“I want to break up with you”. A sentence we may have said to a former partner or one that a former partner has said to us. But have you ever wanted to say this to a friend? What do you do when you realise *gulp* that you may want to ‘break up’ with someone you used to consider a good friend? Well maybe not end the friendship entirely but certainly ‘tone down’ the relationship and establish some distance, particularly if it is no longer one that fulfils your needs (or theirs for that matter).
When did our friendships become so complicated? Surely it should be much simpler as we get older? After all, we are more mature and experienced. So it stands to reason that we should be able to manage these adult relationships. But of course as we get older our lives become filled with so many other commitments – our partners, children, work and extended family just to name a few. These myriad of other things not only add to the complexity, but they take up so much of our time and effort that there can be little left for anything or anyone else. However to be perfectly honest, that ‘excuse’ just doesn't cut it with me. If you consider someone or something as important, you will make the time and effort when you can. While the time you are able to give may not be something that occurs every day, every week or even every month, when you do give it, you put in the effort to make sure it is quality time. You give your full attention to the other person and not make them feel like it's something you squeezed in between all the other things on your ‘to do’ list.
Sometimes people suddenly change the ‘rules of the game’ and you are left wondering if you misjudged the relationship from the outset. They inexplicably drop out of sight, are always too "busy" and never initiate contact with you (calling, e-mailing, make plans etc.). It leaves you wondering how it could have gone from sharing important milestones in each other’s lives to sharing just “coffee and cake” (as one of my own friends has put it)? It can be quite confronting when you realise that they no longer value you or your relationship in the same way. The funny thing is, often these people are happy to ‘tone down’ their part in the relationship but they violently object when you do the same in response! Next thing you know, you’re the one cast in the role of the ‘bad’ friend and you had no idea you were even playing it. What’s even worse is when the other person doesn’t really seem to miss you and has gone on with their life without batting an eyelid. All the while, you’ve been torturing yourself over the demise of the relationship. Now that’s a hard pill to swallow.
And God help you if you are a woman and you happen to have an issue with a female friend. I read somewhere that “hell has no fury like a woman scorned by another woman”. Sadly, this statement rings true. What happened to ‘BFF’ (Best Friends Forever)? Where is the cosiness and intimacy of the Carries, Mirandas, Charolottes and Samanthas of this world? When did Thelma and Louise leave each other behind? Given the stereotypes associated with female friendships, it's easy to hold our female friends up to extremely high (and perhaps unrealistic) standards. Then inevitably feel disappointed or even betrayed when they don't measure up. I love the friendships guys have with each other and in fact, the ones I have with guys – quite uncomplicated and far less dramatic. They seem to have different expectations of what a friend means and if there is a ‘slight’, they get over it much more quickly. Sometimes I feel that while women can forgive, it doesn’t mean they forget...ever.
The general consensus from relationship experts is that you should address the situation immediately if there is an issue in your friendship. But what if you don’t want to? Not just because you want to avoid the conflict, but because you realise that it wouldn’t matter what you said as it wouldn’t change the situation one little bit. Quite frankly, you just don't feel the same way about them anymore. I call this the ‘it's not you, it's me’ scenario.
The same experts also say that we need to be flexible and lower our expectations with regards to our adult friendships. Yes there are swings and roundabouts in every relationship, but when you are the one left always ‘pushing' the swing or the roundabout, it can get quite tiring. I call this the ‘it is you, not me’ scenario. Besides, why should I lower my expectations? Personally, I need friends who enjoy my company as much as I enjoy theirs, who I can share my life with and who want to share their life with me, and who treat our friendship as a welcome part of their lives and not something that is just a ‘tick and flick’. It’s these kind of friends that deserve that oh so precious time and effort.
I guess ‘breaking up’ with a friend (just like any other break up) is really about being honest with oneself. Instead of agonising over who did or didn’t do what, we need to face the fact that there are some people who have outgrown us just as much as we’ve outgrown them. In this instance, perhaps it is better to let go. To quote Scotty from Star Trek, "I've giv'n her all she's got captain, an' I canna give her no more." Some people are no longer the type of friend they used to be and they are no longer a type of friend that you need them to be. Coming to this realisation is extremely disappointing and sad. Others will simply put it down to the “circle of life”, tell you “all good things must come to an end” and all sorts of other blah, blah, blah. But these platitudes don’t bring much comfort and nor do they make it hurt any less.