The Friendship Death Certificate: Natural Causes or Pulling the Plug?

Evelyn was a tricky friend for me.  She was the alpha dog and I was the little bitch.  I let her be the alpha dog because she had more money, less body fat and naturally curly hair. She had confidence, and spirituality, and a Volvo.  Oh, and she had a husband and gorgeous children.  I lived alone on the Gold Coast and spent my time speed dating and watching The Gilmore Girls.

In other words, I was the perfect little bitch.

I don’t know how it happened, but one day, I was done.  I was tired of being afraid of her.  The constant what if she’s mad at me? no longer seemed like a question that should guide my every motive.  I got tired of using the same old measuring stick: she’s best and I am somewhere (way) short of that.

It was a Sunday, and I was sitting in my office.  She’d left a voicemail that I felt scared to check.  I had a feeling I would be “in trouble” with her– I had committed a great betrayal.  I had gotten a life.  Deep inside I was scared that the foundation of our relationship would crumble if I wasn’t a mess.  But I was less willing or able to play poor pathetic girl for anyone.  It didn’t fit anymore.

I steeled myself as I pressed my voicemail code. I held that final number, a 2, extra long to forestall having to hear her angry voice.  When I heard it, all edges and sharp corners, I sucked my breath in sharply and felt that familiar churning in my stomach.  It seems like you . . . I hung up.  I didn’t want to hear it.  I knew I wouldn’t call back to apologize for whatever it was I had done this time.  She didn’t like my therapist or my other friends.  Our common ground had shrunk so small that there was no longer room for my feet.

I didn’t want to have to be a mess to earn love anymore.

Of course there was love and amazing memories in the relationship as well. Those were real.   I’d limped to her dozens of times– hands full of woe and heart full of brokenness– but I just couldn’t be afraid of the people I call my “friends” anymore.  I was (and am) willing to be afraid of strangers, but not friends.  Not like that.

Sometimes it feels like a failure that Evelyn and I are no longer friends.  Our quiet break-up wasn’t my last friendship death, but it was one of the first I experienced as an adult– the first whose death certificate cites the cause of death as “I walked away” instead of “natural causes.”

It’s weird how I never expected all my boyfriends to last– and thank God Almighty that they didn’t– but I do think that friendships are supposed to last.  Like forever.  Or I did.  Until Evelyn and I broke up.


55 thoughts on “The Friendship Death Certificate: Natural Causes or Pulling the Plug?

  1. You are on fire. What a captivating story. God, have I been there. Deciding when to walk away from a friendship has been a far greater struggle for me than any of my “intimate” relationships. Some people only know how to play one role in a relationship (like Evelyn) and it stunts both of your growth. It sounds like you know this already, but you totally did the right thing. And it still sucks she couldn’t get her shit together and grow.

    • It feels so much more shameful to me to have friendship break ups than romantic ones. Especially as my friends may still be friends with people I broke up with (or who broke up with me). The whole thing gives me a stomachache.

      On Mon, Mar 18, 2013 at 10:51 AM, Outlaw Mama

  2. I love that you’ve written on this topic. So often we do expect our girlfriends to be there for life – yet our lives change and so do theirs. Maybe some are meant to be just for a season. I once walked away from a friendship because I could no longer bear to prop her up so she had a foot free to knock herself down.

    • Right! Exactly. I have had a few (I am thinking of 2 in particular) where I had to let go, maybe not forever, but for a while. It was too painful. What we were doing got weird and codependent and not good for me. It’s so strange and liberating to let go. and I feel shame.

      On Mon, Mar 18, 2013 at 11:28 AM, Outlaw Mama

  3. Brave, indeed.
    We divide our time amongst friendships vs being committed to a single romantic partner. All these friendships growing at different rates in different directions…naturally they don’t all last. But my expectations rarely align with logic. What I know today is that I devote my friend energy to an incredible group of women. If it is not the same group in 10 or 20 years I hope it is still incredible.

    • My expectations have never met logic. I wish they were at least passing friends. Happy to hear about the great lady friends– I’ve got ’em too and grateful for them every single day.

      On Mon, Mar 18, 2013 at 11:45 AM, Outlaw Mama

  4. Oh, I’ve been there! Took a long time for me to get brave enough to walk away like you did.

    I like the fact that you mentioned the good times with your former friend. So often, it’s easier to hold onto the bad feelings and forget about the good stuff.

    • It’s been incredibly healing to remember with some sort of balance — to the men and women who are no longer part of my life. To remember the laughter and the loyalty and the fun road trips and the celebrations makes it all harder. It’s easy to paint with only the black or white brush and think to myself “good riddance.” But having that balance means I get to hold on to the parts of each relationship that were really great and remember them with love.

      On Mon, Mar 18, 2013 at 11:48 AM, Outlaw Mama

  5. so tough. and true. i pulled the plug on one of my oldest friends, but i was always her lapping dog, just waiting to hear about her latest fabulous story, boyfriend. but when the time came and i need a real friend, she kind of sucked. it was very hard for me. i felt like i was divorcing. and why are they all skinny and wealthy??

  6. While I am a big fan of the enduring female friendship, I am also a fan of dropping toxic friendships. For far too long I would feel like a failure if things weren’t working with someone who was just not for me. I have found being able to recognize those people and freeing myself from them a big benefit of growing older. (and there aren’t many so I relish them when I have a chance) –Lisa

  7. I have so been there. My last friendship break-up came right after my wedding. When I got engaged, what should have been a fun a fancy time turned into a little bit of a mess when one of my bridesmaids, who was one of my best friends from college, decided to make it all about her and how bitter she was about not yet being in a relationship instead of just being happy for me. I knew it was coming, and wasn’t all that surprised when it did, but it didn’t make that time with her any easier to stomach. We still see each other from time-to-time since we have a lot of people in common, but we are not easy with each other anymore, and certainly are no longer a part of each other’s lives in any significant way. I just can’t let go of the mad.

