It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“Experts at Manchester University claim the bonds of friendship are so deep that splitting with even unwanted pals leads to ‘terrible’ guilt. And women in particular find it more traumatic to dump their friends than they do their lovers.” (The Daily Telegraph, April 13, 2010)
Friendship breakups are a loaded topic. I haven’t broached them yet because I haven’t known where to start. I figured I’d wait until I had to break up with someone myself, and then I could come to you all for advice and a rousing chorus of “don’t feel guilty, you’re doing the right thing.” But the truth is that I don’t anticipate a BFF breakup in my future, just as there hasn’t been one in my recent—or distant, actually—past. Because even when there have been times where I thought, “I just need to end this,” I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Too stressful. Too…mean.
But then, two weeks ago, a team of sociologists produced the finding above from a study of more than 200 people. And here we are.
It doesn’t surprise me that, for women, breaking up with a friend carries more guilt than breaking up with a lover. When you enter into a romantic relationship there is an understanding, even if it’s unspoken, that it could end. (I’m thinking lovers=boyfriends/girlfriends in this case, not spouses. Though the study didn’t specify. Just said “lovers.” How European.) With friends, that’s not the case. Sure you might drift apart one day, talk once a month rather than once a day, but the friendship contract is, in theory, never ending.
There’s also the idea that with a romantic relationship, you’re moving towards something, hoping to one day cross the marriage finish line. (Marriage is not for everyone, I know, but the idea is that you’re progressing toward a partnership. It’s that “us against the world” mentality.) If you don’t see a future with a lover, you know you’ve got to end it (eventually). Not really the case for BFFs. With friends, you end it because you can’t handle the present. Because no amount of dodged phone calls or rescheduled dates will relieve the stress of having that person in your life. (The study says that, for women, “slinking away” is the friendship-ending method of choice. We avoid the whole break-up talk. I know that’d be my go-to. More cowardly, but so much less painful than a real confrontation.)
I think dumping a friend is undoubtedly harder than dumping a boyfriend. Telling a buddy that, sorry, I don’t like you anymore…just the thought of it ties my stomach in knots. There is no easy cliché, no “it’s not you it’s me.” With friend breakups, it’s definitely you. You’re toxic. Or you suck the air out of the room. Or you ask too much of me when I have only so much to give. But how in the world do you tell someone that?
Have you had to break up with a friend recently? Did you think it was harder than breaking up with a romantic partner? Do you try the “slink away” approach first? Either way, was the guilt debilitating?