06/11/2008 05:31 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Reader Q &A: Help! Can Collateral Damage Be Avoided in a BFF Breakup?


Dear Irene,

I have experienced a catastrophic rift with my friend of over 10 years. "Em" and I met in college, and we've been through lots of life changes since then. Over the years, I've introduced her to all of my friends and she has become a fixture at our social gatherings.
Our relationship began to sour after I met my husband a few years ago. She is resentful that he has "replaced her" and that I am happy in life while she goes through a series of failed relationships and failed jobs. I feel increasingly that I can never do enough to be a good friend to her.

So, after she said some profoundly hurtful things to me, I decided the best thing to do is make more room in my life for my healthy friendships and relationships. The only problem is: I don't know what to do about our mutual friends. I have no intention of telling them to choose sides, because that would be childish. But I fear that she will sabotage those friendships, and I don't know how to go about protecting them while I remove her from my life.

This Thursday, there's a joint birthday party for two mutual friends. We have both RSVP'd. What do I do?

Anonymous in Virginia


Dear Anonymous in Virginia:

Of course, you should go to your friends' birthday party. Just say hello to "Em" and focus your attention where it should be---on the Birthday Girls.

Friendships change as our life circumstances change. If you met her ten years ago at college, consider how much you've changed and grown since then. Isn't it natural that the nature of the friendships you need and enjoy might change as well? As one example, you met "Em" before you met your husband. Prior to that, as two single women, you may have had more in common and you also may have had more patience in catering to her whims and neediness.

You have no choice but to break lose now---yet connections between close friends become tangled like vines. Friendships that begin as twosomes extend to relationships among families and circles of friends---and the risk of collateral damage after a breakup is real.

While you may suffer some losses, my hunch is they won't be significant. If "Em" is grating, she probably is just as grating to your mutual friends. (She may even be worse to them without you as a buffer.) Your true friends will remain YOUR friends.

Forget the hurtful things she said and let go. If anyone at the party asks what happened, say that you drifted apart without going into details. If "Em" goes on to intentionally sabotage your mutual friendships, smart women will see right through her.

Please get the word "catastrophic" out of your head. Yours is not the first friendship to fracture and yours won't be the last. The relationship with "Em" was a good one while it was more reciprocal. I know that the change still feels painful but you have lots of supports in your life and things will smooth out over time. Let me know how it goes.


Do you have a question about a female friendship that's troubling you? Please write me at and I'll try to answer it.