The Pain of Breaking up With a Friend: A Unique Type of Pain

The Pain of Breaking up With a Friend: A Unique Type of Pain

“Friendship is when people know everything about you but like you anyway.”

We often prefer to let the friendship fall rather than to clash. However, in friendship, same as in love, breakups are sometimes mutually beneficial.

Same as in love, friendship follows a process of idealization and disenchantment. The higher the expectations, the more intense the feelings, and the sharper the fall. A disillusionment that leads to “a real rift when there has been betrayal, or a slow distancing when one and the other simply evolve in different ways,” explain psychologists. In both cases, the acting role goes to the same mechanics: at one point, the other didn’t live up to what we thought of our friendship or it didn’t live up to the image we had about him. Friendship is “a tacit pact of equality and reciprocity,” state social psychologists. “One stab at one of those two pillars, and the whole contract is broken.”

Why is breaking up so painful?

“Because we are in the sphere of the intimate, in the heart of oneself, where everything is always passionate,” underline psychoanalysts. “But more than anything, it hurts because it’s not on the agenda, it’s not part of the ideology, of the mythology of friendship. The tales never tell what happens after the inevitable ‘they got married and lived happily ever after’.”

Likewise, in novels, as in our fantasies, friendships know few clouds. Sociologists go further and speak of the “romantic utopia that friendships should neither end nor fail”: the myth of “friend for life” has replaced that of “eternal love”. “Under the influence of a very pro-friendship tone, the fantasy of eternal friendship has arisen, even as the ideal of eternal marriage has become an unrealistic reality.” 

At a time when couples have become more fragile, where we are more and more “alone in the crowd”, friendship keeps us warm, fills this need for the other beside us. Hence the pain felt when we separate, hence the difficulty in admitting failure. “Most of the people I have met underestimate their drifting apart and their suffering,” psychologists explain. “To lose or break a friendship is to recognize that we have made a mistake or that we have been mistaken: it is a great narcissistic wound.”

How to deal with the pain of breaking up with a friend

“We must cut it short if the bond is unhealthy, if one dominates or vampires the other,” advise psychologists. “But this is not about friendship, since there is imbalance and non-reciprocity. In all other cases, you have to weigh the pros and cons: will a frank breakup do me more harm or good? Sometimes it’s fairer to just let it happen. And anyway, never maintain a friendship at any cost.”

Other protest against the “ideology of dialogue and the fear of clash”. As in regards with all feelings, Freud said, friendship is made up of ambivalence, love and hostility. “If there is an alliance, there is possible betrayal,” argue psychoanalysts. You have to be able to accept it. Breakups always seem sudden to us. In reality, the loopholes have grown unnoticed. We could have felt some snags, but we didn’t want to see them. Talking about it might temper things and delay the conflict, but surely not prevent it. The violence of feelings is part of psychic life. A friendly breakup refers to the original breakup: that between mother and child. 

Our culture places a much higher value on nourishing romantic relationships than friendships. Entire bookstore shelves wave the Improve Your Marriage banner, but isn’t it just as important for your overall happiness to nourish your closest friendships?

Friends  and friendships change over time

When you’re in a close friendship, you might think you two will always stay this close. But friendships don’t always last forever, despite your expectations. Friends come and go throughout your life. Think about it: the friends you had in middle school are not always the same ones you have in high school. And – though you’re not there yet – you should know your high school friends won’t always follow you to college. And whether you go to college or not, things change when you join the workforce: you develop a new set of work-friends/colleagues, completely different than friends you had in the past. Let this bring you comfort. Although this friendship may be over, know that as you move on in life, you’ll keep making friends – and they’ll keep enriching your life, just as you’ll enrich theirs.


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