By Nicole Mitchell
Photos by Justina Kellner
“I’m going to break up with my best friend after this.”
That’s what I said during my first appointment with a new therapist after she asked me what I was going to be doing after our appointment.
As a military brat, I grew up with friends in all places, so the inevitable ending and beginning of friendships was nothing new for me. But this friendship was like no other. We spent most of our time together throughout our last years of high school: time at school, sleepovers, hanging out at coffee shops, and even holidays were spent exclusively together.
Then there came a time when we just weren’t clicking anymore. That friendship we had in high school was changing. Gradually, our relationship felt one-sided and different. We hardly ever talked, and when we did it felt as if I had to control the conversation completely. I had lost my best friend, but we were still pretending that we were okay.
Maybe growing apart was to be expected—I had left to go to college in a different city and they stayed in our hometown to work. It sort of felt like that warning you hear about dating in high school: “It won’t last through college.”
When I brought up my experience losing this friend, my therapist’s answer felt lacking. She said she didn’t understand, and I was confused why she didn’t get it. Hasn’t everyone been through something similar? Surely, I couldn’t be alone. (Her response to this experience eventually led me to not see her again.)
Flash forward three years or so to now. A friend of mine shared a similar situation she was experiencing with a friend of hers. They were growing apart, and that distance felt like a significant ending. That’s when I realized: friendship breakups are totally a thing, and they’re hard. Arguably even harder than a romantic breakup. But how can breaking up with a close friend somehow be worse than someone you love romantically?
“The hardest part was remembering all the fun moments we had together and the love that was there, but knowing at the end of the day there was nothing left I could do and knowing I had to let it go so we could both move on,” my friend shares.
From a professional viewpoint, Dr. Lexx Brown-James, sexologist and author of These are my Eyes, This is my Nose, This is my Vulva, These are my Toes, says “There is a loss of a safety net. When we lose a lover, often we turn to friends for support. Losing a friend can mean there is a gap in your community who you would usually weigh in with and get support from.”
This, combined with the potential loss of an entire friendship group, can weigh heavily compared to romantic loss.
While a recent loss of friendship or two may evoke feelings of loneliness and isolation, you’re not alone. According to the Survey Center on American Life, most people report having less than two or three close friends since the pandemic. And feeling so isolated can make those friendships seem even smaller.
So how can we improve our friendships and create a special bond? Dr. Brown-James says that recognizing your value and boundaries are the most important things to consider when building friendships that are “lasting, giving, and loving.”
Remember that things change. Sometimes you really weren’t meant to be with that person. And most importantly, remember that grief is normal. No matter what kind of loss it is, it’s going to hurt. My advice? Take some “you” time and practice gratitude for the people you do have in your life.
It’s been a few years since that friendship of mine ended, and I still think of that person often. I can’t imagine what that part of my life would have been without them, and I still love them. I also am very happy that things have ended between us. So, if you’re currently going through an ending with a friend, just know that it’ll be okay. Eventually.
Nicole Mitchell (she/they) is a writer and social media manager who graduated December 2020 with a degree in strategic communication. A few of her favorite things include cuddling with cats, listening to Bon Iver, making lattes, and running her book club (even though sometimes she forgets to read the books.)
Justina Kellner is a Kansas City portrait and wedding photographer with a passion for creativity. You’ll find her hands in every possible medium of the arts including digital and film photography, painting, drawing, music, and even a touch of ballet. As a well grounded Capricorn, she also manages an online closet of upcycled trendy clothing, because everything should be recycled – change her mind.