Breaking Up with Friends

Have you ever broken up with a friend? I have, though it was never dramatic.  I went through a phase (namely, my entire childhood) when I didn’t ever want anyone to know I was sad or that they’d made me so. Unsurprisingly then, friendships that ended died slow deaths due to lack of oxygen. There are things I wish I’d done, words I wish I’d said.

My-Other-Ex-final-3-266x400Enter My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friendsa volume of essays from the editors of The HerStories Project, now on my To Be Read list. In the anthology, 35 women tell of their own friendship breakups. (Women have a wonderful way of banding together, don’t they?)

One contributor is writer Hallie Sawyer. She’s got a big heart and writes fearlessly. I look forward to reading her essay. For now, she shares some answers to a few of my questions:

1. What made you decide to submit an essay for this book?

I had learned about submissions for the first book, The HerStories Project, but I didn’t have an overwhelming story at the time. I was bummed to miss out on that opportunity but told [editor] Jessica Smock to let me know if there was ever another book in the works. I was partially joking but sure enough, I heard from Jessica a few months later! When I learned about the theme of this new book, I knew I had the perfect story to share.

2. Without getting too detailed for those reading the book, how did it happen to you? Did you do the breaking up or were you broken up with?

It happened rather abruptly when she moved to a new city but when I examined it more closely, our friendship deteriorated over the course of a year. I think we were both to blame but in the essay, I could only explain my side of the story and tried to assume more of the blame because of my über crappy friendship skills at the time.

3. Did you change names for the story? Does this person know you wrote about her? 

I emailed her the essay once I had submitted it but I didn’t hear back from her for quite some time. I began to worry that she hated it but when I let her know about the upcoming publication, she opened up about how she felt about it. She loved the piece but didn’t love reading about herself and she requested I change her name. As writers, we put ourselves out there all the time but that’s not how most people operate and I totally get that.

4. Do you feel vulnerable having it out there?

Not really. I actually felt more vulnerable with my friend than anything else. I worried that I hadn’t remembered it right or that I hadn’t honored the friendship like I wanted.

5. Have you been wanting to write about this? Did it help to write about it or do you still feel like you need closure?

Yes and no. Yes, because the pain of that experience has been there for a long time and too much a part of me to ignore. I’ve always dealt with my emotions through writing but this was an area of my life that I had shoved away for some time. I was ashamed, simple as that. It does feel good to have it out there but I didn’t want closure on the topic as much as I wanted to honor our friendship, scars and all.

6. Many people often let friendships passively die; it’s somewhat of a taboo topic—to proactively end a friendship. What’s your take?

I’m not sure there is a right way to end a friendship. For me, if the connection no longer feels genuine, I usually pull back. No one has ever confronted me with, “Why don’t you call me anymore?” but really, it would be a fair question. The passive approach seems like the less painful one but ironically, when I think about it, it hurts more.

7. How is losing a friend like losing a boyfriend? How is it different?

I think it’s just like losing a boyfriend if you are the one rejected. You have all these unanswered questions and left wondering what you’ve done wrong or what the other person doesn’t like about you.

But boyfriends can come and go. Friends are for life. When you go through a friendship breakup, it can be such a deep hurt that you feel like part of you is missing.

8. What’s your advice for someone going through a friendship breakup?

Whatever the reason for the breakup, learn something from it. Let the experience change you for the better, not bitter. No matter whose fault it is, the important thing is that you find a way to forgive them…and yourself. Also, you are not alone in your feelings. This book is a testament to that.

9. Has your daughter suffered through a friendship breakup?

There was some typical seventh grade drama and she saw an ugly side of friendship. I was so proud of her because she did differently than I did at her age. She confronted one of the girls and it instantly deflated the situation. This girl had been a teammate for a number of years and my daughter let her know if she continued to act a certain way, their friendship was over. The girl denied everything and tried to point the finger at others and it changed things instantly. My daughter decided she didn’t have time for the drama and their friendship dissolved into more of an acquaintance.

10. What did you learn after the breakup —do you see friendships differently now? Do you look for certain signs or red lights when choosing friends?

