Make Friends, Break Friends.

blog fight

I’ve always found it pretty easy to make friends.

Obviously, this is surprising given my fundamental misanthropy and lack of ability to make anything resembling small talk.

Still, the job I do means I meet new people regularly, and it turns out that I quite like some of them, and they seem to like me. Which is nice.

I try to be a good friend. I think I am supportive of my friends and since I tend to choose friends who have a dark heart and a twisted sense of humour, I’m mostly friends with people I can laugh with. Sure, I have flaws – I’m always too busy to really devote enough time to my friends, and when you’re never in one place for more than a week at a time, it’s hard to make plans and stick to them. I rely far too much on social media to keep up with my friends, and not nearly enough on spending real life time with people.

But on my list of personal qualities, I think “making friends and being a good friend” would probably be up there.

What I find considerably harder, though, is breaking friends.

First up, let’s consider what happens when you’re in primary school and you break friends.

“I’m not friends with you any more,” you say.

And that’s it.

I wish grown-up life was as simple. I had a situation recently where someone I’ve been friends with for a while has clearly decided we are no longer friends. Conversations are (frankly) unpleasant, and sometimes quite aggressive. But no matter how many times I try and broach the subject, or offer apologies for whatever the latest slight might be, I’m no closer to understanding the underlying problem. And if I don’t understand it, how do I fix it?

It occurred to me this week that I can’t fix it. The only part of this situation that I can control is whether I allow myself to remain someone else’s emotional punching bag. And I choose not to. I choose to walk away.

We’re not friends any more.

But that’s not it. Because I’m not seven. And it turns out that when you’re a grown up, losing a friend feels like a weakness of character. Good People don’t lose friends. I feel I’ve failed at something important.

Not to mention the fact that when you’re a grown up, you expect to understand stuff. So I find myself devoting WAY too much time and energy wondering which conversation caused the rift, which social event was the one where I blundered, what have I forgotten?

A very good friend said to me today, “That ship has sailed. You’re not friends.”  She didn’t break into a chorus of Let It Go, but she might as well.

But is it that easy?

I’m curious as to how you guys deal with the end of friendships. Do you try and fix them at any cost? Do you need to clear the air before you move on? Or is it a matter of accepting that people change, and one of those changes might just be the people they want to be around?

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25 thoughts on “Make Friends, Break Friends.”

  1. Liz Weston aka @TheLizWeston

    When I’ve been in this position, I’ve tried to leave it as positively as I can and hoped that at some point in our lives, our paths may cross again. We never know what’s coming in the future, so there might be a point where the other person and I have changed, evolved or something has happened to shape or change out outlook on things. Sounds a bit wooly – because it is. If it is done with forever, it will be good to know that you left it as positively as you can, with dignity and also, with the door open.

    1. Actually, I think we sound pretty similar in our approach. I was all set last week to send an email that would prove I was “right” and the other person was “wrong” to be upset. And I suddenly thought to myself what a massive waste of time and energy it was, when I could simply reply in a friendly and polite manner (even if I didn’t 100% mean it) and leave the situation with dignity. Least said, soonest mended and all that, eh?

  2. I moved away to get away from old friends. And by moved away I don’t mean down the road or 30 mins drive from my home town, I moved 100 miles south and cut everyone I knew off. I had done what I could to make the friendships work but they had used me, would not let me talk, ignored me and when something bad happened somehow it was my fault. I tried to fix it but I just had enough. I didn’t say a thing, I just took them all out of Facebook, moved out of my parents’ home and I’m glad I did it. Just a shame I now feel that I have no friends and now I’m now titled the “girlfriend of a friend”.

    1. Goodness, that’s pretty extreme! I’m lucky I’ve never been in quite such a destructive situation, that sounds like it must have been really hard.

