The heartbreak of ending a friendship can be devastating whether you were friends for two or twenty years. And it can be particularly hard when it’s with girlfriends. In a study (PDF) published in Psychology Review (2000), UCLA researchers found that in response to stress, instead of “fight-or-flight,” women “tend-or-friend.” Although both sexes release oxytocin associated with relaxation when stressed, it is more prominent in women — and this feel-good hormone promotes a maternal behavior to tend and bond with others.
The feedback I received after posing a related question over on our Facebook page was a testament to that. Out of the over thirty responses we got, only a few were from men. Facebook friend William Miller, for example, left this comment:
“Do most people actually sit the other party down and explain why we can’t be [insert relationship here] anymore unless they’re dating? With friends you usually just drift apart gradually, with a work relationship it’s generally cut and dried no further contact. No explanation necessary unless they ask.”
And in response Abigail Strubel said, “William, your comment is lucid and VERY masculine 😉 .”
Miller brings up a valid point, however. Are all friendships in need of TLC when it’s time to say goodbye? Must there be drama in every friendship split?
Not so, according to Irene S. Levine, PhD, freelance writer and author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Break Up With Your Best Friend. Part of the process of ending involves analyzing the friendship.
Levine defines three types of friendships and the best way to deal with them.
1. The Acquaintance
You see each other sporadically and define her more as an acquaintance than as a best friend forever (BFF). These types of relationships don’t have the same emotional investment as a friend you chat with every night, so an organic shift from friend to end may be expected. It’s okay to decrease your calls and dates from a few times a month to none in this situation.
2. The Public Friend
This is the friend you see every day. Maybe it’s a workmate, a classmate, a mutual or family friend. There’s no way to hide from this person so you can’t just disappear into thin air without a, “Where’s Mary?” type of reaction.
In this case, you need to really consider your relationship. Are you simply drifting apart or is there something else that’s bothering you? Sometimes we end a friendship out of the fear of confronting them. In theory, it is much easier to avoid a phone call than tell someone their boyfriend’s raves and repetitive negative rants are driving you up the wall.
Also, sometimes friendships end from a misunderstanding. Maybe you’re pissed at her for forgetting to call you on your birthday or she’s mad at you for continuously canceling your monthly dates. Levine says, “Many breakups occur over simple misunderstandings that could be cleared up with honest communication. Sometimes an apology is warranted if you did something wrong or didn’t do or say something you should have.” Perhaps, a simple, “I’m sorry I said that about your new beau” or a “I was hurt that you missed my party,” could suffice. Imagine the alternative-ending a 10 year friendship over a simple unintentional mistake.
3. The Good Friend Gone Bad
This could be your BFF of the moment, the girl you can gab to about anything from politics to sex and the mindless things like nail polish and the Kardashians. But recently, you’ve hit a wall. The honeymoon, it would seem, is officially over. You start bickering over her choice of clothes, your relationship and suddenly it’s an all out 24/7 war.
“If problems are chronic and keep recurring despite your best efforts, it’s probably prudent to at least take a break (I call it a friendship sabbatical) from the relationship,” Levine says.
She suggests holding off on the blaming and instead focus on expressing your desire to spend some time apart. Just like “lovers need a holiday,” so do friends. Levin says it’s a myth to think friendships are perfect all the time without their natural ups and downs.
At the same time, like any relationship, they are also not guaranteed to last forever. In fact, Levine explains that most friendships don’t, “because people change over time and it’s very rare that two friends, even very good ones, will change in the same direction.”
But how do you know if you’re just hitting a rough spot in your friendship or you’re growing apart?
Here are four signs it is time to say goodbye:
- If you are experiencing consistent unresolvable arguments, misunderstandings and disappointments.
- If you feel tense, anxious or uncomfortable in her presence.
- If a friendship is destructive and hurting your self-esteem.
- If your biggest problem is you can’t find time to spend together. Levine says, “It may suggest that one or both people don’t consider the friendship a priority in their lives any more.”
So if it is time, how do you say goodbye?
It may be tempting to bust out your Blackberry and leave a text or type out a quick email. Without the intensity of an in-person meeting, technology makes the process a whole lot easier. But is it a major faux pas to end a friendship that way?
Not necessarily. Levine says that it may be acceptable to end a long-distance friendship through technological means. And even an email might do. It’s all in the way you do it.
“Sometimes an email can give someone time to think and react to the bad news. Just because you’ve mulled over the breakup and made a decision doesn’t mean that the other person is psychologically prepared to react. An email can give them time.” Just be careful to keep your emotions in check when typing. Since your friend won’t be able to see your empathetic face or your caring eyes, be cognizant of the words you choose and how it may be interpreted by its receiver.
No matter how you do it, remember the person you’re ending with was a friend at one point of your life. Stifle the urge to blame, be defensive or attack. Instead, take responsibility for your part in the relationship. If you’re having trouble deciding what to say, Levine suggests writing out a script and practicing it aloud.
Above all she says, “Ending a friendship is never easy. The closer the friendship, the harder it is to acknowledge it’s over.” But sometimes breaking up with a friend could be the best thing you ever did for yourself. “It leaves you more space and time for healthier and more satisfying relationships.” She also reminds us about the gift of the friendship itself. “We take something away from each friendship, hopefully, that will empower us to be a better friend and make better choices in the future.”