Friendship Breakups: Another Kind of Heartbreak

When friendships work, it’s a great thing. When they don’t, friendship breakups can occur. Consider Amy Poehler‘s viewpoint: “Only hang around people that are positive and make you feel good. Anybody who doesn’t make you feel good kick them to the curb and the earlier you start in your life the better. The minute anybody makes you feel weird and non included or not supported, you know, either beat it or tell them to beat it.”

Of course, being on the dumped side of friendship breakups can be quite painful. Unfortunately, it happens a lot.

In her review of Irene S. Levines 2009 Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, psychologist Diana Zuckerman noted: “We don’t expect to marry our elementary school sweethearts, and it is equally rare for our best friends from childhood to be there for us forever.”

Similarly, later-formed friendships don’t always last either. As the subtitle to Jennifer Senior‘s fantastic article “It’s Your Friends Who Break Your Heart” states, The older we get, the more we need our friends—and the harder it is to keep them.

Senior admits to undergoing a phenomenon she calls “a Great Pandemic Friendship Reckoning,” which she believes most people have experienced as well. (She’d been interested in this topic pre-COVID too.) “You lose friends to marriage, to parenthood, to politics—even when you share the same politics. (Political obsessions are a big, underdiscussed friendship-ender in my view, and they seem to only deepen with age.) You lose friends to success, to failure, to flukish strokes of good or ill luck. (Envy, dear God—it’s the mother of all unspeakables in a friendship, the lulu of all shames.)”

Not to mention, she adds, the three other huge events that can alienate friends: moving, divorce, and death.

But these were your friends! Shouldn’t you be able to survive the rough stuff and move on? “These life changes and upheavals don’t just consume your friends’ time and attention. They often reveal unseemly characterological truths about the people you love most, behaviors and traits you previously hadn’t imagined possible…”

The bottom line, of course, is that whether friendships drift apart or come crashing down, hurt and heartbreak are involved. So how can this be prevented?

The problem is that when it comes to friendship, we are ritual-deficient, nearly devoid of rites that force us together. Emily Langan, a Wheaton College professor of communication, argues that we need them. Friendship anniversaries. Regular road trips. Sunday-night phone calls, annual gatherings at the same rental house, whatever it takes. ‘We’re not in the habit of elevating the practices of friendship,’ she says. ‘But they should be similar to what we do for other relationships.’

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