Here's what my co-author and I are hearing from women in our new survey about the end of an important relationship:
"It was kind of like a death. I actually mourned. First I was devastated and numb, then angry, then indignant, then civil."
"I was very angry and upset. It took me a long time to get over it. I went to therapy..."
"[I felt] sadness, betrayal, disbelief, abandonment. Only time helped, a long time!"
"I felt like I was going through my divorce all over again. I was blindsided... saddened... grief-stricken. It took months for me to stop thinking about it all of the time... to quit having imaginary conversations in my head with all of the perfect responses and comebacks. It still hurts when I think about it."
Were these women talking about the end of a romantic relationship? Which form of loss could elicit such strong emotions?
These women were reflecting on the end of a friendship. Losing a BFF. These are the breakups that many women keep inside. Getting over a breakup or even a divorce is a tough process, but we can look around for examples of others -- among our friends, in books, in movies, online -- who are going through the same thing. There's a sort of "cultural script" for the end of a romantic relationship. (Which often involves ice cream, long cries with girlfriends and the search for a new partner.)
But when a friendship dies, women are left hurt, ashamed, angry and confused. Unlike romantic relationships -- in which there's generally the expectation of monogamy -- there's no such equivalent in friendship. So, when your friend wants out of your friendship, does she say, "It's not you, it's me," or "the magic is gone," or "we want different things" -- or any one of the dozens of breakup cliches that we've all heard? Usually not.
When we published our anthology, The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship, most of the essays and stories were about the lasting legacy -- mostly positive -- of friendship. For the most part, our book is a celebration of women's friendship. Except for the last part of the book, a section on friendship loss.
We've been fascinated by how strongly women have reacted to that part of our book. They are relieved that someone has felt the strong emotions -- humiliation, grief, pain and bewilderment -- that they did when a friendship died.
So, our latest project is about why friendship breakups are just so hard. It's about their lasting impact on women's lives. We want to hear women's stories and reflections on why their friendships ended and what lessons they learned from these friendship burnouts. We're calling our new project, "My Other Ex: Women's Stories of Friendship Burnouts, Betrayals, and Breakups."
Do you have a friendship breakup story to share? Tell us about it.
Why do you think friendship breakups are so hard?