How do I get over a friendship breakup?
June 24, 2007 5:47 AM   Subscribe

How do I get over a friendship breakup?

I had a very very close friend. We spoke every day, we got along great. He was my best friend for a few years. We moved to a new medium-sized city a few months apart a year and 1/2 ago and now we are nothing. He is busy smoozing with new co-workers to ever want to hang out or talk with me. In my eyes, I was cool enough to hang out with in our old city but I'm not cool enough in our new city around his new friends. He barely speaks to me in the few group situations that we're ever in.
I explained how upset I was about our decreased friendship contact on 2 occasions with no results. I've tried to be social friends only, seeing him every other month or so in big groups, but every time I am near him, I think about how we used to be so close and get very upset. I've determined that it is best to cut my losses and not be friends at all with him. He always says "Oh, I wish I could see you more" but never acts on it, no matter how often I try to hang out with him.
In the 1 year since I moved here I have seen him 6 times. We live 5 minutes away from each other and have similar 9-5 work schedules and few other responsibilities.
We have 2 mutual friends in our new city and many in our old city, but we only really go back for weddings or other big events.
He was a bit of a flake in our old city, as far as being late or forgetting to call, but he was just a great friend that I overlooked this fact.
Is cutting off ties completely the only way to deal with this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
accept that he hurt you. grieve. accept. make some new friends, preferably who aren't as shallow.

cutting ties is not a bad idea, but don't let him keep you away from people you want to see. just treat him politely, as an acquaintance.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:22 AM on June 24, 2007

I explained how upset I was about our decreased friendship contact on 2 occasions with no results.

Kudos for your candor: I can't imagine expressing something like this to a friend.

The guy sounds like a jerk. You're still thinking about him as the great friend from your old city, but be realistic: he's treating you like someone he doesn't want to be friends with ... and he's doing it in a callous manner! Let him go.

I think you need to focus on rebuilding your social life, with new friends who will take the place of his friendship and what it provided.
posted by jayder at 7:38 AM on June 24, 2007

Wow, sorry anon. I have been there, and it can be as painful as death or a romantic breakup.

There is a cynical saying about romantic breakups: Nothing gets you over the last one like the next one. Although I don't really subscribe to such a cold outlook, there is truth in it. As said above, make new friends. Join a club. Take up a new hobby, which can lead to meeting new people. New friends can't really replace old friends, but it's obvious your friend has "moved on" for whatever reason. You need to do the same.

Don't hesitate to get some counseling. A lot of the pain of any breakup comes from feelings of unworthiness, self-doubt, and betrayal. These feelings can keep you from finding new friends. You have been hurt, and you don't want to get hurt again, so the seemingly easy solution is to not open yourself up again. But that only prolongs the pain.

Also, remind yourself that by staying in a place of pain, you are giving your ex-friend power over your daily life, by controlling your feelings. Tell yourself that YOU are in control of your feelings and your life, and put that belief into action.

Remember the good times. Tell yourself the truth about the situation. Tell yourself that your friend is exhibiting his true character; and is that someone you would want to be friends with anyway?

As far as cutting things off completely: I wouldn't go out of my way to be at the same functions, but I wouldn't avoid them either. But when you find yourself in the same social setting, be very casual about dealing with him. It's likely that in those situations, on a subtle level, you are trying to "win him back" and when your efforts fail, it opens the wound again.

Finally, something I remind myself and my daughter, when she has similar situations: People do what they want to do. If someone wants to spend time with you, they will. Sure, we all get busy, and it can be hard to catch up with our friends. But in general, the people who like to be with me find ways to do so, and vice versa.

Good luck!
posted by The Deej at 7:47 AM on June 24, 2007 [3 favorites]

Is cutting off ties completely the only way to deal with this?

No, it's a bad idea. Find new friends and stop acting like you were in love the guy. I mean, seriously, it sounds like you've got a notebook out, carefully noting how much time you spend with him now, versus before, while pining for him to call. CUT IT OUT, it's not healthy. Not everyone is supposed to be your friend forever nor are they going to be close to your forever. This friendship has changed, enjoy what you can out if for now, rather than hanging on to the past. Eventually you two may be close again, but not if you sever ties. You've mentioned that the lack of closeness bothered you and it hasn't changed. Move on and find less flaky friends.