  3. I’ve had this happen in the past. It’s almost toxic the way you can’t stop wondering why.
    I once saw a wee saying, that people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Whichever one it may be, you will always learn something from spending that time with them.
    Also? *stealth hug*

    1. Yes, I am TERRIBLE for running over and over and over things in my head. But you’re right – I’m not someone who necessarily thinks a friendship is only valuable if it’s lifelong. I’ve moved around a lot as an adult, with two universities, jobs, divorce etc, and sometimes friends are just around for a few years, and perhaps all the more precious for that 🙂

  4. I’ve lost a lot of friends, people determined to dislike me for my luck or for my astonishing ability to put my foot in it.

    I stew. I stew terribly. I’ve had to teach myself to not to have conversations in my head and try to get the last word. And to not be needy; if I’m anxious about a friendship I try too hard.

    Being 40 has made it easier actually, as have the last few years. The soddit approach has worked better and reminding myself that I don’t know what’s going on in their life and maybe I’m just going to accept I’m getting the rough end of an invisible issue that isn’t actually to do with me.

    What I do? Actually these days I aim for some distance for a while and then a breezy, ‘nothing happened and we still no each other’ barrage if unconcerned friendliness. Not much point in anything else I suppose.

    Does hurt though, both the loss and the knock to self esteem. Blogging is one of the few areas of my social life where I don’t really seem to have pissed anyone off.

      1. But if I changed it, your comment would make no sense 😉

        Seriously though, it’s good advice. Although as a 24 year old, I’m not quite at your level of maturity, I need to find a way to reduce the level of stewing that goes on round these parts. I struggle to let myself believe I don’t have to understand everything – downside of being a know-all!

  5. This exactly happened to me a couple of years ago with someone I considered to be close enough to, to discuss issues if we had any. Turned out that no. She has never told me what I did wrong and she stroke me off like that. It seems that walking away and just letting it go is the way to do it or you may use too much precious time and energy trying to rebuild or fix something that person obviously doesn’t want to sort out…

    1. Yes, and I do sort of think you can’t fix something unless you both want to fix it. Still a tricky situation, though, but I feel better knowing it happens to other people the same way!

  6. Have the t shirt on this one. It’s fair enough if you know what it’s over but if you have no idea why and they won’t tell you then all you can do is leave it and focus your efforts as a friend on people who continue to value your friendship. Won’t stop you stewing over the whys but that’s best for you and those around you.

  7. A really interesting post Sally.

    I am very similar to Merry on all of this. I consider myself a very loyal and trustworthy friend. I would never intentionally do anything to hurt anyone and, if I do, I will look at my part in it and apologise.

    Since turning 40, I have considered myself more of a ‘grown-up’ and am much more matter-of-fact than I used to be as well as finding it easier to speak my mind but I still worry and stew and mull over things and in my head, keep looking at what went wrong and what I could have done better. I hate conflict and upset of any sort and will try my best to pour oil on troubled waters.

    That said, if someone won’t listen to reason and talk it over with me sensibly, I walk away and put them at arms length. Once they have questioned my friendship, I find it extremely difficult to trust them ever again.

    1. I do sort of agree with you, but I don’t worry too much about not trusting people who question my friendship – I tend to think we can all be idiotic and irrational and make stupid choices or stay stupid things from time to time. I’m pretty forgiving, although I reserve the right to sulk quietly for a while!

  8. The worst bit has to be the not knowing why. I had this happen a year or so ago and had no idea why I was being snubbed, but I just let it go because it was that or go for a big row which I wasn’t prepared to do because I felt I’d lose any argument because I didn’t know what we would be arguing about. Anyway, long story short, she just started being friendly again recently after a quick apology and brief explanation that it was her personal stuff and nothing I’d done. Our friendship won’t be the same again, but at least I can live in peace knowing it wasn’t my fault…just a shame I can’t get all that wasted time stewing about it back!

    1. I must confess, I’m one of those people who tends to avoid the confrontation and assume it’s probably not my fault (what with me being perfect, and all) – it seems to cause less unhappiness. But I can’t stop myself brooding on it anyway, I think that’s just human nature!

