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The Bad Breakup

As you are reading this, I am sitting in a cafe with someone who I haven’t spoken to in over 12 years (okay, perhaps you are reading it after the fact but regardless, I wrote this right before I left for the afternoon/evening). We broke off our friendship about 14 years ago, around this time of year. For the first six or seven years after we ended our friendship, I wrote her letters. I sent her emails and left messages on her answering machine. I passed messages through mutual friends and her sister. She never once responded. For the first few years, I tried every few weeks and then it became every few months and finally, I would let a year or so pass between tries. I haven’t written her since 2002. Josh and I were in the middle of our first round of trying.

Because isn’t that when you write those sorts of notes? When you’re in an emotionally fragile space so you return to whatever the largest hurt has been up until that point and try to fix that since you can’t fix the thing in front of you. I tried to connect with her after boyfriend break-ups, when I was considering leaving graduate school, when I miscarried. Something would be unfixable in front of me and I would return to this large broken relationship and pick at it again because it always seemed like it should be repairable. It has been this huge pile of shards in the middle of my life and I can’t help but go back and kick the pile around a bit to figure out how it got broken in the first place.

Because I still don’t understand.

I write this knowing full well that she will possibly read this. That people who knew us in the past are probably reading this. I can say without hesitation that it still hurts 14 years later. That it was worse than any break-up with a boy. She was my best friend from age 12 until age 20.

My experience has been that a break-up with a friend is so much worse than a break-up with a boy.

When we stopped speaking, she took with her the sole space I had to say anything. Of course I found it again in other people, but you know that safe space where you can lay your words? She owned that space. And she took it. So whenever I went through something difficult after that point–a break-up, leaving grad school, a miscarriage–I thought about that space in physical terms. I wanted to just rest inside for a moment; feel protected, feel like I could vent. And she took that with her.

There was no fight, no sense that things were wrong. One morning I woke up and was getting ready for class. She was sitting in the living room, speaking with a mutual friend of ours who was going to walk with me to the campus. We lived together back then; we shared a room. I came into the living room half in a shirt that I could not get on properly. She stood up and helped me get my head through the proper hole and then turned as if she were speaking to an invisible camera.

Real World had just started to air and we often pretended that we were in the Confessional Room, staring at a camera. She said, “when I moved into the house, I didn’t realize that I was going to have to dress one of my roommates.”

We both started laughing and I remember hugging her tightly, our heads pressed together while we both spoke to our mutual friend. And I remember the other person saying, “you two are so lucky that you have each other. I wish I had a friendship like that.” And my friend agreed, “we are so lucky.”

And then I came home from classes and she told me that she was going to move and that she wanted to end our friendship.

So you can understand why I kick the shards from time to time.

I’m sure she has a very different memory of that day–after all, she knew what she was going to say when I got home. I remember her telling me in the few minutes I had between classes and play rehearsal. I grabbed my things and ran to the theater, crying all the way down Langdon Street and hiding in the back of the theater whenever I wasn’t needed on stage. I couldn’t tell anyone what was wrong. She literally took my word space that night; the receptacle where I could say anything.

We connected via Facebook a few weeks ago and exchanged emails for the first time in 12 years. There was no explanation of why now and not then. Six years ago, she didn’t return my notes. Now she was setting up a coffee date. Of course I am curious–even 14 years later, I want an explanation. I may not get one or it may not be satisfying or understandable. My mother asked why I couldn’t just speak to her over the phone; why I needed to use my evening and meet her at the cafe. It is not just so she could see my face as we spoke but because I want to visit that space where I placed all of my words so many years ago. Revisit them. She will never understand how important she was to me because it’s just not the sort of thing you can sum up with words and explain the enormity of a person’s impact on your life.

