BFF Breakups: How Much Explanation is Necessary

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?


Filed under The Search

28 responses to “BFF Breakups: How Much Explanation is Necessary

  1. L

    I think it’s your job to communicate if she did someTHING wrong (steal your boyfriend, post terrible things about you online, etc), but if it’s her personality that’s wearing (drama queen, toxic negativity, etc) and you just need to kind of freeze that out of your life, I don’t think communication is necessary.
    Through communication, she can learn a lesson about not making choices to steal boyfriends,etc in the future…but basically telling someone their personality is ‘wrong’ isn’t right. She might have plenty of other people who support and enjoy her personality…so in that case, I say just accept the issue is you- what YOU’re looking for in a friend. So just end it and move forward. (That comes with a disclaimer that each friendship is different; no blanket rule would apply to everyone!)

    • I agree – it’s almost like if you explained why and it wasn’t some “headline” reason, you could run into the whole, “I can change!” issue, which is similar to romantic relationships.

      “It’s just not working out and I don’t think our personalities mesh the way I need them to,” could be a proper explanation that would save the dump-ee from years of wondering and the dump-er from the breakup being dragged out.

  2. Amanda

    “It feels a little too intense to be someone’s teacher or parent and tell her how to correct her friendship behavior.”

    Translation: I’m a gutless wonder when it comes to communication, and respecting other humans enough to bring courtesy to bear when it is most needed, might infringe on… I don’t know… but I’m sure it’s in the Constitution somewhere. My rights! Something something…

    If you decide you are going to end a friendship, which you bear some responsibility for entering into in the first place, it is incumbent on you to be kind in the words you speak to your friend. Surely it can’t inconvenience your day that much to offer your friend one final act of respect, in honor of whatever friendship you had, before you end it. If your friend is prone to violence, then by all means, end it by calling the police and getting a restraining order. Short of that, the “I’ll just stop answering her calls and/or be really busy” approach is for girls who keep company with cowardice.

    I realize I basically walked out of the 1850s here, but whatever. It’s still the right thing to do.

    • Anonymous

      No, Amanda, you didn’t. Thank you for posting that – I agree with you 100%. And, for the poster who commented later that she would just move on with no explanation and if she never heard from the other person again, that meant that they were not invested in the friendship, such action is, IMO, cowardly – it basically says that you don’t have to take responsibility for the friendship, but the other person does.

      Not to get too intense about it or anything, but it sounds like the “friends” of people who think it’s OK to end a friendship by just not returning calls or saying that they are upset about something (or put off by something) are actually being done a favor: the so-called “friend” is revealed to not have been that much of a friend.

  3. I remember in junior high telling my best friend since 2nd grade that if she continued to do drugs (she’d started experimenting about a month prior to this conversation…we were 12…) that I couldn’t hang out with her anymore. Drugs made me very uncomfortable and I didn’t want to be there when that all went downhill (which it did, sophomore year). She wasn’t very happy and had no intentions of stopping. We broke up that day and it wasn’t until senior year of high school that we really started talking again (when she finally got out of that scene.)

    I had a friend in high school tell me that she didn’t think we could hang out anymore. She said that she felt we were going down different paths. I was devastated because this friend was one of my favorite people. She never really said what was wrong, but a year later I found out she was dealing drugs. I guess that’s the path she was talking about.

    Ok…I find it odd that the two big break ups that I had in my teens were over drugs. Hm.

  4. Marie

    This post brings up so many memories. It’s strange I have a couple patterns of the strange BFF breakups. I’ve lost 5 different BFFs because of long distance moves. And 4 of those were prior to high school/college! I started to get a complex since my hometown didn’t really have that many people moving in or out of it.

    Then my two high school BFFs (hated each other so it wasn’t a conspiracy) both got married without telling me they were even engaged or inviting me to the wedding. And they got married in college and right after so we were still close. I was asked by mutual friends why I wasn’t at the weddings and even why I wasn’t a bridesmaid in both cases. Odd! The only thing I can figure is that they were mad at me for not calling to congratulate them on their engagement. But I hadn’t heard about either engagement until after the weddings had occurred. This is all prior to the internet.

