The Sweet Spot: How to Break Up with Your BFF
The BFF. Most of us have had at least one. It is a relationship that can be more intimate and enduring than even our most dramatic of romances. But sadly, forever doesn't exist. All too often, that friend we once ran to so joyfully becomes the friend we have to break up with. But unlike the other two corners of that holy trinity of love, family and partners, there is no accepted ritual for severing a friendship.
Romantically, I know how to brave the in-person ending with grace and dignity. I can sit down and say, This just isn't working for me anymore, and this is why." But saying such a thing to any friend seems so totally awful that it freaks me out just thinking about it. So, I just stop calling and slink away with my tail between legs. This approach however, leaves me feeling terrible. I am not alone in this experience. I have had quite a responses to this dilemma via good old Facebook. So how do we do it? Is there a better way? We all have our own stories, but ending some friendships are easier than others.
The easiest end:
The Betrayer. This is the friend who is not really a friend. They manipulate, pull regular Betty Davis moments, steal your man, stab you in the back, kill your dog, burn down your house, never return your grandmother's necklace, etc. Saying goodbye to The Betrayer is usually a "good riddance to bad rubbish." It can even feel like an act of empowerment. Says Richard Mailman, "I just let go of a friend of many many years. Found it to be quite easy actually. I feel like I lost 20 pounds."
The difficult but necessary ending:
The Mess. This is the charismatic friend who delights and expands our horizons but ultimately exhausts. This is the addict, the not-seeking-treatment sufferers of mental illness, and the hopelessly self-destructive. Most of us want to think of ourselves as the kind of person who wouldn't abandon a friend in need but sometimes we find that friendship has become a job that requires a skill set best used by the professionals. Justice Morrighan suggests saying, "Get stupid on your time, not mine. I'm not here to change you.... Come back when you're sober." Or "You're no longer a healthy choice."
The get us all in a muddle and feel like a shit kind of end:
The Soul Squeezer. This is the friend who calls us out on every single one of our stinking little ways. Expectations are high and competition runs rampant. Our flaws are known, challenged, and given voice without those cuddles and orgasms that can inspire forgiveness. And then woe betide those of us who can't give enough or be enough. Oh the failure. These are the hardest friendships because there is no one thing we can really point to. No single act that we can hold up as proof that the other is definitively wrong. At some point, we just feel frustrated and unloved. We have to walk away, but the walking away rarely offers relief. Instead, sorrow drips in it's wake and confusion abounds.
Part of the problem is that we don't expect friendships to end. Though each one of our romances usually has that magical moment of always, most of us are savvy folks and know, going in, that there is a pretty high statistical chance it won't last. With this in mind we have created societally accepted degrees of relationship intensity. There is however, no such thing for friendships. We tend to dive right in, rushing excitedly toward intimate engagement only to shake our shaggy heads in shock and dismay when the friendship starts to go south.
A few folks have learned the wisdom of discernment. To not open up their lives whole hog to every sparkling spirit who takes their fancy. It is indeed wise to be selective and cautious, but before wisdom must come that most annoying of all things -- experience.
I short wile ago, I had to break up with a deeply adored friend. By the time I decided to slink away, the friendship had hit a place where it seemed impossible to have a conversation about our issues. As Orion Buxton says, "By the time you are breaking things off, you've probably realized those behaviors are ingrained and won't change, and are reprehensible in some way, which is why you are breaking off the friendship." He advocates however, for telling the person specifically why the relationship is over. As does Helen Moore, "How about a conversation where you say what you really feel, in a healthy way? A chance to break away from the unhealthy and feel good about your part in that later."
In a New York Times article on the subject, Alex Williams writes, "To avoid backbiting and lingering bad feelings, many relationship experts recommend the same sort of direct approach that one would employ in a romantic breakup." But another expert advises the opposite, "Dr. Landau of Brown said: "Remember that white lies are okay in the service of not hurting feelings."
Thank you experts. However, it was in one of the comments on the article that I found some interesting advice. "Other people's rejection is for your protection."
I will fully admit that I am a coward when it comes to breaking up with a friend. I could have told that friend that it was her demands of how I was supposed to love her that brought the axe down. I could have. But there were so many more reasons. Then, I put myself on the other side and know that I really don't want someone telling me why they don't want to be friends with me anymore.
I think the only thing that can really help is for us all to collectively accept that, as Andre Mirabeau says, "We are all a bunch of retarded teenagers." The truth is that we discover ourselves through our relationships. We actually need to break up with each other on a pretty regular basis in order to grow. Those friendships that last for decades tend to follow Albert Camus's advice, "Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend." The rest serve as our identity battle grounds, often cruel but sometimes miraculous.
If we could make a societal pact that friendship is best enjoyed with a thick dose of acceptance than perhaps breaking up wouldn't be necessary. If.
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But, in the absence of a world wide maturation, I think the elegant approach offered by Lani Feinberg-Rowe is our best solution. She suggests sending "a note. A very clear compassionate note honoring the friendship for what it has done in its greatest moments and taking responsibility for it needing to end." Yes, yes that is what we need, the friend version of a Dear John letter. Perhaps in a red envelope so that, like those war telegrams of old, the receiver knows what they are in for. Roses might also be a nice touch because as Oscar Wilde says: "True friends stab you in the front."
The Sweet Spot is a blog column by Ginger Murray who is also the editor of Whore! magazine. Check back next week for more.