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#518: I broke up with my mean friend, so why do I still miss her?

Dear Captain Awkward,

A few years ago, I broke up with a friend who’d been casually shitty
to me for the majority of our friendship. Shauna is smart, witty, and
gets my sense of humor. We met and become close friends in high
school. Junior year, she ditched me for an ever-changing rotation of
BFFs, and the timing was tough because I was dealing with heavy family
stuff. But we kept in touch sporadically, and reconnected after
college. We ended up working at the same place and became pretty
tight, but grew apart after we both moved on to other jobs — but were
still close enough that she was a bridesmaid in my wedding.

Despite the brief flashes of closeness, our overall friendship was
lousy on my end. Shauna’s all-about-me and our relationship was based
on her needs 90% of the time. I mostly felt exhausted by her drama
and stressed out by her demands. But for reasons I still don’t get, I
valued the relationship and did my part to be a good friend. Happily,
I finally had a moment of clarity when she stood me up for dinner,
with no apology, after several months of escalating rudeness. I did a
quick fade – no big announcement, just a total end to calls & invites
and increasingly slow responses to emails & texts. I was upset over
the lousy treatment but overall felt happier and more hopeful. We’ve
barely spoken in the 3 years since. My other friends who know her
aren’t surprised – they think she’s a self-involved flake.

Shortly after I tapped out, she met a guy. Recently, they got
married. In the many months leading up to their wedding, her
endlessly facebooking started to get me really down. (Thought train: 5
years ago, she was in my wedding. Today, we’re barely in touch.
Result: Sadness. Baked goods.) I hid her feed for a while and thought
I was over it. Apparently not so much.

I don’t hate her, I’m not nostalgic, I definitely don’t want to
restart being in each other’s lives. I’m just… sad. And I’m
starting to want to kick my own ass. Why am I having such trouble
moving on from an unrewarding – actually, negative and draining –
relationship? I have some major life stress going on right now –
beyond my control health and family stuff — but am otherwise pretty
happy.

You have an uncanny ability to unravel fused layers of unconscious
baggage, and I could really use some clarity. Any thoughts on grieving
a non-loss? This particular sore spot has been hanging on way too
long.

I have a simple-but-not-easy answer for you:

If the mean people in our lives were crappy 100% of the time, it would be easy to leave them. We would shrink from becoming friends with them or jump aboard the nope rocket in the early stages of trouble, and we would feel only relief when they are gone from our lives.

The problem is that very few people are evil all the time. They don’t wear villain costumes purchased at ForeverEvil. They don’t laugh maniacally and stroke their evil goatees while monologuing about their evil plans. They appear in our lives as People-Who-Would-Be-Awesome-Except-For-That-One-Glaring-Problem. They have potential to be awesome, and sometimes they are awesome, and they make us feel awesome, so we relax and let out that breath we’ve been holding in, and then BAM! They show their mean side, and we do a ton of mental work trying to reconcile the mean stuff with the awesome stuff.

Breaking up brings relief, as you lose the constant mental labor of managing the relationship AND the stress of being constantly disappointed and hurt, but it also brings grief. Shitty people who forget your birthday and give little backhanded compliments and gossip about your secrets sometimes give really good hugs, or presents, or are your favorite people to get drunk and watch figure-skating with, or were the sole witness to an important time in your life. The good times were real.

Sometimes selfish friends can be converted into small doses friends, where you get to hold onto a little bit of the good stuff but release yourself from the toxic stuff. But sometimes you’ve got to deliver the African Violet of Broken Friendship in order to protect yourself. That’s never an easy decision, and it’s totally understandable to me that you would be grieving for some of the time and closeness you shared with “Shauna,” Letter Writer. In a weird way, you are summoning her by beating yourself up the way she would beat you up if she were around.

So grieve, the way you would for any loss. Write letters you don’t send as a way to fully express and feel your feelings. Distract yourself. Be really nice to yourself. Reach out to people who make you feel good and schedule time with them. You did a brave and self-caring thing by standing up for yourself and deciding that you deserve better than Shauna’s disregard. But you’re not weak or stupid for missing the closeness and wanting someone by your side as you go through a shitty time. My wish for you is that you find someone who prioritizes and nurtures your friendship with the same care and attention you show your friends, and that the hard times pass soon.

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About JenniferP

Chicago filmmaker, teacher, and blogger.

72 comments on “#518: I broke up with my mean friend, so why do I still miss her?

  1. Dear LW.

    I’m sorry for you grief but I’m also so pleased for you that you made this good choice. I had a perhaps comparable friendship break up a couple of years ago. I missed this person very much, and every time I had a thought of something cool to text them, or something to talk to them about it made me sad.

    However, I can tell you that a) this does go away (eventually). And b) there are other people around! You can send them links to gifs of kittens or talk to them about Doctor Who and they’ll love it.

    What I found helped was to feel the feeling of wanting them around again, and then gently telling myself that what I was doing was for me. Then I went and distracted myself with a book/ work/ some cool, not-mean people.

    Spot on advice from the Captain, as usual!

    Good luck, letter writer, good luck
    (It helps if you imagine this in Cecil’s voice)

  2. LW, I’d suggest also permenently hiding her feed. That way you’re less likely to get blindsided by something that brings back memories, good or bad, when you’re not really in a place to deal with them.

