How to Survive a Friend Breakup (Even if They Dump You)

Photo by Ben White

We are told that friendships last forever. And this is true, for some friendships. Unfortunately for all of us, many friendships are doomed to end.

That is why I found myself on the receiving end of two friend breakups.

These were not the casual ghostings of a college acquaintance or the amiable split of two soon-to-be-ex coworkers exchanging final goodbyes at an office farewell. I lost two decade-long friendships after months of mutual misunderstandings, loss of trust, and some things that can never be unsaid.

It hurt. Afterwards, I spent a lot of time crying into my pillow, hashing out what went wrong with my girlfriend, and binge-watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Now I’m doing okay. Great, actually.

This wasn’t the first time I have been friend-dumped. It won’t be the last. Luckily, this emotional double-whammy did not hit me as hard as one might expect. Since my first friend break-up during third grade recess (Lindie, if you’re reading this, I still think you’re a bully), I’ve grown familiar with the feelings of loneliness and guilt that follow. It sucks. Hard.

Every time a friend and I decided to part ways, I got better at it. The conversations seemed less awkward and daunting. The aftermath of tears and anger shortened to a manageable blip on my emotional radar. The freeing breath of closure arrives quickly, like the parting of clouds.

I am here to tell you what I’ve learned from many, many, dissolutions of friendship. It seems bleak, but you can bounce back.

Don’t be hasty

As someone who has had more friend breakups than I feel comfortable saying (okay, ten), I am being honest when I tell you that they always felt right. I can usually feel the discomfort of a friendship gone wrong with the acuteness that I feel when I begin to outgrow a favorite pair of jeans. When things don’t fit right, I try to pinpoint where the problem is. Sometimes, that problem can’t be fixed.

Other times, you can fix it.

If you are trying to determine whether or not you need to end a friendship, reflection and communication are your best options.

When I approach a crack in my friendship, I think about it like this: does my friendship bring me more stress than happiness?

If the answer is yes, I consider whether or not I have communicated my feelings. I am not perfect, and I often mess up the communication step. I am known to stumble over my words and need to explain myself. This is all okay. The most important thing is that you approach your friend with an open heart. If you have a problem, your friend probably has one, too. Try to determine some actionable steps both of you can take to meet in the middle and repair the bad feelings between you.

Once I do this and I notice that things are just as bad, I look at the relationship again. Why isn’t it improving? Am I doing everything I can to make sure both of us are getting what we need out of our friendship? Does this friendship make me happy?

Only when it becomes clear to me that my friend and I can’t find a way to make each other happy anymore do I decide to end the relationship.

Say what you need to say

There will be a moment in your friendship, right before the end, where the two of you will have your last real conversation. Sure, sometimes you might make small talk at the grocery store, party, or ill-conceived group text. Sometimes, you will never talk to each other again. Either way, you need to take your opportunity to say what needs to be said about your relationship.

I am a huge proponent of clean breakups. Don’t drag it out.

Look inside yourself and determine the main cause your friendship is ending. There will be some relationships whose downfall you can easily pinpoint. Others will be hazier, more of an amalgamation of moments and mean comments.

From there, decide what you have to say to your friend so you have no regrets about the way the relationship ended. What do you need to get off your chest so you can be confident that your left the friendship on your terms? Do you need to thank them for offering you support in difficult times? Do you need to let them know about a specific moment that broke your heart? This is your time to clear the air between you.

Remember, this is not about rehashing every wrong you experienced. Boil it down to the minimum. We are looking for big picture feelings here, not every missed coffee date or secret spilled.

Just a tip, this almost always includes “I’m sorry.”

Be honest, not emotional

Clearing the air will tempt you to be mean. Resist it.

The goal of clearing the air is to leave the relationship with few to no regrets. You are rubbing salt in the wound to try and make sure your friend feels hurt like you. Trust me, your friend is already hurting.

Be honest, but don’t let your emotions take control. Take your time when you express yourself and choose your words carefully. This could mean that you rehearse what you are going to say before you have the conversation. This could mean taking breaks in between texts.

Another good rule is to avoid “you” phrases and stick to “I” phrases. This keeps you from coming off as combative and should keep your friend from growing defensive. An example is to say “I have not felt supported in this relationship” instead of saying “You are never there for me!”

You will feel raw and exposed. Just remember this person was a good friend at some point. If you respect them enough to have a conversation about why the relationship is ending, be open with them.

Forgive yourself for the mess

No matter how civil the breakup, there will be carnage. Mutual friends might take sides. Shared favorite spots might cause awkward run-ins. You might be unsure who to invite to join you at events you once planned to go to together. It will feel weird, messy, shaky, and all-around bad.

This is okay. You didn’t do anything wrong.

Once the friendship is over, focus on healing. Don’t beat yourself up for a friendship that didn’t last. It ran its course. You had happy times together. Now you can go your separate ways to live happier lives apart.

Your life will fall back into place. The mess will be tidied a little day-by-day. Eventually, it will be clean, again. You’ll make it through. Just breathe and move on.

Don’t stop doing the things you love

In my opinion, this is the hardest step.

If you are like me, you build deep, shared bonds with your friends. Your lives become entangled in ways that are natural and comfortable. You get to a place where you wonder how you ever did XYZ without your friend.

Suddenly, the friendship is over.

It will be tempting to cut things that remind you of your friendship out of your life. That cycling class you both attended? Gone. Happy Hour at the bar with the heavy pours? Never again. Your long summer days at the beach? Struck from the schedule.

If you stop doing the things you love, you are only punishing yourself.

Sure, things will be different without that particular person. But, why should you stop doing things you love just because you are short a companion? Now is the time you need to reach inside, find your inner-confidence, and hold onto it for dear life.

Determine what is really important to you, and work hard to keep those things in your life. If you don’t want to run into your ex-friend at your cycling class, pick a different time. Sit in a different section of your favorite bar. Find a new group of friends to accompany you to the beach. You can get over this hurdle, and your confidence will soar when you do.

You will be okay.

Let go

You might never stop loving your ex-friend. It is hard to turn that part of yourself off. You might carry shards of the bond you shared for the rest of your life, keeping them in the back of your mind as you enjoy your future.

It’s okay to keep loving your friend, but you have to let them go.

Breathe out all the negative feelings you keep. Expel those bad memories and those sharp words. Stop checking their social media. Remove them from your group chat.

Take time for yourself. Listen to music that makes you happy. Exercise. Get back into reading. Reconnect with other friends. Learn to love yourself without them.

When you let go of your ex-friend, you will be able to move on. This will take some time and you may backslide. Don’t be angry with yourself for these slips. Focus and keep moving forward. You’ll get there.

One thing I remind myself of when I feel the guilt creeping back up is this:

A friendship that ends is not an unsuccessful friendship. The time you enjoyed together was a success. The end of a friendship simply means that you helped each other move on to something bigger and better, it’s just time to part ways.