    • Oh I hear that. Everyone was married almost when I hit married so I didn’t have that but I feel the pain. It’s hard when someone’s in pain but Gah! It was your wedding day.

  8. I so relate. I had a friend just like Evelyn at one time. She was funny, smart and generous – and also mean and liked to tell me everything that was wrong with me all of the time. I got tired of feeling like crap and giving her my power, and I let it go. Never looked back, and never repeated the pattern, so I think I left it with her.

  9. Ugh. I had an encounter with a former friend this weekend. It was awkward and unpleasant. The good news? Seeing her reminded me exactly why we broke up in the first place.

    I’m glad you left Evelyn behind. You deserve better.

  10. I used to think friendships should last forever until someone once told me that people come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Sounds like she was there for a season and you learned what you needed to learn from that relationship. Good post!

  11. Look at it this way: maybe you’ll be able to use yours and Evelyn’s friendship as a guide for Sadie on what not to do. You never know; there may be some good to come from the experience (and its ending.)

    • You’re right. The better my relationships are the better I can mother. When she encounters friendships that stop working I’ll have some experience with that.

  12. I’m shaking my head in agreement. Agreeing how hard it is to breakup with friends. The toxic, no longer good for us ones. My high school best friend became my freshman dorm roommate then our husbands became friends then our children. And yet, anytime I was with her, I had the feeling I was doing something bad, even though I wasn’t. That ended over ten years ago. It still makes me sick inside but I’m better. You recognized what you needed to do and I’m with you on not listening to the voicemail. I’m actually avoiding my email because I’m afraid I won’t be getting a response back from a friend and no response is going to hurt. I’m 50 and this stuff is still going on! Great, thought provoking read!

  13. Heartbreaking. But sometimes you have to build boundaries to protect your heart and self-esteem. Still, it saddens me that some friendships have a shelf-life. I bet you’re a better and more thankful friend now. Right now, I see one of my friendships slowly dying and it’s so strange because at one point I felt like we were kindred spirits. Our boys used to go to occupational therapy together but my son “graduated.” I know it’s painful for her to see us move on, so I get it. Still, quite sad.

    Thanks for the great post. As C.S. Lewis once said, “we read to know that we are not alone.”

  14. I broke up with a friend recently, too, and can relate. Unfortunately, she pulled a Single White Female on me and decided to present my art as her own, but she was SWF long before that. If I did something with my kids or liked something, she had to like it. That would have been okay, but she started to get insulting to my kids and to me. So, that was the end. It happens. No shame. At least it’s not a relative! 😀 (Hugs) Like my one, older friend tells me, “Don’t waste time on people who rob your life of peace.” Amen.

  15. Wow, this is powerful. I think we can all relate. Sometimes a friendship just runs its course. But it’s hard. It’s grieving a loss. Women have such powerful stories of friendship. Have you heard of the blogging series that my blogging friend Stephanie Sprenger (of Mommy, For Real) are doing about female friendship called HerStories? We would love for you — and other women — to share their friendship experiences, painful ones as well as lasting ones.

  16. The friend request from a woman who made about six or eight of my school years a living hell remains in my Facebook inbox, unanswered, and there it shall remain forever!

  17. “Our common ground had shrunk so small that there was no longer room for my feet.” Great, great line. This really speaks to me because I’ve had some adult friendship deaths that I thought I could keep on life support and like you, I came to realize that I didn’t want to live like that. Unplug me already. It feels so much better to get those toxins out of the system.

  18. It is difficult. Probably not as much so with guys, but knowing it needs to be done is nerve wracking.

    I recently dumped a friend because he was too needy. He was of the belief that I should drop by his house every day. If I had free time, I should be hanging out with him. If he called me, I should return the call immediately. He required too much energy. He was fun to hang out with and never betrayed me in any way, but every time I saw his name on the caller ID, I could feel the stress rise up. I decided I didn’t need that anymore.

  19. Really relatable post! Sometimes you just have to stop and think if a relationship is adding to your life or taking away from it. I’ve ended a couple of friendships, and while it doesn’t feel good, it does always feel like a relief!

  20. I am becoming a complete fan of your blog. I read this and a nagging thought in my head went “I am the alpha dog and my ex-friend was the little bitch”. I used to have a friend and we don’t talk anymore. After reading your post, I think exactly something of the above sort happened to us. Thanks for the post. 🙂

    • THanks for the affirmation. I bet there are people who felt that dynamic with me as the alpha dog. It’s not the role I usually think of myself in, but if I was honest, I am sure it’s happened.

  21. I read this when you first posted and kept meaning to come back. My Evelyn was Dawn. Our breakup hit when I met my husband. I was in a god-awful and abusive relationship for years- and was a wreck when I met her. You’d think she would be happy I found the exact opposite of Pig Vomit- but no. The worst was when I called to tell her I was engaged. She said “It’s late. I’ll call you in the morning.” After I told her I JUST GOT ENGAGED that night. She never called. WTF. And she still sends me a Christmas card? Dude. You make no sense. Anyhow- I deleted and blocked her from FB ages ago. I ain’t got time for that.

  22. I think the hardest thing about adult friendships is that many don’t find a way to end themselves. When we’re younger and school or an activity or job brings us to people, when those things end we can walk away and blame the situation for causing a drift. But when you’re an adult and there isn’t an outside force to assist, it’s decision time.

    Very relatable piece.

  23. Pingback: Fertility and Friendship | Outlaw Mama

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