How I survived a breakup with my best friend of nearly a decade

During a recent therapy session, I ended up rehashing a bad breakup. No, not with that deadbeat whose life was going nowhere, or with my emo high school ex.

Instead, I revisited the breakup that devastated me more than any other heartbreak: the one in which I lost my best friend.

Looking back, it’s not surprising that I parted ways with my number one confidant for the better part of a decade. We were two radically different people on two radically different paths. I’m a college grad with a desk job; she’s a college dropout with a budding music career. I was in a serious relationship with my live-in boyfriend. She was newly single and exploring the world of noncommittal dating. I was ~serious~ and uptight, while she was carefree and laid-back.

But we’d always been that way, even back in high school when we met. I was the by-the-book traditionalist while she was the come-what-may hippie. It was, in some ways, an arrangement reminiscent of The Odd Couple — if Oscar and Felix had been two multiracial brown chicks from Nebraska.

And yet, for more than eight years, we managed to overlook those differences and find many commonalities. We had the same taste in food, music, and men. We both had mothers from island nations in the Pacific. We equally aspired to GTFO of Nebraska and see the world. We were utterly hopeless romantics who fell for our first loves almost simultaneously. She would be there when that relationship fell apart, and I would return the favor a few years later.

Two friends crying
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So I was shocked when, on a hot and humid midsummer day, she invited me to lunch at one of our favorite sushi spots and proceeded to dump me.

“I’m just trying to figure out how you fit into my life,” she announced over edamame and lettuce wraps. “And how I fit into yours.”

I was confused. We’d been less communicative in the months prior, but I’d written it off as her being busy with booking shows and performing. Plus, I’d recently gotten into fitness and spent a lot of my free time at the gym. We had competing priorities, sure, but had it really reached a point where we could no longer fit into each other’s lives? That thought had never crossed my mind — at least not until she spelled it out.

After all, we’d spent the entirety of our friendship not paying much attention to what separated us. We forged a strong bond because of our shared experiences and histories. Even through cross-country moves, new jobs, and regrettable romantic flings, that bond seemed unbreakable.

“We’re so different.” That’s all I remember her saying.

The conversation caught me so off-guard that I struggled to process her words. It was a surprise attack, as if all of a sudden she was realizing just how opposite we were, and she wasn’t sure how to make it work — or if she even wanted to.

That was the part that was most hurtful. It felt like she’d already made up her mind.

She wasn’t interested in identifying common ground. We were different — perhaps more different than ever before — and that had created an unnavigable gulf within our friendship. For me, our shared history is what anchored us in rough waters. For her, it seemed to be dead weight that she couldn’t wait to toss overboard.

***

We don’t talk much anymore.

She’s back in Nebraska, and I’ve since relocated to the East Coast. She’s still got her music, and I’ve still got my 9-to-5. She’s in a serious relationship now, and she seems to be blossoming both as an artist and as a person. I know all of this mostly due to Instagram and Facebook. I wish I could’ve been a part of her evolution, but I didn’t feel welcome.

This experience was pretty traumatic. When you break up with your best friend, your ability to trust people is completely compromised. To make matters worse, I’ve always struggled with opening up to people and making new friends. After the breakup, I became even more closed-off and cynical about the idea of friendship. Now, more than three years later, I’m still figuring out how to let people in and be emotionally accessible.

One piece of wisdom that’s helped me heal and recover is this: Our definitions and expectations of friendship change as we get older.

High school and college friendships are often relationships that stem from necessity, if not sheer boredom. When you’re in contact with a person for a majority of the time, you’re likely to develop some type of connection. These relationships don’t take much effort or energy because, well, they’re merely a product of one’s circumstances. They’re more about convenience than choice.

Adult friendships are trickier. We have more responsibilities, more commitments, and more obligations pulling us in a million directions. So much is vying for our attention. We have to make conscious, purposeful choices regarding what — and who — gets to be in our lives.

I realize now that my ex-best friend was doing just that. And while that realization doesn’t make our breakup sting any less, it has provided me with some much-needed perspective. I’ve learned that not everything is personal, and sometimes “it’s not you, it’s me” is more heartfelt and truthful than it seems.

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