As moms we are constantly reminded to build our tribe and have a village and work hard to maintain our pre-kid friendships. But what happens when you’re maintaining a friendship that isn’t healthy? How do you break up with a friend?
I’ve been in a relationship with my husband for almost 17 years. I had no clue how to break up with anyone. But I did it. About a year and a half ago, I dumped a friend. Hurtful words were flung, tears were shed and truths came out; and it was like a light bulb turned on in my head. Why am I fighting so hard for this person who isn’t fighting for me? And when there was no good answer, no laundry list of reasons why the friendship was worth it, I stopped fighting. Did I give up? I’m sure there’s a valid argument that yes, I did. I’ll take that criticism. A year and a half later would I do things the same way? Yes, I would.
The “break up” was terrible, just like romantic relationship break ups in my past. But, there were no worldly possessions to split, no kids or pets to arrange joint custody of, no awkward moments at a shared home before one of us moved out, no family to tell at the next gathering.
But there were mutual friends to explain things to, a husband was who was confused and worried over my sudden and complete ending of the relationship, and my own heart and head to reconcile. I had to navigate all of the emotions of ending a relationship in a way that I hadn’t had to do before. I really had to look at myself and ask some hard questions. Questions about why I had allowed things to continue on for longer than I should have. Questions about why I hadn’t realized the toxicity of the friendship long before I did. Society doesn’t encourage the abrupt and finality of a friendship break up. We, as women, have long been encouraged to maintain these adult friendships, to welcome them into our lives and nurture them and hold on to them for dear life. But I’m here to tell you that sometimes nurturing yourself is so much more important. Standing up for what you know in your heart to be right is always worth more than maintaining because you should.
At the time, it took only a look at my daughter to know I had done the right thing. Not because her life or self was at all impacted by the friendship or the ending of it (she was too young to have any idea what was going on), but because in asking myself if the friendship was worth saving I asked myself if I would want my daughter to be involved in a friendship that hurt her, broke her spirit and caused her such grief? And the answer, with no hesitation, was (and still is) no. Never would I want my girl to feel so ill at ease and weary of a friendship. And so in answering that question for my mythical grown up daughter, I answered the question for myself.
And a few other questions as well. While others were worried or upset about the break up, I worried about and worked on me. And I had to answer to me. I have to be able to respect myself enough to be able to say that the seismic differences in beliefs aren’t OK here, these actions and thoughts aren’t acceptable to me, and I can’t support them. And staying in a friendship that would cause me to turn a blind eye to ideals I can never agree with would be the ultimate betrayal of myself.
So I ended it. We never spoke again. Clean break and all that. Shockingly, in the crazy way that Kansas City is sometimes nothing more than a small town set against a big-ish city, we’ve never run in to one and other out and about or showed up at the same gathering or event. And that’s just fine with me.
The first few days after the “break up” were hard. Hard in that I’m a creature of habit, and breaking the habit of keeping up with someone I spoke with multiple times a day took some getting used to. It never felt like a piece of me was missing though. I didn’t pine for the friendship or companionship, but I did sadly think of the fun we had had together.
But life moves on, quickly it seems, and I woke up one day a few weeks later and realized that it had been days since my friend had crossed my mind. I hadn’t once since that last, fatal email picked up my phone to text or call. I hadn’t by habit thought to invite her for a girls night or date night or any other night. And in acknowledging those truths I was able to acknowledge others.
It’s OK to say “hey, this isn’t working for me.” It’s OK to be finished with a friendship or relationship for whatever reason. Sometimes one event spurs an ending, and sometimes it’s just the natural progression of life that does it. Learn from my break up and know that it’s OK if your tribe today looks different than it did last year, or if it looks different than that of someone else’s. As long as it sustains you and makes your heart happy and your mind happy and your smile big it’s perfect.
And if you are going through a friend break up, hang in there. Looking back from the other side of it, you will get through it. Rally around yourself, rally with other friends, reach out to new ones, and stay true to you.