How do I get over this friend breakup?
March 11, 2016 3:29 PM   Subscribe

I've been dumped. I have no idea how to handle it. Bonus difficulty: I am a late-40s woman and the dumper is/was my best friend of many years. I'm in a state of confusion and sadness. I live a life that never, ever has this level of personal drama, so while the rest of you have been asking these questions here, I've been whistling along, thinking it doesn't relate to me. Now it does. Help.

Background: we have known each other for about twenty years. For the first few years we were classmates in an adult continuing education program. Then we became friendly, then friendlier, then hardcore besties for at least the last dozen years. We literally talked twenty times a week, ranging from two-minute check-in phone calls to long chats about life's most important stuff. We socialized together, with or without our families, ranging from birthdays and Thanksgiving to just random "Let's go bowling" stuff.

Honestly, I never thought this would happen to me. My bestie and I were so sympatico. Now she's giving me dialogue straight out of a bad romcom, along the lines of "It's not you, it's me." Back when I thought she was just going through something stressful, I noticed that for the last couple of months she hadn't phoned me unless I called her first. I asked what was up with that and got a vague, "Oh, I've been so busy..." She'll like my Facebook status and such, but beyond that she's ghosted me.

Another level of difficulty: by sheer luck we got pregnant at the same time and our children were born just a few days apart. They spent probably 5 days a week together from birth until school age. One is a boy and one is a girl, so now that they're teens they're not currently spending much time together on their own (very different interests), but would see each other when our families got together. Now I don't think our families are going to be getting together any time soon. I'm in a state of mourning for my (only) child's loss of this connection.

How on earth do I get over this? It's been almost three months since we actually had a convo, so if she was planning on "coming back to me" I think that ship has sailed. I want to cry every day. I feel like a wife whose husband suddenly says he wants a divorce -- meaning, there must have been weeks or months or years even that she was sick of me or tiring of me and I never knew it.

What do I say to my kid? What do I say to my husband, who's been in a super-rush period at work and basically hasn't noticed.

I feel so lonely. I don't have a bestie now who I can be vulnerable with. I don't know how to devleop a new bestie at my age. There are other women I'm friendly with, but more like coffee chit chat and never anything deeper. How do I try to develop something deeper?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so sorry. Losing friends in this way is one of the worst feelings, but it happens to almost everyone at some point.

I wouldn't say anything to the kid unless he asks. Then you might say "Oh, we've all been so busy, I should call and see how she's doing." YMMV, but as a teen I'm sure my mom had ups and down with her friends and I never noticed it.

To your husband, you can tell the truth "I haven't heard much from her lately and I'm not sure why, and I'm really sad about it."

And honestly, she could still come back. I had a friend who ghosted on me because she lost her job: she did not return to my life until she had found a new one. In the meantime, you are not done finding new friends. Can you invite a couple of coffee-friends over for drinks and cards? I'm also a huge fan of finding friends through activities and volunteering.
posted by bunderful at 3:42 PM on March 11, 2016 [13 favorites]

I actually do think this is her and not you. This sounds like someone who is going through something she doesn't feel able to share -- perhaps depression, perhaps infidelity, perhaps sexual assault, perhaps domestic violence. Ending the friendship gives her privacy from a loving, searching eye.

I am also so sorry. It is wrenching for any reason to lose someone you truly care about and trust and rely upon.

In your shoes I must admit I would be pretty insistent about pursuing a better answer from her, because I'd be darned worried. I'd be telling her I was really concerned, and looking for a way to meet her and find out what is truly going on. BUT that is intrusive, and it is my style, and I have a feeling it isn't yours.

So, if what you are wondering is how to find another best friend, and that is what I am picking up, I'd suggest you focus on two things. First, be realistic and don't spend time faulting yourself. You know you didn't suddenly get irksome, or recently disclose your appalling true character, so this really and truly is not about you. Second, I'd think about what in your life really floats your boat, and go do more of that in social settings, so that you can meet someone else simpatico. And gradually build a friendship with that person. Or, gradually deepen one of the current chit chat relationships. I'd also look into your past . . . so many of us have past close friendships that have been lying dormant because of different locations or getting busy. Reawaken one of those.

