Friendships and Heartbreak

Image Credit: Ellen Nugent

I don’t want to be your friend anymore. Those words don’t easily roll off the tongue and they’re not any easier to type out and hit ‘send’.

I don’t think we should be friends anymore. I don’t imagine it’s any easier to hear those words. Relationships, particularly friendships, never really end in such a sober way. It’s always more convoluted than that and perhaps that’s the problem. 

“Do you want to catch up this evening?”

“I can’t, I’m busy”

Busy often becomes a synonym for hurt, angry or just not interested. I’ve noticed how easy it is to betray language in friendships.

How do you know when a friendship isn’t working anymore? How do you know when you have a toxic friend? Or when you are the toxic friend? The answers to these questions are not clear cut and probably vary against vast categories of opinions, personality types or temperaments. No one wants to be the offended friend or the offender, so both posts are often abandoned.

We live in such a capitalist society that measures people’s worthiness based on what they can give or do. Friendship has become the new word for networking where we associate with people purely for professional or personal gain. We are encouraged to literally consume human beings based on what they have to offer us, while at the same time we are told that we don’t owe anyone anything. Inevitably, something is bound to go wrong somewhere, and it does. 

I’m learning that adulthood will literally force a new identity upon you. Interests and boundaries change, and you find yourself growing apart from people you so casually promised to always be friends with. 

“Best friends for life.”

“I’ll always be there for you.”

Once again you betray language but this time, fate laughs at how fickle language might actually be. As much as you want to stay friends, you just can’t. Maybe this is life’s way of showing us that desire has limitations. I remember falling out with someone I was friends with for over 8 years but how I was still determined against the limitations of desire to stay friends. One part of me felt like a fraud while the other part of me felt like a saint, upholding promises seemed like such a godly and divine thing to do at the time. 

Memories and nostalgia play an interesting role in heartbreak. The tension between nostalgia and reality is confusing. The construct of this imagined world is almost taunting, but sometimes comforting. Whether it is a slow death or a dramatic end, the aftermath of heartbreak is always certain - no matter how good you are at practising detachment. I still don’t understand the science behind why we try to avoid the inevitable. And why we do anything to fight against fate even if it means holding back parts of ourselves in hopes that self-sacrifice would atone.

It sounds like the plot of a depressing rom-com but that’s the point. Romantic breakups are more broadly accepted. It seems juvenile to be upset that you’re no longer friends with someone and it makes sense that someone would invest so much into a romantic partner, but why would you do the same for a friend? While I would assert that it is possible to navigate life without a particular love interest, I don’t know if the same can be said about friendships.  

Media plays an interesting role in this. Sitcoms and movies, especially chick-flicks, are filled with the typical 'best friends' trope. They often symbolise the importance of female friendships, in particular. There are two main tropes, we either see competitors masked as friends who secretly hate each other and feel threatened by each other, or the unrealistic BFF / ride or die trope. Everyone knows there is a disconnect and real-life friendships rarely occupy either trope.

I’m interested in the disconnect and the nuance that perhaps isn’t portrayed through media. There are things no one expresses and things no one teaches about friendships. We say “do what’s best for you” when it comes to handling friends but is this not more confusing than empowering as it exposes how much we don’t know ourselves and our desires.

Friendships are a gift, and they are desperately needed, now more than ever. Some of my best and worst memories have been anchored by friends. Life hinges on paradoxes. I’m teaching myself not to place my dignity in the institution but to somehow remember that is important. I’m merging personal autonomy and agency against the fact that we only ever exist in relationships. Those threatening aspects for the fact that relationships are therapeutic. It’s easy to become disillusioned in ourselves but possible to find our reality in relationships, particularly friendships, as a place where we discover and reinvent ourselves.