Indy Maven Friendship Series, Part III: Friendship Breakups

When a friendship ends, what lessons can be learned from the heartbreak
To hands interlocking pinky fingers with Indy Maven Friendship Series logo above

The Indy Maven Friendship series is tackling this simple yet complex relationship from various angles. 

We at Indy Maven see the theme of friendship all over the place lately. It’s in the zeitgeist, if you will. Maybe Covid and all its social distancing turned it into a hot topic. Maybe it’s always been a hot topic. But regardless of the reason, lately we can’t scroll without stumbling upon stories about friendship breakups, adult friendships, friendships and boundaries, the importance of friendship… even friendship coaches.

So, we crowdsourced a handful of contributors, board members, as well as the nuclear team at Indy Maven/Maven Space. After all, Indy Maven is made of multitudes. The more voices that chime in, the better we understand and empathize with all women, and the better chance we have at fulfilling our mission. We weren’t sure what kind of a response we’d get. But, as a good friend would, everyone showed up. Better yet, they had something to say.

In Part III of the series we are talking breakups. Often times, they hurt just as much, if not more, than their romantic counterparts. We sourced responses to the questions, “Have you had a friend breakup? What did you learn from it?” And the vulnerability the Mavens shared was both heartbreaking and relatable. 

I’ve lost friendships but wouldn’t consider them breakups.  To me, a breakup implies a clear ending, a decision to change the relationship, a shared understanding between both parties (even if it is not what both want).  I’ve had friendship sunsets, friendship fades, friendship deaths.  They are just as sharp and painful as a breakup with without the distinct ending.  They’ve come without the gift of clarity, the peace of finality.  They’ve come with plenty of overanalyzing, reliving of texts and conversations, attempts to make sense of what went wrong.  It’s like a never ending guessing game of what I could have done differently, what could be needed from me to have repair.  A fabricated story that existed only in my mind and after time ushered in the cold realization that repair was not part of the plot. Losing friendships has come with confusion and hurt and of course the specific, potent blend of embarrassment, sadness, envy and anger when I felt left out.  It is quite a gut punch to recognize you are no longer thought of by people you once couldn’t live without. What have I learned? As Anne Lamott would say ‘everything is an inside job.’  The longer I live, the more I learn that letting go, closure and healing doesn’t only happen externally.  It doesn’t have to live in the space between me and other people, it can be a peace from within, a self offering of forgiveness and grace.  I can tend to my own pain instead of resentfully expecting others to see it and make it better for me. Losing a friendship is a real, tangible, aching loss and delivers the package of grief that any type of loss can bring.  I’m learning to not minimize my own pain, to allow the grief to be what it is, to not try and talk myself out of the feelings or skirt around them someone.  It all belongs.

Yes – I’m slowly learning people are who they are.  I have a bad habit of never wanting to believe anything negative about people.  In the past I’ve always made excuses for friends’ behavior in an effort to see the best in people.  I’m getting better at accepting the fact that some people just aren’t who you hope they are.  It usually takes my close friends knocking some sense into me before I accept it for myself – like I said – my village shows up. 😉 

Leslie Bailey Headshot

Two [breakups]. One, I never reconnected with. The other, I did, and we’re friendly to this day. The first one took me a decade to get to this point, but it was when I first realized friendships aren’t always meant to last forever or remain the same. 
Leslie Bailey, CEO and Co-founder, Indy Maven

Casey Cawthorn headshot

Truthfully, I’ve had a lot of friend breakups. As a single mom—and a mom before I was an adult—I found very few wanted to stay in or understood that I couldn’t make a dinner because I didn’t have a babysitter. I’ve learned a lot about friend breakups, the biggest lesson being that we truly have people for reasons, seasons and lifetimes. Three of my closest friends at one point in time aren’t my closest friends today. Yet, I look back on our friendship “prime” with so much gratitude for the adventures we did share. Not every friendship lasts forever, and that’s a really hard reality to accept—but that doesn’t mean that you’re a bad friend!
Casey Cawthon, Contributor

Arianna CruzI swear these are worse than some of my romantic relationship break-ups. Oh, woe, is the heartache to not have the friend you’d go-to, especially when most of your other close friends live out of town. I didn’t want to learn anything for awhile, and I was really just hurt. I think as time went on though, I realized that break-ups (all sorts!) just happen, and it doesn’t always mean the whole friendship was for shit, but sometimes we are meant to journey with someone for a period of time (hello, trauma-bonding!), and then you carry on separately, however that split looks. The further I got away from it, I realized how that friendship likely was not meant to last because it wasn’t always as full of warmth as I thought initially. I had some close friends share their concerns post-break up because they didn’t want to say anything before. Friend break-ups don’t always have to be so heartbreaking, and it doesn’t mean you have to be mortal enemies by the end of the split. To the besties that no longer ride with me, I’ll always want the best for them — I just don’t have to be giving so much of myself to them anymore, though.
Arianna Cruz, Operations Board Member and a 2023 Indy Maven Women to Watch

Traci Cumbay headshotOh god, I’ll never get over it. For no reason that I can figure out, my best friend of almost 30 years quit taking my calls, quit responding to texts, doesn’t answer letters. Nothing makes it make sense. I’ve been in a state of confusion for three or four years now about how this person, who knew me better than anyone and always–ALWAYS–showed up for me, has disappeared. If there’d been an inciting incident, that would be one thing, but I don’t understand what happened. I worry about her. I miss her. I still think about showing up at her doorstep, which is as far from mine as it could be without one of us being in a different country, but I guess ultimately I can’t make her be my friend. We had a lovely, fun, intense, precious bond, and it’s gone. My chest hurts while I type this.
Traci Cumbay, writer