    • Oh yes, for the love of Zod, hide feed or outright defriend!

    • I hide my college best friend’s FB feed for a while. We had a falling out for a few years, now we’re back in each other’s lives. I definitely wasn’t in a place to be blindsided by his posts or his being tagged in other’s posts/pictures, but I was able to look at his profile from time to time.

      With the friend I mentioned below, I had to block her entirely so she couldn’t be so abusive. I needed to prevent her from being able to contact/terrorize me.

    • Can I perhaps reveal my age a bit here and wonder about the FB etiquette surrounding hiding vs defriending? Does a person get notified when you defriend them?

      I hide people’s feeds all the time, but have only ever defriended people who persistently pissed me off.

      • Defriending, they’re not notified, but they can figure out if/when they check their own list of friends for your name. Hiding I don’t think they would know.

      • No, a person doesn’t get notified when you defriend them or hide their feed. The only way a person would figure this out is if they tried to visit your page and couldn’t access it.

        As for me, I unfriend a lot of people. If you weight shame, say something racist or homophobic, post one of those ridiculous articles about what women should do to get a man or whatever, I am quick to unfriend unless it is a really important person in my life that I regularly take with many, many grains of salt. I have unfriended family members before for saying terrible things.* I had facebook in high school and I just added way too many people I no longer care about… have cut out 300+ friends in the past few years. Never once has it been an issue. I am a big fan of making my online hangouts as safe for me as possible. Some people may consider me ruthless in that regard, but hey my newsfeed also isn’t filled with racist and sexist garbage, so I’ll call it a win for me. :)

        TW for rape and fat shaming, but the family member in question posted the status “Fat girls carrying a rape whistle is just wishful thinking.” Yeah. I commented on the status that he was an ass and unfriended him, and we haven’t had a meaningful conversation IRL since then. I’m spending Thanksgiving with my boyfriend and my nuclear family is going on vacation for Christmas, so there will be further avoidance. He will be on a reality show on CMT next year though! So how lucky, the whole country will get to know this charmer….

        • The benefit of having a family reputation for being touchy and antisocial is that I get to defriend anyone I like on Facebook. :D

        • whaaaaaaaaaat?! I know you don’t want to out this jackass, but now I’m SO SO curious about who he is (even though I don’t watch, & may not even get, CMT)…

          • @nonvolleyball, I don’t mind outing HIM (assholes don’t deserve the benefit of anonimity, IMO) but since we are related/share a last name, outing him would also out my fairly anonymous Captain Awkward comment name, which is purposefully different from any of my other names online so that I can feel comfortable being honest here. I don’t believe the show has started promos yet; I think that will start around Thanksgiving. It’s a Jersey Shore type show feautring Southerners, it’s going to be called “The Dirty South” I believe.

      • I defriended and blocked someone recently, and they figured it out within a day, which made me wonder why they were watching my feed that closely that they’d notice.

      • Does a person get notified when you defriend them?

        Not by default. There is at least one app that tells you when someone’s defriended you, though. I forget what it’s called.

        • Why would anyone download that app? D: I would be so much happier not knowing. The whole idea of wanting to know, so that you can be angry at them for daring to unfriend you, reeks of entitlement and nastiness IMO.

          • Or just massive insecurity, which would be better of not being fed!

          • There used to be a third-party LiveJournal service that would tell you when anyone had friended or unfriended you; I looked at it more to see whether new people had started reading me than to see if anyone had stopped. Once in a while I would send a message “hi, I don’t recognize your username, do we know each other from some other context?”

  3. Hello, are you me? I find myself in a very similar situation although I actively broke off the friendship rather than doing a slow fade. We had been friends for over a decade, I was bridesmaid at her wedding, etc. It’s been nearly a year, I still feel sad, despite knowing I did the right thing.

    The Captain is so right that people can have great, positive qualities but also be completely unbearable in other ways. The Simon Armitage poem about this (helpfully titled “Poem,” freely available online) is one that I find myself thinking about all the time.

    When googling friend breakups I once came across the idea of writing a “gratitude letter” to say thank you for all the good times you experienced together, not to send it, but just to acknowledge the feelings. I haven’t done this myself but I did keep a private Word doc where I reminded myself of every crappy thing the friend did, to prevent myself getting too nostalgic. There’s no reason why you can’t do both of these, I guess!

    Also I would recommend focusing on the good people in your life, other friends, family, partner if you have one, etc. They will remind you of how you want and deserve to be treated. Keep doing new things, remind yourself how far you have come. Also, think about blocking or de-friending Shauna online to stop you dwelling on the past. Good luck to you and I hope you feel better soon.

    • I like Simon Armitage, but I’d forgotten Poem, so I just looked it up. STUPID POEM WHY MUST YOU BE SO TRUE.

      (For others that might be interested)
      http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/poem/

      • Poetry! I also like Vultures for the same reason.

        ‘Praise bounteous
        providence if you will
        that grants even an ogre
        a tiny glow-worm
        tenderness encapsulated
        in icy caverns of a cruel
        heart or else despair
        for in the very germ
        of that kindred love is
        lodged the perpetuity
        of evil.’

        http://www.mahmag.org/english/worldpoetry.php?itemid=456

        I have been in a situation like the OP’s. My friend betrayed me, told secrets about me, gossiped, stalked and damaged me. I cut off contact. I still miss the part of her that I loved and always will, but not enough to ever let her back into my life.

