In my twenties, a lot of time and tears went into learning how to live through breakups; however, none of it prepared me for surviving a split from my best girlfriend.
Culturally, such platonic breakups aren’t given much weight—Adele’s not writing sob-out-loud songs about them, after all; however, the partner-placeholding friendships made famous in Sex and the City are being messaged to women as a critical component—if not the most important part—of an empowered adult female’s life. I, for one, prioritized mine above all else for the better part of a decade. Boyfriends would come and go but girlfriends, I’d learned from the pop culture prevalent in my coming-of-age years, are forever.
Until they’re not.
My breakup caught me by surprise. Though the SATC girls occasionally disagreed, their bonds remained until the end unbreakable. Nowhere else in pop culture (or, real life), meanwhile, had I witnessed a platonic divorce. (Exposure would come eventually, thanks to the final season of Girls, but not in time for me to steel myself for my own split.)
Because it hadn’t occurred to me that the adult-bestie bond could be broken, I didn’t know to protect my future self from utter devastation when it happened. When the first person you love breaks your heart, after all, you learn to build certain defenses in order to prevent yourself from going quite so “all in” on the next go-round. You also learn coping tools, which oftentimes involve bashing your paramour with—you guessed it—your besties. But what if you had no such protections in place and you couldn’t bash the ex with your BFF because the ex was your BFF?
This was the position in which I found myself four years ago, and then again (but this time, worse!) two years later, after a brief rekindling. It was traumatic. Like Regina George, my bestie turned on me, and what made it truly terrible was that I loved her. She wasn’t some mean girl at school; she was my platonic soulmate, my partner in crime, my closest confidante. She also wasn’t a boyfriend I’d been conditioned to leave in the rearview after an appropriate period of mourning. So, I had no idea how to get over her.
For months—maybe even a full year—after the final nail in our relationship coffin, I felt sick every time I thought of my former friend. To make matters worse, all of my closest pals were still friends with her, so I had few outlets for this pain. The intense mixture of internalized sadness and hatred which resulted began to feel like a cancer.
It wasn’t until a year after our final fight that I finally made peace with the situation (with professional help). Sure, I’ve been known to joke that I’d run her over with my car—fantasies are healthy, people!—but in reality I’ve come to see that the old adage, “Only hurt people hurt people,” applies to the end of our story. That’s enabled forgiveness.
Time has also allowed me to see how this, like many things painful, was actually—not to sound trite—a blessing. No part of me wishes the friendship was restored; however, I do wish I could erase the trauma which resulted from its dissolution, and what happened as a result of the waterfall effect of that trauma: I ended up betraying another girlfriend because I’d decided to devalue her in the aftermath of my breakup experience. Only hurt people hurt people.
Recovery is an ongoing process, and I can’t say that I’m yet able to open up to friends in the same way I would have before; however, maybe that’s okay. Female friendships, after all, aren’t the new marriage. Just as is the case with romantic partnerships, nothing lasts forever, and if it does, you’re lucky. Sometimes if it doesn’t, you’re even luckier.
So, I offer some advice. Rethink your female friendships. They can be empowering, life-changing, and even life-saving; however, they are also largely conditional and, odds are good, relatively temporary. Yours may last forever, or it may end abruptly at which point you will move on. Give it the requisite mourning period, but don’t let it destroy your happiness for any longer than you would any other breakup. If you must cry, cry. (I did, a lot.) Scream. (That, too.) Throw photos into the fire. (Yep, even this!) You need to feel it, because this sh*t hurts. It may even be the worst breakup of your life, but—as breakup ballad queen Gloria Gaynor once sang—you’ve got all your life to live, and all your love to give and yes… you will survive.
All photos: Getty Images