Ending a romantic relationship is never easy. But it does have one thing going for it: there’s a template for the end of love, and a generally agreed upon script. Someone breaks up with someone else, and it’s understood that you two are no longer going to be spending time together, telling secrets, texting each other gross jokes, and all the other beautiful things that come with being connected to someone else that you like. Yes, that hurts, but it is of the Rookie staff’s QUITE PROFESSIONAL opinion that there’s another type of breakup that is even harder: the friend split.
Sometimes a relationship between you and a friend, a relationship that you took for granted would last for the rest of your lives, starts to change. It takes on a new shape, and that shape is not so pleasing. Maybe you’re being inconsiderate of each other, fighting, or just growing apart—but you can tell something’s off, and probably not going to be back “on” again anytime soon. How do you navigate the waning parts of a close friendship gracefully and with as few hurt feelings on all sides as possible? Hell, how do you even know when it’s actually OVER? I mean, it’s not like you can use the old “I hope we can still be friends” line with your actual soon-to-be-ex-friend.
As it happens, a good portion of us here at Rookie, like most other human people, have experienced lots of different kinds of friendship breakups throughout our lives and are happy to share our perspectives on them with you, because you’ve always got a friend in us, of course. Here’s what we’ve learned so far:
1. Ch-ch-changes ain’t so strange.
Change is natural, of course, and often for the best. But sometimes friends can feel left behind when you start doing newer things that don’t necessarily include or interest them. Friends who are scared of the way you’re changing might try to make you feel bad by saying things to you along the lines of “You’ve changed,” like that is a monstrous thing that you are intentionally doing to be a dick to them, or that you’re not as genuinely you anymore.
You know what, though? Life is about doing all kinds of different stuff, especially as a teenager. Who would want to stay the same forever? I mean, do these people not realize that they also, in fact, are not wearing the same corduroy overalls that they did in preschool, or are not still obsessed with the Wiggles? People grow up, man, and they continue to do so for basically as long as they are alive. Growing doesn’t make you “inauthentic”—it means you’re healthy. You should be encouraged, not criticized, especially by your close friends, while you’re transforming and growing and exploring new things. Friends who are less than understanding about this are being kind of selfish, because they like you just the way you are and want you to stay that way. While I feel for them in this situation too, they are not being supportive of you, and that’s not cool.
A big exception to this rule is if a friend is trying to express honest concern about new situations that involve things they’re worried might be damaging to you, like drug use or crazy sex or that new cult you’ve joined. Even then, though, if you feel that what you are doing is safe and OK, you have every right to respectfully and calmly (even and especially if that’s not how you were approached by this person) tell them that while you appreciate where they’re coming from and that they care for you, you are going to continue to make your own decisions.
Of course, someone’s criticizing you for changing is not always going to be some sort of mini-intervention about your choices with regard to substances or sexuality, which are the two most common things about which a concerned (or, you know, “concerned”) party will be judgmental. Sometimes people are just trying to fence you in by being condescending about your new tastes or friends or whatever else have you. Tavi can relate: “In the fall, I was trying to keep a very special friendship afloat, even though I felt us changing into different people. Since the beginning of the falling-out she’d been doing a weird hostile thing, passive-aggressively insulting my newer tastes and interests, which I realized when I finally confronted her about it was way more about the fact that these tastes and interests were shared with new people in my life who I was hanging out with more than I was with her. To be fair, she also didn’t make an effort to hang out with me, though that could’ve been because she assumed I wasn’t interested. But she had new people in her life as well…and it wasn’t about her personality, it was just that we had had time together to grow and learn and stuff and then we became different people and each had to feel comfortable following where that was taking us. Maybe we’ll find each other again, or maybe we can just stay on good terms and be thankful for the strength of the friendship we had.”
This experience is really common among the Rookie staffers, and I’m sure that many of you have been or are going through something similar too, because YOU ARE US AND WE ARE YOU AND SO ON. If you’re trying to maintain the friendship, the most effective way to go about it is to address it openly, like Tavi did. Let your pal know that although you may care about different things now, you are still invested in your relationship, and then follow that conversation up by actually acting like it.
However, there are times when it’s just not going to work out, which is totally OK too, even if it’s really hard at first. Maybe you just don’t have anything in common anymore, you know? Have a respectful conversation with your friend about this. If you’re feeling it, he or she is too. Tell them that it’s not anything they did, or you did, to spite the other party; it’s just that things ain’t the same. As Anaheed says, “It’s GOOD to change and grow, and that means your friendships will also change, and sometimes change = the end of friendships.” This doesn’t mean that you won’t treasure the time you spent together, nor does it void the friendship you DID have with this person and how great that was, when it was. It just means that not all friendships are meant to last forever, and now you can explore new relationships without feeling bad about moving gently away from one that just didn’t work for you two anymore.
