"Experts at Manchester University claim the bonds of friendship are so deep that splitting with even unwanted pals leads to 'terrible' guilt. And women in particular find it more traumatic to dump their friends than they do their lovers," reported The Daily Telegraph on April 13.
Friendship breakups are a loaded topic. No matter which side you're on--the dumper or the dumpee--they're often fraught with guilt and betrayal and lingering "what-did-I-do-wrong" questions. And even when it's quite obvious what was done wrong--she slept with your man, you threw her under the bus in front of the boss--ending a friendship can seem pretty harsh. In my own relationships, even when there have been times where I thought, "I just need to end this," I couldn't bring myself to do it. Too stressful. Too ... mean.
It doesn't surprise me that, for women, breaking up with a friend carries more guilt than breaking up with a lover. When you enter into a romantic relationship there is an understanding, even if it's unspoken, that it could end. (I'm thinking lovers = boyfriends/girlfriends in this case, not spouses -- though the study didn't specify, just said "lovers." How European.) With friends, that's not the case. Sure you might drift apart, talk once a month rather than once a day, but the friendship contract is, in theory, never ending.
With a lover, there's an expectation you will only have one at a time. A committed relationship means you won't see other people. You can't end a friendship because you've met someone else. You should meet lots of someone elses--and introduce them! When it comes to friends, more is more.
There's also the idea that with a romantic relationship, you're moving towards something, hoping to one day cross the marriage finish line. (Marriage is not for everyone, I know, but the idea is that you're progressing toward a partnership. It's that "us against the world" mentality.) If you don't see a future with a lover, you know you've got to end it (eventually). Not really the case for BFFs. With friends, you end it because you can't handle the present. Because no amount of dodged phone calls or rescheduled dates will relieve the stress of having that person in your life. (The study says that, for women, "slinking away" is the friendship-ending method of choice. We avoid the whole breakup talk. I know that would be my go-to. More cowardly, more selfish even, but so much easier than a real confrontation.
I think dumping a friend is undoubtedly harder than dumping a boyfriend. Telling a buddy that, sorry, I don't like you anymore -- just the thought of it ties my stomach in knots. There is no easy cliché, no "it's not you it's me." With friend breakups, it's definitely you. You're toxic. Or you suck the air out of the room. Or you ask too much of me when I have only so much to give. But how in the world do you tell someone that?
Have you had to break up with a friend recently? Did you think it was harder than breaking up with a romantic partner? Do you try the "slink away" approach first? Either way, was the guilt debilitating?
Follow Rachel Bertsche on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rberch