to get together, being busy, trying to gently make the change.

So, feeling slightly sick, but a little relieved, I said, “I’ve enjoyed our friendship, but I think we want different things right now.”

Thud. Silence.

“Oh, well. I’m really surprised. Oh,” she was genuinely shocked. “Did I do something?”

I thought: Besides being smothering and wanting more from me than I could possibly ever give, ever? No, I didn’t say that.

“I’m just in a different place now. I don’t feel like I can be the friend you need. I need space.”

She was struck silent but thanked me for my honesty. I didn’t feel great, but I was relieved. I tried to be honest without hurting her, and I made it about me. When I saw her after that, at the gym or the park, we’d say “hi,” and that was it.

I have also been left, and been hurt.

A friend broke up with me, mostly by being unresponsive. I used to tell myself it was her nature. And, it is. She’s scattered and unreliable. She was that way even when we were equally invested friends. So I let that go. I let her be unreliable. I wanted more though. I wanted her in my life that much. That was on me.

But today, we are no longer constants in each other’s lives because she does not want it. Being connected to me isn’t important anymore. Although that made me sad, it’s OK now. I have moved on. And I know that I deserve friends who invest in me as I do in them.

At first, I wondered, what did I mean to her? Were we ever close? Was it all a lie? Of course not—our friendship was real. It was in my life when I needed it, and fed me as it could. But it went away. It also became not enough.

At this point, I am objective enough to see that we drifted apart and our needs changed. We no longer live in the same state; it’s been years. When we originally met at work, she pursued me. We trained together for my first triathlon—she encouraged me but, ironically, didn’t submit her forms on time. I did the race, she sat on the sidelines. At the time, our training runs were the highlight of our days. My workout partner had always been music. Instead, we talked about everything. We soaked each other in with reciprocal love and respect. Our friendship was intimate, full of laughter, special.

So that is why still, over a decade later, I feel these memories with such intensity. Sometimes, I see her name come up on my “Chat” drop down box on Facebook. There she is, just a keystroke away. But, in fact, she’s much farther. She is still in touch with others from that time in our lives. And I am not. But I don’t want to be. That is my choice and I can let her, and them, go.

Years ago, I made attempts at reconnection. And she responded, but her responses were always of the “too little too late” variety. They felt like excuses. So I have set her free, but remember with fondness and love the friendship we shared.

I will always have the memories of our early morning runs, talking and laughing with my dear special friend, and have let go of the disappointment I felt because of what is not now.

Jenny Kanevsky lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, two sons, three cats, and a bearded dragon. She blogs at IN OTHER WORDS and has written the mystery novel Chosen Quarry.

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