Friendship Breakups: Exploring A Different Type Of Heartache


friends breaking up
Welcome new people into your life, but don't let the old ones slip away—simple enough...right?

But Lisa didn't break up with Emma abruptly. Instead, she used the phase-out method: not the most noble way to go, admits Lisa. "I took the path of least resistance. She was so busy and self-involved that she didn't seem to notice I had less time for her." Once they had totally grown apart, Lisa says, she did feel heartbreak, but not exactly like one would for a romantic relationship. "I still get nostalgic for the good parts of our friendship, and it's awful to lose someone you've shared so much with. But I have to admit it's not as painful as a romantic breakup. You're not blinded by attraction or longing. It's easier to see the situation clearly and move on," she says. 

Finally, I chatted with a very wise woman in her 60s. (Ok fine, she's my mom.) In her experience, she's grown closer or further apart from certain friends depending on her evolving life stages. When she got married and became a mother, ties to old college friends shifted. Now retired and with five full-grown children, she finds herself once again reevaluating friendships.


It turns out there's an official term for this sort of wrangling in of friends. Socioemotional selectivity theory is the idea that as we get older and realize that our time is finite, we're less interested in quantity of friends and more interested in spending quality time with a select group. In less sensitive terms, we trim the fat. This selectivity can often be spurred by major life events, like having a baby or turning 30.

That's not to say that my friend Sarah won't make the cut. Rather, I think we've hit a point in our lives where we're having an off moment. Based on our needs now, we may choose to focus on other friendships. But who knows, maybe down the line we’ll rekindle that old ease we once had. In the book Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, sociologist Dr. Lillian Rubin says, “Friendship is a non-event—a relationship that becomes, that grows, develops, waxes, wanes, and too often, perhaps, ends, all without ceremony or ritual to mark its existence.” Now, I understand that’s not as catchy in a song. I’ll give the Girl Scouts a pass.

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