I also want to note that, obviously, you and your friend don’t have to be the exact same person with the exact same interests in order to have an awesome relationship. My best friend from high school, who is still one of my favorite people ever, never really had much in common with me besides our huge love for each other and videos of cats being weird on the internet. For example, she only listens to what she calls “GANGSTA RAP” and pokes fun at “that Smiths shit” that I’m into. But we’re able to show each other lots of fun things that maybe we wouldn’t have come across if we hung out exclusively with people who were cultural clones of ourselves. Having friends that are different from you is just as important as having ones that are similar, as long as they accept you wholly and vice versa.
2. “Don’t you know that you’re toxic?”
The fact of the matter is, not all friendships are going to end with your both amicably agreeing that you’re growing in different directions. Sometime there’ll be an issue of people actually being horrid to you, by lying, insulting you, spreading rumors, or otherwise being a complete booger.
A Rookie writer who was disrespected by a longtime best friend says the friendship started to get shaky when the following happened: “[She] didn’t stand up for me when her boyfriend said something offensive about my identity. I was so deeply hurt because we were like Laverne and Shirley in high school and college. I just woke up one day and realized, WOW, she takes and doesn’t give. She was really competitive with me and always said I was ‘type A’ and OCD because I was so ambitious about grades and work. She’d cut me down publicly—she’d ask me what score I made on tests and not tell me hers, for example. I just realized that my values are different—I’m a ride-or-die kind of betch and she is all about looking out for number one.” After a few years, our writer and her friend are cool again, but only because she put a stop to what was happening in their relationship at the time. A few others among us have been able to rekindle great friendships with ex-best-friends just because we refused to participate in the friendship when doing so wasn’t healthy. Our writer did a tough thing, but it was the right one, and now she and her friend are able to hang again in a positive way.
Sometimes, though, you’re going to be want to be done with somebody for keeps. My most significant friend breakup happened when someone I considered my best friend for years, who worked with me, went to school with me, and was with me every day outside of those things, started to gradually reveal that she was using me for gross social-climbing purposes, among other things. Although that appeared to be the case with almost all of her other friends too, every last one of whom she’d trash-talk behind their backs, this person was so charming and awesome-seeming that I figured what we had was, you know, DIFFERENT. It was a classic case of my insisting to everyone who saw her mean side, “YOU JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND HER.” Of course, it was me who didn’t understand: an important and true life rule is that if someone is intensely negative about his or her other friends behind their backs, but is ultra-lovely and sweet to them to their faces, he or she is doing the exact same thing to you. This was the case with my ex-friend, who started flaking on all of our plans unless she needed something from me, at which point she’d send a barrage of super-affectionate texts/tweets/Facebook messages that would also oh-so-casually ask me to help her out with something, naturally. After this went on for about a month, I tried to see her in person and, when that failed, called her to explain that she was really hurting me, but she refused to address my feelings. She still reaches out in some remote way like texting or the internet at least once a week, even though I haven’t really spoken to her in over a year. She still even asks me for things sometimes! She acts like her shitty behavior never happened, which of course makes it even shittier. I have no plans to respond. I don’t think she reads Rookie, but even if she does, she might not recognize that I’m talking about her here—that’s how oblivious she is to other people’s feelings. It really sucks, because I loved her so much, as did all my other friends, but I didn’t feel comfortable maintaining such a blatantly one-sided friendship.
If a person is doing things to you that a true friend wouldn’t, tell them straight-up that their behavior is unfair. It’s hard to do this without making the other person defensive, so try to express yourself as honestly as you can while still keeping their feelings in mind, even though they haven’t exactly been extending you the same courtesy. Remember, too, that this person might have NO IDEA that they’ve been making you feel bad! So get together in person or give them a call, and put it out there. I highly recommend that you don’t choose to address this online, where your tone can be misunderstood or you can say not-so-nice things to each other more easily. Instead, tell your friend out loud how much they mean to you—even if you would prefer to save face by pretending that you don’t actually care that much about what’s been happening—and then that you think they might not realize it, but they’ve been making you feel bad. If you give them the benefit of the doubt, your friend will be much more willing to speak with you without blowing up or closing themselves off. If they are genuinely apologetic and don’t brush you off or try to shift the blame, accept that, and see how things go in the future. If they aren’t open with you during this talk, or don’t change the way they treat you afterwards, it’s time to make a tough but essential decision: cut this wack person out of your life! You just deserve so much better.
“Don’t let guilt hold you back,” says Rachael. “My group held on to a toxic friend for far too long—then she viciously backstabbed one of the nicest girls in the group. It might make you feel like a jerk to break up with someone who needs friends, but if that person can’t be a friend back, it’s not worth it.”