Most 30 year olds have experienced a heart-wrenching break up at least once. Perhaps twice. Perhaps fifty times if you’re prone to falling particularly hard, very quickly, in love with someone.
At the age of 27 I lost my best friend. I won’t go into details but it ripped me to bits, having someone who’d been ‘bestie’ for over 12 years, turn their back on me and walk away, particularly when I was going through a bout of depression and needed a friend the most.
Without dwelling on blame, the fallout was the toughest ‘break up’ I’d ever experienced, and you go through all of the standard ‘Five Stages of Grief’: Denial (not able to believe that this person I loved was treating me this way), Anger (‘how could you’ etc), Bargaining (was it me? Maybe I did this wrong? What if I’d done this instead?), Depression (adding to the existing pain) and Acceptance (realising that I wasn’t to blame after all that self-doubt, that I needed to move on and learn to live without them). To be honest I’m still somewhere between the Depression and Acceptance stages despite the fact it was two years ago. It’s been the longest ‘break up’ recovery I’ve ever had.
Just as with a romantic relationship, losing that ‘love’ can be a big wake up call and help you appreciate what you do have. I suddenly appreciated those small moments with my other friends that much more. I was astounded at how little effort my husband would put into his friendships — they were long-distance for him but they were real and I urged him to try harder, to maintain those connections. Because you don’t realise what you have until it’s gone.
Just like with a normal break up, after the initial self-blame and painful memories, you finally allow yourself to start analysing the flaws. Sometimes this comes naturally, but sometimes this is something you force as you attempt to move on. I still remember from previous romantic break ups telling myself “oh but remember how he made you stop doing photoshoots because he was jealous?”. And “remember that time when he got drunk and nearly broke your arm?”. Even if it is just as shallow as “I’m so glad I don’t have to look at his sticky-out ears anymore”. At this stage, you tell yourself anything to purge the happy memories and create this reality where your brain will let you move on.
I did this, too, with my friendship breakdown. I remembered the times when I felt they put little effort into the friendship. I remembered the times when I’d wanted to talk but they’d been too interested in messaging their boyfriend and checking Facebook. The difficulty in making plans because of their tight schedule because they spread themselves so thinly between hundreds of friends, associates and colleagues. I no longer felt the obligation I felt before. No longer the guilt like I was a burden on their life and social structure, telling myself to shut up every time they picked up their phone to check WhatsApp because what I was saying was too boring. It ground me down.
But, of course, there are things I miss. The in-jokes about our favourite TV shows. The longing to travel together. The plans we’d discuss for the future, both individual and together (like holidays or careers). The roadtrip memories. All those years of takeaways. Of movie nights. The shared desire to make society a better place and set the world to rights. It got to a point where I couldn’t discuss my teenagehood or early adult years without the ‘bestie’ coming up because throughout your adult life, a best friend is such an integral part of your being and livelihood. A best friend is there when your boyfriend lets you down. When you ‘run away from home’ as a teenager. When you need a drink. When you need a laugh. When you need to book a last-minute holiday to escape reality. When you need a shoulder to cry on. Or at least, that’s how it’s supposed to be.
In my case, the only time my best friend wasn’t an integral part of my life was when I absolutely needed her most. And perhaps I should’ve seen that coming — perhaps the structure had been deformed for a while. Perhaps it had been rotting at its core, ready to deteriorate when disaster struck. What happened was a big test of friendship, something to really stretch our loyalty, and in this instance, we failed. I felt let down, and as soon as that happened, I ran away. It was the path of least pain — ignorance over realisation.
How to get over the breakup
Break ups are always going to be tough, but there are things you can do to help smooth the way. Of course prevention is always better than cure, and if I had my time again I’d like to try better communication. Maybe if I’d been more honest upfront rather than letting the little niggly grievances slide then we wouldn’t have got to the ‘explosion’. Although, deep down, with the way it went down and the lack of support I felt (plus all those niggly things from before) I do wonder if this was a long time coming and I’d just been putting up with the niggly things to delay the eventual outcome. Not all things can be salvaged.
And so, if you’re in the same boat as me, here’s some things you can consider to help you get through this tough time.
1. Allow yourself time to grieve. Just like with a romantic break up, you need that time and space. Delete any contact on social media if you need to — it’s not going to help you process your emotions if you’re constantly seeing their photos and words (particularly if they decide to post something ABOUT you on social media 🙄). In this grieving time do whatever you need to unbottle your feelings. Cry it out. Watch some kick ass (or sad) films — whatever makes you feel better — and have a duvet day with ice cream and pizza. Do it alone, or get a neutral friend round to chill with you.
