I remember a scenario from college in which two of my mutual friends had a falling out. Let’s call them Bitterness and Honesty. I expected a semester of them stabbing each other in the back and letting the relationship hang in limbo before finally figuring out it was over. But Honesty broke off the friendship. Yes! She went to Bitterness and said, “Hey, I don’t want to be your friend anymore.” Bitterness was incredulous. She joked about being broken up with, shrugging it off like it was no big deal. But it obviously was. How many of us can say we were broken up with by a friend? Getting dumped by someone you love is harsh enough. But being dumped by a friend? For some reason, it seems harsher.
When your clingy boyfriend becomes dead weight, you dump him. When you spend more time fighting with your wife than kissing her, you get divorced. But what do you do with friends? Romantic relationships demand a finite ending. Hearts are fragile, and most of us hand them out to others sparingly. When it’s time to take our hearts back, we make sure the recipient heeds our return policy. However, friends are different. Sure, we’ve given them time, money, and advice. We’ve held their hair back while they threw up in dive bar bathrooms. We’ve listened to them sob over the phone when all we really wanted to do was binge watch Orange Is The New Black. And we love them, too. (Though friendship love is different than love love.) There’s just something different about the end of a friendship. It seems to drop off like a subtle indie film conclusion instead of a big-budget Hollywood ending. The ends of friendships are always shrouded in ambiguity.
Maybe it’s because we value romantic love more than friendship. Maybe it’s because technology has made it socially acceptable to ghost on friends. Maybe it’s because awful friendships reveal ugly truths about us and the other person—truths that neither of us wants to confront.
I’ve thought a lot about friendship in the last year. Planning a wedding guest list will do that to you. I’ve decided that my friends fall into the following 3 categories:
· Category 1: I have friends who I adore and communicate with often. If a day or two passes without hearing from them, I’m sending out a search party.
· Category 2: These are friends I also adore but don’t see often. When we get together, it’s just like old times.
· Category 3: This is a subset of friends who once fit into Category 1 but I never hear from them. Months have passed between our last hangout, and something tells me it won’t be like old times if we meet up again.
When I think of those people in Category 3, I get angry. Why aren’t they exerting the same amount of effort to keep this friendship afloat? Why am I always texting, calling, organizing and bending? Why does the sheer mention of their names make my pulse race and my palms sweat? Little by little, I’ve started to realize that the people in Category 3 are at the bottom of the friendship food chain for a reason. They’ve all but given up. Instead of hoping for the best and avoiding the flatline, maybe I should just unplug the damn life support machine?
BuzzFeed offered some helpful advice when it comes to ending friendships. If a friendship is too demanding, simply set some new boundaries. If both parties are mutually allowing the friendship to die, allow it to fade off slowly. If you and your friend aren’t on the same page (i.e. he or she thinks everything is fine but they’re on your death list), it’s time for a formal breakup.
Regardless of the situation, it seems most people opt for the slow fade. You can avoid telling someone ‘you suck’ to their face. You can skip that dreaded argument. You don’t have to process the guilt/pain/anger/sadness in their reaction once the news is delivered. The slow fade is the most peaceful friendship ending. You might end up wondering where you stand with someone for a year afterward but eventually you get the picture. Right?
Perhaps what it all boils down to is courage. It takes courage to tell people they’re horrible. It’s stressful to tell your boss that you’re quitting. It’s stressful to tell your parents to back off. It’s stressful to tell your boyfriend you want to see other people. And it’s hella stressful to tell your friend that you’re done with them. However, the slow fade doesn’t cut it in the workplace or with family or your boyfriend. Isn’t it time to stop using it with friends?
We need to understand what these dissolved relationships mean about us. Breaking up with a friend isn’t just about how awful that person is. It’s also about you. How did you allow this person to exist in your life for so long? How did you once feel connected to someone you now despise? Are the same qualities you hate about the other person present in you, too? Those are tough questions to answer, difficult realizations to embrace. Rather than get uncomfortable and exhibit some real courage, we tend to back off like little lambs. Perhaps our friendships could use some more lions.
Though I found it funny at the time, I respected Honesty. She had enough respect for herself to know that her relationship with Bitterness was toxic. Instead of hanging onto it and bringing on undue stress, she let it go. She was brave, direct and in touch with her emotions at such a young age. I admire that move, and one day I wish to replicate it. I need her strength to empty out the archives in Category 3. If I was as strong as her, I wouldn’t have a Category 3. Looks like it’s time for some Spring cleaning…