I had just moved out of my parents’ house and into the dorms. I loaded up the back of my dad’s Prius with a hamper full of clothes, a Costco’s supply of mac and cheese, some photo albums filled with high school memories, and a few new pieces of clothing that would more accurately depict the new “me” I wanted college to create. In the passenger seat was my high school boyfriend. We had become infatuated with one another senior year, and we were now facing the inevitable relational shift: going to different colleges.
For those who didn’t see this coming from the very beginning, I’ll just tell you now: it didn’t work out. Our chosen colleges were three hours apart and neither one of us had a car or money. Shortly after my 18th birthday and exchanging our first passionate “I love you,” we called it quits.
I was devastated, but a few weeks had passed and we were still in semi-regular contact. I would sign onto iChat everyday, and we spoke as if nothing really had changed. “This isn’t so bad,” I thought. “Maybe people can be friends with their exes!”
Until I found out that he began dating my friend.
Breakups are almost unimaginably painful to begin with. So what do you do when you find out your friend, someone you also trusted, starts dating them? Can you talk it out and remain friends, or do you have to endure a romantic breakup AND friendship breakup at once? First, know that it’s totally going to be OK. Here are a few steps to dealing with this tricky situation.
Talk it out
No matter what, you need to try and have a discussion with your friend. Find out what they’re thinking and feeling. Chances are, they aren’t intentionally trying to hurt you. Even our friends can mess up and behave in ways you’ll never understand. Maybe she’s embarrassed, or insecure, or afraid of losing you, too!
Alternatively, maybe this is a friendship that you need to let go of. You’re never going to know until you have the hard conversation. Tell her how it makes you feel. Validate each other’s feelings. You deserve to be heard, but so does she.
Keep your distance
Whether you decide to stay connected to your friend or cut them loose, distance is the only thing that will help make you feel better. If you want to stay friends, take a temporary but hard break. That means no Facebook stalking, no texting, and no Twitter creeping. Just hit the block button for six weeks, and you’d be amazing at how much better you feel. It’ll give you time to heal and assess.
Be as upset as you want to be
Chances are, things are going to get awkward with your mutual friends. That’s OK. You need time to be upset. While a good chunk of my friends were supportive and there for me, my other friends were eager for me to get over it. Get over it when you’re ready to get over it. Allow yourself the time to be upset and grieve. See a professional if you need to, because the more you actually deal with what you’re feeling, the healthier and better off you’ll be. But know that those social weirdnesses all smooth out eventually, one way or another.
Surround yourself with people who make you feel good
After I found out my ex and friend were dating, I cried for hours on my best friend’s couch. There was a seam in the sofa that had been wearing away for years, pieces of stuffing frequently coming loose. She reached down to pull some of the stuffing out and dried my tears with it. She destroyed a sofa in order to wipe my tears. It was the first thing I laughed at post-breakup because it was so weird and touching. But it reminded me that being around people who make you feel good speeds the healing process.
Look to the future
It is so important to understand that even though it might seem like it, life doesn’t end with this relationship. Heartbreak and disappointment are a part of life, but it’s these emotional disasters that shape us and lead us to who we’re supposed to be and surround ourselves with. Don’t let a breakup (romantic or otherwise) hold you back from new people and experiences. Plus, maybe one day you and your friend will find a way to connect again.
It’s been eleven years since I crawled out of the trenches of what I thought at the time was my Pinnacle of Emotional Devastation. I spent some of my darkest days wondering what I could have done differently to save a relationship that I so obviously wasn’t meant to be in. Bonus? Time ended up healing this gaping wound: my friend and I have reconnected. You’ll get through it. I promise.