Bottom line: Breakups are tough no matter the circumstances. Regardless of whether you're on the receiving end or not, they come with an inevitable separation from someone you've truly cared about, and with whom you've shared intimate parts of yourself. And that feeling is not exclusive to your romantic relationships. Many adult women find themselves going through a different kind of heartbreak — friend breakups — and they can be as painful, if not more so, than a split with your significant other.
When you're younger, you're often made to think that your close friendships will last forever, that these relationships — unlike romantic ones — aren't susceptible to the kind of fractures that can happen with a boyfriend or girlfriend dynamic. But as you get into your late 20s and into your 40s, it's common to encounter moments where you feel you're drifting apart and in some cases perhaps even find yourself totally abandoned by a friend without any explanation.
Perhaps you've already had this happen, but wouldn't think to categorize it as a breakup, but according to Rachel Thomasian and Valentina Setteducate of Playa Vista Counseling, licensed therapists and breakup specialists who began an Instagram account dedicated to the subject (and have a book in the works), that's because we're not really conditioned to value them the same way. "I think often friend breakups aren't talked about as much because they can be more easily dismissed or disregarded when compared with a romantic breakup," explains Setteducate.
That said, both experts agree that the end of a friendship can be just as hard to accept — and in many cases, even harder. "Some friendships are a part of our lives longer than our romantic relationships, we tend to turn to our friends for anything that might be going on in our lives (including our partners) the same may not be true of our significant others where we're more likely to hold back," says Thomasian. "Whereas the breakups of romantic relationships are seen as more normal, friendship breakups can feel more personal. People may internalize the event to mean something is wrong or bad about them instead of just incompatibility."
Like romantic splits, friend breakups seem to mostly be the result of normal life changes and growth — especially if those changes don't coincide with how your friend is evolving (or not evolving, as the case may be). "I think often [friend breakups] happen when you really start to be aware of and be aligned with your values," explains Setteducate. "If our values and priorities shift, and our friends don't shift in the same way, it can be easy to recognize a gap and notice a growing away from each other. I think this shift can be more common in mid 20s through mid 30s, as this is often an age of growth, change, and reflection on our lives and where we are at and want to be going."
So, what do you do if you notice a friend starting to pull away — or worse yet, if they've already ghosted you? "I would recommend taking personal inventory and thinking about if you've done anything to offend your friend and try reaching out in a kind way without being pushy," says Thomasian, who notes that it's especially helpful here to be respectful of boundaries. "If at all possible, try to have a conversation about what you're noticing and what you fear may be happening and see the response. In worst case scenarios, this gives us a chance to reflect and grow."
And what if you're the one feeling like you want to pull away from a friend? According to Setteducate, communication is key, whether you're trying to save the relationship or just respectfully part ways. "Understanding what we are feeling and what we are wanting from the relationship, and then being able to relay that in an authentic way can be so important and crucial," she explains. "Taking a step back and asking 'Does this relationship fit in my life and does it serve me?' can be an important to reflect on before having a conversation with a friend."
And if the two of you do decide to not continue on being involved in each other's lives, it's okay to allow yourself to grieve — just as you would after a romantic breakup. Talk to a therapist, practice some self- care, and spend time with people who you do feel are supportive and share your same values. Just know you don't have to downplay or ignore those feelings simply because it's not a split from a significant other you're reeling from. As experts will say, it's still very much significant.