  4. I would second the re-hiding of her FB feed, or a permanent deletion if you can.
    I had to do that with my childhood best friend. We’d been tight as anything from age 6 to 13. But then gradually went in different directions, culminating with myself doing something shitty and immature towards her, which ultimately ended our friendship. In my defence, I was 13. But I absolutely didn’t blame her for the total end of the relationship which followed.

    We saw each other a few times in the years that followed and exchanged 5-minute pleasantries, but that was it.

    Then we both added each other on FB. At that time I was going through a tough situation at work, very depressed and everything was just awful. She meanwhile, had just got a promotion (she works in a very similar field to me, by chance), had a baby and got engaged. Whereas I was struggling to keep my job.
    Through absolutely no fault of hers, it was too much for me to deal with and I had to hide her feed. She stayed hidden for almost 2 years, until I was in a better place to be happy for her.
    Definitely one of the best things I’ve ever done for my own mental health.

  5. LW,

    I so totally hear you. I’m still processing a couple of “Oh thank God that’s over but owwwwwww” endings myself, and I have two thoughts to share. Especially sparked by these things you wrote:

    “But for reasons I still don’t get, I valued the relationship”, and
    “Why am I having such trouble moving on from an unrewarding – actually, negative and draining – relationship?”

    First, in addition to the Captain’s sage insight, it can be so totally confusing when someone is alternately wonderful and a jerk. And I am a person who wants to Figure It Out and Make Sense and Understand What’s Really Going On – so i drive myself bats trying to figure out who that person really was, which of their mixed messages was True…. which can make it really hard to just let go and move on, because i haven’t been able to figure it out yet, and the part of my brain that insists that figuring it out so it doesn’t happen again is essential does not want to give up.

    But sometimes it’s not possible to figure out what was really going on with someone whose wiring is so different from mine, why they treated me that way, why they were so mixed and confusing. And sometimes my difficulty letting go is not actually about letting go of the other person and the relationship, but because i haven’t figured it out yet and my compulsion to understand.

    Second, i think there can be things like energetic hooks, and sometimes questions like “why did i want to keep giving to this person even though they were selfish and draining?” and “why is it so hard to let go of this even though it made me feel so bad so often” might have an answer that’s as much or more energetic as psychological. I wonder what would happen if you were to do a sort of intuitive energy/body scan and ask yourself “are there places where this person still has hooks in me?” and if you find anything that feels like that, visualize unhooking/dissolving that with the intention to be free and separate and well.

    Wishing you and me and all beings freedom and ease!

    • These are really good points. I had a really rough time getting over the loss of a toxic friend several years ago – the only one I found myself missing, and occasionally still miss today. At one point, I was thumbing through one of those Eastern/Western astrology compatibility chart books geared toward relationships (I love astrology), and looked up her birthday. Turns out our sun signs, moon signs, rising signs and planets were all in very compatible places. I believe in this stuff, so it was a lightbulb moment for me. It gave me an explanation that made sense, for how I could’ve felt so understood and comfortable at times with someone who was ultimately not a good fit in my life at all.

  6. I had to cut out a toxic friend earlier this year, blocked her from my FB and everything. I grieved in a similar way because her toxicity stemmed from a series of unfortunate events…so as the Captain said, it’s not like she a 100% vicious person, but I’m not obligated to be her punching bag either. I still think about her and her family, worry about her a bit, but there’s nothing to be gained from having her in my life.

  7. Intermittend rewards are the ones our brains glom onto – so if a person is doing otherwise shitty things but every now and again gives you a buzz of having a nice time (and sometimes just the reward of not having a shitty time) then you’ll crave more of that.

    Yeah. Sometimes brains are not helpful.

    LW, it sounds as if you’ve done the right thing. You’re grieving for the awesome friend that person could be if they weren’t themselves – but as they are, that awesome friend you crave exists only in your imagination. I hope you find a way to lay that ghost to rest and hang out with nicer people.

    • “(and sometimes just the reward of not having a shitty time)”

      Seriously. Sometimes we get so accustomed to shitty situations that the lack of negativity seems wonderful.

  8. I really feel you, LW! I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot, lately. It might seem to take forever to get over a bad friend, but it will come eventually. It might even help to completely remove her from your Facebook friends and block her in case her name ever pops up. Facebook was a big reminder of a friend I just let go of, and when he de-friended me I just blocked him because I couldn’t stand seeing his name come up on our mutual friends’ feeds. I don’t hate him, and I remember all the good stuff we had together, but I REALLY remember the shitty times and how easily he brushed me aside. When we see each other at gatherings we just act cordially to one another, but it no longer gives me the pangs of grief and pain I suffered for so long, mostly because I have no idea what he’s up to and I’m not asking. Facebook is great for keeping in touch, but it’s also terrible when you want to get someone out of your life.