  5. HipWaldorf

    I wrote that comment yesterday about “being too intense….” I agree if the break-up is precipitated by a specific event or behavior, then by all means communicate that. But to spend time explaining why your friendship chemistry doesn’t mesh is pointless and often unnecessarily hurtful.

    I have had friends that get mean when they drink or are dysfuntional with interpersonal issues that you KNOW cannot have a rational discussion with you because they are very defensive, so I would rather not engage them in a “psychological type” discussion. Odd thing is these types of friends I would like to keep because they are outrageously funny and interesting, but when they are in a “bad state” they are nmean and nasty, which is just plain sad.

    • Suzannah

      I feel a conversation is only appropriate in the closest of friendships….I never have seen that sort of talk, the ” let me tell you why I don’t want you in my life any more” …do much but hurt & and cause HUGE self doubt….
      Really I am having a hard enough time figuring out who I am & recognizing my own character flaws…to then try to explain to someone , what about them doesn’t fit in my life & why we don’t need to pursue a relationship any further…it doesn’t matter, it is my perspective, not the gospel truth….
      But that being said there are kinder ways to distance yourself than just silence…unless a huge transgression has occurred then there is not a quick exit from friendships..
      This topic is the exact reason I take a long time to get close to a person, I do not want to feel I am commited, til I am certain of the person and their character…

  6. Jules

    I can see both aides to this being a dumper and a dumpee.
    I sent through a shocking divorce 2 yrs ago, literally mind altering heart breaking stuff and my BFF stuck by me and totally took me under her wing. Then about 6 months into it when I met my now fiancé she stopped all contact. I tried calling, texting mailing for a good year after that. I was a bit pathetic, I missed her, I still do! I really have no idea what I did all I cans is suspect that she just couldn’t cope with hearing me go on about my ex again. Or that she was jellous I couldn’t be her and he DH’d 3rd wheel anymore.

  7. Jules

    Oops pressed post to soon.
    Then I did the same thing o a friend, we weren’t bestows but had gone through a break up at similar times and jelled. She just got so annoying in her self destructive behavior and then ran back to him when she ran out of money. I totally disagree with what she did as she has a son admit just messes with his head ‘are they together are They not!’ her boyfriend instantly for her pregnant but still refuses to marry her though it’s what she left for in the first place (well one of many reasons) I just stopped texting, stopped replying and cut right back on what see can see on my Facebook so we are still ‘friends’ but our communication is limited, this seems to have given her the hint and she backed right of. So it’s a polite break up. I’m not a bitch after all. Not like my ex BFF!

  8. Lorrie Paige

    I have explained in the past, but have learned it’s pretty much pointless….So I tend to move on, but if they ask what’s wrong, then I explain (I appreciate when they ask, because at least it shows they are concerned about the relationship). But most times, I never hear from them again, which, to me, validates that they didn’t have much interest in the friendship to begin with.

    If a person really cares about the relationship, they will want to know what’s wrong, in hopes of improving relations.

  9. I am conflicted on this. I am a person who does not like confrontation much, but I can see both sides of this argument.

    First, I can see the quietly disappearing thing because I don’t want to hurt the person anymore. And I’m also afraid that if I am ready to get out of the relationship, but I have a talk with them about things, they will convince me to stay in the relationship – which, at that point, would not be healthy.

    On the other hand, if a person has done something specific – I think you should tell them. I’ve only had a couple of break ups (and quite a few more drifting aparts) that I am aware of. But the one that still sticks with me is one that happened almost two years ago. I talked with my bff and her behavior did not change. Unfortunately, this was extremely hard as we were living together at the time. But once I had talked with her once and explained my situation, I couldn’t go through it again and again, and didn’t feel like I should have to.

    So, I guess that if you’re going to have the courage and integrity to meet with your friend to talk about why you’re breaking up and she agrees to stick around and things don’t get better, you don’t owe her any other explanation and can fade away as quietly as possible.

