Breaking up with a best friend can feel worse than splitting up with your partner-at least after a tryst ends, you’ve got your confidante to turn to. And while everyone acknowledges the trauma of romantic breakups, people don’t really talk about the fallout of a platonic separation.
But your brain doesn’t know the difference between a romantic or platonic relationship. A breakup is a breakup. There was intimacy and trust, and then there wasn’t. And it takes time to deal with the devastation of losing someone you always thought you’d have by your side.
Surviving a best friend breakup isn’t easy, but here’s how to start the process.
Acknowledge what happened and allow yourself time to grieve.
“Sometimes we underestimate the power of platonic relationships,” says Dani Moye, PhD, a marriage and family therapist. But, you expect to share the future with your close friends. And when that expectation disappears, it can be disorienting and disappointing. “Take the time to reflect on what this shift means to you and sit with the discomfort of sadness,” says Moye. “When we don’t grieve the relational losses we’ve endured, it may take us longer to move on.”
Know that not all friendships are meant to be "forever."
We use the phrase “best friends forever” because, in the best of times, we expect that person to always be around. But the reality is, “we are attracted to, and connect with people during particular time in our lives,” says Dena M. DiNardo, Psy.D., a marriage and family therapist. “If we're doing our best to live consciously and to grow, we have to recognize that that means we might not always grow alongside someone or in the same direction as someone.
"What originally brought us together isn't necessarily the thing that will hold us together.” That doesn’t belittle or negate your friendship in any way, but if your relationship doesn’t evolve, that’s okay. And accepting that is crucial to finding closure.
Don’t forget the good parts.
When a friendship ends, you might look back and question the entire relationship, wondering where you went wrong. “We replay time and time again what transpired and how we would do things differently,” says Moye, when we should be focusing on how that relationship fulfilled us while it lasted, and what you learned from it. “By simply shifting the way that you look at the breakup, it becomes easier to move on from a place of gratitude,” she adds.
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Accept that there's no such thing as "getting over it" or "moving on."
When a relationship ends, it’s understandable to shove those emotions about that person in a box and never let them bother you again. But, “while it’s not nearly as recognized as death, divorce, and diagnosis, the loss of a dear friend is very painful and leaves a hole in your life that can never be filled in the same way,” says Shelby Forsythia, a certified grief recovery specialist.
“There will be moments going forward (like weddings, anniversaries, and hard times) where you’ll probably miss having that friend to lean on, and that's perfectly normal.” The idea of “moving on” doesn’t mean erasing this person’s memory from your life.
Appreciate the support system you still have.
You’re going through something hard, and the kick-in-the-face aspect of it is that you don’t even have your best friend to discuss it with. That doesn’t mean you don’t have support. “Relationships are just as unique as people are, and one friendship cannot be swapped for another,” says Forsythia. “That being said, there are people in your life (your spouse, your family, your coworkers) that might be able to bolster you and support you in navigating this new life without your friend.” But you have to reach out to them and let you know you need them.
Don’t be afraid to talk about it.
Hiding your feelings is a surefire way to a) let them fester and b) isolate yourself from the people who could help you cope. “Whether it's with other friends, your family, or your therapist, it's important to talk it out to understand how you feel, what went wrong, what each person's responsibility was to the ending, and to receive honest feedback from people who know you well and truly care about you,” says DiNardo.
Be realistic about your role in it.
You know the old adage, “it takes two to tango”? It’s a cliché because it’s so dead-on. “A breakup is rarely ever just one person's ‘fault’, but it's easier to be angry with the other person than to feel any of the things that might come up if we have to realistically look at our own selves,” says DiNardo. But you won’t get the closure you need if you don’t acknowledge the part you may have played in the breakup. “Seeing your role brings you one step closer to finding peace in your heart as you continue along the journey of learning about who you've been, who you are, and who you want to be in the future,” she says.
Set boundaries for yourself.
This is a kind of self-care, and may be as simple unfollowing your former friend on Instagram or blocking them on Facebook so you’re not still getting a window into their life. “Take an inventory of all of the ways and places they're bound to pop up, and figure out where you need to step back or disconnect to keep your boundaries and heart safe,” says Forsythia. These boundaries can change over time as things feel less raw, but there’s nothing wrong with protecting yourself from triggers that will disrupt the progress you’re trying to make in moving on.
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