(“Frienaissance” is an expression I stole from the show Friends, when Joey and Phoebe go on a road trip together to renew their friendship. Joey falls asleep, making Phoebe do all the driving, and has to patch things up by serenading her with David Bowie’s Space Oddity. I loved this word so much I had to steal it for myself.)
I’ve broken up with a lot of friends over the past 10 years. There are people who I believe I will stay in my life forever, and there are those people you just outgrow and drift apart from, or you realize they’re sucking your will to live, or fucking your partner, or stealing your money, and you just have to cut the cord. I’ve had some pretty epic friend breakups: a co-worker (who I think was secretly in love with me) who held my favorite pair of shoes hostage until she could give me a “piece of her mind” which included telling me I’m a “fat bitch with mental problems.” A former BFF who ruthlessly trashed talked me to a mutual friend in the bathroom of a goth club, not knowing I was in a stall and could hear everything, then tried to win me back by offering to buy me a bike. An ex-lover-turned-friend who inexplicably snapped at me when I offered to take him out to Indian food for his birthday (we’re somehow still friends 6 years later- we friend break up and get back together on a regular basis, to the point that I don’t pay it much mind when we have a falling out.)
Mostly, I feel pretty good and secure when I decide to end a friendship, even if it sucks. I also know that friend breakups are not always permanent. Often the hardest breakups are with friends you shared a deep intimacy with, when they break your heart by disappointing you in some awful way. Sometimes you just need a year or three apart from a friend like that, time to let wounds heal. But if I find if I’m still missing someone a year after a friend breakup, that maybe it’s time to give them a second chance. (Of course, there’s no guarantee they’ll want that too, but in many cases the feeling will be mutual).
Unlike getting back together with an ex, which sometimes works but usually doesn’t (though a friend of mine is now happily married to and has a child with the man who was her first, and is now her second husband- the timing was just off the first time around), I find that rebuilding a friendship after a breakup- a frienaissance, if you will- can be unexpectedly successful and rewarding.
In the past year or so, I’ve let three formerly estranged close friends back into my life, and I have no regrets about it. In some cases, our friendships re-emerged from the flames stronger and better than ever. Here are my tips for how to do this without tears:
1. Forgive them, if you can. Especially if the slight happened years ago. There’s no point in holding onto the bitterness if you still care about this person enough to want them in your life.
2. Choose friends over lovers. Finding out your best friend is having a secret affair with your spouse is unforgiveable, but if you friend dumped a person because they made out with your ex back in college, drop it. Friendships tend to have more staying power than romantic relationships anyway, and if you decide to romantically commit to someone for the long haul, it’s probably because they’re a great friend to you, as well as your lover.
3. Understand that your friend have probably grown and changed in your time apart, and don’t expect them to be the same person as before. Hopefully the change is for the better, and you discover new things to love about this person.
4. Understand that they still may annoy you. If their annoying tendencies are what led to your breakup in the first place, ask yourself if the friendship is valuable enough to overlook the irritating behavior if it’s relatively inconsequential.
5. Understand that the friendship may not take the same form this time around. You may be less close this time, and see each other less often. Or you may become closer for having weathered to falling out.
6. It might not work. You’ll figure this out pretty quickly. Resist the urge to re-dump over a triviality, but if things really aren’t working out the second time around, it’s fine to exit gracefully.
Another note: take care of the friendships that really matter to you NOW, before things go south. Sure, you have 600 friends on facebook, but pick 2 or 3 that really matter to you in meatspace, and take good care of them, and they’ll take good care of you. There’s no better long term investment you can make than treating the people who matter to you with love.