As for your only child, teenagers tend to be mostly oriented around their own peer group. If your ex-friend's child is part of the peer group, I have a feeling that relationship will continue undamaged. If your child wants to know what is up with you and ex-friend, just honestly say it is not happening because ex-friend called off the friendship, for unclear reasons.

I would definitely talk this out with your husband. You are entitled to his sympathetic ear and support. I'd tell him up front that is all you need, but you need that a lot.

Internet hugs to you. This is no fun at all though I do believe not at all about you.
posted by bearwife at 3:56 PM on March 11, 2016 [43 favorites]

I think you are writing off this friendship too quickly, and with too little basis. From the sounds of things, your friend could be going through a really rough patch. Your 'whistling along' through life without experiencing 'dialogue straight out of a bad romcom' may mean that your friend doesn't believe you will understand what she is going through. She has told you straight out it is her, not you. Why don't you believe her and ask if there is anything you can do to help her get back to her old self?

You are missing what your friend gave you in the relationship. Now might be the time to put your needs and wants on a back-burner and step up and be a real friend to someone who is quite likely in greater need. For example, conversations are really hard to manage when depressed. How about you drop round with some coffees and cake and just sit with your friend for awhile. Don't speak about your life (the comparisons may be painful). She could have great shame about her situation.

Don't give up on this friendship. And don't say anything to your kid except "I think [friend] is having a hard time. She's not talking to me much. What do you think I could do to help?"
posted by Thella at 4:00 PM on March 11, 2016 [12 favorites]

Please don't just drop by with a cake and offer to listen. And don't involve your kid, at all. Instead, I would do some reflecting on why this relationship was so meaningful to you, and thinking about how I could develop other things that were more under my own control that gave me a similar sense of centeredness and happiness. For example, volunteering, or writing a book, or something that is entirely yours.

It is really sad when we lose friends, especially when we don't understand the meaning of the loss. I'm really sorry this happened to you. Its good that you're trying to figure out how you can move on, because getting stuck on this would be more harmful than the loss itself. I knew someone who lost a friend in a similar way, and she never got over it, and it negatively impacted all of her other relationships. I'm proud of you for not going down that path. It's an easy one to go down, but it doesn't lead anywhere good.
posted by sockermom at 4:33 PM on March 11, 2016 [9 favorites]

It's unclear to me if there was a specific dumping or if you are just extrapolating from the long period of low/no contact, perhaps you could clarify? If it's the latter I'd encourage you to maybe make some room for this, presume there's a reason that has nothing to do with you and stay busy with other things. This may be the friendship ending, or it might be the friendship shifting or it might be something else entirely. In the meantime talk to your spouse and find some ways of looking at your own feelings on the matter and getting some support. I know it hurts and I know it hits hard but from an outside viewpoint things like this:

I'm in a state of mourning for my (only) child's loss of this connection.

seem somewhat extreme. There is nothing keeping your child from maintaining a connection with these people in the future and even if there's a long period of downtime, in the grand scheme of things, people come around. You should not be mourning in your child's stead, let them feel what they want to feel. Therapy and exercise and distractions are all good ways to work on your own feelings and trying to bring them back into what you feel are manageable levels.
posted by jessamyn at 4:38 PM on March 11, 2016 [11 favorites]

I'm so sorry this happened to you. It's every bit as hard as a romantic break up. I'm with everyone else that this is most likely not about anything you did wrong, and you should not beat yourself up about this. Do tell your husband so he can support you, but I don't think you need to say anything to your child unless they ask. As blunderfull said, teens are pretty self involved so chances are good they won't ever notice your estrangement.

