I have been broken up with approximately four times in my entire life. The first three times with guys I dated for an average for 8 months each, who all said twisted versions of the same thing upon our final conversation: “Jen, you’re ... you. Which is great, but just not right for me.”
My heart felt like it was a sponge, getting squeezed by the hand of someone I was starting to fall madly in love with. It took weeks, sometimes months, to feel like my cheery-self again; to feel like I was officially over a person who now received the “ex” label and would be spoken about in a hushed tone when mentioned over brunch.
But the fourth breakup was the one that broke my heart in an unusually painful way. That’s because the breakup wasn’t one from a romantic partner, it was with a best friend.
Last June, a close friend of mine, perhaps my all-time-closest — the kind of friend you meet in your early twenties and practically kiss the ground that you’ve found your forever soul-mate, the one you can rely on to be there for you when you just need someone to talk to on the phone for an hour and a half on a balmy Sunday, or come to an event you’re hosting because you’re scared no one else will show up, and vice versa — looked me in the eye and told me that she didn’t want to be my friend anymore.
“I’m sorry,” I blurted out, sticking a finger inside my ear to make sure it wasn’t blocked with ear wax. I wanted to make sure I heard these words correctly. “You don’t want to be friends anymore?”
My best friend stood there, on the corner of the street, clasped her hands over her mouth and shut her eyes.
Just months before this moment, she and I could be caught laughing in the backseat of Ubers, coming home from Friday nights out, dancing to Bruno Mars while cooking weekday pasta dinners, and traveling to Orlando for Halloween Horror Nights.
Now this was our horror. Or at least mine.
“I just don’t want to be your friend anymore,” she said back, finally.
I didn’t understand. There were hardly any warning signs. The month before she seemed distant, cold and hardly answered me back when I texted or called. That’s why I asked her to meet me one afternoon so that I could see what was going on.
“Jen,” she continued. “It’s not black or white. I just don’t want to be friends and I don’t exactly have a reason why.”
My heart skydived to the pit of my tummy. I begged for an answer as to why. I begged to fix whatever I had done wrong. But she didn't have anything to tell me. No reason. No explanation. Just that the friendship was over.
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And as she turned away and left, I sobbed on the corner of Fifth Avenue, and for many days after, even now, almost a year later, my heart aches as I write this.
Why a platonic break up can be worse than a romantic one
If you’ve never had a friend break up with you, spoiler alert: It's a real doozy. It can be worse than a romantic breakup because you feel like you lost your sidekick, your go-to person, your safety blanket. Someone who knows years worth of secrets about you, understands what you’re saying when you’re not saying anything at all, and knows exactly what to do or say to make you feel better.
Unlike romantic relationships, where we always know in the back of our minds that there’s a chance it may not work out, friendship breakups slap us silly; an outcome that we never considered a possibility.
“Given the (supposed) singularity of romantic relationships, we’ve been conditioned to proceed with caution, and to know that people are fickle with their affections. Therefore, while tremendously painful, there are a plethora of reasons to attribute to a romantic breakup that don’t feel like a direct reflection of who we are (ie. they aren't ready to commit etc.),” says Meg Josephson, a psychotherapist in NYC.
Yet, on the other hand, Josephson says that from a young age, we’re bombarded with platitudes about the ability of a strong friendship to withstand all.
“Friends ‘till the end, true blue friends, through thick and thin ... we grow up with the idea that if a friend is a good friend, they will unconditionally accept us and be there,” says Josephson.
Not only could this be why it hits harder, but it also leaves us mentally unprepared to handle the situation. Which is why, when it happens, it can feel all sorts of uncomfortable.