  10. This blog is awesome.

  11. I think that everyone here has a good point. Ending a friendship is all about the situation! If your ex-friend-to-be will benefit from hashing it out, either by sitting down and talking or just plan arguing, then do it. If she is crazy and/or has the type of personality where she is always right don’t feel guilty if you just cut all ties. No conversation needed. Thats what happened when I ended by relationship with by high school BFF. There was distance between use because we attended to different colleges and when she planned on visiting she violated Friendship Rule #1: No Judging! It was even over something so stupid but I guess she had her reasons. I then went out of my way to work on our friendship but it wasnt the same. The final straw is when she threw a suprise viset on me. I dropped everything I was doing for her, she was my friend after all right? The rest of the night I had to listen to her negativity towards me. She was so rude. After she left I felt so awful about my self I wanted to cry. It was then I realized that our friendship was over and the best thing to do was to cut all ties. So thats what I did. Maybe it was a little childish but I just couldn’t and didn’t want to deal with her negativity and putting me down. There is NO need for that!


  12. Julia

    I feel, and Dear Abby feels the same way, that if you are a true friend to someone (ie, you’re being a friend to them, regardless of whether they’re being a good friend to you at the moment) and you’re breaking up the friendship, you do need to tell them where they’re messing up. Unless they already know, and you’ve had discussions about it before. Because that person may have no idea they’re doing something to ruin the friendship and they are not a mind reader; do you think they would do it continually if they knew? So yes, it’s the right thing to do, and more importantly, the KIND thing to do.

    This also applies if they have a hygiene, illness, or depression problem that they are unaware of/ignoring. Double if they ask if it’s affecting the friendship or their career. They may not appreciate it at the time or like what you have to say, but it’s still the right thing to do. I would also caution that you need to say it in the right way, as well.

    If you’re too chicken to tell them what’s gone wrong because it’s easier to ignore it and let the friendship slip away, shame on you. I’d say the only exception is if your friend has a serious mental illness (paranoia, delusions, severe anger problems) but refuses help of any kind. But in general, no one wants to be left behind and not know why; is causes a lot of anguish and shame. No one *ever* wants to be treated that way.

    • HipWaldorf

      I have always shared the reason why a relationship has ended, except when the friend is volatile (for whatever reason).

      No shaming is necessary in blogs, I am sure Dear Abby would not aprove of public shaming.

  13. When I first read this I thought back on the times that I remember having been the one broken up with, I couldn’t remember times that I had been the break upper. One of the aspects that struck me is that no one has yet discussed the role of mutual friends.
    I had two friends “break up” with me. Both of the breakups were abrupt and took me completely off guard, and both of them happened electronically, one through IM and one through email. Strangely enough, one of them was rekindled about a year after the breakup, because my bff and I had a mutual friend who we would both see, and who would consistently ask us why we were no longer friends. For my part, I know that I would ask after her, and I assume she would also ask after me. Slowly we rebuilt the friendship, and she was one of my bridesmaids at my wedding.
    In the second instance my friend and I no longer had mutual friends, and while I found the breakup jarring, I was not as upset at losing the friend as I was about the suddenness of it. I have recently spoken to someone who was a mutual friend of ours, and he shared that he has also lost touch with her.

    The final anecdote I would like to share is of a time that I was the one doing the breaking up. I had the unfortunate experience in college of needing to get a restraining order against an ex boyfriend, and I had two roommates at the time who had been witness to his emotionally abusive behavior, and who I asked to testify about what they had seen. One of them said she would not, not because she didn’t think I needed to have the order (she did) but because some of her other friends said that they would stop speaking her. While I don’t begrudge her the choice she made, I did feel that I couldn’t maintain the friendship any longer. At the time the pain was so raw that I was unable to talk to my friend in person, though I did share my reasons with my other roommate, I expect that at that time my reasons were fairly transparent but it was good to know that I had left the information so that she could find out if she was interested. In my case, mutual friends played an integral role in friend breakup/ rekindlings.

    • Suzannah

      There is a lady, actually a charming & extremely engaging , just over all completely likable….BUT in the few short years (almost 5), I have known her …she has been kind enough to let 4 different ladies know exactly what is ‘wrong” with them and why their friendships is not working out. One of the women took the criticism to heart, really shook her confidence.
      So I still believe useless you have an actual transgression that has occurred, you have no reason to tell another person things such as ….you are immature, self centered, boring, needy or really any negative character trait. Those are opinions.
      It is perfectly socially acceptable to just decide a particular friendship is not something you want to devote as much energy to anymore and move on. Not complete silence but the slow fade, I believe Shasta ( another blog) said most friendships last around 7 yrs anyway.

