We have tools to deal with break ups: romcoms, ice cream, embarrassing music, cliches. We have ways to keep ourselves in tact and to practice self care. But if you lose a friend, as I did recently, there’s all the same feelings of loss, and none of the adequate coping mechanisms. Nobody ever talks about how to handle the end of a friendship. Nobody knows how to adequately grieve.
As I was perusing the Internet today for important news to bring you, I came across this item about Selena Gomez, who scrubbed the presence of her famous friends Taylor Swift, Kendall Jenner, Kylie Jenner, and former boyfriend Justin Bieber from her social media presence, deleting pictures and unfollowing them. I feel badly that Gomez is at odds with her friends and that people pay enough attention to her social media to notice (and that assholes like me are mentioning it). It feels all too familiar, and got me thinking about the end of friendships and how we really don’t have any way to deal with that type of break up.
A friendship of mine ended last year, and to be honest, I’m still not over it. She was one of the most significant relationships in my life, and I’m still carrying hurt, sadness, and a lot of anger. We were both equally at fault and there’s plenty of anger on both sides, but that doesn’t really make it any better. Knowing I hurt her as badly as she hurt me doesn’t really fix things. It feels like a break up that’s still looming over me, because I didn’t really have the tools to grieve. I didn’t watch movies or eat a ton of ice cream or stay in bed crying all day. I just kind of kept going in my life, a little less complete.
Friendships are relationships just like romantic ones, and they take communication, compromise, and work. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out. Ours didn’t, even though we tried to talk and work through it. It’s painful. It’s heartbreaking.
I wasn’t at all prepared for the idea of a friend break up until it happened. There’s a difference between the normal waxing and waning of friendships as you age–people simply grow apart. You move across the country or go to school or have a kid or what have you, and the nature of your friendships change. That’s not necessarily painful–it’s just a part of life. It happens to all of us. A friend break up is different.
When a friendship ends, you’re not allowed to go through a break up in the way we allow people to grieve a relationship’s end. You aren’t allowed the same leeway in a friend break up as you are when a relationship ends, for example, if you delete your former friend from social media, it’s seen as petty or over dramatic. If you want to avoid running into her at social events, people think you’re being high maintenance. Gomez unfollowed her famous friends online, and it’s newsworthy. I hid my former friend from my newsfeed because it made me sad to see her, but didn’t want to make the gesture of unfriending her. Had she been an ex-partner and not a friend, I doubt I would have hesitated.
I miss her but don’t particularly want to try again, but I feel like I’m at loose ends about the whole thing, and don’t really have the language to talk about it. When I try to articulate my thoughts, my knee jerk reaction is to think you weren’t dating her. Why are you making such a big deal? But of course, that completely devalues the relationship, as if the only type of significant relationship a person can have is the one with with person you’re dating. As if significant relationships are dependent on sex or romance. As if friends don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. I know better than that.
At some point, we have to figure out that friend break ups exist, and can be as significant and painful as a break up with a partner. We need to develop tools and language to deal with them better, so that we don’t pretend like it doesn’t hurt. So we can acknowledge that it affected and changed us, and that we need help moving on. Or at least I do.
I’m going to get myself a pint of ice cream tonight. It’s not a lot, but it’s a start.