Lindsay asked if I thought it was a good idea to meet. What if her reason was something terrible, she asked, playing Devil’s Advocate. And it’s true–she could tell me tonight that she left because I’m a horrible person. Because I made her uncomfortable or grated on her. The reality is that I’ve already mourned so I’m sure I can hear whatever reason she wants to give. After Lindsay and I hung up the phone, I considered one last thing–something that would shatter me if she said it tonight. That perhaps, these 14 years, as I have been mourning and missing her; wondering how she is and wishing her well from afar, that she hasn’t considered me at all. That my emails were unanswered because I’m inconsequential in her world. The possibility of that would have been the reason to stay home.


1 Kymberli { 11.11.08 at 2:25 pm }

Wow. Just, wow. That space you talk about? I know it well and miss it just the same.

I hope you get answers and closure or a reopening – whichever presents as the appropriate path.

2 gwinne { 11.11.08 at 2:27 pm }

Wow. You know, I’ve lost two close friends in a similar way. Both “breakups” happened in the midst of my trying to conceive my daughter, and I suspect that that’s not inconsequential. Sometimes I think about writing my friends–I think about them now not daily but frequently–but I know what we shared was irrevocably broken. I will treasure the memories, but I do not know how I could ever consider those women “friends” again. So I don’t make contact.

3 Amy { 11.11.08 at 2:30 pm }

I had something strikingly similar happen to me years ago. A few months ago this person walked back into my life taking the breath out of me. We had some nice long talks. I was never satisfied or understood the reasonings behind this betrayal. But I finally found some closure on the issue. That meant a lot to me. Good luck with your friend.

4 itsazooaroundhere { 11.11.08 at 2:35 pm }

I hope that right now the meeting is going OK, and that you have some resolution after you see her.

I agree that break-ups with friends are so much harder than with significant others, especially over the long run.

Good luck today.

5 N { 11.11.08 at 2:36 pm }

I hope that you find what you need, that you get some sort of peace.

It’s true; I have lost friends in ways much worse than having lost relationships with boy/girlfriends. And I find that sometimes that makes it harder — as if our “regular” friends should have played a role of lesser importance in our lives. But it’s not true.

6 Joy { 11.11.08 at 2:38 pm }

Why do we treat our girlfriends so much worse than boyfriends?

7 Stacie { 11.11.08 at 2:39 pm }

I do hope tonight’s cafe meeting brings the ensight and closure to the hurt that you were looking for. Maybe you’ll end up with the beginnings of another, yet different, friendship. Sending positive energy your way for which ever ending you would like most.

I also have had breakups with very close friends which have left me reeling. I guess I had never really thought of why it had hurt me so much. I love that you have a way of putting some of these thoughts I have too in such an eloquent way. You are just amazing.

8 Michelle { 11.11.08 at 2:45 pm }

I know EXACTLY what you are talking about. I lost my best friend of almost 10 years in almost the same way except she came over to my house one night and then the next she would not return my calls. No fight, no explanation, no nothing and it hurt. I ran into her about 3 years ago at of all places the building where I work. We talked, emailed, phoned, set up a time to get together and then I never heard from her again…again. I never got an answer to the 1st time and I suppose I will never get an answer the 2nd time but I realized that I don’t want nor need a friend like that although I really would like to know why.
I hope you get answers and whatever else you need. Good Luck.

9 Manda { 11.11.08 at 2:46 pm }

I’m glad you get to meet her at the cafe this afternoon… I hope that her reasons weren’t horrible and I hope it doesn’t bring you any more hurt than you have already been through. What I really hope is that you can mend a lost friendship, but at the very least, I hope you’ll find closure.

And I hope you fill us in when you get home.

10 Cara { 11.11.08 at 2:53 pm }

Whew – I’m definately waiting for the next episode.

Loss hold no boundries, does it? Men, women, boyfriends, best girlfriends – we grieve everything.

The only thing I can say with certainty is that nothing about you is inconsequential – nothing.

11 Tash { 11.11.08 at 3:01 pm }

I’ve lost a lot of friends over the past year, not from fights as you know but because they no longer know what to do with that space. The space is now scary and uncomfortable, and it’s easier to just step over it and keep going.