Be glad you had a best friend for several years. Some people don't even have that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:47 AM on June 24, 2007

I'm wondering how old you are. This reads like a question written by a teenager. I pick up a lot of neediness on your part from this question - wanting daily contact, being "best friends" with someone, and if they won't be your "best friend" you're not sure if you want to be friends with them at all. It's entirely possible that he didn't see the friendship in the same way you did. Although he may have been YOUR best friend, you may not have been his.

People move on with their lives, and friendships change. Develop a circle of friends, and don't invest all your emotional energy in one person who you see as your best friend, because, if they don't see it that way too, your expectations will be higher than theirs and that will probably lead to disappointment and hurt feelings for you.
posted by essexjan at 7:52 AM on June 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sometimes we outgrow people. And it sucks. But, maybe you really need to just let him go. It is much more painful to waste your efforts trying to stay friends with someone who isn't the person you want or need them to be.

Unfortunately, a lot of people just aren't meant to be our friends forever. And maybe they don't deserve to be, either.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:02 AM on June 24, 2007

Treat him with cool politeness when you run into him, and move on.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:20 AM on June 24, 2007

I wonder if you're a man or a woman, or gay. Or if your former best friend is. There may be romantic entanglements that make it difficult to be friends now. Even if that is not the case, it's probably best to focus on making new friends and stop pining over the old one. If you cannot do that without cutting off contact with him completely, then that is what you need to do.
posted by OmieWise at 8:28 AM on June 24, 2007

Okay, well I've got two things to say on this one.

I don't know about everyone else here, but I and many guys I know, have very close relationships with people whom they don't necessarily talk to that often. Before you spoke to him, there is a good chance he didn't realize there was a problem. You mention you already knew he was a flake, so please take that into account.

I'm concerned and curious about the way you confronted him and what you may have actually done to determine results. To explain, I'd like to know if you poured out all your feelings on him and if your measure of progress is waiting to see if he cheerfully called you the next day to make plans. Unfortunately, there are very few people who would be able to do this. Please put it into perspective, it's not exactly a comfortable to pick up the phone and try to make plans with someone who just accused you of being a bad friend.

If you really want your friend back you needed to talk to him in a particular way. You needed to let him know how you missed the tangible things the two of you participated in, and the most emotional it should get is how you miss his general company. This way you can attempt to remind him of why he might miss it too. It's important to make sure it doesn't become too intense of a situation, I mean you need to give him a reason to hang out and putting a tremendous accusatory burden on his shoulders of being a bad friend is NOT how to do that.

After doing enough to let him know that you are concerned, you can't expect to wait for his call for a measure of your success. If you'd rather have your friend than a pity party (I'm not accusing you of this but it's on the table) call him and suggest up to 2 or 3 very casual and easy to make plans which would just involve the two of you without you. My suggestion would be lunch. The final point would be do your best while on the phone and at lunch to pretend things are how they were. The reason is you want to remind your friend of how it was like to be around you instead of your current state.

Just realize that he sounds like the kind of person who doesn't exactly pick up the phone and make plans if he doesn't have to. You say he hangs out with his fellow employees and I'd be willing to bet that those plans just fall into his lap while he's at work. I could be wrong, I only know what you've chosen to share, but I've seen friendships die because of this kind of thing before, so I just want to share.

Good Luck.

P.S. If you feel like giving more detail, I'm VERY interested.
posted by JakeLL at 8:43 AM on June 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

The only thing you tell us about what was wrong with the relationship includes your perceptions of his behavior. Did he ever actually say, "You are not cool enough for me to hang out with you"? Or "I will not speak to you in group settings because I am too cool to hang out with you"? You don't say so, and I would assume that's something you would add in your post. So, really, it's just as likely that you're reading way more into his actions than is actually there.

Then, you say your poured out your emotions to him, but you don't mention what exactly you said or exactly how he responded. How did he react? How did you expect him to react? It's pretty clear from your letter that he is incredibly busy these days, but you don't seem to realize that might alter his ability to interact with you. Did you expect him to drop everything and come hang out with you, instantly, that minute, until you were satisfied? If all you said was something along the lines of, "I feel like I don't get to see you any more, and it really upsets me," he probably thought you meant the same thing he means when he says that you two should hang out more often: a vague reaffirmation that hanging out together is fun without any definite plans in mind.

You also say that you decided to end the friendship with him. But you're upset at him for being the cause of it? Again, from what you post, we have no evidence of him actually ever doing anything that shows that he doesn't like you as a friend. Instead, all you give us is evidence that he is very busy and not too great at making plans, along with plenty of internal strife that you've been going through.