As for finding new friends, I won't sugar coat it, it's hard! Try to say yes to everything for the next couple of months and keep an open mind. It's fine to look for friends through meet ups or other common interest activities, but there are no rules and your new friend just may be someone you meet by total freak chance.

I'm really sorry this happened and I wish you the best.

Also, what sockermom said, I think moving on is the best thing to do for your own mental health.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 4:41 PM on March 11, 2016

You've obviously had some conversation about this with your friend-- did she confirm your friendship is over and give you the romcom reasons? Or did she confirm she's been absent of late and give you the romcom reasons? If the second, I would agree that a good course of action is to give her space and see what happens. When my life is stressful, I tend to pull back and lick my wounds. I know I can't expect anyone to be there when I come back out of the cave, but I really appreciate the friends who manage to do so. So there's that.

None of which helps you with your immediate loss. It doesn't matter what her reason is for ghosting-- you have a friend-shaped hole in your life. And that sucks. My advice is to treat it like a break-up-- give yourself time to cry and to mourn. It sounds as though it's a good moment to deepen some of your other friendships in any case. And as a woman your age, many of us need friends more than we want to share, for a wide variety of reasons. If you can manage, try making yourself more vulnerable in conversations and see what happens. I had to do this after my divorce, and I was touched and surprised how many friendships grew just from telling people I needed a friend.
posted by frumiousb at 4:41 PM on March 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Agreeing with the idea that your friend could be going through some rough things that she is for one reason or another not currently up to talking about. Awkward relationship troubles. A problem with prescription drugs. Gambling debts, house nearly in foreclosure? Anything could be going on.

It all sounds really difficult -- but there's a chance things could be worse for her.

Your kid is unlikely to be interested; "She's been really busy lately" will be totally adequate if you're asked what's up. It's too bad your husband's on the busy side himself; it seems like it might be helpful if you could carve out a little space to re-connect on that front.
posted by kmennie at 5:07 PM on March 11, 2016

Like others have commented on, it's not entirely clear to me whether this was a straight up "I don't want to be friends any more thing" or more of her saying she's been too busy to keep up and the "It's not you, it's me" comment was in that context.

Since it sounds like at least for awhile she was responding, and also was interacting a bit on social media, I wouldn't write this off completely, especially considering how long and close this friendship has been.

Also, for context, I'm totally the kind of person who has a tendency to drop off the face of the earth (seriously, I suck at this kind of thing), and it really has everything to do with me being overwhelmed with life, and says nothing about how much I care for the other people in my life. So, I just think you should be open to there being more going on here, especially since it sounds more like she drastically stepped back on reciprocating contact, not that she explicitly said, "I never want to see/talk to you again."

You know your friend best, of course, but I think it could be worth shooting her an email/text/facebook message (depending on your primary mode of contact) to say something along the lines of:

"I was just thinking of you, and wanted to say hi. I miss having the chance to catch up, but I understand if you have too much going on right now to stay in contact like we used to. I just want you to know that if and when you do want to talk, I'll always be happy to hear from you."

The idea is to keep it low pressure, and let her know that you are interested in maintaining the friendship if/when she's ready. If any of this is due to anxiety/avoidance, it may be good for her to hear that it's okay for her to give you a call in 6 months when whatever is going on with her gets resolved (for example). Of course, only do this if this is in fact something that you're okay with.

Also, I think it's important to do this not as a phone call, so it feels less like something that needs to be responded to right away or at all. Oh, and I hope you can share some of what's going on with your husband. Even if it's not a permanent rift, losing contact with someone who has been so important to you is huge and devastating, and I think you should just let him know how you're feeling.
posted by litera scripta manet at 5:23 PM on March 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

"This sounds like someone who is going through something she doesn't feel able to share -- perhaps depression, perhaps infidelity, perhaps sexual assault, perhaps domestic violence."

