Some Friendships Need To End, But It Still Hurts

by Christine Burke
Originally Published: 
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When we first moved to our town, I didn’t know a single person. For several years, I found it difficult to connect with other women in our suburban town, and it was only after the birth of my first child that I was able to start to make close friends, usually bonding over breastfeeding and sleepless nights while in the preschool line.

Over the years, I’ve cultivated these friendships and, often, they’ve been a lifeline for me in times of crisis. And I’ve dropped everything for my friends, too, when they need a shoulder to cry on or a meal made when a loved one passes away. I am proud of the women who have chosen to walk the path of motherhood with me and I’m grateful every day for those who have seen me at my worst and still answer my phone calls (you know who you are).

But, for as much as I have worked to maintain my close knit friendships, my heart has been broken along the way, too. I’ve had to let go of some close friendships because the foundations of our relationship have been rocked too deeply to be repaired. Friends who used to sit at my kitchen table and share secrets with me have now become strangers — and that never gets easier, particularly when I see them at the grocery store or at school events.

It can be hard enough to find a mom friend you trust. But when a mom friend shows you her true colors,and they aren’t good, it can be a devastating blow to your heart. Realizing that a friend isn’t the person you thought she was is a hard pill to swallow.

But I’ve learned it’s okay to walk away from a toxic friend.

It’s okay to look at your friendship with fresh eyes and admit that the person who used to make you smile has done nothing but cause you pain and heartache, sometimes for longer than you want to admit to yourself. It’s okay to admit that people change and grow apart. And it’s okay to realize that maybe — just maybe — you didn’t know that person as well as you thought you did.

Recently, a dear friend of mine was accused of sending a vicious, hurtful note to an acquaintance. When word got out that the acquaintance had received the note, filled with personal insults, our social circle was rocked to its core. “Who could do such a thing?” we asked. My poor friend, innocent of any wrong doing, was accused and her friendship with the acquaintance was instantly destroyed.

It’s been a tough few weeks as we’ve processed the damage done by not only the writer of the note, but also the acquaintance who has been relentless in her accusations. Hurt feelings and untruths have left a group of women who used to be a tight knit group reeling. But there is no room for toxicity in true friendship and, sadly, there are no winners when ending a toxic friendship.

As I’ve supported my friend through the unraveling of her friendship, I’ve thought an awful lot about a friendship of my own that unraveled in the wake of the election. Of all the friends I’ve had to let go over the years, this one hurts the most.

Because I loved my friend.

I loved who she was before we argued about politics. I still love her, but our differences and toxic words to each other have damaged our friendship beyond repair. And though I know my political opinions will never match hers, I feel deep sadness that our friendship wasn’t able to stand the test of such a turbulent time in our history.

I thought our friendship was stronger, but I was wrong. And being wrong about a friendship hurts more than a romantic breakup because friends aren’t supposed to leave.

Friends are supposed to smile when you walk in a room and hug you tight when you leave.

Friends are supposed to throw you a lifeline when you are drowning, and by lifeline, I mean a Starbucks gift card with a silly note to remind you that you will survive.

Friends are supposed to stick with you through thick and thin, both in relation to your thighs and your day-to-day struggles.

Friends are supposed to forgive you when you say words in anger or when you can’t be what they need.

Friends, the good ones, are supposed to be your safe place to land, the ones we can say what we are thinking without judgment.

And I set these expectations on my friends because it’s what I would do for them in return.

I have had to swallow my pride and apologize to preserve a friendship.

I have had to keep my mouth shut when I know a friend is going down a path I don’t necessarily agree with.

And, I have been the friend who simply says, “When you stop being angry, I’ll be here so we can talk.”

Sometimes, the friends we break up with don’t come back to talk. They don’t turn their heads as they walk away to catch your eye and realize what they are leaving behind. And the friends you have to let go carry the same good memories in their heart that you do. The memories are there and they will inevitably miss you, too.

But, sadly, memories of the good times aren’t enough to overcome the challenges of a friendship mired in hurt, broken trust and anger. And, when that happens, it’s okay to take your memories, tuck them away deeply, and be grateful that you’ve learned from the experience.

And, in doing so, you’ll realize you have much more energy to put towards the friends who light up when you walk into the room, instead of sucking all the joy right out of you.

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