In other words: from what you say, it appears that the problem is you, not him. You're reading into your friendship with him considerably, and it appears that your feelings toward him are really your self-esteem struggling in general. Do you have trouble finding friends in your new environment? Do you, on your own, not think that you are cool enough for the groups he hangs out with? Do you feel worthless when you think of not being this guy's closest friend any more? Well, if so, what you really need is a therapist. You need to learn how to value yourself on your own, instead of seeking it from others. It really doesn't seem like this guy has done anything awful to you at all, but it sure sounds like you're suffering from something. See a therapist, untangle all the painful issues you're dealing with, and then reevaluate what you think of this guy.
posted by Ms. Saint at 9:52 AM on June 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

From my experience, nothing has ever made the world come alive for me like really loving another person. Being loved, on the other hand cannot even get in the game. So if it's any consolation to you, I think you have already had the better of your friendship by far, compared to your friend.

To be left behind by a loved person is intensely painful, but to judge by the depth of your feelings and your capacity for direct expression of them as we see here, I would guess your friend is not capable of loving, or he would have loved you in return, and that your feelings for him embarrassed and irritated him at a level he may have difficulty articulating, because they point toward a deficiency in him which he is unwilling to face.

I predict that, in the fullness of time, you will come to pity him.
posted by jamjam at 9:59 AM on June 24, 2007 [4 favorites]

I'm curious why the two of you moved to the same city together. Did you follow him? Did he follow you? Did you move for school? Did you choose to move to make yourself happier? I'm unclear on that and I think that's at the heart of your larger problem.

To answer your question, though, getting over any break-up, as has been pointed out above, involves time, distance and distraction. Distance and time require more patience than you may think you can manage; really, though, the sun is going to keep rising and setting and he's going to keep investing his time and energy into his job and new friends, so those two will likely take care of themselves. Distraction, it would seem, is key for you. Three things have helped me in this way in the past - running, writing it all out, and nurturing other relationships. Running eases my mind and strengthens my body. Writing it all out gets it out of my system and I can print it out, ball it up and toss it in the wastebasket when I'm done. Or I can just press delete, get up and have a sandwich. Other relationships help me grow and provide comfort. If you can, pick up the phone and call another friend or trusted relative when you feel like you want to call him. Meet someone else for coffee. Go to a movie. Focus all that energy on yourself and other people, and you may find that his hold on your heart and mind may ease up a bit. You might also find that he may seek you out if your immediate presence and attention aren't the de facto standard in your relationship.

Expectations get us into trouble. No one can meet anyone else's every need, really, and we all shrink from people who demand more of us than we can give. You'll get comfortable with that over time. Good luck to you.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 10:08 AM on June 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

People are going to move in and out of your 'friendship' zone throughout your life. Sometimes good friends will become aquantenances. Sometimes aquantenances will become good friends.

All the drama? You just feel lonely in the new city. You'd be equally frustrated by a needy friend demanding your time. Trying to ask someone for an explanation of their behavior or to coerce them to spend more time with you isn't acting as a friend.

Behave well. Be a good friend. Some people will reject your time (or change.) Guess what? You will too.
posted by filmgeek at 10:27 AM on June 24, 2007

A friend of mine was just going through this by the way, and I gave her a coping mechanism that I use & she said it really helped. So I'll try it here.

Think of a standing ladder with a lot of rungs on it. That's your friendship. There's only so much room to stand at the top of the ladder, but there are a lot of levels below that where people can fit. Some people work hard and give you a lot and make you feel great, and those people should be higher up on the ladder. You may have a best friend that is comfortably standing at the very very top... or some people might not have anyone at the top but they have ten people standing two or three rungs down. Some people like their ladders to be crowded. Others only need a few people there. Everybody is different.

There are people in your life that don't add much to it... and they should be put lower down, even only one step off of the ground if that feels fair. As your friendships have ups and downs and people behave in good or bad ways, they may move up or down the ladder throughout your life. And you'll aslo find that some people don't deserve to be on the ladder at all... so you need to kick them off.

The key is to not put people higher on the ladder than they deserve to be. There may be someone that in truth is only 2 rungs off of the floor but you are giving them importance that they don't deserve & haven't earned from you. So concentrate on who truly deserves to be highest on that ladder for you, and work to encourage those friendships. And meanwhile, try not to expect or give more than people have earned from you. And if you need to kick people off the ladder, don't feel badly. There's only so much room there and you don't want to waste it.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:28 AM on June 24, 2007 [9 favorites]

as i have said many times, some friendships just have an expiration date and it sounds like this one has passed. you just need to cut your losses and move on because you sound like you are making way more of an effort in trying to keep this relationship than he is.

concentrate on your other friendships. or make new friends. if you see this guy socially, don't pretend he doesn't exist; greet him when you run into each other—but don't go out of your way for him either.

it's hard. and you might always look back and miss him. but he isn't treating you the way a good friend should so don't waste any more time and energy on someone who doesn't deserve it.
posted by violetk at 12:58 PM on June 24, 2007

"We live 5 minutes away from each other and have similar 9-5 work schedules and few other responsibilities."