I went through some rough stuff a couple years ago now with a child's diagnosis, and I absolutely could not bear my friends' kindness, sympathy, and support. I was holding myself together by sheer will and blinding rage, and kindness tended to make me fall completely apart. I was too brittle to cope with it, and I had to stay in fighting mode. I was also really struggling with my self-concept and it was hard enough rewriting who I was as a mother and wife without simultaneously trying to re-learn myself as a friend. And I also knew I was behaving like an absolute bitch a lot of the time, and I couldn't stand inflicting that version of myself on my friends. (Like, there's only so many times your friends will be cool about you biting their heads off for helpful suggestions.)

I think three months is not that long if she's struggling with something similarly large and private. I think I took six just to step over the initial trauma and feel like I could talk to other humans again.

If this IS a friend-dumping, and I've been on the receiving end of that too, the only thing that helped me get over it was realize that there was NO POSSIBLE ANSWER to the question of "why did she do this?" that would make me feel any better. If I had done something horrible, she hadn't had the love or respect for me to actually speak to me about it and instead had done a very painful slow fade, stewing about it the whole time. If I hadn't done anything horrible, it was entirely about whatever was going on in her head and I couldn't change that. In either case, realizing that helped me feel compassion for whatever was so painful for her that she couldn't approach me with it, and it helped me come to peace with the fact that I would simply never understand why she had cut off the relationship, and no answer she could give me would ever make me understand (because no reason could possibly be good enough for a friend-dumping like that! We could have worked it out!). Realizing there WAS no answer let me stop asking myself "WHY????" and worrying about fixing it, and it let me start accepting the loss and mourning it. (It also left me in a place where, it's been 15 years, I would still be so happy if she sent me a card and said "miss you!" because I was able to set down my memories of her with compassion rather than anger. I truly hope that whatever was wrong for her is no longer so painful for her and that she's not unhappy.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:51 PM on March 11, 2016 [24 favorites]

Sometimes friends just tire of you. Even friends that have been your bestie for twenty years. It SUCKS and I'm sorry. I wouldn't assume she's going through a rough patch, or has something going on that she doesn't want to talk about with you. She just might no longer want you in her life.

People can turn on a dime when it comes to relationships - I've never suddenly wanted to cut anyone out of my life with no prior arguments or fights (or warning) but it has been done to me. Yes, it was probably building for some time, but if a friend doesn't tell a friend that something is bothering them, how can you even hope to rectify it?

Time is the healer. You can try to keep busy, but you aren't in the best place to attract new friends while mourning the loss of this one.
posted by 41swans at 6:02 PM on March 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

It sounds like if this friend is indeed dumping you, it's via the fade away method. But what if the friend really is just going through some stuff and feels unable to talk to you about it? If her "it's not you, it's me" was about her pulling away, that could mean a lot of things. But if she said, "It's over, and it's not you, it's me" that is quite more definitive. Do you have any reason to think that there could be something going on with her, or is everything else in her life just business as usual?

It seems weird to end a friendship in this manner, but then again I've never had a friend as close as the one you describe. Would it be worth just asking directly, head on, what the deal is? "Hey friend, things have gotten so weird between us. Do you not want me in your life anymore, or is there something else going on? Because whatever it is, I will respect it, but I don't know where we stand at all. If you need a friend or any support, I'm always here." Or something that feel appropriate for your relationship, and honest. At least then you'll know for sure.

As for your other question, I don't think your kid cares all that much. The kid may notice, but you're the one feeling the loss. Just say that your friend has been dealing with some stuff that is keeping her busy if it comes up and leave it at that.

If this really is it, maybe it would be worth reconnecting with your other friends and family you are close to and reminding yourself there are other people in the world who care about you. Family can be great for getting through stuff like this. And family counts as friends!
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:07 PM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

If your friend told you specifically, "we're done," you're not done. If she said, "sorry I haven't talked to you in a while, I've been really busy." She may be trying to ghost you, but she may also be juggling chain saws. Who knows?