I’m also a bit concerned when I break up with a friend that they’re taking all that stuff about me with them. Like you, I wonder if they ever take it out and think about me, or it just got thrown in the circular file.

12 Tami { 11.11.08 at 3:04 pm }

I hope your reunion is going well and that both of you find a peace in your relationship. ((hugs))

13 BethH6703 { 11.11.08 at 3:15 pm }

Putting myself right there in your pocket, so you know that I – and everyone else that comments – and all of the 1,200+ other bloggers on your blogroll – have your back!

14 Clio { 11.11.08 at 3:24 pm }

This has been a year of breaking up friendships for me. And I’ve noticed it’s happened to other people as well. However, it seems that in your case you are having a chance at mending something, if not the friendship per se, at least the space inside you.
Good luck!

15 kate { 11.11.08 at 3:35 pm }

Oh, sad. I had one of those, only the break-up was completely my fault. Well, mostly my fault… her partner did some things that were unforgivable in my book, and I callously complained about them (and 20 other petty wrongdoings) in a public space on the internet. What I didn’t know was that she had minutes before reading this found out she was pregnant with said partner’s kid, accidentally, of course. So who wants to hear that your partner is a hideous beast while you’re all hormonal and crazy, much less to hear it randomly on a chat board from someone you thought was your friend?

We have tried to patch it up on and off, and I thought we had made peace, but last I heard she was trashing me to a mutual friend which, despite what I did, is so not okay. I heard from another mutual friend that she was in a really bad space and could use a friend, but that really bad space had to do with her now-ex doing exactly what I accused him of doing those years before, so how could I support her without it coming across as an ugly “I told you so” thing.

Whew… where did that come from? Well, apparently it needed to be said. You got it so right when you said that friend break ups are hundreds of times worse than boyfriend ones…

16 Kim { 11.11.08 at 3:52 pm }

I am going through something nearly identical right now and wow.. it’s like you’re in my head. I think there’s such a thing as ‘caretoomuchitis).

17 Io { 11.11.08 at 3:55 pm }

Oh Mel. I have had friend breakups that were terrible, but nothing like this. This made my chest feel empty for a minute.
I hope the meeting doesn’t hurt you. I don’t want you hurt. You deserve the best friends and I have a hard time figuring out how anyone could ever leave you.
My heart is in my throat waiting for you to let us know if I need to cut a bitch.

18 Jen { 11.11.08 at 4:00 pm }

Oh how terrible, I hope everything goes well. Please keep us informed. I truly understand this because I did the same thing. I broke up with my best friend over 10 years ago. I often wonder about her but I can't go back to that place that I was with her. You just made me think & wonder if she felt this way too. I doubt she would even care if I tried to contact her & explain now. She was my everything, my one true friend.

I have some thinking to do now.

19 Heather { 11.11.08 at 4:32 pm }

Please let us know if you find out what that was all about all those years ago. Sorry to hear about the situation with this friend. I like many others have this situation with a few friends. Although some I know why our friendship ended and I think they were being very stupid.

20 LJ { 11.11.08 at 5:16 pm }

I’ve been thinking about you all day…my fingers have been crossed in my optimistic pessimist world view.

21 Jen { 11.11.08 at 5:51 pm }

That seems like such a strange thing for her to do.

Besides, I can’t think that you could ever be inconsequential to anyone.

22 Deathstar { 11.11.08 at 5:55 pm }

I’ve lost a few female friendships – and they still bother me to this day. Breaking up with guys, not so much.

23 Road Blocks and Roller Coasters { 11.11.08 at 6:01 pm }

I know just how you feel. I hope this meeting gives you the answers you are looking for. ((HUGS))

24 Another Dreamer { 11.11.08 at 6:31 pm }

I hope this meeting gives you those much needed answers.

I have that hole as well… I miss that space.

