When Adult Friendships End

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Kalli* and Rebecca shared a lifetime of experiences. Friends since high school, they had seen each other through transitions and trauma, celebration and secrets. They had spent summers travelling together, marched in each other’s weddings, and been among the first to hold each other’s new babies. And then, after nearly 20 years of friendship, it was over.

Kalli’s father passed away unexpectedly in January of 2009, and though she relied on her family immensely, she was looking for comfort from the friend that had known her dad the longest. And she just didn’t find it.

The 37-year old mother of two explains, “Rebecca just couldn’t be there for me. And it was a pattern that was always there, but I couldn’t ignore it any more. My dad’s death was the thing that really opened my eyes, but I guess the cracks were always there. I know that as I got older, had a family, and saw a shift in my priorities, I had less and less tolerance for behaviour I could ignore or forgive before.”

“We talked about it, but it didn’t make anything better. So I just started allowing more and more time to pass in between phone calls. Eventually, I realized that it had been a year since we had talked.”

There is a misconception that, once we enter adulthood, life stabilizes. We’ve made it through the tumultuous years, the experimental years, the emotional years intact, and our reward is security and calm. Sure we expect some things to change and some people to come and go, but BFFs? No. BFFs are supposed to be solid, firm. They’re not supposed to go anywhere. There’s a reason that last F is there.

But, as Kalli stated, adulthood also gives us a greater sense of what our priorities are, and though the emotional need for our friend might be great, an unwillingness to spend precious time and energy on somebody that doesn’t seem to give anything in return, can be greater.

And even when the end of a friendship is something we facilitate, it’s not easy.

“I definitely grieved,” says Nancy, 41, whose 5-year friendship with a former coworker ended in, “a spectacular explosion of hurt feelings and things we probably both wish we hadn’t said.”

“For months afterwards, the reality that we weren’t going to be friends any more would hit me in the gut. There were lots of tears and lots of sleepless nights.”

The expulsion of someone from your adult life is tricky. Unlike in high school, when we may have opted for high-drama and a healthy dose of gossip to make it through the end of a friendship, adult friendships (much like a divorce) can carry a lot of baggage. Husbands and mutual friends are often caught in the middle, and when children are involved, things can become even more complicated.

“When I ended my friendship with Rebecca, I pretty much ended our daughter’s friendship with her daughter as well, “ remembers Kalli. Their husband’s did their best to arrange and shuttle the kids to playdates, but it was soon obvious that the situation was simply too awkward to continue. Too young to keep in touch on their own, the girls’ relationship became another casualty of their mothers’ break up.

Nancy’s friend didn’t have any children, but her own, now ages 4 and 7, continue to ask about the woman that used to come over with treats and plenty of attention for them. “It breaks my heart,” she says, “to have to tell them that somebody they were so fond of isn’t coming back.”

It’s difficult to edit somebody completely out of your life. Surreal as it is to ‘unfriend’ somebody you once loved from Facebook or Twitter so that you are no longer a part of their present or future life (and vice versa), it’s fully impossible to erase them from your past. Often, our biggest milestones and proudest moments included our BFF, and reminders that were once sweet can now be sullied. Wedding albums, baby books, vacation photos – these can seem ruined by the inclusion of somebody we no longer care for.

And with the loss of a friend comes the loss of all the little things that made the friendship important as well. You may have just broken up with the one person who understood intimately why your office is more bizarre than Dunder-Mifflin, or why you’ll never eat falafel again after a bad experience in Morocco 15 years ago. There might be nobody else that knows the punch line to a thousand little inside jokes, and that can be the hardest part to come to terms with.

“I’m almost 40 years old now,” says Kalli, “and it’ll be years and years before I can once again say that I’ve been friends with somebody for as long as I was friends with Rebecca. That’s tough.” But she does hope that the time will indeed come. “ I definitely don’t want to go through this again,” she adds. “It sucked when I was a kid, and it sucks even more now.”

We may no longer deal with it by scrawling long, tragic entries into our journal, or arranging mean-girl style coups against the ousted in our posse, but one thing, regardless of how mature or experienced we become, remains certain:

Breaking up is still hard to do.

*All names have been changed.

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8 thoughts on “When Adult Friendships End”

  1. I also found a lot of comfort in this article as I have been growing apart from a friend for over a year now and she has now moved away and we didn’t say goodbye. I felt like she never had or made time for me after getting a new job and me having my third child. It really hurt and like others I think the biggest thing I can take away from this article is that for a while before I felt agravated about the one-sidedness I felt and after the birth of my child I just could no longer deal with the lack of care and consideration coming from her and was no longer tolerant so I let it go. It is sad to no longer have people in your life. I guess maybe there are reasons for it.

