“A friendship between college girls is grander and more dramatic than any romance.”
So says Hannah Horvath, Lena Dunham’s character in the hit TV show Girls, which follows four women in their twenties through romance, career — and most importantly, friendship.
It’s not just college women who have grand and dramatic friendships. While friends tend to be given short shrift to romantic relationships in our culture, our friendships are super important to our mental and emotionl lives. And the joys and traumas of friendship can be just as painful, if not more so, than the ups and downs of a romantic relationship.
That’s why losing a close friendship, whether through conflict or simply by losing touch, can be just as devastating (if not more!) than losing a partner. All the breakup feelings of mourning, confusion, and loneliness apply. And to make it worse, unlike with a romantic-partner breakup, a bestie breakup leaves you without your friend’s shoulder to cry on. What’s more, while most people are sympathetic to romantic breakups, friend breakups just don’t get the same recognition.
Friendship matters, and the end of a friendship can be devastating. It can also be an opportunity for self-reflection and growth. Here are some tips for surviving a breakup — the friend kind.
End it like a grownup
Whenever a friendship ends, it’s inevitable that hearts are going to be sore and feelings hurt. But you can make an effort to end it like a grownup. That means, whenever possible, making a genuine attempt to discuss the issue together in person — not over text message! It’s an opportunity to communicate how you’re feeling clearly and firmly. You may not be able to agree on the issue or reach a sense of closure, but at least you can end the relationship with minimal nastiness.
If you’re both part of a broader friend group, you can make an effort to keep the conflict between the two of you. There’s no need to try to turn the rest of the group against your ex-friend. One situation where it’s appropriate to have a group discussion is if they’re guilty of a deeply harmful behavior, like sexual harassment, which the group should address together.
Give Yourself Space
If you’ve just had a friend breakup, the last thing you need is to see endless Insta photos of your ex-bestie living it up solo — or worse, with a new best friend. (Friend jealousy is real! As with a romantic breakup, it’s healthy to take some space. Unfollow or even block your friend if necessary to let yourself heal from the relationship. If your friend unfollows, blocks, or unfriends you, try not to take it personally — they may just need some time.
While social media comes with settings, you can’t exactly “unfollow” someone in the real world. If you and your ex-friend are part of a broader group, we feel for you — navigating this is definitely tricky. You shouldn’t have to distance yourself from your group of friends because of conflict with one person, but seeing your ex-friend may still sting.
It’s okay to give yourself a break from the group. Take time to check in with other friends, or hang out with other people from the group one-on-one for a while. When you do go back to the group, you can try to keep things between you and your ex-friend distant, but polite. We know it’s awkward, but sometimes a little awkward is worth it to maintain other friendships that you value.
The Loss is Real. Acknowledge it!
While there aren’t a million corny TV shows and sappy songs about losing your bestie, the pain of a bestie breakup is totally normal and real! After a friend breakup you’ll go through a mourning period. We know it sucks, but the only way out is through: Let yourself feel the loss. After all, you’re losing a relationship that may have been older and more loyal than any romantic partnership!
Talk to your partner, family, therapist, or friends from a different circle (to minimize the drama) about what you’re feeling. All the same self-care tips following romantic breakups apply here, too. Keep yourself physically and emotionally healthy by doing things that make you feel good: going for spin class, sleeping in on the weekend, or taking yourself out for a nice meal.
It might feel lonely to do things that you used to do with your bestie, so try breaking out of your routine. Call a friend you haven’t seen for a while, or choose an activity that gives you dedicated “me” time — massage, anyone?
Every Breakup is an Opportunity
We know it doesn’t feel like this now, but what your therapist, your self-help books, and your mom say is true: Every breakup is an opportunity to grow. Reflecting on why the relationship ended can help you identify patterns in your own behavior (or your choice of friends!) and build stronger friendships in the future.
In the meantime, begin to put yourself out there again. We know, there’s no Tinder for besties. But you can use a friend breakup as an opportunity to spend more time with people in your life you may not have prioritized before. Now’s your chance to invite that cool-seeming acquaintance for a coffee, reconnect with your childhood buddy, or try out a new hobby (book club? Belly dance? Sure!).
Breaking up with a friend sucks. But every relationship in our lives teaches us something, and while you may not be able to make sense of it now, chances are you’ll look back and realize what this friendship gave you — and what new opportunities you found after it ended.