25 Anne { 11.11.08 at 6:59 pm }

I still am in awe of the timing of this post. I was the one that pushed a dear friend away for shoddy reasons. It only took me eight months of silence before I checked the water to see if she would forgive me. She did, but recently sent me a questionable email – so I let her know that if my issues were too much for her, please let me know and she could duck out of this friendship thing for awhile. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case at all, but it leaves me wondering if I need to give everyone in my life the space to eventually leave me.

Please let us know how it goes, Mel. I am hoping that you find some sort of closure but am unsure of how possible that is. Good luck after the fact!

26 nancy { 11.11.08 at 7:00 pm }

I can’t tell you how much I’m connecting with this story right now. It’s something I cannot speak of, but let me just say I totally and 100% know exactly how you feel.

I hope you get the answers you so well deserve to have.

27 Grad3 { 11.11.08 at 7:22 pm }

I had that space once- then it was taken all away with one comment. My friend has no idea that what she said changed our friendship forever- but there it is.

I hope she is able to give you answers that you are able to hear. ~hugs~

28 angrycanrn { 11.11.08 at 7:30 pm }

I hope that you find the answers you seek.

I hope that she wounds you no further in the process.

My thoughts and best wishes are with you.


29 Kristine { 11.11.08 at 7:36 pm }

Wow! You are very brave.

I know that pain.

I think it is very much why I don’t have any close friendships with women now, except online.

I wish you a happy ending!

30 Leah { 11.11.08 at 7:48 pm }

She is a raving nutjob. You are wonderful and warm and fantastic beyond all fantastical things. To break up with you as a friend is just an insane, ludicrious thing to do.

I am dying to hear what reason she gave. I am desperately hoping that she is kind to you.

31 Meghan { 11.11.08 at 8:11 pm }

I’m sure you’re home already but I hope you got the answers you want and it went well.

32 MLO { 11.11.08 at 8:24 pm }

I am going to go against the grain and say that too many women spend too much time agonizing over ended relationships. It is just part of life that people come and go in lives. The healthiest thing anyone can ever do is move on / forward with their own lives.

33 Me { 11.11.08 at 8:38 pm }

I can connect to this post on SOOOOOOO many different levels…

34 Faith { 11.11.08 at 8:41 pm }

I think I’m one of these reading after the fact, so I hope it went well and that you got the answers you needed to either move forward with her as a friend or leave it behind you peacefully.

35 Dora { 11.11.08 at 9:21 pm }

Oh, Mel. I cannot imagine her explanation. You have one of the biggest, warmest hearts of anyone in the world. Your friendship is something to be cherished.

Waiting for the update.

36 Photogrl { 11.11.08 at 9:40 pm }

I know that pain. I still miss my old friend who I haven’t heard from in almost five years.

I hope the meeting went well…and ended however you wanted it to end.

37 Geohde { 11.11.08 at 10:19 pm }

Good luck Mel,

I admire your bravery. I tend to retreat in the face of past rejection. I hope you get the answers you need.


38 Lori { 11.11.08 at 11:14 pm }

Indifference is the worst.

I hope that’s not what you found.

And I hope you can reclaim your space and your words.

39 Kristin { 11.12.08 at 10:36 am }

Wow…what a post…I haven’t read the “Aftermath” yet so I will say I hope you got some answers.

40 WaterBishop { 11.12.08 at 11:19 am }

I don’t think I ever had that space you speak of. And it is something I have always grieved. Yes, as we all know you can grieve something you never had.
I had a falling out about eight years ago with my best friend.
I announced I was moving out and she refused to speak to me for a long time. We both did get together one time and admitted to each other that it was for the best because our friendship had taken an odd turn where we were more than friends but did not know how to go about that.
Just this week, another dear friend tied to the previous friend contacted me on Facebook. I am the one who kept trying contact and he ignored me. Now his fiance has left him and he wants to reconnect. I think I will simply because he is in that hurt place you talked about and is reaching out.