I don't get where Ms. Saint sees that he is "incredibly busy". The above quote makes it pretty clear that the OP's former friend is unwilling to continue the friendship out of choice not necessity.

One possible motivation he may have had is that some people get really motivated to avoid "worlds colliding". He may have, through design or serendipity, come into a new image and level of status with his new friends. Perhaps he is concerned that associating with you may blow that and that he values his new image more than his old friendship with you. Maybe he just doesn't feel comfortable with you witnessing the behaviors he engages in with his coworkers. It could be a ton of other things as well, that's just a possibility.

I'm also curious if you and your best friend are of different genders or one of you is gay. Your post does seem to have overtones of almost romantic expectation. It wouldn't surprise me if there was none and those of who point to it are projecting. But if it is there then that certainly changes the answers.

Don't make any speeches, but do recognize he isn't a friend. I wouldn't be looking to do the guy any favors. It may make it easier if you're honest with him. Again, no speeches, but when he says, "Oh, I wish I could see you more", "No, you don't" is an appropriate response.

On a side note, being direct in asking for what you want is good, but it isn't the whole story. Like JakeLL points out, the way you confronted him may have done a lot to change things.
posted by BigSky at 1:00 PM on June 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

I said that all the poster gives us is evidence that his friend is very busy. I meant to imply that that is the most likely situation, given what the poster says. If I didn't make what I meant clear, then, oops. It's perfectly possible that the friend doesn't want to be friends with the poster any longer, but the poster certainly didn't say anything that clearly shows this to be the case. I can live directly next door to you and I could consider you a wonderfully close friend, but if I have made a lot of new friends, joined clubs, and have plenty of other stuff going on, I would be less likely to spend a considerable amount of time with you, without that meaning I now hate you. Given the two possibilities, and the other factors in the post that I mentioned above, it seems more outlandish to jump to the conclusion that the guy is unwilling to continue the friendship than it is to conclude that he's just pretty active.

Again, that doesn't mean that, obviously, the guy is just busy. It is still possible that he does wish to be left alone. That doesn't change the fact that the poster is reading too much into the relationship and seems to be struggling with some deeper issues. Really, I agree with a lot of what you say, BigSky. But I just wish for the poster to second-guess (for his/her own benefit) what is leading him/her to the conclusions he/she draws.
posted by Ms. Saint at 1:20 PM on June 24, 2007

Ms. Saint,

"But I just wish for the poster to second-guess (for his/her own benefit) what is leading him/her to the conclusions he/she draws."

I see where you are coming from with this, and I think it would be to the OP's benefit as well. There is a bit of neediness there that suggests the OP is a little blind, "I think about how we used to be so close and get very upset".

But I think we'll have to disagree on what is more probable regarding the friend's motives. Him seeing a former close friend six times in the one year after their buddy's move, screams out to me a lack of interest.
posted by BigSky at 1:43 PM on June 24, 2007

Say what you need to say to him - over the phone or in a letter and let it fall where it may. Friendships, like any other kind of relationship require work from both sides and if he's not willing to put in the effort - you're better off anyways.
posted by heartquake at 2:56 PM on June 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've definitely been there, anon. I know it sucks.

One good piece of advice I heard while I was still really upset about it was this story: "I was shallow half-friends with this one woman for years. Then one day, she got a divorce, and went through a lot, and in the next few years after that, our friendship deepened. Now she's one of my closest friends." Her point was that during the shallow period, she could have cut off the friendship and missed what eventually developed. It made me think of a friend, a really close friend now, who had hung in there and kept the door open, until I finished up what was keeping me away. It got me thinking of all the times I needed space but still liked the person, and the few times I've temporarily dropped out of my social circles, then resurfaced later.