  14. Hannah

    One of my BFF’s and I hit heads a lot. Mainly it’s me wondering what I did wrong this time because she is usually mad at me. But after reading this post, I realized that everything that she’s mad at me for is because I’m just being me. I’ve been really close with this friend for about three years now, and I don’t want to lose our friendship at all. But how am I supposed to be me if she keeps getting mad at me for it?

  15. Layla

    Wow, thank you for writing about this topic 🙂 The comments are really interesting too… I guess it would also be really hard to tell someone why you are better off not being friends, without making them feel like it’s their “fault” And there would be the problem that she might desperately say “OK I can change, please stay friends.” I’m not sure I’d could do it…

    I just hope I never have to break up with any of my friends. I’m really lucky to have pretty much drama-free friendships 🙂

  16. M

    Wow Rachel, these last few blogs have really hit a nerve with me and with others as well!
    I agree that it depends on the situation and what the offense actually was. However, what do you do with a friend who obviously doesn’t want to be friends anymore but keeps acting as if everything is fine? You know, the friend that you have a fight with and on the surface everything seems fine but no matter what you do or say, nothing about that friendship will ever be fine again.

    Great Blog! Keep writing and I’ll keep reading!

  17. Pingback: The Scariest – and best – thing about having a blog | My Blog

  18. I recently attempted to talk to a friend about her behavior. After talking it over with the other person who was wronged, it turns out our mutual friend was spinning lies/fabrications to both of us. It was a hard lesson because this was someone we both trusted. She had no remorse and I doubt her behavior is going to change. There are some innate character traits that I don’t believe people can alter.

    • HipWaldorf

      That sums it up for me! I goes full circle with the theme of the original blog post… “It feels a little too intense to be someone’s teacher or parent and tell her how to correct her friendship behavior.”……..because…….

      “There are some innate character traits that I don’t believe people can alter.”

      Well said!

  19. Ashley

    Ok so the ex- friend that I spoke about earlier well she contacted me last night. And I believe that it was in the manic stage of her bi-polar disorder b/c she left me 2 text message, 1 FB message and 2 FB wall posts. Then today she left me another FB message. It was pretty clear to me that our friendship ended 2 years ago, the last time we talked. Now with these new messages about reconnecting has me confused on what to do. I don’t want to upset her or myself by bringing up things that happened 2 years ago and I have no intention of reconnecting. So do I even respond? My boyfriend says to just ignore it and I probably would just do that without question if not for reading all of the above posts. So friends what do you think?

    • Suzannah

      Ok Ashley- for whatever it is worth. This small phrase has helped me decide about if person belongs in my life.
      “When someone shows you are they are, Believe them.”
      So who is she? Think about if she has shown qualities that make the friendship worth pursuing or if you have just made excuses for her.

      • I agree with all the above comments that if it was a very specific offense (or the last straw of similar offenses), then it makes perfect sense to explain it to the person. I have been on both sides of that situation – the one where I was the one pointing out the offense, I made sure to contact her soon after so that she knew it wasn’t an “breakup” but that I just needed to get it out in the open (very old friendship worth saving). The one where I got spoken to, it definitely gave me something to think about, but the way that the friend told me what I had done wrong was so rude that I actually never pursued the friendship again.

        I’m in a situation now where part of me thinks I should explain to my friend why I don’t want her in my life much anymore, but since one of the reasons is that whenever I talk to her about any personal problems, she takes the opportunity to point out something “wrong” with me…so I can just envision the result of that conversation! I don’t think she has ever been wrong in her life if you ask her, so what would be the point of opening that can of worms? I was going to just do the slow (but still polite and responsive) fade, but since another major problem is her constantly flaking out on me, well, I assume she wouldn’t notice anyway!

        I love Suzannah’s phrase above! I guess what it boils down to is, who she actually is is not who I want for a friend.

  20. Pingback: BFF Breakups: The Receiving End | MWF Seeking BFF

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