A Guide to Dealing with the Loss of a Friendship
Just like pretty much all interpersonal relationships, friendships can run through an entire spectrum, from casual acquaintances to chosen family. But what do you do if that friendship isn’t healthy, or comes to an unexpected, or even an expected, end? Dealing with relationship issues is rarely easy, no matter what kind, but when it comes to advice on them, most articles assume you’re dealing with a romance. There are very few resources on dealing with the loss of a friendship, especially one that has turned sour. This third part of our friendship series will look at things you can do if a friendship just isn’t working out and how to cope with losing a friend.
When things go downhill it is in all likelihood you either want to avoid the cause of it all for the rest of your life, or you’re hoping your relationship will rekindle. While making up and moving forward is a nice idea, there’s no guarantee it will happen. If you want to salvage your friendship then you should try. If you won’t, or can’t, or shouldn’t, then the next step is something you may have already begun.
Allow yourself to grieve. Let yourself feel all the sad, angry, hurt feelings that have gathered within you. A helpful way to deal with overwhelming emotions is to let them run their course. If you have something to say, write it down. Type it out like you’re going to send it. Write yourself a speech worthy of applause and a mic drop. Be as petty or as cruel or as vulnerable as you wish to be. Don’t downplay your dramatics, you’re doing this for yourself. Sometimes we get stuck on an emotion or a thought because we don’t get a chance to work through it. You bleed that message, and then you delete it.
You’ve lost someone incredibly important to you — you’re feeling these emotions for a reason.
Talk about it
When the chance comes for you to talk about what has happened, take it. Call up a friend or meet up with a relative and let it all out. Say whatever you need to, to whomever you can lean on, and before you begin, tell them what you need. Do you want advice? Would you like to rant interrupted while they play the yes-man? If you’re after a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on, communicate that. If you don’t know what you want, that's okay too; you’re in good company.
If you don’t have anyone close to you that you feel you can talk to, try a complete stranger! It may sound crazy, but venting to someone completely uninvolved can actually help a lot, and there are several websites for just that purpose, such as this virtual (emotional) baggage check.
Recognize your needs
Provide for yourself. While we all need distractions from time to time, there’s no escaping this one. Give yourself space and time to work through your emotions. If that means sticking on a sad movie and hunting down some ice cream, then get to wallowing. If you’re riding anger’s edge then you probably want to smash something. Ice cubes crack beautifully in a bathtub or on pavement and there’s no mess to clean up afterwards. Don’t deny yourself something over this because it feels ridiculous or undeserved. The loss of a friend is upsetting — both in the distressing sense of the word and its disruptive meaning.
Can you learn from this?
You’re probably already knee-deep in self-reflection so ask yourself, is there anything there? You can’t change the past, but is there anything you would have done differently? There are many factors at play in any break up, such as fault, blame, apathy, inaction, or foolishness. Have you assigned any of those to yourself? To your friend? Take note of what really bothered you. Any behaviour of theirs or yours that doesn’t sit well with you is something to watch for in the future. Hindsight is a bittersweet thing; make the most of it.
Avoid fixating on the past
Don’t lose your present to your past. Maybe you royally fucked up or maybe you were royally fucked over. Maybe you and your friend simply drifted apart or out grew one another. Whatever the reason, your friendship is over and to get past it, you can’t dwell. Vent, indulge yourself, give it a good think over and when that’s done, move on. If you’re lingering on the past, ask yourself what it's doing for you. What do you gain from dwelling? Is there something more useful or enjoyable you could be doing with your time? Do that instead when you find yourself obsessing.
Stay off their socials
You don’t want to know. You don’t. Don’t check up on them. Don’t torture yourself with who they’re hanging out with, whether they look happy, or if their life seems uninterrupted by your absence. Social media is carefully cultivated and a poor reflection of real life. You’re going to find something you don’t like, guaranteed, and for what? Mute them, unfollow them, delete them, block them, stay off the app. Do whatever gives you the most control and the most freedom.
Tie up loose ends
Now, what if you can’t easily take this person out of your personal life? What if this person is still friends with other friends of yours and you will be seeing them again? What if this person still has your jacket you forgot at their place, or you have their ice cube tray? In this case, let your mutual friends know of the situation, so that they can assist you in situations where you and this former friend will be present at the same time. Have a buddy you can nod to to get out of an awkward group conversation with this person. Have someone come with you to pick up your things or be there when they pick up theirs, or recruit a mutual friend to help with exchanging items. Above all, do your best to be cordial. Even if you’re not friends anymore, it doesn’t hurt to be polite and friendly, like you would be to strangers or coworkers.
While sad wallowing can be very cathartic when grieving a friendship, there is such a thing as too much, especially if you’re wallowing alone. Cutting yourself off can very quickly cause a downward spiral, and it is definitely not recommended. Even if you have very little energy, try to reach out where you can, even just to say “hey, I’m having a bad time right now”. Family members, friends, community groups, even a help line can all be viable options to help keep you afloat while you deal with your emotions.
Nurture other friendships
Now is a good time to look at what you have and not what you have lost. Remind yourself of the people who are still your friends and go spend some time with them. Treat yourselves or have a quiet catch up session. You could tell them what you’re going through, but you certainly don’t have to. Is there something you’ve been meaning to do or share or learn about another friend? Put some focus into that.
Broaden your circle
Falling out with someone within a friend group is an incredibly difficult thing to navigate. Losing what feels like your only real friend is heartbreaking. When you’re left adrift like this, putting your energy into new relationships can give you something to focus on. There are lots of ways to make new friends and as hard or as wrong as it may feel, you are deserving of new friendship.
Form new memories
There are probably a good many things you shared with your friend, and now that they’re gone, those things remind you of them. That musical you both liked, your favorite kind of takeout, how you both loved ice skating. You don’t have to give up everything you shared with them, of course, but it may take some time for these things to feel like just yours again, without the pain of your loss. In the meantime, try something new! Listen to a new band, learn to knit, try a different sport, binge a new show. In time you can revisit the hobbies and interests you and your friend shared, and it won’t hurt as much, but in the meantime you can create new memories. Getting involved in new experiences can also take your mind off your friend, giving you something else to focus on.
Give yourself something to look forward to
It doesn’t matter what it is. Set yourself a date on your calendar with something special and get excited. It's easy to get caught up in the present and to imagine all the adjustments you’ll have to make now that you have a friend-shaped hole to fill, but dwelling on it isn’t going to do anyone any good. So do something for yourself, and keep that something as a go-to for when you’re feeling low. When you’re struggling with your past and your present, make your future bright.
Above all, when it comes to this sort of thing, be kind to yourself. We know that might be a hard thing to do even at the best of times, but it’s important that you don’t beat yourself up over what happened. You’re always deserving of love and/or affection, and right now you could certainly use a little extra.
While it often tends to be brushed off, losing a friend can be devastating, and even more so when you don’t allow yourself the time or space to recover. There’s nothing to be gained in downplaying your loss, but if you work through it, you can come out the other side. Perhaps you learned something about yourself, or the kinds of friends you actually want in your life. Taking the steps to move on can be scary, but if you never take that step, you can’t find all the wonderful new things the future might have waiting for you.