  9. Ack, why is this stream of posts so relevant right now.

    >> They appear in our lives as People-Who-Would-Be-Awesome-Except-For-That-One-Glaring-Problem. They have potential to be awesome, and sometimes they are awesome, and they make us feel awesome, so we relax and let out that breath we’ve been holding in, and then BAM! They show their mean side, and we do a ton of mental work trying to reconcile the mean stuff with the awesome stuff.

    Aaargh.

    I remember posting a bit in a thread about closure and being hurt by being dumped by friends or lovers, about my erstwhile very dear friend who had quick-faded on me and did not respond at all well to my attempt to see if there was any way to keep that from happening. It took ages, because I was in a pretty awful place anyway, and used to make me cry all the time, but I had just about got over it. Aaaand now she’s back, and initiating conversations and being all like “let’s go to the movies”, which I would have been thrilled about if this were EIGHTEEN MONTHS AGO. She seriously doesn’t acknowledge anything happened AT ALL, to the point of actually referencing conversations we supposedly had when we were not in fact speaking at all. For over a year! If I hadn’t seen her talking to everyone who was not me all over the internet in that time, I would think she must have slipped into a wormhole and thinks no time has passed at all. I don’t know what she thinks she’s doing, I don’t think she MEANS to be doing what she in fact is doing. I don’t even think she has a “mean side”, exactly, though God knows what it actually is– but it is such a headfuck. I’m trying to go the route of converting her into a small-doses friend, for practical as well as emotional reasons. It’s nice to be reminded that that is indeed a legit approach to take. But I feel a weird mixture of sort of better and slightly validated and shaken up and sad over it all.

    That I like so much fiction in which friends or lovers are separated by epic, tragic dramas but find their way back to each other in the end really does not help. I still miss her, sort of, and now she’s *right there*. But I just can’t be in a position of letting my guard down around her or needing anything from her ever again.

    • If this friend is trying to get back into your good graces after doing something that hurt you, I think it’s worth bringing up. I would say something to this friend along the lines of: “Hey, remember back when you vanished from my life? That really hurt me, and I really missed you. What was up with that? Because I’m happy you’re here, but I’m kind of feeling like we need to talk about why that happened.”

      Could be that she had something to deal with, or some issue that she didn’t feel comfortable bringing up and just needed some time…or she could be one of those people for whom others don’t exist unless they’re right there in the moment. Either way, you’d get some kind of direction about how dedicated she is to your friendship by the way she responds. If she blows you off, then definitely time to downgrade to a casual acquaintance or walk away. If she listens and talks it out and seems invested in working things out, that would probably go a long way toward helping you be more comfortable around her.

      FWIW, I had a former friend like this, who treated me like a laptop. When she wanted to hang out, she’d expect me to boot right up and entertain her, but as soon as she was done, I think she assumed that I went into some kind of computerized sleep state. And then, months, years later, she’d show up and literally treat me like we hadn’t spoken in a week…to the point where she’d act shocked if something major had happened in my life (despite the fact that I’d written/called/emailed to tell her and she’d never responded.) It was like I didn’t exist for her unless she chose to get in touch.
      It got old – fast.

      • Yep, lance the boil and bring it up! It will give you information about how much you can trust this friend going forward.

      • The thing is, I wanted to have that conversation a year ago — I TRIED to have that conversation a year ago — and it did not go particularly well, I just got rambling “well if you have this crazy interpretation of events there’s nothing I can do” gaslighting — and now I just really don’t want to have it. She is not very good at expressing her feelings and motivations, so I don’t see her ever giving me a satisfactory explanation or apology, and even if she was I kind of don’t CARE any more. I know that’s not the impression I’m necessarily giving, because I am kind of churned up over this, and missing what we had, but there’s still a strong element of “Oh, whatever, lady, you had thousands of chances.” And frankly, even, “You hurt my feelings” is making myself a degree of vulnerable that I don’t want to be around her again. I recognise this probably means we will never be close again but I’ve been reconciling myself to that for SO LONG already that even if I’m not 100% there yet I still don’t think I can go into reverse.

      • I wrote a reply, I hope it shows up some time!

      • she could be one of those people for whom others don’t exist unless they’re right there in the moment.

        *wince of recognition* I am totally one of those people. I tend not to seek out interaction, and I’m incredibly flaky about keeping in touch with people. But the thing is, if someone else makes an effort to reach out to me, I’ll respond. I won’t gaslight them about feeling bad. Because that’s how decent people behave. You can be an antisocial flake without being an asshole about it.

        • “If someone else makes an effort to reach out to me, I’ll respond.” – That makes ALL the difference, I think. I was definitely talking about the assholes, not the well-meaning but flaky people (this can be me sometimes too.)

          This is what I’m talking about:

          Email from me: “Oh hey S! Guess what? I had a baby, here is a picture!”

          …2 years of silence from S…

          Voicemail from S: “Ohh, I have been so busy! How are you, my child-free, workaholic friend? I am in town and want to tell you about MY life…”

          (Rinse and repeat)

    • She doesn’t have a “mean side”, exactly, but if she can just blithely rewrite reality to disregard anyone ever feeling sad or hurt by the things she does, why should she even need one? She gets all the things being mean achieves (not having to give a fuck about your thoughts or feelings, satisfying her own desires even if being a good person would get in the way of that) without having that nasty vulnerable flank of behaviours people can call her out on.

