A few years ago, just as the pandemic started, I lost a really good friend. She didn’t die, but she might as well have. The grief was real.
Losing this friend was excruciatingly painful. She was a brilliant, hilariously quippy, and thoughtful friend. She and I met at a conference in our mid 40s and our rapport was instant. We spoke a certain effortless language that I didn’t really share with anyone else. As Erin Falconer notes in her book, How to Break Up With Your Friends: Finding Meaning, Connection, and Boundaries in Modern Friendships, “Every friendship is its own jigsaw puzzle. The way you fit together with one friend might look radically different from the way you fit with another.”
I thought our friendship was one for the ages. And…. we ended up working together which, in hindsight, was the beginning of the end.
The initial crux of the impasse was my fault, full stop. I blurted out something related to her work — in a text, no less — that was stupid, impulsive and thoughtless. My ego had gotten the better of me. I was steamed in the moment, but then realized my words had been cutting. I apologized a few hours later. She told me I’d hurt her and that she needed time to process. It’s been nearly two years.
At the time, I (emphasis on “I”) didn’t think it was a friendship-breaker. I’ve probably argued with every close friend I’ve ever had. There are disagreements; you do, or say, dumb, inconsiderate things — but when your friendships are meaningful, you try to work through it. You talk through it to the core of why those things were said. And there is usually a story to tell on both sides. But I realized I’d crossed a line that she couldn’t forgive. Or she just didn’t care because I was an annoying toxic toad. Or there was a deeper issue at play. I may never know.
I anticipated that after some time we’d reunite and talk about it; I’d apologize again and we’d get to the crux of why we had an impasse in the first place. But, no. Stony silence. Casual unfollows.
I reached out several times after that and felt a pang in my stomach every time. She responded to one email, saying we should connect at some point, but then never followed up. I even sent her a small gift which, in hindsight, might have been super ham-handed of me. I segued from confusion, to anger, to a broken heart.
After several months of this my therapist asked, “If this was a romantic relationship, would you let this continue? Your mind is stuck on the idea of earning her forgiveness in such a way that may not be honoring the reality of how you’re being treated by her.”
What she said clicked. My friend had let go, and so, too, should I. It wasn’t easy, but I’ve nearly (nearly) made peace with it. No one is the sinner here, no one the saint.
So, I’m really looking forward to our chat tonight with Erin Falconer. I’d expected her book to be a sort of COVID-timely self-help guide but it goes deeper than that. There were so many moments I vigorously nodded my head. Here were some of the takeaways I loved:
- Friendships are essential to human survival — this has been scientifically proven! That coffee meet-up isn’t a luxury; it’s a stress-relieving necessity.
- We don’t spend enough time examining the “huge value differential” between our various friendships — there are certain people we long to see, others we don’t (note how you feel when you see their name come up in a text message!), or even worse, who may be causing more harm than good. Falconer actually suggests a “friendship diagnosis” to ensure we’re prioritizing the inner circle. The ones who accept us for who we are. The ones we feel safe to be honest with, even when that honesty is painful.
- To be a good friend you must first be a good friend to yourself. “Your relationship with yourself sets the tone for every other relationship in your life.”
- Friendships help create who we are. Which is why some shy away from deep relationships; as Falconer asks, “Are we afraid of what we might see in the mirror?”
We don’t talk enough about friendships — especially as women in midlife who have accumulated (or released… or let drift apart) so many friends. Falconer’s book is a mix of essay, research and workbook that aims to help you take stock of your meaningful alliances, consider how to improve them, and, importantly, embrace ways to become a truly great friend yourself. It’s more than the “Break-Up” part which is what made you probably pick up her book in the first place — it gets to the core of improving your relationship with yourself, your loved ones and yes, multiple strategies to letting go.