What do you do with friend heartbreak?
Last month, I had something happen that’s been hard to place. I experienced deep disappointment with a friend, the kind that’s left me questioning our relationship as a whole — his ability to show up for me, whether or not it was remotely balanced in the give and take, if our relationship was contingent on him needing me.
This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced friend heartbreak, but it is the most recent. And it is still fresh.
Since that encounter where I felt, for lack of a better word, betrayed by his seeming unwillingness to be an emotional support at a time of deep devastation, we’ve barely talked.
He’s attempted casual, light texting, and this has only deepened the hurt: to try to play pretend, to perform a friendship in place of actually experiencing one.
Which brings me to the question: what do we do with friend heartbreak? The nature of it is quite different than romantic heartbreak where the expected outcome is clear: grieve, let go, move on, find someone else.
With friends, it’s not so clear.
Although they happen, friend breakups are much less common, and the terms of them much murkier.
I imagine many of us can relate to the ebb and flow of friendship. The pause/distance that precedes a coming back together — that period of taking space to get over a beef before reentering the relationship.
I have numerous friendships where this cycle has occurred and where we’ve never explicitly discussed the events that led us to taking space.
And I have friendships where we’ve had to talk it through because the lingering resentments continued to influence the present relationship.
But with this one, this most recent impasse, I am left uncertain as to where to go next.
At first, it was simply wounding, raw and painful with a sense of urgency to address it.
But now, as more time has passed, I feel resolved to not taking action and an unwillingness to be the one to try to make it right, to broach the large gap that now exists between us.
And the saddest part is, I recognize that what has occurred between us is something I can’t forget, even if a hypothetical reconciliation does take place.
When someone doesn’t show up for you at a time when you desperately need it, it feels like a deep breaking of trust. One you hold onto out of necessity, from a place of protection.
And it is truly fucking heartbreaking.
Similarly to family, old friends are like anchors, landmarks in our identity.
So much is wrapped up in this friend and our relationship that has spanned more than a decade. He has seen me grow, change, move through phases. He has met my partners, visited the places I’ve lived, listened to the musings of my heart.
He feels like an extension of me. And without him, it feels as though I lose access to a part of myself.
I understand this probably rings true in romantic relationship as well, especially considering your partner often becomes your best friend. But like I said before, there’s clarity around the outcome of that relationship in a way that’s not present with friendships.
For friends, there is much more undefined space within the realm of intimacy and closeness.
And there is much less media and cultural narratives around navigating friend loss and wounding.
That’s one reason I especially appreciate Insecure, because the dominant relationship in that show is a friendship. And it even takes on the nuances, layers and texture of friend heartbreak.
And now, as the space between us continues to grow, everything feels different, like a shift has occurred whether or not I want it to.
We’ve gone from texting every few days to not at all. We’ve gone from obligatory life updates to not. From weekly phone calls to nothing.
He’s gone from feeling like a best friend to feeling like a kind of friend (insert shrug emoji).
And with the distance and pain, it’s made me question.. everything. Like the nature of our intimacy, and if it’s mostly been in service of him.
But then again, pain is blinding and distorting, and I don’t really know what the truth of the matter is.
Because there are also so many wonderful memories. So much that’s been shared. So much care.
And yet, when I can no longer feel any of the good parts, where does it leave me?
And if he doesn’t seem interested in putting in the work, in navigating the wounding, what is my role in it?
It feels like a waiting game, one that may not have a clear resolution.
Because I don’t see myself just getting over it, and I’m not so sure I see him stepping up.
Does it become a downgraded friendship?
Is this the beginning of a long-term drift apart?
I hope for the relationship to be repaired, but I also am too old to sacrifice my needs in the name of reconciliation.
So I guess it’s a situation of wait-and-see. And until then, where are my friendship grieving songs?
If I find any good ones, I’ll drop them in the comments ❤