What Causes a Friendship Breakup?

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In “Both Sides of a Breakup,” the Cut usually talks to exes about how they got together and why they split up. This is the friendship edition. Below, we talk to three sets of former friends about how their friendships started and why they ultimately ended things.

Christine: I met Justine in junior high. I wouldn’t say we were friends at that time — I wasn’t nice to a lot of people. She was bullied a lot, and a lot of people weren’t very nice to her, including myself. Come high school, we were in classes together — marching band, regular band, and our regular school classes. I recall being much nicer to her as I got older. A lot of people had difficulties with her personality, so as we got older, I tried to be a little bit nicer to her and more compassionate toward her because I knew people weren’t always kind to her. We never really hung out outside of school, but we played on the varsity tennis team together. We were around each other a lot, so we got to know each other a little bit better.

She went to UCLA. I went to University of California, Santa Barbara. We kept in touch. We would meet up if we were in town, but in grad school, I moved back to Irvine, and that’s when we spent more time together. We would talk more, but I felt like our friendship was more one-sided. Typically, we would talk when she was in a lot of turmoil, like if she was going through a bad breakup or having guy issues or whatever, so she would call me at all hours of the night. I don’t know if she had a lot of people who always had a lot of patience for her. Maybe part of it is my own guilt because I know I contributed to being mean to her. I always tried to be available when I could for her.

We became much better friends after grad school. I served a purpose to be somebody she could talk to about breakups, but I didn’t really need that from her. I never felt like it was unfair. That was just our dynamic.

Justine: I’ve known Christine since we were in middle school. I met her in band class because we both played the flute. She was basically in all of my classes, and we both played tennis. We did not start out as friends. Actually, I felt like she was kind of my bully at that time. She was very popular in school; I was very unpopular. I think the first time we spent together outside of school was for a school project. We happened to be in the same group so she asked to work on the project at her house. It was me and a couple other people. She’s half Taiwanese and I’m full Taiwanese, so there’s sort of a connection there. When we got to high school, things were a little bit better, and we actually met up when we were both in Taiwan for vacation. That was really the first real time I spent time with her outside of school and actually got to know her as a person. It kind of continued in the same vein in high school, though. We knew the same people, but I wouldn’t say that we really socialized together. At the end of our senior year, we both knew where we were going to go to college and it was our last year on the tennis team. We practiced together over the summer, and we had a pretty good deep conversation about who we are as people. I do remember her attempting to get to know me better.

We went off to different colleges and had very different college experiences. She partied quite a bit. I did not party quite as much. We ended up on very different paths in our careers. I lived abroad a lot and didn’t live in California anymore, but she stayed in California the entire time. I don’t think she’s lived anywhere else. After college, when we really grew up, we both put what had happened in middle school and high school behind us and really saw each other as peers. When I came home from living abroad to visit my folks, I’d make a point to visit with her.

Christine: The start of the end of our friendship was in March 2020. I know she was struggling a lot during the pandemic. She had been posting a lot, just being angry with people making certain choices she didn’t agree with. She lives alone, so I imagine that took a toll on her. She posted a picture of people playing volleyball outside and made a post about how frustrated she was about people not wearing masks. She posted it on her Instagram Story, so I made a comment and said, “At least they’re six feet apart.” I kind of did it to be funny, but it was still 2020, and people were a lot more sensitive about the pandemic. (And she works in public health.) She ended up responding to me with this entire rant. I told her she was letting her anxiety run her and create hostility. She ended up screenshotting our conversation, but just my part. She posted it on her Story for everybody to see.

I called her because we’re not 12. We’re grown people. She didn’t answer, so I called her one more time, and she didn’t answer and said she’d call me back. She never called me back. So we never talked. At one point, when things had lifted a little bit — I think it was that summer — four of us planned to meet up with our high-school band teacher. I knew Justine would be there. I wasn’t going to be mean or disrespectful in a public space. I got there early, and of course, we were the only ones there. We all talked normally, and that was that. I believe I reached out to her after this meeting to ask if she wanted to find time to chat, because she was moving to Tennessee. She said she was going on a trip but when she got back, she’d let me know. I feel like we scheduled a time to chat, and it never happened.

Justine: For a while, we were actually pretty good friends, but things started to fray even before COVID-19. Her cousin is very good friends with my ex, and when her cousin got married, my ex was invited to the wedding. He took his new girlfriend, and, of course, Christine was at the wedding. I asked her about the new girlfriend, and she wouldn’t tell me anything. She made me feel like I was being petty. Up until that point, I thought she was my friend. I thought she was on my side. That was kind of a clear turning point where I was like, Okay, I don’t know where it’s coming from, but I definitely feel like she’s not the friend I thought I could depend on for emotional support.

