Thursday, July 14, 2011

Breaking up with friends

When we think about break-ups, it's usually in the context of committed romantic relationships.  It's when the relationship isn't working anymore, so it breaks up, and the two of you spend time recovering by hanging out with friends, possibly eating ice cream, maybe watching bad TV.  And then you get up and think about starting another romantic relationship with someone else.  Or something like that.

Breaking up with friends is different, and rarer.  It's not uncommon, at least in my experience, for friendships to become more or less intense.  The people I talk to on a nearly daily basis, or the people I talk to about deeply personal issues, are not necessarily the same people I was super close to four or five years ago.  We don't just change as people; our circumstances change.  I'm certainly not as close to most of my high school friends as I was several years ago, but many of those people live in different states now, and I see them infrequently.  Some of my closest friends right now, I didn't even know a couple years ago.  And yet for the most part, these fluctuations occur with little or no ill will.  Sometimes, we lose touch.  Sometimes, we get back in touch.

I have been dumped by a friend.  The two of us were on and off close for years, and by high school, we were very close.  And being close friends who were both heterosexual and of the opposite sex, we had our fair share of confusing, "Is this just friend love or what?" drama.  And then by senior year, we were fighting a lot, and somehow, we just imploded.  After graduation, my friend told me that our friendship was over, and I was devastated.  Not only was I on the upswing of the "I think we should be more than friends" arc, but I couldn't comprehend that this person who had been so important to me for the majority of my life suddenly didn't want me in it.

I spent my summer before college crushed over this loss.  And if you know me, you also know that I don't take stuff like this without a fight.  I tried to win him back.  Made promises.  Spent a lot of time crying in therapy appointments.  Worst of all, I knew that it wasn't as if I hadn't done anything wrong.  I had just assumed that he and I would always be friends.  I had also assumed that he was, for lack of a better reference, my lobster.

It's been a long time since I graduated from high school.  This friend is back in my life, and on the rare occasion we've been in the same state, we've tried to spend time together, over dinner or coffee.  And when we do, things are great.  But our friendship isn't ever going to be as strong or close as before.  I'm sad about that; it would be awesome if we could be close again.  But I'm okay with it.  I'm several years older and wiser (although in several more years, older me is gonna be like, "Wise?  At twenty-four?  I call bullshit!"), and I can't know for sure whether this person would still be my very, very close friend if we hadn't broken up back then.

I can't say that this friend break-up was worse than my first big relationship break-up.  But then again, that relationship break-up was a hot mess.  And I was sick at the time, which made everything much worse.  But years later, I'm glad to be out of that romantic relationship.  I'm not glad that I lost my friend.

Six years later, I find myself in the midst of another friend break-up.  This time, I'm initiating the break-up.  I sort of wish that would mean that I could be cool and calm about it, and unwavering in my stance that this break-up needs to happen.  But this is me, people.  My ability to be cool, calm, and unwavering is questionable at best.*

I don't feel comfortable putting in too many details about the reasons behind this break-up.  I'm reasonably sure that the only folks who read this blog either don't know me in real life, or know me well enough to already have all the details about this mess.  But at the same time, I don't want to assume that there aren't exceptions.

The bare bones behind this friendship break-up?  Hurt, betrayal, loss of trust.  Not feeling valued as a friend.  It's gotten to the point where thinking about this person makes me queasy, being around him ruins my appetite, and talking to him causes me to vomit.  I know I deserve better from someone who is supposed to be one of my best friends.  And I know I shouldn't have to stick with a friendship that makes me physically ill.

But this break-up isn't going very well.  Not that my last friend break-up went well either, of course.  But in this case, there are two major problems.  The first?  Man, my friend isn't sorry.  He's pissed.  He doesn't understand why I'm dumping him, even though I've explained it extremely clearly.  His response is along the lines of, "I didn't mean to hurt you, therefore everything should be fine, and also you are being unreasonable and here's how this is completely not my fault."  Understandably, this does not make me feel like he values our friendship.

The second problem is me.  As I said earlier, I am not really the cool, calm, collected, unwavering person I need to be in order to keep this friendship over.  I'm devastated that it's ending, but it was my decision to come out and say, "It's over."  I know that barring the right response and reaction from this person, I need to stick with my conviction.  But this is hard.

I know that I am losing someone I care very deeply about.  I have a small list of people I would probably die for, although I would appreciate it if no one would actually put that to the test.  And he was one of those people.  The thought of not talking to him every day, of not spending my upcoming birthday with him, of not seeing him every weekend-ish, it hurts.  It makes me not want to break up with him.  But I can't sacrifice my emotional and physical health for someone when the pay-off is ... nothing.

While he completely misunderstood what I meant when I said it, I stand by my assertion that this break-up is worse than my romantic break-ups.  No matter what happened with my boyfriends, I wasn't losing my best friend.  I could tell myself, "There will be someone else, someone better, who will love me for who I am," and let that person go.  There was no gaping hole in my life where the boyfriend used to be.  But there is one where my friend was.

I hate it that it's just as hard dumping my friend as it was to be dumped all those years ago.  Maybe it's because when I was dumped, I was remorseful beyond belief, and the friend I'm dumping is not.  Maybe it's because it wasn't my decision last time.  Maybe it's because I'm just ME, and this is how I handle things (e.g. not well!).  Maybe it's because my old friend was just as conflicted and miserable and heart-broken, and I painted him as a villain for so long.

Friend break-ups suck.

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