If she just seems to be ghosting you but she hasn't downright told you to get lost...there's hope.

Drop her a quick email, or message her via Facebook. "Hey, thinking about you. Hope things are well." Then leave it.

Do more with your coffee friends, see if you can connect, stay busy. If she comes back, awesome-possum. If not, you've lost nothing.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:23 PM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am about your age, and I have been ghosted by people I previously thought were good friends. It stinks. People do weird and baffling shit. You'll make new friends. I promise you. It just takes time, and you never know where they will come from. Have an open heart. Maybe she'll make her way back to you. Maybe she won't. Try not to judge her too harshly.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:39 PM on March 11, 2016

For me I was doing the sad, crying a lot thing for a long time... way too long. What eventually helped me was to get angry at her instead of just being sad. After I stopped being angry at myself or various external things I thought had caused the break up, and just got angry at her because she chose to end an amazing friendship that lasted 20 years for what appeared to be no particular reason, and after all we had been through and done for one another, that was how she treated me - after that I was able to move on.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:20 PM on March 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

What do I say to my kid?

Nothing. It sounds like your child and her child aren't all that close to begin with, vis very different interests, so it won't really make much difference at all that you and your friend aren't on speaking terms any longer. Honestly, you seem way too invested in how your kid is going to react to this, in the way that you're grieving the loss of a connection that isn't actually about your child. If your child and her child were really close and then split up, it would still be a bit peculiar for you personally to grieve that loss of connection. Sympathy would be more appropriate. But this isn't about the kids at all. It sounds like they might not even notice.

What do I say to my husband[?]

"I think Friend has broken up with me" and then take it from there. Decide whether you want sympathy, or validation, or maybe something else, then tell him what you want.

How on earth do I get over this?

The best way out of emotions is through. Follow the grief process. Accept that this is over, then if she wants to come back, you can evaluate whether or not you want her to from a place that isn't screaming out for the bond to be reforged. You'll be able to choose based on the qualities this person can bring to your life.

How do I try to develop something deeper?

Baby steps of vulnerability. Brené Brown is a good place to start. Every time you meet one of your coffee-based friends, open up a little more than you usually do, with them. Reveal something a little deeper than the usual chit-chat, and see where it leads. You clearly have the skill to develop deep friendships, as you've done it once before. People's needs don't change that much with age, getting older isn't a barrier to friendship if you're willing to put the effort in. In fact, people tend to get lonelier as they get older, and are more likely to be receptive to overtures of friendship.

Breaking up is A Thing That Happens in life. It's not pleasant to be on the receiving end of, nor is it a pleasant thing to have to do - ending a relationship with someone you were once really close with is really not a fun thing, as you have to go through the grief process just as much as the other person does. It's not fun, it' really isn't, but sooner or later, all relationships end. Let her go, do your grieving and move on as best you can. Trying to force a connection with someone who doesn't want one will only push them further away, or possibly make them feel like they have to give up their boundaries.
posted by Solomon at 12:11 AM on March 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

Nothing to add to the other aspects, but as far as your child, I doubt that they care very much. "Child of my parent's friend who is about my age and who I see from time to time" does not translate to "friend." I can remember it being awkward when I was young and had to spend time with children of my parents' friends that I didn't particularly click with. I was rather relieved once I didn't have to do that any more (in my case, not because the parents' friendship ended, but because I was old enough to stay home on my own when my parents went to see their friends, but same result from my perspective).

Plus, the children are old enough that they can maintain a friendship independently of their parents, if that's what they want (although it probably isn't). I mean, they're teenagers — even if they don't go to the same school or aren't driving yet, they're at least on social media by now, right? That is to say, they can remain friends regardless of their parents' relationship if they choose — don't take this as license to push your child to remain in contact with theirs if your child isn't interested, which is probably the case.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:04 AM on March 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Agreeing "child of my parent's friend" does not translate into "friend" for the child, especially as they get older and develop different interests and their own lives. You can pretty much put any group of pre-school age kids together and they will generally get a along and play, but that stops working the older they get, no matter what good friends the moms are. Added in this case is the fact one is male, one female, and teens often do not want to be forced to hang out with someone of the opposite sex that they are not interested in.