  2. Thanks for writing this. My friend and I stopped talking very suddenly a year ago. There’s so much to it, but isn’t there always. My struggle is loving her kids and now not ever seeing them. For me this is almost worse than divorce because at least then I would get to see the kids. My heart is broken. I think about and pray for them every day. I don’t have children so there’s just a hole and I can’t do anything about it. They, whoever they are, says it gets easier but I don’t know how that’s possible. I really don’t.

  3. I had to end my twenty years of friendship with my ex best friend recently-due to foolishness. It broke my heart to do something like that, but at the same time, I refuse to maintain a friendship with someone who doesn’t respect me! Why do I have to suffer the consequences of someone else’s actions, when it wasn’t my fault from the beginning? I wish I have the answers, but I’ll never know.

    I’m NOT the kind of person to point fingers at another human being, so I’m going to point the finger at my ex best friend’s “girlfriend.” This woman had the audacity to interrogate my intentions, and I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I wasn’t coming in between her and my ex best friend, and since she was insecure about my friendship with him, she could have confronted me in my face like a grown woman!! Besides, her insecurities wasn’t my problem, and it seems that she enjoyed the role of playing the “puppet master.”

    Ever since that stunt she pulled on Facebook, my ex best friend had the NERVE to accuse me of disrespecting her, when she was talking trash to me FIRST!! I had to put this woman in her place, and I wasn’t going to allow her to talk to me crazy! From the name calling to belittling me, my ex best friend’s actions had given me enough ammunition to walk away. Although my sister and I are roommates, that doesn’t define my independence, and I don’t enjoy living alone. He was trying to play the role of a victim, when I knew that his hands weren’t clean (he wanted to sleep with me behind his “girlfriend’s” back, and even though I turned him down, he was furious with me!).

    Friendships are supposed to stay true, and it’s NOT something that has to be worked on. My ex best friend doesn’t know how to be a best friend, and that’s why I ended the friendship. I was more of a best friend to him than he was a best friend to me, and I supported him and his decisions, and NOT once did I EVER bring this man down!

    I’m having a difficult time trying to forgive my ex best friend for all of the horrible things that he did to me. The damage has been done, and there’s nothing in this world that he can do to fix it. I’ve lost a lot of love and respect towards him, because he doesn’t respect me as an individual. Both him and his “girlfriend’s” actions were immature and atrocious, and it amazes me that their friends are acceptable with their behavior. The both of them need to grow up, take care of their two sons, and stop acting like a bunch of high school students. I don’t have time for their drama, so I’m going to sit back, and allow Karma to catch up with my ex best friend.

  4. Thank you so much for such a beautifully written article. I’ve been struggling to put a name to the emotions I was feeling and you nailed it with how once joyous things are now bittersweet and somewhat tainted. And yes, no one else will get those few jokes or quotes from movies. I know in my heart I’m better off and soon the aches will heal, but it’s still sad. The friendship was on life support for ages and it needed to go, especially when she never helped me when my mom was in the hospital or during my pregnancy. As you said, the pattern had already been there, and now I just couldn’t handle it anymore. Thank you for sharing your experiences. It has given me a lot of comfort.

  5. I loved this article… I’ve lost some wonderful friendships as an adult because I couldn’t handle the instability of some friends like I could before.
    On a side note, what on earth does the comment above have to do with this article, I dye my hair and have a cell phone.. my kids are happy and balanced.

    • I love Karen’s article too Melissa. I had a good friend and we parted ways after a disagreement we just couldn’t move past. It’s true it was a little hard on my daughter who was friends with my friend’s daughter. I think the better example to her was making choices that benefited my life versus seeing the negative results of a friendship that had past it’s best before date.

  6. OMG.
    I get it. But it’s not about YOU (narcissistic parents) any more. At the risk (no apologies) of sounding cliche, our kids have enough drama. Our family lives in a very stable environment, but the FB and Tweet climates are drowning our attempts at ‘conservative parenting’. Walk the talk. Parents and teachers (I’m both) have some idea how desperate kids are for some serious structure….but they need WAY more!!!

    Turn off your phones, stop bleaching your hair..harsh!???? No. Balanced. Our kids deserve it.

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