I’ll never forget one of my favorite quotes that I collected on MySpace back when I was in highschool. It read, “friends are forever, boys are whatever,” and I took it to heart. (Or at least, I tried to).
Despite my way-too-serious for high school relationship and ridiculous long-distance dalliances through college, I tried to always keep in mind that while many of my boyfriends would come and go, some of my girl friends could potentially be around for life.
But then again, just like romantic partners, sometimes friends fall to the wayside—whether it’s a byproduct of a fight, a cross-country move, or one of those sad and slow drifts that creep up on you.
While we expect breakups to happen, and we’ve known how to deal with them ever since we turned on a TV, the loss of a friend can sometimes surprise us by being more painful and more difficult to deal with. After all, while sometimes a nice pint of Ben & Jerry’s, plus a big-biceped bartender can seemingly fill the void of your last boo, it can be a lot harder to feel like you’ve successfully “replaced” a friend.
1. It was probably unplanned.
Maybe it’s just the realist in me, but every time I start dating someone new, I assume the worst. My friends will ask, “Hey, so are you going to bring Dean as your +1 to my wedding next month?” And I’ll say, “I’m not sure if we’ll still be seeing each other in a month.”
I may be a bit more pessimistic than the average, but the premise is the same. Most of us go into every relationship knowing that we have two main options in the end: get married or break-up. And in a certain part of the relationship, we start to know that the latter option is probably what’s in the cards for us. We start asking ourselves if we’d be happier alone, or at least with someone else. We start slowly making moves to test the waters of a breakup—texting someone else first when we get good news at work, going out with friends without the other person, sleeping at our own place a few nights a week.
With friendships, this is generally not the case.
One minute, we’re texting our best friend a play-by-play of work drama, the next we’re realizing we have nobody to text for advice on what to wear on a first date.
This hurts so much more because we suddenly feel like we have a huge void to fill that we weren’t at all able to prepare for—something we thought we had covered. We arguably spend most of our lives “searching” for a romantic (or simply a sexual) partner, but we generally feel like we have the friend part handled.
2. There’s no “closure,” but also no real chance of rekindling.
While closure is usually just an excuse to see our exes one more time, most romantic relationships end in a way that’s somewhat clear. And, painful as it may be, at least one partner will generally list the reasons why they don’t see the relationship working out.
While nobody really wants to hear, “I don’t think we should see each other anymore,” at least you know where the other person stands. And while the reasons people give during breakups are always super vague and cliché, at least it’s better than nothing. With friendship breakups, there’s generally not this clear-cut dialogue and there’s probably not a vocalized reason (unless your now ex-friend is trying to hit you where it hurts, which is arguably worse).
Similarly, many of us leave relationships with the comfort that, if all came down to it, we could maybe text our ex late one night and end up back in their bed. Or maybe if we ended up in the same city five years down the line, we’d pick up right where we left off.
With friendships, this idea of romantic (or sexual) rekindling is unlikely to be on the table, which just makes the loss feel more final, and more sad.
3. People don’t know how to comfort you.
Pretty much everyone has gone through a breakup, and everyone wants to give advice when they notice a broken heart. Whether it’s your guy friend coming over with a bottle of tequila and dragging you to the bar, or your mom giving you wise and comforting words over the phone—people know how to deal with those grieving over love lost. When it comes to friendship lost, things get a little more tricky.
First off, if you’re the one who lost a friend, you may feel weird expressing your feelings about it to others. While it’s normal to say you just went through a bad breakup and are feeling down, it’s not as socially acceptable to speak this way about friendship in Western culture (although it totally should be).
Similarly, people don’t know how to comfort those who have lost friends quite as well. After all, the term, “there are tons of better fish in the sea,” is meant to apply to lovers, not friends… right?
4. Finding a replacement is much more difficult—and it’s hard to know where to start.
The immediate downloading of a dating app 1-24 hours after a breakup is a rite of passage in modern love. We know we’re not going to find a replacement, but we can at least distract ourselves with a parade of attractive partners who shower us with compliments and affection—even if it’s short-lived.
While many dating apps have launched friend-finding services with similar mechanisms to dating apps, they don’t work quite the same. While I can easily schedule myself a week’s worth of dates on Bumble in just a few days, I doubt I’d be able to do the same on Bumble BFF.
There’s also the fact that making new friends gets increasingly more difficult as you get older. In fact, most people’s social circles start decreasing in size after the age of 25, according to a study.
While you can’t replace the friendship you lost, you can treat your grieving process similar to how you would a romantic breakup—even if that’s not what’s traditionally done in our culture. Remind yourself that if it was meant to be, it would’ve worked out better, and that there are plenty of other [insert friendly ocean animal here—perhaps dolphins?] in the sea for you to send screenshots to, get brunch with, and take Instagram-worthy pics of.
While “getting back out there” doesn’t always make us feel better after the end of a relationship, I’m going to go out on a limb and say there’s no harm in doing so after the loss of a friendship. Ask your co-worker to grab drinks after work for once, DM that cool girl you follow on Instagram and ask if she’d ever want to hang IRL, download a friend-finding app and shoot your shot! Even if you don’t find a new BFF right away, there’s no such thing as having too many friends.