About a year and a half ago, my housemate and one of my closest friends abruptly moved out and stopped talking to me. I’d confronted her about something trivial the night before, something that I figured we could be angry about for a while, and then chat it out when we’d had some time and space. But the next morning, she refused to talk about it and moved out, and as much as I tried to repair things, she had no interest in doing so.
It hurt like a romantic relationship breakup. The problem was, nobody ever talks about friendship break-ups. Friendships are often put on the back burner for romantic relationships in our society – how many media portrayals put a higher emphasis on romantic relationships over platonic ones? Friends are often seen as the emotional fall-backs after a romantic relationship ends. Did your boyfriend dump you? Fuck him, it’s time to rally with your friends and emphasize “me time”…until you find someone better. Not much attention is paid to friendships that end in painful ways. We don’t have a universal term for a former friend; “ex-friend” sounds clunky, despite “ex-girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife/partner” being the norm. Popular artists don’t typically write songs about losing friends.
I suppose in a way this makes sense. Most friendships end by a slow separation, a mutual drifting apart. In a lot of ways, it’s a kind death, like the friendship got to grow old and gray, live a full life, and then died in its sleep.
A friendship that ends abruptly feels more like a “missing-presumed-dead” situation. There’s no closure, no satisfying explanation.
So what do you do when a friendship that involved years of hilarious exploits, drunken capers; weekend Netflix binge parties; spontaneous road trips; conversations that had you both laughing until your stomachs ached; tearful confessions and comforting hugs comes to a screeching halt?
You do what you do with any other breakup – you rally with your other friends and you try to sort it out. At first, I was worried that my friends wouldn’t understand why I felt so awful. It’s not as if we were dating, after all! But the more I opened up about it, I discovered that nearly all of my friends had a similar story. For many, there was that one person, that friend they clicked with, then it all fell apart, and it ended abruptly, or with hostility.
I’m glad to know I’m not alone, but I’m still frustrated that there’s so little public commiseration to be had. How do I make a mix of sad break-up songs for a friendship? Which movie do I watch that portrays the aftermath of a broken friendship? I think it’s some combination of this dearth of cultural reference and lack of closure that keeps me thinking about this lost friendship a year and a half later. My many questions -How could I have fixed it? What was going on in my friend’s head when this happened? What was the exact breaking point that made her decide that our years of friendship weren’t worth fighting for? – will never be answered.
So the most I can do, the most any of us can do, is to remember the fun times fondly, cherish the friends that we have, and try to wish that ex-friend (past friend? former friend? one-upon-a-time friend?) well.