      She’s not behaving like an enemy–but she’s not behaving like a friend, either. She’s not caring about you; she’s not making any sacrifices that would help you (like self-reflecting and going, “Oh, that hurt you, I’m sorry), and she’s not giving you a chance to work towards actually feeling happier, by working through your feelings of being upset before you move forward.

      Someone who is just great to you except for the fact that you have to totally quash all your negative emotions before they’ll do it is not your friend. The friendship is totally conditional on your subservience to what they want.

  10. I broke up with a friend very recently. She wasn’t mean so much as . . . thoughtless. She was genuinely surprised when I or someone else expressed hurt at something she had done. But she also be kind. I feel guilty about breaking it off with someone who took care of me once when I was drunk. But we had only exchanged a few emails and her disregard for the feelings of others was already bothering me.

    I haven’t explained this well but I don’t even know what our relationship really was. All I know is that receiving an email from someone shouldn’t give you anxiety and its okay to put yourself first sometimes.

    • Thoughtlessness is so difficult! Like, ideally it’s something we’ll have compassion for because we’re all there sometimes? But then for some people it’s a way of life to behave thoughtlessly and then apologize a lot and put on a big show of feeling bad so they don’t have to actually do the work of, you know, growing the eff up and thinking about others.

      You are totally right about the receiving-an-email thing, too.

  11. This this this! Oh this. It’s so much harder to recognize that person as being toxic when they do have the awesome qualities. An ex-friend I still occasionally mourn (like with the release of the Best Man movie sequel, or when I see a particularly awesome dance photo) was great for me to let go, but it still kind of stings when I feel like I can’t just go “OMG new Best Man movie, hope you’re well!” I DO hope she’s well, I just hope she’s well away from me. So it feels incomplete.
    Definitely don’t follow on FB or Tumblr or Instagram or anything where you would be reminded of the life continuing happily without you, and definitely don’t send a FEELINGSMAIL. Best of luck!
    Is there a potted plant we can buy ourselves after an African Violet is given? Or is that “potted plant” just a cookie basket?

    • I really relate to this. I have a former friend who I absolutely can never see again because what brought on our break up was just too painful. I still miss her sometimes and I absolutely hope she is doing well, but whatever she is doing needs to be far away from me. One of the strange things about it is that a lot of people have a hard time accepting that. They’ll often ask, “Why don’t you two talk anymore? Why aren’t you friends? You wish her well, but you don’t want to see her?” Yes!!! I can hope someone’s life is going well and miss them sometimes without wanting to be their friend or being anywhere near them.

      I think you should absolutely buy yourself an amazing “goodbye to this friendship gift” – cookies, plants, whatever it takes.

      • I could have written this almost verbatim (no one has a hard time accepting that we’re not friends).

      • I was really good friends with someone for the first three years of college, and during the last year, she stopped talking to me and never really gave an explanation; I tried a couple times to extend the olive branch and she never replied to me, so I moved on. YEARS LATER, people would still ask me if I kept in touch with her (in fact I ran into a mutual acquaintance from then a few weeks ago and he brought her up), I guess because we were that famously close. That’s hard enough, but at least I know those folks are just trying to make polite conversation. A few years back, a different close friend (who knew both of us well, but was closer to me) said, “I think it’s really sad that you and S are not friends anymore.” And I was like, 1) Please stop bringing it up because while I respect her decision to end contact, it was her decision alone and it hurt me really badly; 2) I knew her for THREE YEARS and it has been MANY MORE THAN THREE YEARS since the last time I heard from her and a lot has happened in my life since then that I would much rather talk about.

        I know people usually mean well, are just trying to make conversation, etc., when they say things like this, but seriously – friend-breakups should be treated with the same level of sensitivity as romantic breakups.

    • I think buying ourselves a potted plant is a BRILLIANT idea. I am coping with the grief of pulling various degrees of slow fades with a whole group of friends, and really missing all the good things while trying to remind myself that while they are not bad people, I do not like aspects of how they treat me, and I feel like I give up many of my good qualities when I am around them.

      I am going out tomorrow to buy a potted plant. And I will water it and take care of it, and as it grows, so will I. SYMBOLIC SELF CARE!

      Thank you for that idea!

  12. LW, this rang so true to me that I had to join the chorus of people saying “me too!”–I had my big friend-breakup before I got engaged so the whole unequal-wedding-participation thing wasn’t an issue, but everything else, I basically could’ve written myself. it still gets me down sometimes, that this person who I was once so sure would grow into the same kind of awesome adult I’ve tried to become has instead gone down an alternate path of making choices that I find completely inexplicable (& not, like, dangerous–just generally stupid, boring, &/or annoying).

    I’ve gotten to the point where I can still remember the fun stuff–the inside jokes, the good times, the youthful adventures–without it leading to But It’s All Over Now & making me sad. you may not be there yet–& I certainly wasn’t for a long time–but you’ll get there. in the end, people change (you surely have too!) & with some relationships the balance eventually shifts so that the shitty stuff starts to seem like less of a reasonable trade-off for the ever-dwindling good parts. such is life, & if nothing else, this experience will help you cultivate more supportive & natural friendships in the future.

