Breaking up with a friend, be it guy or girl, can hurt just as much, if not more, than a breakup with a romantic beau.
There are moments in life when serious disagreements can never seem to be repaired. A few unreturned phone calls, absences from group hangouts and a couple of curt texts later, and you find yourself trying to stubbornly move on from someone you once swore you’d never leave.
I once heard a saying that in life, it’s not a matter of if someone will disappoint you, but when. Because no one’s perfect, and no one, not your mom or your mentor or role model or boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse, can flawlessly live up to expectations without fail. Life and people become complicated. If we’re not careful, we get jaded, and we wonder how many more times we’ll have to feel heartbroken.
Good friends are your family away from home. They deserve a different sort of TLC. In my early twenties, I experienced moments of deep grief, with guy friends and girlfriends alike. There were falling-outs that I regretted for years but have since found closure from. If you can relate, I hope the lessons I learned from the following experience can offer some encouragement.
In my senior year of college, I fell head-over-heels with a French bartender – skipped class to hang out with him and everything. One of his guy friends, a waiter at the restaurant next door, became one of my best friends. It was the kind of camaraderie that had no shortage of energy. We laughed at the same jokes, the same Internet memes, listened to the same music. It’s corny, but we could nearly finish each other’s sentences. We drank beer together on many nights in downtown L.A. and found ourselves grabbing late-night Korean food. It was the kind of friendship where you could say absolutely nothing, but still feel like you’re communicating.
Then one day, he stopped talking to me. Out of the blue, he stopped returning my texts and phone calls, and he disappeared from Facebook. For many weeks, I felt hurt. And because he didn’t return messages, I had no way of knowing why. Without closure, a well of bitterness turned to anger. It would be almost a year before he contacted me again and apologized. He had had a nasty romantic breakup with his girlfriend. Because of the drama, he retreated from all other friendships. I told him that I understood. But by then, emotionally wrought from the breakup, he was no longer the same person.
At first, I didn’t know how to react. I wanted things to be the way they were before: fun, carefree, silly. One summer, I visited him in Hollywood and tried to reminisce of the old times. It wasn’t the same – he spent most of the time agonizing over his ex. I eventually accepted that I had to lower my expectations. It wasn’t fair of me to assume that my needs were greater than his. At the moment, he needed someone to listen to his complaints about his ex. But I knew that this could not go on indefinitely. Griping about an old ex every time we hung out could not be the basis of rebuilding our friendship. So I drew a line and created some distance. We talk every now and then, though not nearly like we used to. And while coming to grips with our falling-out was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, I came out with some valuable ways to deal with the situation:
1. Reconcile. If reconciliation is a reasonable option, opt for forgiveness and a mutually agreed-upon level of understanding. Sometimes, complete reconciliation is not an option, and boundaries may need to be drawn out of respect for the friend and for your own sake.
2. Be reasonable. People change, and adjustments may have to be made to friendships. That doesn’t mean that good expectations must always be lowered, but be aware that after a breakup, things don’t usually go back to normal without a few bumps. Maybe you can’t see each other as often, or call as often. That’s okay.
3. Forgive. Even if the other person refuses to forgive you, you can practice forgiveness in your own life by letting go of the bitterness and hurtful memories that shadow the present. It may not happen all at once, but train your mind to resist dwelling in the past. Replace those thoughts with new ones. See next point.
4. Be thankful. A good way to remain positive is to count your blessings, however small or large. It could even be as simple as being grateful for your car, or the sunny day, or the good meal you just cooked for yourself. Another way is to tell someone else how thankful you are to have them in your life. People always need a boost of appreciation; you can be the one to make their day.
5. Make new friends. As hard as it is, people often rotate in and out of your life. When one says goodbye, it means there’s an opportunity to meet someone new.