A friend break up. Oof. The most difficult was where every ounce of me still loved her very much. Knowing is one thing. Doing is another. Setting boundaries is necessary. You can and sometimes MUST love someone from a distance. There is a happy ending to this one. She is back in my life.
Michelle Dahl, Editorial & Operations Boards Member

Kay HawthorneI have had a friend breakup. Primarily, I learned that they should have the label of “breakup” because it can hurt just as much as a “committed” “romantic” relationship and should be given similar weight. I also learned how to gauge my happiness  (or lack thereof) within my friendships and realize when I need to set boundaries and/or step away.
Kay Hawthorne, Contributor

Kelli Jenkins HeashotI have had a few really hard friend breakups, and two in my thirties that really stick out to me. What it boils down to in both of those situations is that I had not been speaking up for myself for a long time, and so, I was allowing someone to take advantage of me. Once I spoke up and and set a boundary, I was no longer recognizable to that person. What I’ve learned from friend breakups is this: it’s my job to be myself, stand up for myself, and show up in relationships how I want to be treated. It’s my job to speak up if I notice that I’m inputting energy and it’s not being replenished by a friendship. If I allow a certain behavior, then I can only blame myself for letting someone think it’s okay to treat me like that.
Kelli Jenkins of the Spellsisters, Indy Maven’s Resident Astrologist

Karen KennedyOh yes, plenty. I’m definitely a helper and an optimist. I always see the best in people and believe I can help someone get to the next stage/past a problem. But I’ve realized that some (plenty!) of people don’t want or need my help, and other people are, quite simply, CRAY. If a friendship takes more from you than you get, over and over and over, sometimes you have to protect your heart and move on.
Karen Kennedy, Events Director, Maven Space

Jalysa KingYes! A really hard one one actually, but now it seems like more of a friendship break and rebuilding phase. I had a couple of lessons from this one for sure. 1. We have to communicate and share what our feelings are. People aren’t mind readers. 2. It is so important to show up for friends in ways that will help them, not necessarily what we would want. Overall, the biggest takeaway is communication and also that some friendships are just for seasons as we grow and change, and that is okay.
Jalysa King, Sales Maven and Contributor

Headshot of Amanda Kingsbury

When I was around 30, I wrote a “I’m not breaking up with you, but things please need to change” letter to my best friend from college. A week earlier, she’d accused me of inviting my “pretty friends” to a party to sabotage her chances of meeting men. She was going through some serious heartbreak, and I was trying to be understanding, but the situation was spiraling and causing some major distress. A few years later, I was working for a newspaper, and for a “Peace on Earth” holiday edition, the editor challenged us to make peace with someone from our past and write about it. I called my friend, and we talked for about an hour. It was clear we were both still hurt, but the connection made us breathe a little easier. What did I learn? That a friend breakup can be way more painful, long-term, than a romantic relationship breakup. No one made me laugh harder than she did. (Every day of our young-adult life felt like that “One Millionth Customer” grocery store episode of “Laverne & Shirley.”) I still miss her sometimes. I thought we’d be having silly adventures together forever.
Amanda Kingsbury, Co-founder, Indy Maven

Abby Kom sitting in front of a mural at Maven SpaceFriend breakups are notoriously hard. One of mine happened fairly recently; it sort of just fizzled out after I didn’t see them very often. I learned that some friends are only there for a season of your life – and that’s okay. The beautiful part of that sentiment is that you will inevitably lose contact with some friends in your life, but you get to keep the lessons and growth from knowing them.  
Abby Kom, 2023 Indy Maven Indiana Press Club Foundation Fellow

Samantha Kupiainen headshotDuring my junior year of college, I ended up having a friend breakup with my roommate at the very end of the semester. I learned that there are friends for a reason, season or lifetime, and our friendship had simply run its course.  
Samantha Kupiainen, Contributor

Despi MayesI had a messy friend breakup in my late twenties. Someone I really cared about was violating my boundaries in an unhealthy way and lashed out when confronted. So, I retreated. We went from being close to nothing overnight. I wish we could have communicated with each other better – but neither of us were in the right headspace to do that. The hardest thing I’ve ever learned in friendship is the necessity of being honest about my limits. I have built up some serious resentment from having invisible boundaries violated – so now I try harder to speak up. But, it is still a hard thing to do as often and early as is needed.
Despi Mayes, Indy Maven Member

a photo of Brittney Mason wearing a nirvana t-shirt and soft smilingI had a friend breakup that impacted my day-to-day life drastically. While I am still sometimes heartbroken by the loss, I am other times so happy with my choice. I poured all I could into this friend, her life and her family, and I didn’t receive the same things in return. I was often met with resentment and attempts to tear me down. I’ve learned that friends that are toxic are best to be removed. I still love and care about this friend and her family, but I think we had some growing to do separately. No matter how much you give to some people, their only inclination might be to just take. You deserve someone to give you back the love and friendship you give them.
Brittany Mason, Editorial Board Member and Contributor

Maura Malloy is a writer, minimalist, TedX Talker, and Indy Maven’s Assistant Editor.

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