I’ve been through my fair share of friend breakups, but the most recent hit the hardest. A couple of years ago, my best friend since high school completely ghosted me. To say that I felt shocked and betrayed would be a true understatement.
I sensed a rift in the friendship but assumed we would get through it like anything else. We promised each other that we’d be there for each other, forever. We were by each other’s sides through the best and the absolute worst throughout our adolescence and college years. We promised to be bridesmaids in each other’s weddings, and the thought of that promise being broken was one of the worst betrayals imaginable.
The betrayal took me a while to accept but also had me asking a lot of questions. The question that stood out to me the most was the hardest one to answer: why are friend breakups so much worse than romantic ones?
Friendship Breakup vs. Romantic Breakup
There are many differences (and even some similarities) between friendships and romantic relationships. One of the main differences is expectations, as psychotherapist Marni Feuerman says, “The expectations are different in a romantic relationship. People declare themselves ‘a couple,’ or the relationship is very defined: we’re dating, we’re engaged, we’re married.” This set of expectations is one of the factors as to why friendship breakups are so difficult to navigate.
Think about it. There are countless songs about romantic breakups. You’ve probably already listened to one today while doing your makeup or during your commute. These songs often give us guidance as to how to feel and react during a breakup and an outlet to vent our frustration. Heartbreak is a universal language that everyone can relate to through music and other forms of media, but the same can't be said for friend breakups. This often leads to not knowing how to react and shoving intense emotions under the rug.
Heartbreak is a universal language that everyone can relate to through music and other forms of media, but the same can't be said for friend breakups.
There is also confusion in the field of psychology about how our culture views friend breakups differently and how the feeling of loss is generally similar, as Seth Meyers, Psy.D writes, “Even though friendship breakups don't include the loss of sex, men and women experience a similar sense of loss when a friend cuts off a relationship. The bottom-line feeling is the same: 'He or she doesn't want me anymore.' No matter what type of relationship it was, that feeling of being unwanted is hard to bear for anyone who has trusted an attachment."
Dr. Meyers continues, "It’s also worth noting that the emotional intimacy in a friendship may be just as strong as the intimacy shared with a romantic partner. In my practice, for example, I often hear from men and women that the emotional bond they feel with a close friend is as close or closer than the bond with their romantic partner.” This leads me to the question that motivated me to write this article in the first place - Why do friend breakups hurt so much?
Why the Loss Hurts So Much
There’s a reason why breakups between female friends are so painful. Friendships between women tend to be more nurturing and intimate, making the end of the friendships painful. A recent UCLA study shows how important friendships with fellow women are to our health, stating, “friendships between women are special. They shape who we are and who we are yet to be. They soothe our tumultuous inner world, fill the emotional gaps in our marriage, and help us remember who we really are.”
The study also showed that women with close friendships were more likely to live longer after the death of a spouse. This suggests that friendship is a strong aspect of women’s mental health. “Every time we get overly busy with work and family, the first thing we do is let go of friendships with other women,” Dr. Ruthellen Josselson, Ph.D., echoes in the study. “We push them right to the back burner. That's really a mistake because women are such a source of strength to each other. We nurture one another. And we need to have unpressured space in which we can do the special kind of talk that women do when they're with other women. It's a very healing experience.”
The study also showed that women with close friendships were more likely to live longer after the death of a spouse.
Another element of a friend breakup is the end of something you thought would last forever. This perception often adds salt to the wound as psychotherapist Meg Josephson says, “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.”
In short, losing a friendship with another woman is also losing a deep and intimate connection. The connection between female friends is different than the connection between a man and a woman in a romantic relationship, but at least in the psychological sense, they have more similarities than differences.
How To Get Through a Friend Breakup
The only way to get over a friend breakup is to approach it the same way as a romantic breakup. Let yourself feel every emotion and keep yourself busy. Confide in other friends and family and go through five stages of grief like you would in any other breakup.
The only way to get over a friend breakup is to approach it the same way as a romantic breakup. Let yourself feel every emotion and keep yourself busy.
It’s also important to acknowledge that your feelings of loss and betrayal are valid. As the research shows, friend breakups are often as painful, if not more painful, than breakups in romantic relationships.
Friend breakups may seem trivial to some, but to those who have experienced them, they are often tougher than a romantic breakup. Always remember that your emotions are valid and to let yourself feel everything as it comes. Another good thing to remember is that it's best to keep a small circle of good friends as you get older. As mentioned before, friendships are important to mental health. A small group of good friends produces a lesser chance of a breakup as well as more fulfilling and intimate friendships in the long run.