2. Decide what to do about joint friends. Are you going to remove yourself from the equation for a bit to get that distance, or are you going to insert yourself in every group event going to cling to those people (even if ex-bestie will be there?). I made the mistake of distancing myself completely, as I felt too uncomfortable being near her. It was too painful. It also didn’t help that my friends lived an hour away from me, so they were more than happy to let me disappear in order to side with my friend — it was a more convenient reality.
3. Stop obsessing over what you should have said. It’s the trait of the conscientious worrier to think ‘what if‘ but the reality is you cannot change anything, UNLESS the friendship is salvageable and you’re considering reaching out to make amends. Learn from any mistakes you made, even if it’s just learning to not be taken advantage of again, but then move on from thinking of the past and what could have been.
4. Book yourself a solo trip somewhere. It will be a trip of empowerment, helping you realise you don’t need to fall back on your bestie to have an adventurous lifestyle. You can do anything you did with your ex-bestie alone. You do not need her to prop yourself up.
5. Remove yourself from social media for a few weeks. The last thing you want to see is your mutual friends posting photos of your ‘ex’ and going on about their nights out and gatherings. Rather than deleting those people from your friends list which could cause more pain and hassle in the long run, you can just deactivate your accounts temporarily, and use the time that you’d spend scrolling through your feeds to do something for yourself — finally get around to that book collection or try painting a picture, or re-decorate your bedroom!
6. Don’t get sucked into gossip or revenge. It may be tempting, particularly if your friends have chosen sides (and it’s not your side) to get in touch with those friends and tell them your side of the story — which is totally normal behaviour, especially if you think that friend has bad mouthed you. You’ll feel better if you just rise above it. If you lose more friends over it, just see it as a lucky escape because they were clearly not great friends in the first place if they are so quick to believe bad things about you and walk away.
7. Start making your own memories. Best friends usually go through a lot together and there may be many things the two of you did together that are painful to think about. I remember when I first ‘split’ from my bestie it was incredibly painful to watch a certain TV show because it was something we shared together. It took me about a year before I could enjoy it again — and now I regularly watch the same show with my husband and made him a fan, so the show no longer reminds me of her. If a certain pub or bar reminds you of your friend, take back that memory by going there with a different friend or a date. Did you work out with your friend? Find a new gym and start learning to love working out with a Personal Trainer instead. The enjoyment and goodness you’ll feel will soon replace those previous painful memories, and you shouldn’t let painful memories stop you from doing things you love because that pain is only temporary.
8. Pledge to say “Yes” for a few months. Things you’d normally say no to, or make up excuses for because you’re too tired, too skint, too lazy — things that you tell yourself “oh I’ll do it next time” — yes, those. Start saying yes. See a Facebook advert for a new fitness bootcamp tonight? Say yes. Someone needs help moving house? Say yes. An old friend reaches out to ask if you want to come visit for a weekend? Say yes. Friend invites you into the city for dinner after a long day at work? Say yes. These things will keep you busy and make you feel more purposeful. Chances are, you’ll feel better about making an effort/helping someone out, and some amazing opportunities may come out of it. I use break ups as an excuse to say yes to everything and during these time periods I’ve ended up on city breaks to Dublin drinking Guinness with an ex-colleague, hiking around the southern French countryside with a friend I rarely see, playing ‘enemy’ with service dogs on a military base and signing up for my first ever obstacle course race (that became a lifetime hobby and passion). I’ve had the best times during break ups!
9. Practice self care and self love. Take some time to think about why you’re proud of yourself and why you’re a good person. And if you’re struggling to come up with that then use that as a reason to plan a ‘Better You‘! Sign up for some volunteer work, set up a monthly payment for a charity close to your heart, be a good listener for someone in need, give out compliments to random people you meet that’ll make their day. Take some time out to meditate, to clear your head of some worries. Spend a weekend clearing out clutter and practice being more minimalistic. Deep clean your house. Treat yourself to some new, luxury bed sheets. Anything to help you feel more calm, as this will make the break up easier to manage.
And, last but not least, if you’re really struggling to get past the break up:
10. Speak to a therapist. Being able to talk about your feelings, judgement-free, in a relaxed but professional setting might just be the best thing to help you get closure. You can use Google to find one near to you and be sure to check out their qualifications and reviews. There isn’t any shame in speaking to a therapist, counsellor or psychiatrist, and they even may be able to help you in other areas of your life too (i.e. any anxiety or confidence troubles).
I hope these tips have been of help if you’re going through a friendship break up. It may be one of the hardest periods of your life if you’re going through it but there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel, I promise.
go west, my girl