If my life were a comically-sad Bridget Jones vignette, a pivotal scene would take place in a Burger King, eating a Whopper by myself while “Alone Again (Naturally)” by Gilbert O’Sullivan pipes softly from shoddy speakers in the water-stained ceiling and I mourn a broken friendship.
Jen* and I became besties at warp speed after realizing we had the same sense of humour (i.e. butt jokes *insert Beavis and Butthead laugher here*), similar upbringings, moms with the same name (that holds weight!) and a cynical outlook. And, according to the stars, our signs were a perfect match. It was simpatico—while it lasted.
We were together nearly every day for that fast and furious year of friendship in our 20s. Our time was spent binging David Attenborough-narrated docs with extreme enthusiasm, clocking thousands of steps wandering around our neighbourhood, hunting for vintage clothing, sharing meals, splaying like wet laundry at the local pool, and harmonizing awful songs that should have stayed in the ’90s.
But after a few months it suddenly got weird. We were too close too fast and the friendship couldn’t sustain any kind of discord. And as one small thing after another added up, it became obvious that our relationship just wasn’t mature enough. Once the shiny layers wore off, I realized that my friendship with Jen was mostly one of convenience for her, and in return I responded with pettiness—10/10 would not recommend texting your BFF with accusations and a list of her flaws because you’re feeling tender and taken for granted.
Even though our friendship was exposed as ugly at the end, in the thick of it there were moments of genuine comradery, which is why it stung so much when it was over. Plus, there was really no closure: I left things messy and incomplete, it was a clash of nasty text messages, the tone more and more hostile with each speech bubble. I still feel gross that I didn’t close out an important chapter of my life to her face.
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Bronwyn Singleton, a Registered Psychotherapist Qualifying at a Toronto private practice specializes in the philosophy of sex and love, so the intimacy of friendship is a narrative she’s very familiar with: “There are lots of reasons why friends might part ways,” she says. “Sometimes they simply outgrow one another. Sometimes they break up because they are not reciprocal and one party is no longer content doing all the caretaking or emotional labour. Then there are toxic friends who undermine or gaslight you.”
Was Jen textbook toxic? I’m still not sure. But once I realized she was using me, being friends with her wasn’t really fun anymore. So at the final curtain, as our words were being exchanged via tiny text darts directly to each other’s hearts, I blocked Jen’s number while her little typing dots bounced up and down in iMessage. I don’t know what she might have been typing, maybe something accusatory, maybe something surprisingly mature, like “Let’s cool off.” And I’ll never know because I haven’t unblocked her, seen her or spoken to her since. It was rash and I do feel badly for the way I went about it. But I don’t regret cutting her out.
Ending friendships in a less-than-healthy way seems to be a common trend. When the topic came up in my office, everyone either had been through a messy bestie breakup or knew someone who had been in the trenches. We’re often preconditioned to avoid confrontation and so our broken friendships either peter off or end with hurtful avoidance or ghosting.
“What I’m very uncomfortable with these days is some of the behaviour born of social media—un-friending or ghosting,” says Singleton. (Ugh, guilty.) These are noxious concepts and they are deleterious for personal growth, for inter-personal communication skills and they break down faith and trust about inter-human relationships on a larger scale.” It’s a contagious behaviour, she notes, and it robs both parties of the ability to practice healthy communication skills and gain closure. Because closure can help, even when it hurts.
OK, so ending a friendship the way I did it was probably the worst ever. So what is the proper way?
“Before having the break up conversation, you should consider if the issue can be worked through,” says Jennifer Goldman, a Registered Psychotherapist Qualifying at Ellis Park Medical in Toronto. It sounds simple, but it’s a step a lot of us forget when we’re in the heat of emotions. “Would you be willing to accept an apology or ask for what you need in the friendship?” Goldman also suggests considering the intention of the conversation with questions to yourself like “Do you want to be seen and heard?” and “Do you want to end things at all costs?”
If your objective is to simply voice your POV and avoid too much defense, she suggests preparing what you want to say and considering how it may be received while trying to be calm. Deep breaths before, during and after the conversation can help.
“Begin the conversation by asking how they feel about your relationship,” Goldman continues. “It’s possible they know they haven’t been a good friend lately and it’s because they have been going through something difficult.”
Even if I had been more mature in my split from Jen, the grief would still be there. And it’s normal—and healthy and important—to process the loss of someone important in your life.
“During the grieving process remember to be kind to yourself. Spend time with people that care for you and understand what you are going through,” Goldman says. “It’s important to feel your feelings and not suppress, eat, drink or Instragram them away.” She suggests writing those feels down and looking at old photos to remember the good and bad times you had together. My personal fave suggestion is writing your ex-friend an angry letter you never intend to send, or having an imaginary conversation (which feels v. Bridget Jones) with them until it feels like you’ve made peace. Oh, and going to therapy, if you can.
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I sometimes wonder what Jen is up to and if she thinks about me when David Attenborough soothingly speaks about ocean garbage, or if she feels victory knowing she got my favourite sweater in our friendship divorce. I don’t feel sad anymore when I see or think of something that reminds me of her, but I do feel equipped to better deal if I ever have a BFF throwdown again.
*name changed to protect privacy