Friendship Breakups: When Women and Men Lose Their Pals

Friendship breakups suck.

Because when friendship works, it’s great. Take 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.”

So when it doesn’t work…well, Amy has spoken. As have such friendship-themed writers as Carlin Flora, Irene S. Levine, and Susanna Sonnenberg–all mentioned in my posts earlier this week—who point their interest not only toward the viable friendships but also the friendship breakups.

Women: Friends No More

In her review of Irene S. Levine’s 2009 Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, psychologist Diana Zuckerman notes: “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. Levine says that the most common cause of friendship breakups has to do with drifting apart. Some of the other reasons are less benign, however.

There are times, for example, that a friend is simply no longer deemed worthy; in fact, your friend may be “toxic”—one of our popular terms du jour. What then?

Feminist psychologists have suggested that a toxic friendship is often one in which a women’s own personal growth and individuation is sacrificed at the expense of the demands of the other person. Sometimes choosing oneself rather than the friendship is important for future personal growth and individuation. But women have a difficult time separating from each other because emotional connection is so highly valued and broken friendships are seen as failures.

In its review, Publishers Weekly summarizes the book:

Levine cites studies indicating that women’s friendships are more intense than men’s, nurtured through shared intimacy and reciprocity. But friendships are not static, she explains—over time, they can wax and wane and end. Levine’s seven stages of grief are loosely reminiscent of the Kübler-Ross grief model, but include new elements: ‘Self Blame,’ ‘Embarrassment and Shame’ and ‘Relief.’ Full of hints for being a consistently thoughtful friend, for resuscitating your closest friendship or knowing when to end it, this book is part etiquette guide, part grief manual. Whether your friendship sputtered because of physical distance or your best friend slept with your boyfriend, Levine deftly assures us that although the pain can be strong, the sorrow will pass.

Men: Friends No More

Last August Men’s Health reported the results of a survey they conducted that found three commonly given reasons for guy friendship breakups:

You don’t have anything in common anymore (34 percent), he’s a bad influence (28 percent), or he did something unforgivable (39 percent). ‘Everybody makes mistakes,’ says Al Bernstein, Ph.D., author of Emotional Vampires. ‘But when those mistakes start happening repeatedly, you have to make some hard decisions.’

Bernstein offers some further advice for the male-friendship-troubled:

  • If you’re the one who’s unhappy, see if you can talk it out with your friend.
  • If that doesn’t work, another option is to detach—then wait to see if he winds up getting the hint. If he does, you’re done.
  • If he doesn’t get it, however, it’s time to directly address the need for the breakup.

One more thing, Bernstein adds: expect some hurt feelings. And that’s on both ends.

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