41 astral { 11.12.08 at 2:02 pm }

I, too, have a friend that just stopped being friends with me. She told my mom that is was getting hard to come over and see me since I had my daughter (she had a baby that she gave up for adoption). I know how she is doing from mutual friends. I miss her and I’ve often thought of getting back in touch with her but then I stop myself. I certainly don’t want to make her feel bad. I feel that she knows my door is always open. I was there with you last night in spirit.

42 KandiB { 11.12.08 at 2:59 pm }

I had two break-ups in a one-month period…just following my wedding. They were both in it. To this day they can’t/won’t tell me “what happened” to end 20 years of friendship. I pine about it constantly. I know what whatever I did must have been horrendous. It pains me to think I hurt someone so badly that they didn’t want to be around me anymore.

I truly, truly, truly hope that the two of you can start a new chapter. Different, but new, and good, and loving, and caring.

43 nonlineargirl { 11.12.08 at 4:11 pm }

I completely agree about the pain of a dissintegrated frienship – my break up with my best friend from college was way worse than any boyfriend break up I have ever experienced.

44 Anonymous { 11.12.08 at 7:38 pm }

Really curious why you contacted her… I may have missed that in your posts.
I’ve also lost friends – ok – lost all my friends- big loser here. And then occasionally would have contact – one friend contacted me to tell me the good news of her upcoming wedding. Turns out her ONLY REASON TO CONTACT ME was to see if I might buy her condo. And other friends have told me that they thought I MUST HAVE NO FRIENDS IN THE AREA SO WHY DON’T I move to Boston or wherever. I AM TRULY BLESSED. KILLME KILLME KILLME.

45 Piccinigirl { 11.13.08 at 7:48 am }

Oh my, did that post speak to me, I did not read the post above it yet and I don’t know when/if I should because I have 2 friends I have lost like this in the past 5 years, I know that is not as long but they were in my life for a combined 18 years and were my “safe place”
I can only say that I hope that the meeting was good, hopeful, healing.

46 K @ ourboxofrain { 11.18.08 at 4:21 pm }

Reading both your story and the comments, I am amazed at how common this experience is. I too have lost friendships unexpectedly and without reason, so the post definitely resonated with me (I ended up posting about my first such experience). I’m sorry you didn’t get more of an answer or explanation (I read both posts after the fact). I hope you have been able to find that space again.

47 Kate (Bee In The Bonnet) { 03.16.14 at 9:46 am }

I’m reading this again now that you’ve linked to it in today’s post. I’m struck by the fact that a month or two after you wrote this, I ended up ditching *my* best friend, also in a somewhat sudden and drastic manner. I didn’t know when I read this for the first time (and I did read it the first time, because I commented here before about having a “breakup” with another close friend… geez, I’m realizing that I’m 0 for 2 with my two best friends… Am I really that shitty of a person? Or was I just shitty that way for that amount of time in my life? IDK.) that just months later, I would be going through a very similar horrible situation with the person who held that space for me.

If I knew then what I know now, that she *still* holds that space for me, that it has taken so long to find my words again, to find people who would be that kind of “space”-keeper for me (still haven’t really found someone, at least not someone who allows for the same openness as she did at one time), would I have worked harder to repair the friendship? Or would I still have realized how toxic our friendship had become? Would I still make that same choice? I just don’t know.

But yes, like you, I still find myself wanting to reach out at those extremely trying points in my life, the emotionally raw points, when I desperately need the safeness and closeness of what our relationship was. Five years later, I’m still raw, it’s still so close to the surface. It still hurts.

Anyhow, I don’t know if reading this that it’s comforting or discouraging to know that so much time can pass and a friendship breakup can still be so potent in our lives. Part of me doesn’t want the hurt to ever go away because it would somehow invalidate the intensity of the original friendship, but of course, part of me also wants the hurt to go away, because… it hurts. Sigh.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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