Friend Breakup

My hesitancy in talking about my friend breakup stems from the fact that it happened with individuals who remain somewhere in my extended social network, and I don’t want to throw shade on them. But a recent conversation alerted me to the fact that friend breakups hurt, and people need help with them. So, potential knife-in-the-back analogy notwithstanding, let me take a stab at this. 

I’ll use pseudonyms. 

I would have told you that Vanessa wasn’t just my best friend, but the best friend I’d ever had. We were both prolific writers, deep thinkers, and astute observers of human nature. I loved our endless philosophizing and the theological co-writing we did. Our thinking tracked so closely that she’d say something and I’d feel as if it had come out of my own brain, only better. But then on a deeply personal level, I could be honest with Vanessa about my heartaches and struggles as a human being, knowing her seemingly endless supply of empathy would flow over me to soothe the pain. That combination of smart and heart in a relationship was a rare jewel and I treasured it. 

I’d been best friends with Vanessa for a few years when Carlie began to work for me. Carlie also exuded sensitivity, compassion, and emotional availability. On a given work day, we’d discuss the challenges of ministry life for an hour or more, praying and strategizing together. I’d been traveling, speaking, and writing for a number of years and it felt good not to be alone. 

Between Vanessa and Carlie, I felt more friend-equipped than ever before. But looking back, it was too good to be true. Vanessa and Carlie were soattentive to my needs and emotions that it almost felt like too much free therapy. I also noticed that they seemed threatened by one another. I’d introduced them, but their own friendship hadn’t really formed yet. Vanessa subtly raised suspicions about Carlie and Carlie broke down in tears when I accidentally called Vanessa my best friend. 

But then they did form a friendship. I looked forward to moving from dyad to triad, broadening the circle of love and support. But it didn’t happen that way. It almost seemed as if they moved from dyads with me to a dyad with each other that excluded me. Bowen’s family systems theory names this phenomenon “triangulation.” Before I knew it, Carlie quit working for me, and both simultaneously began to unleash to the other their gripes and disappointments with Jen. Among other things, they labeled me a “narcissist,” the total unfairness and inaccuracy of which has instilled in me a permanent push back against the overuse of the term. 

But okay, I have narcissistic traits. I let my two friends fawn over me too much. I over-processed my emotions and accepted too much free “therapy.” I learned the hard way that even when a person listens and cares, and even when they invite you to open up (Vanessa used to ask me, “Do you need some couch time?”) you can still wear an empath out. So yeah, mea culpa. Live and learn. But diagnosable, single-out-worthy narcissism? Nah. No more than the covert narcissism of an empath. That charge was more fueled by their unhealthy triangulation than reality. 

Now for the good news. I got back up and moved on. I’ll tell you how it happened if you promise to try this yourself. 

This friend breakup triggered a ferocious three-month bout of depression, suicidal thoughts, and insomnia. I’d lost not one, but two of my closest friends in one fell swoop. The loss of Vanessa’s friendship hurt the most, having been the closest and most long-term. Plus, I felt that Vanessa saw into my soul, as if she knew me almost better than God Himself knew me. If this soul-seer called me a narcissist, maybe I was, I feared. Maybe every time I approached intimacy, my own fatal flaw would lead to the same result, and I’d be repulsed again and again. These thoughts tumbled over one another like a dust devil in the desert of despair. 

Realizing I’d become depressed, I made a small change in my routine—I did my exercise run in the morning light. I remember the moment the boosted serotonin finally nourished my forebrain back into constructive thought. I looked up to heaven and said, “I made mistakes. So did they. I’m no more fatally flawed than anyone. I’ll learn from this and move on. I will find girlfriend love again. Maybe even with Vanessa and Carlie.”  

God blessed that resolve and I’m happy to say my friendship circle is again full. There is life after a friend breakup. In honor of #nationalgirlfriendsday, let’s keep the age-old, nation-, ethnicity- and culture-transcending girlfriend tradition alive. Shout out to my galpals—I love you. Let’s keep it real. 

Kensley, one of my newest friends.

10 thoughts on “Friend Breakup

  1. Linda Chodak Reply

    A friend that had been my confident and partner in crime, so to speak. We worked together, socialized together with our husbands, and we just “got” each other. I knew how politocally biased she was, so I never engaged her on that subject. The , one day, not thinking, I posted joke on FB that did NOT favor her candidate. Poof!!!!! That was it. She responded some choice words to me, unfriended me, blocked me, and 20 yeats of friendship was gone. Just like that. I just couldn’t understand a mindset like that. To ME, our friendship was worth much more than differences in politics. It has been 4 years and I still feel a twinge of sadness now and then.