I feel like I was there for her when she really needed people. Maybe five or six years ago, she went through a rough period in her marriage where she was really seriously considering divorce. She only had her first daughter at that time, and she was only a year old. I was like, “Are you really sure you want to do this?” As a child of divorce, I really do not recommend it. I was really there for her when she needed me to be there.

There was already kind of a separation between us by the time COVID-19 happened, but we were still keeping up with each other through social media. When I saw that she was out celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, once things had really shut down, I was like, What the fuck is she doing? And I think I confronted her about it. That’s kind of when the friendship ended. I think she yelled at me through a DM because I was confronting her about it. I had taken a screenshot of her cursing me out and posted it to my Story, and that just made it worse. I actually don’t feel bad about what I did.

A year later, a group of us met up with our high-school band director. Thankfully, we sat on opposite sides of the table. We had a good conversation with everybody together. It seemed like she wanted to make up, so she invited me out to pizza with her and her husband. I couldn’t make it, but I also didn’t want to go because her husband was there. I felt like they would tag team. After that, I never heard from her again. I haven’t talked to her since.

Christine: There’s no loss for me in the friendship, because I feel like my purpose for being her friend was just to support her. I didn’t need that from her, but I don’t like having conflict with people. Of course, I wanted to talk about it because I think that’s the right thing to do, and we’re adults. I would have liked to talk about it in person or over the phone. I made the effort to do so, and since there was no real follow-through, I was just kind of like, Cool, I don’t need to be friends with you. No big deal. But if we were to have an adult conversation about it, I’d be open to being cordial to her. I wish her the best. I hope she’s doing well.

Justine: I feel badly that we have not stayed in good communication, because I did enjoy going to her house and watching her daughters grow up. I do miss her to a certain extent.

But I think for all of my friends who are married with kids, we just don’t really have a whole lot in common. It’s been a little bit of a grieving process with her especially because there was a clear event that happened that ended the friendship. I have mixed feelings. If she wanted to be friends — like actual friends — that would be great. If she just wants to talk to me to find out what I’ve been up to, that I don’t like. I think people are very curious as to what I’ve been up to and how my life is going.

Lindsey: We were really good friends. We went to a very small private high school. It was super homogenous and mostly conservative. I never really fit in. When I became friends with Lisa, I was welcomed into her little group, so I had a group of friends for the first time. We’d hang out after school and on the weekends. Then something happened, and the next day, I was completely ostracized from the group. It was a total shock to me. It was just really confusing and traumatic and hard for me.

Lisa: I kind of knew of Lindsey because her childhood best friend and I went to camp together. We went to an independent day school outside of Boston. I went there from sixth grade on. She was a year ahead of me. We were running in the same kind of circles and took an interest in each other because there were not that many people at that point in time who were as interested as we both were in social justice and issues around that. We really connected on that level because so many other people didn’t want to talk about that kind of stuff. We quickly became close in the fall of my freshman year, her sophomore year. By that March, we were really close. We went to England for two or three weeks together with a school group and we spent all of our time together. We were pretty inseparable.

Lindsey: One day, a couple of us were planning to go to the mall after school, and Lisa somehow got detention, so she wasn’t able to go. Another girl and I decided to go anyway. My memory is that we went to the mall, and the next day, I was dead to Lisa. She wouldn’t talk to me. She gave me the silent treatment. I tried to ask other people in the group what was going on, and they wouldn’t talk to me. It ostracized me from the whole group of people. I eventually realized that the other person who had come to the mall with me was still friends with Lisa, so I was the only one who had been cut out. I cried a lot about it. I was really upset.

I was discovering my sexuality and coming out to myself — being closeted in an environment where it wasn’t safe to be gay — so I had to hide who I was. Being accepted into Lisa’s group in a small way was really meaningful and supportive and helpful to me. Losing that made me feel totally devastated, and I had to find new friends.

Everything that happened with Lisa affected my response to adult-friendship breakups and my willingness to give friends a second chance.

Lisa: I had a boyfriend, and I was very enmeshed. I think she resented the time that it took away from our friendship. I don’t think I realized quite how much it probably hurt her.

I was a super-club kid. I was going to 21-plus clubs at 14. She didn’t like the club scene. If she didn’t want to go out to clubs, she would get upset that I didn’t have the night to stay in.

Lindsey: She tried to add me on Facebook maybe five years ago. She sent me a friend request with no context, and I was just like, “Fuck you, why would I be friends with you considering how you treated me?” I didn’t respond to her, but I just had this knee-jerk reaction.

