Writer Ellen Margulies

By Ellen Margulies

Breaking up, as the song says, is hard to do.

There’s usually guilt, remorse and sometimes ill-advised reunion efforts on one side. On the other side, shattered confidence, feelings of betrayal, lots of Ben & Jerry’s.

The hardest break-up I’ve ever endured as a dumpee had all those evil side effects, which may not be so surprising. But this was no romance on the rocks. My best friend of several years suddenly cut all ties with no explanation, leaving me hanging and heartbroken. It was more devastating to me emotionally than any lost love interest. Maybe because I expected so much more from her.


As women, we’ve all been there – and if we’re being honest, we’ve been on both sides. We’ve dumped friends, sometimes after a dramatic Real Housewives-style dramatic argument, but more often by blowing off the offending party until they get the hint and go away. We tell ourselves it’s easier that way, though we are quick to decry the pitiful male who dares to try and break up with a girlfriend in such a cowardly manner. We tell ourselves it’s less painful for the friend being dumped. We’re giving her time to go out and make new friends while her suddenly faulty brain cells slowly absorb the certain knowledge that, hey, we’re just not that into her anymore.

Maybe, when a friendship seems to be dying a natural death, that really is the kindest thing. One of you is now married with kids, the other is starting a new business venture and both of you are suddenly moving in circles that no longer overlap as they once did. The calls and emails start slowing down. Your get-togethers are much harder to coordinate. At some point the friendship, no matter how well-intentioned, fades into Facebook likes on vacation photos and maybe a coffee at Christmas.

But when one of you hasn’t noticed that you’ve grown apart, or when one of you suddenly has a real issue with your friend, you probably owe it to your friendship – if not to yourself – to have an honest conversation, however painful.

If my one-time best friend R. had told me whatever her problem was, yes, I would still have been heartbroken. But not, perhaps, as betrayed. At the very least, I would have respected her for being straight with me.

After months of self-examination and a lot of probably unfair questioning of our mutual friends, I came to my own conclusions about why she ended our friendship. They mostly involved my own faulty behavior – I was suffering from depression at the time, and I’ve always wondered if I leaned on her too heavily. But I also couldn’t help but blame her new life in another city, her membership in an unfamiliar church and the kind of people she was associating with there. Those suspicions were certainly shored up when, less than a year or two later, she dumped a mutual friend, W., in the same heartless manner.

W. and I compared a lot of notes. We commiserated. We stayed angry with our old friend for years. And we both felt betrayed for years, too. “Basically, I think I learned then that a lot of friendships are just for a season,” W. says now.

She became more cautious with friends, less quick to trust. The experience left the same mark on me.


I’ve certainly dumped my share of friends in that old stealthy way, I admit. Maybe that’s no better than what R. did to me and to W.; maybe the end of our friendship was merely karmic retribution for all the hearts I’ve hurt myself. I’ll probably never know.

You don’t always have to have that heart-to-heart brutal friendship break-up speech with someone. Sometimes, the friendship morphs into something a little more distant. Sometimes it dies a natural death, no hard feelings on either side. But if a friendship has to change and someone is liable to be left hurting, be honest. Don’t leave a girl hanging. I’ve had that hard conversation, and it has gotten me cussed out on one occasion. But it was an honest cussing, and, hey, at least she got closure.

As women, we depend on one another for strength, for honesty, for friendship. And when those friendships sometimes end, we owe it to each other — as well as to ourselves — to just be honest. Because that what friends do. Even when they’re leaving you.

Q: What are some signs that a friendship is becoming destructive?

Expert Beth Diveley answers your questions.