You do not really know what is going on in this woman's life or mind, and I agree that she may well be telling the truth that it is not you but her. In any event, best thing to do now is let it be, let it go, leave the door open but do not push. She will either come back or she won't. You will make other friends, it is hard but not impossible. You may have become too dependent on this one friend, and maybe several less intense connections would be less stressful. Certainly it is ok to mourn something that was a big part of your life for so long.
posted by mermayd at 6:27 AM on March 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

FWIW my best friend and I had a falling out much like this and didn't speak for three years. At first I really pushed it but she just gave me the cold shoulder so eventually I gave up. Then three years later we bumped into each other in a pub and it was like nothing had ever happened. This was fifteen years ago now. Friendships do just fade in and out sometimes. Maybe this will happen with yours but until then the best advice is to treat it like any other break up and don't count on it - just keep yourself busy and try to move on.
posted by intensitymultiply at 9:24 AM on March 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

What do I say to my kid?

I'm just going to respond to this part of the question, because when I was a teen my mom had a close friend friend-dump her. (In that case, the friend was a social-climbing, nouveau riche, finance dude's wife who decided that, in our snooty town, my working/middle-class and very classy and humble mom wasn't good enough for her anymore.)

I agree with everyone who advised you to say nothing in particular to your daughter. She probably won't notice or care that much, and if she does want to be friends with the ex-friend's son, kids these days have lots of ways of reaching out that don't need to involve parents.

What I think is more important is how you model this for her. My mom was very upset and that upset and angered me, I couldn't understand why she couldn't see that anyone who would drop her as a friend was clearly not worth her time and she had dodged a bullet. As it happened, I learned the right lesson and have reacted to the few people who've friend-dumped me in adulthood with "her loss, moving on." But for years, I wished so much that my mom could have stopped caring, could have stopped being sad about the woman who dropped her. I wished she had sent back or thrown out the boxes of documents this woman had given her to hold on to, to prove that if she ever turned up dead, it was her husband that did it. (This happened in our area often enough that everyone would have known her husband did it anyway.) I think my confidence has rubbed off on her enough that now, in her 80s, she doesn't care about that woman much anymore. But I wish instead she could have developed her own confidence that would have rubbed off on me.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 12:25 PM on March 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'll also respond to the kid issue. My kids grew up in that kind of friendship, and now that they are in their mid-20s, they see the other kids maybe once a year at Christmas if they have time. But they don't really care if it doesn't happen. They think fondly of those kids, but it's not a loss to not see them.
posted by CathyG at 5:57 AM on March 13, 2016

Anonymous. I am so sorry for you. I had a best friend for 38 years. The two of us sounded like the two of you (though I didn't have children...she did). Well, my best friend died unexpectedly in 2015 and that is how I "lost" her. I can't imagine her ever doing something like you are describing to me. If she would have ---it would have crushed me. So, I truly understand how you are feeling. I loved my friend like a sister and she was so important to my life. I miss my friend, but I have such great memories of her it is sometimes like she is still here with me.

My friend and I always talked about our troubles and shortcomings and often we'd read books and compare notes about what we learned. One of the absolute best "self-help" books we ever read was "The Four Agreements". (It is a gem of a book). One of the "Agreements" is "Make no Assumptions". It is clear that you are assuming that your friend is no longer your friend... you have not asked for clarification. You owe it to yourself and your friend to flat-out get details that you are no longer assuming. You might want to read The Four Agreements before you ask her to make things clear. I promise will help you when you are able to ASK her to spell things out. Effective communication is the answer to practically all our problems. Hugs to you!
posted by naplesyellow at 12:38 AM on March 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

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