  13. I’ve been there! My friendship imploded over two years ago and I’ve only recently started to kinda get over it. I used to think about him every day. I used to miss him so badly. Because even though I thought he could be a real jerk, even though I felt like he gaslighted me at times, and pushed my buttons on purpose to make me feel like crap, we also had awesome long, witty conversations. We would talk practically every day and I always ran to him for advice about everything (which now that I’m removed from it I see that wasn’t exactly healthy).

    It sometimes feels ridiculous how hard this friendship breakup was for me, but just because it wasn’t romantic doesn’t mean it wasn’t intimate. He was a very important part of my life for 10 years. I told him a lot of things I never tell people. Of course I missed him.

    I think the very idea of NEVER talking to him again seemed so final. And that’s what I really had the hardest time with. This person is just completely out of my life now and me out of theirs? It felt so severe and irreversible. It didn’t help that I didn’t know our last ‘conversation’ would be our last. What, no last words? No “closure”??? Nope.

    What helped was defriending him on FB. I didn’t need to be constantly reminded of his existence. I try not to trap myself in wondering who was more at fault for the implosion and who benefited the most/least from our friendship and why. Ultimately, each of us realized our friendship was no longer working and we are, I’m sure, both better off without it.

  14. I hope this doesn’t move too far from the topic, but it seems that facebook really has a way of triggering thoughts about former friends/romantic partners etc. I recently deleted mine and it felt surprisingly good to not get any news about people from my past anymore. I think facebook had made me mentally stay in touch with people who hadn’t been part of my “real life” for years.

    • And, for folks who don’t want to fully delete their profile, I ‘hide’ the feeds of so so many people, for my mental health.

  15. Oh LW, I am you. I’m a little over a year out from the break up and still sometimes wish an apology email would arrive in my inbox so it could go back to the way it used to be.

    The hardest part for me is knowing that it’s almost entirely in my hands. She’d probably be my friend again if resumed contact and that makes it feel like it’s my “fault” even though the reason I broke off contact was because she hurt me very badly and when I expressed that hurt there was no remorse on her part (or, perhaps more importantly, suggestion that things would change).

    I definitely suffer from the desire of wanting to be “liked” and seen as “nice” all the time so drawing a line in the sand and saying, “no, that hurt me and I cannot trust you not to do it again,” has been very very hard. We have a lot of mutual friends who definitely think I should just get over it already.

    A word of warning–unfollow her on FB, block her in every way that matters, but if you defriend (which I did about 6 months post-break up) she might notice and predicting her reaction is difficult. My ex-friend threw a minor hissy and accused me (to others) of being “high school”–though she didn’t notice until 3 months after the defriending had taken place because I did it silently with no fanfare (i.e. told no one I was doing it, etc.). I just–like you–couldn’t stop myself from staring like a sad sack at all her happy FB posts. Unfollowing her didn’t prevent me from typing her name into search and looking on purpose so I took that particular form of torture away from myself.

    I’m glad I did all of this. I am happier without her in my life, even if I do occasionally miss her/think of her. If you can hold onto that, that you are better off with your safe lines drawn around you, you’ll eventually see her like any kind of long-ago Ex about whom you can remember the good times but really happy you’re no longer involved with.

  16. Sometimes people are like berry bushes. Sure, this particular bush might have been not yet ripe* 90% of the time, but the other 10% had very delicious berries which you made all sorts of delicious pies and jams with. Just because you thought the chance of picking a not yet ripe berry too high to keep going back to that bush doesn’t mean those ripe berries weren’t delicious. At one point there was pie! It’s totally normal to miss pie! I miss pie right now!

    Anyway, I think part of the reason you really miss her is because she was in your wedding, and you might have had an expectation that you would be in hers and facebook brought up that that wasn’t going to happen. It’s like only having an unclosed parenthetical. There’s no symmetry, and that can bug a person. If that’s the case I want you to really picture what being in or near that wedding would have looked like. We’re talking about an event that allows already self-involved people to dial to 11. How friendship building would that wedding with your self-involved former friend have been really? Picturing that might help you grieve a little faster.

    *This is not a knock on people who love not yet ripe fruit. I myself love a green banana. But you know, metaphor.

  17. “Why am I having such trouble moving on from an unrewarding – actually, negative and draining – relationship?”

    That’s not actually a real question, and it needs to be. Right now you’re using it as a rhetorical question to lash yourself with–”There’s no good reason this should be so! *lash* I’m just stupid! *lash* This is all my fault because I know it’s not going to work! *lash*”

    What if you took it as a valid question, and asked yourself about it with curiosity and gentleness, instead of jumping to judge yourself? Because obviously, there is an answer–there was something about this friendship that was so compelling, you still miss it years later. You wouldn’t be acting like this without a good reason. If you’re willing to actually ask yourself instead of trying to push that grief and longing away, the knot might loosen enough for you to untie it.

    You mention life stress right now, and that might be a big hint as to why this ghost has come back to haunt you lately. Quite often if you find yourself longing for something that you don’t rationally want, it means there’s something emotional that you feel is missing from your life. It isn’t actually about the thing-you-are-longing-for; it’s about what’s going on in your life right now. It’s like feeling thirsty when you’re dehydrated, or craving food when you’re hungry.

