Breaking up is hard enough to do when you’re in a romantic relationship. But, when friendships come to an end, it tends to be messier and more heartbreaking than your typical break up. Relationships with friends fade in and out over time, but it’s rare that they actually end full stop. I’ve gone through many a breakup with boyfriends — there have been nasty breakups and sob-filled endings — but it always comes down to the fact that I know, deep in my heart, that we don’t belong together. Friendships, on the other hand, aren’t supposed to end. So when they do, it’s confusing and hard and hurtful, fraught with complications like social media, complicated histories, and mutual friends caught in the fray.
I once chose to end a friendship after years of feeling like this relationship was very imbalanced. I put so much into the friendship, only to get little in return. The relationship was marred by constant fighting, and finally, I couldn’t keep up. I just wasn’t able to be the person she needed in her life. When I started to draw myself back, canceling plans, keeping myself unavailable, I was yelled at for being a bad friend. I’d hoped it’d be easier than having a confrontation — but I was wrong.
We spoke on the phone, and I explained that it was getting too hard and draining to keep up a relationship. The call lasted nearly an hour and was more painful than any breakup conversation I’d ever had with a man, no matter which side of the breakup I’d been on.
It didn’t make sense to her, and according to Dr. Seth Meyers, a psychologist and author, it’s not going to make sense. That’s why it’s hard.
“We see friendships as less risky, and we believe they won’t end,” he says. “What’s more, we don’t start friendships believing that the relationship could end bitterly or dramatically.”
While the feelings in a friendship breakup may seem complicated, they’re very straightforward, almost exactly the same feelings involved in the dissolution of a romantic relationship.
Meyers says that relationships, whether romantic or platonic, are only fulfilling (AKA worth it) if both individuals want to be in the relationship.
“If someone wants to cut a connection with you, remember that you don’t actually want to be in a relationship where you’re not wanted, either. Allow yourself to feel the hurt, then move on and invest in people who value you more,” he says.
Sound familiar? Of course it does. Friendship and love go hand in hand. I can attest that my friendship fallout led to many awkward run ins and convoluted hurt feelings, which were extra perplexing since I was the one who didn’t want to stay in the friendship. But Meyers confirms that breaking up with a friend, in some ways, can be harder than breaking up with a loved one.
“While you may not share all your personal thoughts and feelings with your boyfriend, you may feel more free to share everything with that friend,” he says. “When you lose that kind of emotional intimacy, it can feel like you’re losing part of yourself.”