Lisa: I don’t think I ever added her on Facebook or anything. But again, that was so long ago. I don’t remember.

Lindsey: With romantic breakups, there’s kind of a healing process that exists, so even at the worst moments of heartbreak, you have the expectation that you’ll get to the other side and date somebody else. Friendship breakups aren’t really talked about in the same way. It’s different. The hurt is different. Being friends with women and dating women — I think it’s different than if you talk to a straight woman who has only dated men comparing the loss of a female friendship. It’s hard in a different way because it feels like you’re losing parts of yourself. Some of my best memories were in high school with Lisa. I put those memories in a box, because even thinking about the good times was too painful.

Now, I would maybe have a conversation with her, but there’s nothing to build a friendship on. I just realized recently how much of this I’m still carrying around.

Lisa: I try to always have openness in my life to reconnect or disconnect if that’s the best path forward. Some choices are forever, but relationships can ebb and flow.

Lindsey: The pain is valid, and it’s okay to grieve that loss. But if someone can’t be there for me, I’d rather not have them. There are times when there are seasons of friendships when you’re not in touch, and some of those people maybe come back around.

Julius: I met Siarra in high school through two mutual friends. We went bowling one night, and Siarra was there and we just got cool. We hung out a few times, then continued to connect. We got closer when we both went to college. My father passed away when I was 18, and Siarra was very much involved throughout that process for me. That’s when our friendship got even stronger. We grew up and became adults around the same time. After college, I went to grad school and she went to New York, but we weren’t as tight. We were both in our respective relationships at the time.

Siarra: Our friendship quickly blossomed into becoming best friends. We’ve done everything together. When his father passed away during his freshman year, I was there for him the next day at his family’s house. I’ve spent a lot of time with him and his family as the years have gone by and vice versa. My two older sisters call him their little brother. We were very much still a part of each other’s lives even though we went to different colleges. As our friendship progressed over the years, we managed to celebrate milestones together, which is really important for me.

Julius: In 2018, we just didn’t communicate as much, and I think things started to fizzle out. She was just coming out of her relationship, and I’ll admit that I wasn’t the greatest friend throughout her breakup. I wasn’t attentive to how she was feeling. I remember it vividly. It was New Year’s going into 2019. We texted on New Year’s Eve, and we were saying we hadn’t talked. I remember Siarra telling me pretty much, “Fuck you.” I was shocked. Where was this coming from? She said there was no reason for us to talk — that she would just go about her life and I should go about mine. That went on for another six to eight months.

I feel like it was worse than a romantic breakup because it felt like the loss of a family member. Something about a romantic breakup is like, okay, you can find another girlfriend. But you can’t replace a family member.

Siarra: It was really devastating. It was probably more hurtful than the breakup I had with the boyfriend a few months prior. It was just like, everything was falling.

Julius: Eventually, she texted me because she was watching a documentary that reminded her of me. We ended up meeting for breakfast and we talked about everything. We discussed what she needed from the friendship and what I needed from the friendship.

Siarra: I remember being in an emotionally distressed space. I had finished up my grad-school program, which was a year after he finished up his. I was graduating without a job set up, trying to figure out if I was going to stay in New York or move back to Chicago, and I had actually just broken up with a boyfriend who I was with for quite some time — someone who I really saw a long-term partnership with.

I just remember Julius was not there for me. There was no reciprocity. I remember that he wasn’t in any of my graduation pictures. It was just a very difficult time for me. I got to a point where I didn’t want to hold that in. We spoke about it, and I learned that he just wasn’t ready to address it head-on. It really angered me and I was disappointed and sad. I felt like I put in all this value for a friendship that was not giving me anything in return, so we kind of stopped talking. I remember sending him a text saying, “I don’t want to figure out this friendship anymore.”

He just wasn’t aware of what I needed in the friendship. We tried to mend fences a few years after the fact, thinking that enough time had passed, but I realized that actually, no, it felt like we were still in very different spaces. So it wasn’t until within the last six months that I fully accepted his apology. It wasn’t that he didn’t try to apologize and that I didn’t think he was genuine. I think a part of me also had to realize that I needed to forgive him. I’m actually in another phase of changes, going through ebbs and flows. I kind of decided to just be a bit more isolated these days, but he’s actually one of the very few friends who still reaches out to me just to see how things are going. Ever since we’ve reconciled, he’s the one who has been initiating a lot of our social outings or even just texting to see what’s going on. Surprisingly, it feels like we are right back on the same positive page that we were on in our high-school years.

Julius: I think we are even closer now as adults. I’m not as selfish now. I feel more thoughtful. Siarra is like family to me.


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