THE BLOG
06/25/2010 01:01 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The elephant in the room: My once-BFF

QUESTION:

Hi Irene,

I love your blog and read it all the time; you offer such great advice. Now I have some problems of my own and was wondering if you could help me. I've had the same best friend for ten years; we went to uni together and even lived together after university. In January, we both decided to take a career break, traveling round Asia and New Zealand for a year and working as we went along. After a few weeks, our friendship deteriorated badly, partly because of the stress of spending every day together for two months and both of us feeling money/job pressures, etc. Also, lots of things happened that made me doubt our friendship and whether I could trust her.

We had a big fight and she moved out of our hostel, which was fine. By that time, we both had jobs and had met lots of friends so neither of us was on our own. I thought we would have a few weeks space and get back on track. But I haven't heard from her for six months and don't even know where she is living anymore. All I see are Facebook updates every now and then. The last read "Going to Fiji tomorrow." I don't know if she's living there or just went for a holiday.

I tried to message her twice on Facebook, to let her know I was willing to re-open communication but received no reply; that was five months ago. But I'm actually a happier person now the friendship is over. I realize she was more of a frenemy than a friend but I'm very confused.

1. So far I haven't said anything to our mutual friends except "I haven't seen her for a while. We're having space, etc. (nothing that could be seen as me being bitchy.)" But now it's been six months. Do I need to tell our mutual friends we've "split" (just so they know the score)? Currently it's like the elephant in the corner. No one mentions it; they all talk to me like normal, like I came out here on my own, and I assume they treat her the same.

2. What happens when I go home to London? - ALL our friends are mutual friends. Is it a case of whoever goes home first keeps the friends? Surely if she goes home first and tells them what a cow I am and gets her story in first then I'll have no friends to return to. Even if they don't get involved, they'll feel awkward about the situation and may distance themselves from both of us.

3. This girl is still my Facebook friend but won't speak to me. I know it seems petty but every now and again I think about deleting her. She wouldn't speak to me when I tried to patch things up. She DOES NOT deserve to be on my friends list but how will deleting her look to our mutual friends?

I'm sorry this is so long, I'm really worried as I might have to leave NZ soon and return to London and basically we shared everything - a house, friends, etc. Now I don't know how to return to that life without her...maybe a fresh start somewhere new is the only option.

Cheers,
Jenna

ANSWER

Hi Jenna,

It sounds like you had a great ten-year run with your friend and grew up together. After graduation many friendships unravel as people grow in different directions and get a better sense of the person they are or want to become.

Unfortunately, there is often stigma and shame associated with a friendship breakup because our society judges women by their ability to make and keep friends. Pop culture reinforces the myth that friendships should be forever so when a friendship falls apart, there is no one to turn to for support. Women fear if they tell others what has happened, especially men, it will be viewed as a catfight. They are reluctant to tell other women, lest they be looked down upon as a bad friend. In this case, you may have ordinarily turned to your once-BFF because she is the person with whom you could share intimate feelings.

In terms of your questions, you need to be open with your friends in New Zealand and London about the proverbial elephant in the room. You don't need to spill details, bad-mouth a person who once was your friend, or feel embarrassed. Simply tell them that spending so much time together oversees and under stressful conditions, put a strain on the relationship and you grew apart. If any friends distance themselves because of this, they weren't really friends. Telling them in advance will put you in a stronger position than if you had said nothing and if they only find out about your tiff from your friend.

Regarding the matter of remaining Facebook friends, that's up to you. Over time, you may find that you and your uni buddy are able to reconnect and develop a different, less intense, type of relationship based on your shared memories and mutual friends.

You have nothing to feel ashamed about and don't need to leave town! While it was unfortunate that you had a "big fight," you were able to recognize that this relationship wasn't a healthy one and things have worked out for the best. Time will help you feel better once the breakup is out of the closet.

Hope this helps.

My best,
Irene

Have a question about female friendships? Send it to The Friendship Doctor.

Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. Her new book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, was recently published by Overlook Press. She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog and at PsychologyToday.com.