Friends are meant to be forever, right? Love interests may come and go, but many of us subscribe to the romanticized notion that friends are the ones who will stick by us through thick and thin.
So, what happens when things go wrong? Most friendships — even good ones — don’t last forever. Losing a friend may be even more devastating than breaking up with a beau, leaving many unresolved, painful feelings in its wake.
Research shows that friendships are vital to our happiness and longevity. One study found that women with few friends increased their risk of death over a 6-month period. Those who had the most friends over a 9-year period improved their health by more than 60 percent.
Maybe you moved away and naturally grew apart, maybe the relationship turned toxic, or maybe a fall-out was involved. No matter the circumstances, a friend break up can really take its toll. Women in particular tend to internalize the loss of a friend as a personal failure. The most stinging part is that when it happens, you’ve lost the person you usually confide in.
Even if the split was a long time coming, how do you overcome the immense hurt and loneliness of losing your other half?
Here are six ways to find closure and move on.
Cry it out.
Let yourself be sad. Losing a friend is equivalent to any other long-term relationship ending. It sucks. It may feel lonely, even embarrassing. Moving on will be an adjustment that takes time, but there is no shame in feeling awful for a little while.
Say goodbye, privately.
Write a letter to your friend that you never intend to send. This is a blank canvas – a safe space for you to share how the relationship ending impacted you. You get the chance to say goodbye or say things that haven’t been said. Writing is incredibly therapeutic.
Assume the “Sweden Strategy” in your social circle.
Just like Sweden in world politics, assume a neutral stance in your extended group of friends and acquaintances. It may seem obvious, but don’t force your other friends to take sides. Get comfortable with the fact that they may still spend a great deal of time with your ex-pal and realize this is no reflection on you. Resist bad mouthing your ex-friend to others. It will only make you look bad. If you need to vent and work through past hurts, go to someone well outside the situation.
Develop a script
Think about what you would do if your friend reached out, or if you ran into one another around town. What would you say? How would you react? You can avoid paralyzing fear or coming off defensive by developing a script for these types of situations. Visualize the situation happening and jot down what you would ideally like to be saying and doing in the moment. Rehearse the encounter in your head or in front of a mirror so you’ll feel confident and prepared if the time should come.
Institute a red velvet rope policy for new friends
What are the qualities you most admire in a friend? If your last BFF was a toxic mess, ask yourself what about your personalities made you clash. Maybe she was sneaky and you highly value loyalty and trust. Think about how you like to live your life and what type of people fit into that picture. It’s okay to be selective: You deserve friends who support and empower you.
Stick your neck out.
Just as with dating, sometimes you have to be the one to take the first step to form a relationship. If there’s someone you’d like to get to know better, ask her out for coffee. If you’re looking to expand your social circle, Meetups are a great way to find new friends with similar interests. Pick up the phone and ring old friends to catch up – hearing a person’s voice is a powerful way to connect. At first this process may feel uncomfortable, especially since you’re weary of being hurt again. Know that discomfort is a sign that you’re growing and processing. Expanding our capacity to meet new people and deepen connections requires a willingness to endure short-term stress in the service of long-term fulfilling relationships.
Ending a friendship isn’t easy, but often it’s a step in the right direction towards filling your life with positive people who embrace your quirks and appreciate your strengths. By letting go of relationships that no longer serve you, you free up time for healthier, more satisfying friendships and learn a little more about yourself in the process.