But "just keeping the door open" has still been easier said than done with this lost friend of mine. It got a lot easier once I began to treat her as a casual acquaintance, so I never expected too much, and once I stopped doing anything that felt like "trying too hard," so I didn't expect any reciprocation. Still, sometimes I get this burst of excitement like "great! we're about to go back to the way things were before!" then not get called back and then struggle with bitterness like "I know you don't really mean 'let's hang out again soon.'" And I sometimes still think "well, she's not a real friend then," and maybe she's not (that is, not willing to have a friendship at the level of intensity I'd like).

But I try to remind myself that I can use all the friends I can get, at whatever level of friendship they're willing to have. They don't have to pass this test like "100% or nothing at all!" We all have to grow and change, have distance and closeness again. Plus, it's not really costing me anything to maintain a little goodwill toward her, while to cut off the friendship would require instilling some permanent resentment inside me, a much worse feeling than the occasional twinge of disappointment. People change and life surprises you. So I try to keep a small door open and call her every once in a while for a short chat or to suggest some low-energy activity. Meanwhile, I put the other 99% of my energy into relationships that are giving back what I put in, or relationships where they had been doing almost all the work without me noticing.
posted by salvia at 6:34 PM on June 24, 2007 [3 favorites]

Rereading your post, three other thoughts --

1) In my eyes, I was cool enough to hang out with in our old city but I'm not cool enough in our new city around his new friends.

I bet for him, the situation is totally different. This sounds like insecurity talking. (I mean, we all get insecure sometimes, right?) So, address the insecurity by doing whatever it takes to prove to yourself you're "cool." Then you can say "well, screw him if he doesn't like me, I'm cool, so he must be the lame one."

2) every time I am near him, I think about how we used to be so close and get very upset.

This is totally how I was. This is where convincing yourself "we're just casual acquaintances" comes in. You overcome that awkwardness by acting like it's a social obligation to make polite conversation. :) "Oh hey Joe, it's been forever, how's life? you still working for Mcnamish Consulting?" I could go on an on about all the reasons this strategy worked great for me, but just try it.

3) I was on the opposite side of this once, where no matter how much I hung out with this one friend, it wasn't enough for her. Things got heavier and heavier, and I felt perpetually guilty, and wanted to hang out even less. That's the downward cycle you want to avoid.
posted by salvia at 7:17 PM on June 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Same thing happened to me, these are the bullet points. I grew up with this girl. She moved to another state when we were 12, I moved to another a year later. We'd see each other twice a year, but I would always be the one to visit, and she'd never even try to plan a trip. I got tired of it and stopped visiting. We called each other every now and then, her when she was drunk, me when I was bored. We both moved back to our childhood state, spent a few months hanging out, but it was pretty forced. Not completely sure if it had to do with her being busy with law school, or just not caring anymore. But we went to a New Year's Eve party 2 years ago at my sister's college apartment and I got drunk. She showed up with a bunch of her college friends, and her brother tagged along. Her brother gets drunk, she leaves. I chill. I wake up the next morning, her bother had puked everywhere, and then when i'm calling her to let her know that i'll take him home, no answer. I drop him off, no call, no thank you, nothing. She im'd me once a few weeks later. Never responded. And that was the last time I talked to her.

It's not worth the effort to be friends with somebody who takes a relationship for granted. If she tried to call me now, i'm not sure what i'd say to her. I'm a little bitter, but i'm no longer angry at spending so much time on this relationship. It taught me what to look out for when making new friends.
posted by Derek at 8:46 PM on June 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Some people have a number of casual friends, a fairly large social circle, made up of people from their school, work, social circle, and local community. They hang out with them in groups, sometimes alone, and have a lot of social options.

That's never been me, although I've kind of made some curious steps in that direction. I've tended to have a handful of close friends that I feel comfortable sharing anything with, feel in tune with, and (to my shame) sometimes take inadvertent awkwardness as a casual insult when they leave me out of an activity or forget to call me back. Don't do that. Leave the door open for friends, and kind of gauge your level of involvement by the amount of reciprocity you get in your actions.

You're not married to your friends and that can be a good thing. While it might hurt to let the close ones drift a little, it's sometimes inevitable. A good friend lets other friends have some level of autonomy and grow independently -- that can be what keeps a relationship fresh in the long term.
posted by mikeh at 7:16 AM on June 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

If he is a real flakey, unreliable person, maybe when you were in the previous town there was something that forced you (and him especially) to be around that made things easier.

I cant even begin to comprehend what some of my flakey, unreliable friends are thinking when they don't show up to things or don't return calls or whatever, but at some point you have to accept that you cannot count on this person anymore. Don't add any drama or weirdness too the situation that you'll regret later.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 8:49 AM on June 25, 2007

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