    So when you look back at the positive aspects of your relationship with Shauna, do you see them replicated in your life right now, or are they missing? Do you ever get to feel really special and important to someone, or like somebody really understands your sense of humour? Or is there someone in your life who’s dragging you down so you feel neglected and unappreciated?

    The thing about self-involved jerks is that when they do decide you’re worth affection or approval, it’s like Pure Concentrated Ray of Specialness. For that brief exhilarating moment, you feel totally amazing. When you’re feeling healthy and on-keel, it’s more possible to think about all the negative parts surrounding that and decide that on balance, it’s not worth it. But when your chips are down and you’re longing for things to get better, the memory of that euphoric feeling of being respected and valued might feel so alluring that the bad parts don’t feel so important.

    • What has happened to me in the past is that I get a good bit of distance from an ex-, and get to remembering a little more of the good and less of the bad. When I’m no longer tangled up in the daily frustrations of the relationship that didn’t serve me, a little convenient forgetting can happen. It’s especially tricky when I’m feeling otherwise down or lonely, and start to intensely miss those good parts of the person or relationship.

    • this entire comment is incredibly wise.

    • This. So much this. I find myself missing being an evangelical Christian right now, even though I know it was horrible for me, because that was the last time in my life I wasn’t struggling with depression and anxiety. I was just happy. I don’t miss being evangelical, I miss being consistently happy.

  18. I think one of the reasons friendship breakups have been so hard for me is that I never really expected they would happen and I never really had any type of script or plan for dealing with it. Growing up, from watching TV and movies or reading literature and just observing people around me, I expected that dating relationships usually wouldn’t work out. I just accepted it and moved on with my life. I had to learn how to forgive and work on my relationship when I finally fell in love and discovered that some romantic relationships are worth fighting for. With my friends, though, I just expected that it would always work out. I took for granted that I always had to forgive anything and figure out ways to patch things up. This meant that I allowed my best friend to treat me terribly for years before I finally had to walk away. Even when I did walk away, it constantly bothered me. I loved her. We were supposed to be best friends forever and that isn’t something that you just give up on. But I couldn’t make it work and any time I thought about our friendship, I just felt pain. I couldn’t even remember any of the good times because I was so sad, but I also missed her terribly.

    It took me years to finally get over it and I can now remember our friendship fondly while also recognizing that we can never be friends ever again. Even with that though, I found it harder to develop close friendships with other women because I was so afraid of being hurt again. I was afraid of opening myself up and investing my emotions into someone who might hurt me and eventually disappear from my life. I’m better than I was, but I still struggle with opening myself up to other women and I don’t have any close women friends.

    • yes! you hear “friends drift apart” but there’s little cultural indication about how often that happens somewhat violently vs. a gradual slow fade.

      my own friend break-up was especially strange because (save from a puppy-love/never-kissed-on-the-lips relationship when I was in 7th grade & some we’re-not-officially-dating weirdness in college) I’d never actually been dumped. which led to this really bizarre role reversal in which my husband/then-boyfriend would be consoling me about the death of this platonic relationship using all the familiar “girl, you’re too good for your ex” cliches. it felt wrong somehow (even though that friendship needed to end & I was certainly glad for the emotional support).

      clearly this thread speaks to the pervasiveness of more dramatic friend-dumpings.

      • Your comment made me laugh because my husband/then-boyfriend also comforted me over my friend breakup. I remember once we were walking down the street and I was crying because I didn’t have a best friend anymore and he goes, “Honey, I am your best friend!” It was so sweet and it was so true because he really is my best friend, but I still felt sad because I missed her and I felt like such a loser for not having a best girl friend.

    • Agreed. Plus, when romantic relationships come to an end, it’s almost…less personal. People fall out of love, shit happens, etc. We expect most romantic relationships to ultimately come to an end. When a friendship ends, it’s completely personal, it’s all about them/you. Walking away from a friendship is incredibly hard since friendships don’t “have” to end…you can have a “small doses friend,” but not a “small doses spouse,” and the number of friends you can have is limitless.

      Frankly, regarding my former close friend, we’re still in that interim “I’ve cut you out of my life and you’re trying to get back into it, but I have no interest because you yet to demonstrate that this would be worthwhile to me/you won’t continue to be a toxic parasite/that you’ve changed at all.” It’s hard because I do think about her, but having her in my life will only make it worse. It’s like trying to convince yourself to put your hand back on an oven burner after constantly getting burned, thinking that *maybe* this time it won’t burn you. But it’s hard to feel that way about a person.

      • yes, exactly. And this works the other way around too: asking someone out on a date and getting rejected? Oh well, it happens, they don’t fancy me, not everyone’s going to, moving on. Asking someone out on a friendship date and getting rejected? Man, that HURTS. That’s like a rejection of everything you are!

        It’s always baffling to me that there’s so much cultural acceptance of the script that sex/romantic relationships are hard and difficult and we need advice on how to do them, and yet friendships are supposed to be entirely smooth and non-scary and self-running. That is not my experience!

