Long Story Short: Friend breakups can be as painful as romantic ones 

Heartbreak hits different when you lose a friend

Illustrated by Tiffany Chan

By Winona Young, Features Editor

 

I’m in my room in Vancouver, scrolling through my Instagram feed. In the pale blue glow of my phone screen, I see the new post that she’s uploaded from New Orleans: a picture of herself and some other girl. They’re in matching costumes and I scrunch my mouth. She never did anything like that with me, I think distantly. I double tap the screen on instinct. I continue scrolling, and try not to think too hard about how happy the person I once called someone my best friend looks with someone new. 

 

I’ve gone through some painful break-ups, but no one told me about how painful friendship break-ups can be. And even though I just got dumped this summer, the break-up that haunts me, and I believe will continue to stick with me, is the one I went through with my (now ex) best friend. 

 

I met my ex-best friend in high school — Let’s call her Elizabeth. Elizabeth and I became friends over a school play between rehearsals and running lines. When we both realised we had a shared love of Doctor Who and Tumblr (I know, please don’t bully me), we hit it right off. The next few months were filled with long sunny afternoons with her, whispered conversations in the darkness of movie theatres, and obnoxiously loud laughter at jokes no one else would understand. During that time, she even had a boyfriend briefly, but he often said that whenever us three would hang out, he felt like he was the third-wheel. And honestly? He wasn’t wrong. When I think back to high school, despite the horrible time I had, she was one of the reasons I recall those days with warmth. Her smile, her wit, and her; I still miss all three dearly. I wanted nothing more for this person to stay as my partner-in-crime, my commander-in-homie, my [insert any silly joke label here] — any name we’d call ourselves would do as long we stayed friends. 

 

We lost touch gradually — it was so subtle, I barely noticed it. Over the course of two years, it ebbed away slowly and quietly. The thing about friendship break-ups is that they fade in the corner of your eye. Calls were missed, inside jokes grew stale, and visits proved how wide the gap between us was. Neither of us acknowledge that anything has changed with how we talk. Instead of completely ignoring each other, we stay in each other’s periphery with an enthusiastic comment on a great Instagram post; these emotional equivalents to bread crumbs somehow made the break-up worse.

 

There are countless songs about heartbreak — ranging from singers feeling utterly gutted to victorious to bitter. But most of all, many break-up songs about your ex-partner are all about empowerment. You’re over that loser! Social media, witness my goddamn #FlexOnMyEx! The underlying message in each break-up anthem is, “I am better off without you in my life and I can’t wait to tell the world.” 

 

When I think of people I’m no longer friends with, when I think of Elizabeth, I’m not filled with a sense of victory, more so a sense of hollow emptiness. There are no break-up anthems about losing friends that empower you. Songs like “When She Loved Me” by Sarah MacLachlan just remind me of a deep psychic ache that I can’t quite shake each time I see she’s posted something new on social media. 

 

What I learned is that unlike the melodrama of romantic break-ups, a break-up between friends, however, is more ambiguous, more confusing. Because there can come a day where you can dive deep into a new partner, but the regret and sadness from a friend break-up lingers. It sticks with you in every new friendship made, every holiday passed, and the hope that maybe one day they’ll reach out still lurks. The sob story of being dumped by your good-for-nothing ex will always garner more sympathy and more understanding than trying to articulate how a perfectly great friendship crumbled over time. And it’s a shame we can’t mourn a friendship as publically. But both kinds of loss, at the end of the day, are equally valid and painful in their own dimensions