It’s crazy to realize that our breakup was almost 20 years ago! I think the most important thing I’ve learned about friendships is that life is short. I’ve learned to spend my precious time with those who lift me up and bring out the best in me. Hopefully, I do the same for them.

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15 thoughts on “Breaking Up with Friends

  1. This is a good topic for conversation. I broke up with a guy friend rather abruptly but it had been brewing for awhile. After my divorce, perhaps because he and his wife were not comfortable snd women can stay connected better than men, he never contacted me preferring to continue seeing my ex wife. When i remarried we briefly reconnected but one night we went out together and i was rather proud of a new sports car i had just gotten. Instead of being happy for me he spent the night denigrating the car and pointing out its flaws. I really don’t think he was jealous as he has had many cool sports cars and nice things. That got me ruminating about how much energy i was putting into this relationship and that was the last time i’ve talked to him.

    • Yes, it’s sad when friends can’t just be happy for you, isn’t it? I’ve come to realize that it’s never really about you as it is about them. I’m sorry you lost a friend but hopefully you now able to spend more time with others who support you instead. Thanks for your comment!

  2. I’ve started reading this book — it’s so good. I haven’t read Hallie’s piece but I’m really looking forward to it. I love this, Hallie >> “…life is short. I’ve learned to spend my precious time with those who lift me up and bring out the best in me.”

    And it doesn’t surprise me a bit that this is your philosophy, Hallie, because it’s just what you do for your friends. Thank you for being mine.

    • I’m glad you are enjoying it, Julia! Just to clarify, in regard to that last question, I think that time has taught me more about how I look at friendships rather than my specific breakup. The lesson from my breakup, quite late in its realization, was that heartfelt forgiveness can bridge the biggest of chasms. It’s hard but it’s worth it.

      You’ve been a great teacher in friendship, Julia, and you are one of the best. xo

  3. I just read this book in hours and may reread it since I liked it so much! It came at a perfect time when I am contemplating breaking up with my best friend of over 10 years. I could relate a bit to something in almost every essay. What I will remember the most…”Friendship is a verb”! I think we are both at a very busy point in our lives and I’m trying to understand and accept the friendship has changed. I think effective communication is also lacking. Reading all these stories was certainly eye-opening and helpful. Thank you!

    • Jo, I totally feel you on this. I also have a best friend (of over 30 years!) and our relationship is very different than one would expect for such a long friendship. Sometimes I think we just have to accept that some people aren’t available like we want them to be. The only way to change things is to ask for what we need but also be prepared if they aren’t able to give it to us. I hope you find a compromise that works for both of you!

  4. What fun seeing Hallie here, Jess. Lots of buzz around this book, Hal. I love that you shared the story with your friend first. It shows what a wonderful and thoughtful person you are, even if you think, at that point, you had “über crappy friendship skills at the time.”

  5. I loved reading this interview! Hallie, it was so interesting to get delve deeper into this subject with you! We were thrilled to have your essay in the book, and I’m loved reading your thoughts on friendship breakups, particularly as they pertain to our daughters. Thanks for a great interview, Jessica!

  6. Great interview Jessica! And, Hallie great to get to know you a little better here. I enjoyed reading your essay, and like I’ve said before, I feel connected to my fellow contributors of My Other Ex. It is a learning experience every woman I’ve broached the subject with can relate to and one that stays with us.

    • I’ve enjoyed reading other’s essays as well and I’m a slowly stalking all of My Other Ex contributors. 😉 It’s amazing how many women have replied with “Me, too!”. We’ve all been there but at just varying degrees. Thanks for stopping by to comment, Leah! I’m so jealous that you live in Puerto Rico. What a beautiful place!

  7. Although it’s geared towards women, and in most cases because you do make somewhat deeper friendships, it does apply to all people as we all outgrow or just lose the energy to keep as friendship alive. Sometimes that’s sad but in my experience it is sometimes more of a relief.

    I am still best friends with a fellow I met in junior high. Somehow, despite not talking to each other because of distance maybe at most 2 times a year, and sometimes in the past we went 10 years without talking, he is my “brother” and we’re always can pick up right where left off and then fill in the gaps. It is never an energy suck. Even if either of us are in down periods. We both seem to convey that each had their other’s by back and don’t get dragged into it.

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