  19. Almost eight years since the african violet got given to a childhood friend of mine. I still miss her, when I see books we used to discuss, movies we used to see… I want to recommend stuff to her and have a long discussion into the night. With the awesome side of her, that is, not the side that ignored, gaslighted and treated me like crap.
    I do miss my former friend, still, after eight years. Yet I remain absolutely convinced that I made the right choice for me. This friendship, that had so many feel-good moments, was deeply toxic for me and I am grateful that I had it, and grateful that it´s gone.
    For me it´s gotten better, a lot better. The feelings of loss and missing her are fleeting now. I hope you find your balance, LW, and forty-second the captains excellent advice.

  20. You might find that some form of closure ritual is helpful. I had a two-person artistic project going with a person I turned out, despite some *really* good work, not to be able to get along with longterm. For a long time I kept it around waiting for something to change, and it made me unhappy. Finally my spouse talked me into making a few pages of it into paper boats and floating them out to sea. It sounds silly, but it was very helpful in getting my whole heart to realize “That’s done now.”

    And n+1 on not reading Facebook material from someone who it hurts to think about.

  21. I remember back during my first pregnancy – I was living far away from all of my family and friends, and I kept having dreams about looking for my friend Michael, who had been something of a mentor to me while I was in college. I kept waking up convinced that I wanted to reconnect with Michael, who as far as I know had gone back to his own country, and for whom I had no contact information. (This was pre-Internet.) But whenever I thought consciously about it, I didn’t really want _him_ back in my life – there were all these traits and incidents and issues that I didn’t want to revive. It took a while for me to realize that for me, this person represented staying in touch with an important part of myself, my academic interests, which I was afraid were going to fall by the wayside with the coming baby.

    So, LW, certainly there may be things about your former friend that you will miss for their own sake, but it could also be worthwhile to explore what the _idea_ of her means to you, and then find other ways to be sure that you can keep nurturing and expressing those parts of yourself.

  22. It’s okay to still like someone who disappoints you. Not everyone got the official friendship handbook.

  23. LW, you mention that you are dealing with some major life stress right now relating to things you can’t control. I’m dealing with stuff-I-can’t-control myself. One way I deal with not being able to do anything about it is that I find myself drawn to… solving other people’s solvable problems. I wonder if Shauna’s stream of drama and demands offered anything like that to you.

  24. […] #518: I broke up with my mean friend, so why do I still miss her? […]

  25. […] “If the mean people in our lives were crappy 100% of the time, it would be easy to leave them. We would shrink from becoming friends with them or jump aboard the nope rocket in the early stages of trouble, and we would feel only relief when they are gone from our lives. The problem is that very few people are evil all the time. They don’t wear villain costumes purchased at ForeverEvil. They don’t laugh maniacally and stroke their evil goatees while monologuing about their evil plans. They appear in our lives as People-Who-Would-Be-Awesome-Except-For-That-One-Glaring-Problem. They have potential to be awesome, and sometimes they are awesome, and they make us feel awesome, so we relax and let out that breath we’ve been holding in, and then BAM! They show their mean side, and we do a ton of mental work trying to reconcile the mean stuff with the awesome stuff.” #518: I broke up with my mean friend, so why do I still miss her? – Captain Awkward […]

  26. “Why am I having such trouble moving on from an unrewarding – actually, negative and draining – relationship?”
    “This particular sore spot has been hanging on way too
    long.”
    My theory is that the letter-writer’s lingering memories might be healthy, and that it’s an opportunity for her to strengthen and grow while she faces challenges elsewhere.

    I left a group during 2009. My subconscious kept bringing up painful memories I wanted to forget. Not to get too detailed, but listening for the message behind those memories made me stronger. They were my subconscious’s way of telling me that I was missing something important in the story that I was telling myself about that break up.
    I was missing how I had contributed to that painful situation. Listening for the helpful message behind the memories made me re-examine. The meaning of those memories changed. When I dealt with the unfinished business, I walked away more secure that I’d never recreate that. Then, I was ready for new types of friendships, after I had closure on the old.

    You don’t have to be a big meditator to play a game with your imagination. Ask your subconscious or whatever part of your mind is throwing up those memories, “are you trying to tell me something?” Don’t assume that something is wrong with you, or that part of you trying to get your attention. Just remember that you are a good listener, so you can hear it’s message. A real answer will feel good, like insight, and deeper understanding. It won’t feel like a harsh judgement against you. I’m not making that up, thousands of years of East and Western meditation traditions agree that deeper resources of psyche are compassionate and positive.

    Finally, let me throw out a guess on why the memories linger, based on my past experiences.
    You might have let that awful friend off too easy.
    You have a right to be angry with her, a right to closure, a right to tell her that she hurt you, and that she was a bad friend. Plus screw her for never asking why you left. Maybe your deeper self wants a good reason for giving up that right.
    Are you disowning your courage in not telling her?
    We can tell ourselves why speaking our truth won’t do any good, but our subconscious knows when it’s an excuse.
    I’m not saying that you’d have to tell her. I’ve felt big shifts from just just an inner talk. Deeper down, I’d feel that my reasons changed from “I can’t do anything about this” to “I’m strong, I can hash this out, but that clueless B isn’t worth my effort or risk”.

    Maybe your subconscious is reminding you of your strength and choice in this?
    Maybe insight into that past relationship is just what you need to solve a current challenge.
    Maybe that old situation is a great way for you to release grief or other painful emotions, as you build something new in your life?
    I’ve always found something good and useful, when I listened and didn’t assume I knew better.

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