  9. I had a group of close friends for years and out of this group I was the first to have a baby. My friends found that transition hard, that I wasn’t able to just go out and do the things we used to and our friendship died. We sent a couple of honest emails about all the things that upset us and then one or other of us didn’t reply. U now haven’t seen them in nearly two years. We’re not friends anymore, the ship has sailed. But I still think about them all the time, they were my bridesmaids, my best friends and a huge part of my life.

    1. I think it’s hard because having a baby SO changes your outlook, not to mention the hours at which you’re able to leave the house, that it’s incredibly hard to keep up with friends who don’t have babies. I’d love to know the secret to that one!

  10. I’ve actually lost a few friends this year and I know exactly how it feels to think you’ve failed at something. I can really identify with that part of your post. Particularly when I’m depressed. When I’m depressed I think that I must be a bad person because Karma hates me, because so many things go wrong for me and because those friends and I fell out. I actually wrote a post a few months back, titled “I am a failure”, which included this. But when I’m in a better mood, I see that actually, those people weren’t good for me and my life is happier without them and that I didn’t actually do anything wrong. I have many other friends who are there for me no matter what and those are friends who are honest enough to turn around and tell me if I’ve done something wrong or been annoying. Those are the lifers.

    I do always still attempt to resolve the issues. I send a lengthy email about what their friendship means to me and apologising if I did anything wrong and that I’d like to talk about it. And if I know I’ve done something wrong, of course I apologise. But those friends, didn’t even take the time to reply. So now I think, they probably weren’t worth the effort, but at least I gave it a go.

    Sometimes people just outgrow each other. Don’t blame yourself Sally, focus on all your other friends instead. They are all still here.

    1. Emma,

      It’s tough to lose friends, I can’t imagine what it’s like when you’re also going through Big Life Stuff, like an illness. But you’re quite right, people do move on, change direction and grow in different ways. Sometimes it’s not about falling out, just moving on.

  11. Once, I told an acquaintance I didn’t want to be friends any more, we were in our 30’s and she was a taker, not a giver. Her reply? “I know why you don’t want to be my friend, I’m prettier and nicer than you”. It was confirmed then and there that I was doing the right thing…

  12. I think like all people I have experienced losing and gaining friends over the years. one thing that I have learned over the years is to be a bit more open and honest when I feel things are not going well. I rather ask than not ask if I suspect something is not going well in the friendship. At least then I know where I stand and can explore their point of view and express mine. the more I did this the more I realised that in the past I probably did not ask because I worried about the discomfort of having a difficult conversation.

    I think sometimes we get too caught up in black and white thinking. Sometimes we construct ‘friendship’ as having to always be ‘good’, ‘comfortable’, ‘getting on well’, pleasurable, and positive etc. When things aren’t this way we experience difficult emotions, which we want to avoid, so we just end up not having the difficult conversations, or we are so vague and polite that the issue never gets addressed. I think sometimes we think about dialogue as having to always be easy, good, polite etc., but in reality, real dialogue where we connect with someone deeply is often fraught with difficulty, misunderstanding and struggles. For two minds to meet….really meet….is a process of joy, but also of struggle. In most relationships (even marriages and partnerships) the issues that cause friction at the beginning are very likely to stay the same throughout that relationship. What matters is how people keep a dialogue going through these issues.

    Anyway, this is my rambling on the subject 🙂


  13. I’ve found adults can be as immature as kids in a lot of ways – without the excuse of being young! Sadly as well, it seems today many people act passive-aggressively on social media sites, “unfriending” people or posting rude, often infuriatingly attention-seeking, cryptic comments about people “annoying” or “upsetting” them, prompting others to ask about it. This I find more annoying in adult users than anything – especially as, as a teacher, I spend a lot of time dealing with kids who have behaved this way. To adults, I just want to say GET A LIFE!!!

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