An interesting discussion emerged from yesterday’s post about how to handle the aftermath of a friend breakup. It was not so much about how we communicate after the breakup so much as during the breakup.
One reader said she was curious about “how you can communicate with the break-up-ee so she knows what was wrong, and can move on and have healthy relationships with other people without repeating the same problem.” The reader cited some encounters she had back in 7th and 9th grade, one of which ended with a friend “dumping” her and never explaining why.
The comment might as well have sent me spiraling back fifteen years in the DeLorean. During the years from fifth to eighth grade, I got in plenty of fights with friends. In my recollection (which is admittedly cloudy, it was a while ago), the fights were mostly due to friends getting mad at me, not the other way around, and I almost always didn’t know why. I’d go to school one day to suddenly find I was on my BFF’s bad side. My memory of the conversations goes something like this:
Me: Why are you mad at me? What did I do?
BFF: You know what you did.
Me: Um no, I don’t.
BFF: Well, you should.
(The resemblance to a recent Phil-and-Claire Dunphy fight is uncanny. If you haven’t seen this Modern Family episode, go directly here. You’re welcome.)
Knowing that a friend is mad at you, or breaking up with you entirely, and not knowing why feels like crap. You’re helpless and confused and wondering if maybe you didn’t do anything at all. Maybe the “thing you did” was just being yourself. And nothing feels worse, especially when you’re in middle school, than realizing that just being yourself is enough to make someone defriend you.
So, yeah. I identified with this reader. Perhaps she still has some residual frustrations with ex-friends who never communicated what crime she committed, but I’ve been there too. And, yes, I’m still bitter. The fair thing to do, if you’re ending a friendship, is to at least tell her why it’s over. “You know what you did,” is a cop out and oh-so-frustrating. How is someone supposed to change her behavior when she doesn’t know what the bad behavior was in the first place?
But then, on the other hand, is this reader who wrote: “It feels a little too intense to be someone’s teacher or parent and tell her how to correct her friendship behavior.” She says we’re adults, and it’s not our job to coach an ex (or soon-to-be ex) pal on how to be a better friend. This is also a fair point. If someone’s a bad friend, is it really our job to show her the error of her ways?
What say you? When you’re angry with a friend, or breaking up with her, do you communicate what she did wrong? Or choose to separate yourself and move on? And if you do explain her wrongdoings, what does that conversation sound like?