Columns

Al-Salem ’17: Friends can break your heart, too

By
Staff Columnist
Wednesday, April 6, 2016

When a couple breaks up, there are certain things that are allowed and accepted to happen. You have the obligatory ice-cream-and-sob fests with your closest friends, your mutual friends use the significant other’s name lightly around you, and you’re allowed to be heartbroken about it. There are thousands of love songs and movies dedicated to the idea of heartbreak and lost loves, and there is solace in knowing you’re not alone. But when you break up with a platonic best friend, no matter how many years you have been friends, there is no space for all your heartbreak because you’re not expected to be that sad about it.

I can’t talk about this breakup with a two-year best friend without someone asking me, “Were you guys in a relationship or something?” (For the sake of anonymity, this friend will be called Sally.) Even though we weren’t, the emotional impact of our falling out was at least comparable to that of a romantic breakup. That was in early November, and six months later I still feel like I’m trying to heal from it. What makes it difficult to heal is not being able to talk about it because mutual friends don’t want to be involved in, or even be aware of, falling outs. So you’re forced to just smile and nod when they say things like, “The two of you should watch this movie” or “Did you know this happened to Sally?” It’s almost an unspoken rule that you can’t say, “No, actually, sorry, I am no longer friends with Sally.” On the contrary, if this had been a romantic breakup, you would have received sympathetic apologies had you acknowledged the breakup.

But I want to say that breaking up with a best friend does hurt, and I will listen to love songs and watch sad romance movies and feel no shame in relating the emotions depicted to my own. Friendships don’t get enough credit for the role they play in our emotional well-being and growth. You do everything from binge-watching TV shows for three days straight to crying about rejection together. You allow yourself to be totally, completely vulnerable and exposed — an aspect many believe is only experienced in a romantic relationship because of its sexual nature. But I believe the level of honesty between two good friends is rawer than that of a romantic relationship. You become blissfully unashamed and true to yourself around your best friend. I find that many yearn for romantic love like it’s the only thing that can complete us, but I have always felt that friendships can complete you in much fuller ways. Sally was the person I exposed myself most to in a way I don’t think I will ever be able to again. My friendship with Sally was the closest thing to a romantic relationship I have ever known, and though romantic relationships are given more weight and meaning, again I ask: Why is it so much more awkward and uncomfortable to talk about friendships falling out? I have a sneaking suspicion that most people believe “friend fights” are temporary and that it will all sort itself out. But that in itself undermines how heartbreaking it is when two parties of a friendship know it’s over.

This lost connection became more pronounced to me when recently, in the midst of an emotional uproar of an experience, I thought that I could only be consoled by Sally, even though it had been so long. So I called, and she answered, and in that moment I realized just how much space there was between us and that we could never recover from this. I hung up very quickly, and I called my best friend from back home instead. In her I found the love and concern I was looking for, but I was so torn up about the fact that I had allowed Sally to see just how much I needed her, and how she no longer needs me. The people Sally and I were when we first met no longer exist, and there is a loss that should be allowed to be articulated when friends experience this. I wanted to tell someone just how terrible and lonely this felt, but I couldn’t because, again, friendships aren’t in the same arena as romantic relationships — they shouldn’t be taken this seriously.

So I’d like to take this space to wallow in the burnt ashes of this friendship, where neither of us intended to hurt the other, but we did anyway. I want to acknowledge just how much I did love this person, and how hard it will be to let go because of that love. I want to ask that friendship breakups be acknowledged in the same vein as romantic breakups because heartbreak exists for both. I want to take this space for anyone who has experienced a lost friendship, and I want to say you shouldn’t apologize for feeling like you’ve broken up with a significant other. Because as Aristotle once wrote, “What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.”

Sara Al-Salem ’17 can be reached at sara_al-salem@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.