    • Jennifer Schwirzer Post authorReply

      Wow, Linda, that’s very striking. How attached people become to their candidates–but the world of politics is more and more a ship of fools. How can we make flesh our arm? At any rate, I’ll admit my political biases preemptively after this!

    • Donna Failes Reply

      Interesting, Linda. I too, have a friend and have been corresponding for over 20 years. Even when we lived close to each other, we did not visit each other much.. not sure why. I moved several years ago a few states away. She did come to visit me but not sure why. She stayed on her cell phone great majority of the time while at my place. Now, she loves a certain person in politics while I do not. I NEVER bring up politics while on the phone but she does come back at me on FB when I say something about her favorite person. Since I had never thought to question her about her political affiliation or who she liked, etc., it was a shock to find out who she did like !!! I never would have thought she would like this person. Complete shock! Again, when we talk on the phone, politics is never mentioned but ONLY on FB. I figure, if I lose her friendship over my posts on FB, so be it. But… I realized after her visit to me that we weren’t really as close as I thought. She spent more time on the phone than she did talking to me during that visit. I am so sorry about your friend. That is so sad. Sounds like you two were very close and to be dismissed in such a way and because of differences in opinion is again, so sad. and troubling. When it came to my son, He would tell me his opinion on a matter and then I would give him my opinion and sometimes we did not agree. He would get upset when I disagreed with him sometimes claiming this meant that I hated him or the other person. I told him… Hey, Adam…you told me your opinion; you do this all the time. You want to give YOUR opinion but you don’t want to hear others honest opinion. Is this fair? Is it right? . He finally got it! I wonder if this is what your friend was feeling????

  2. Donna Failes Reply

    Thank you, Jennifer, for this. This has come at a time when I needed it. Yes.. sometimes I wonder, “Am I a narcissist?” One thing I have come to realize….I like being around the kids than I do adults! They are pretty honest about their feelings. So many people have told me “at first” how they love me and when this started happening, I believed it.. I guess because I wanted to? Loved hearing that because I have never had anyone that really loved me, except for my heavenly Father? But… another hard lesson….. pretty soon that “I love you” turns into “I don’t like you” or something aken to that. What have I discovered is this…. what people are truly saying when they say they love you is this…. they love what you do for them !!! When you don’t do what they want you to do, all of a sudden that “I love you” goes out the door. Do you agree with this, Jennifer? And I would love for you, Jennifer, to address this sometime. When you have time, of course! ahahahah..

    • Jennifer Schwirzer Post authorReply

      Donna, it is true that most of us are focused on what others can do for us, and we enjoy relationships only to the point where they minister to our pleasure and wants. But God can fill us with His Spirit and push us beyond that point, teaching us how to love sacrificially. Romans 5:5.

  3. erickajen Reply

    I’d often thought that a bff would have to be someone who thought just like you about everything – or if not everything, at least the big things/obsessions I have. I’ve hesrd many aspies related the same thing.
    My current BFFs include a girl from college who lives in ok (and I in Mn 🙁 ) and another girl right nearby me. They weren’t like, some huge big light bulb “WE’RE BESTIES” type girls… they just kinda snuck into the crevasses of my messy self. It suits me. There are regrets that I didn’t take them more seriously especially my friend from college because we only had that one year. But I’m so grateful we can still keep in close touch. And I’ve added a few potential besties to my list as well and that’s so nice. It’s freeing to not have to have them be just like me. It was almost like in my inability to be perfect in everything, I expected someone else to be “for me”. Letting go of that crap was life altering world changing stuff.

  4. Isabel Reply

    I feel for you Jen, but rejoice with you too as you found new friends to “fill” the void of old ones gone by. I too have suffered (in a very big way) the loss of who I thought was a close friend (like a sister I once told myself – the sister I never had). It took a long time to recover, but it was when I realized why I was suffering so much that I was able to pick up the pieces and move on. I gave too much, trusted too much, and assumed too much. Even though I was the one who “messed up” initially, our history made no difference and the relationship was never restored. It is unfortunate, but I have learned a great lesson – only give as much as you are being given. The effort balance is critical for a healthy relationship. I still miss my friend, but will never again be the one driving the relationship. I am worth too much to do that again.

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