• Keeping Friends

Best friend breakups

Published: December 9, 2009 | Last Updated: April 2, 2016 By | Reply Continue Reading

by Linda Lombroso
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How do you tell your girlfriends you’ve been dumped by a best buddy?


That’s one topic most women steer clear of discussing, especially with other female friends, says Chappaqua psychologist Irene S. Levine, author of "Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend" ($15.95, The Overlook Press).


In fact, says Levine, women are so tight-lipped about their friendship failures that most who agreed to be interviewed for her book requested anonymity.


"There’s this romanticized notion I grew up with, that you’re supposed to stick with your friends forever, and friends are supposed to be perfect,” says Levine, an NYU professor whose research for the book included surveys of more 1,500 women. "To a large extent, women are judged by their ability to make and maintain friends.”


The truth, however, is that friendships can be fleeting, especially those that arise through the changing phases of a woman’s life, she says. And best-friend breakups are far more common than most women realize.


In her book, Levine, who grew up in Bayside, Queens, writes about her own first best friend, a fourth-grade classmate named Annie, who moved away during high school and left behind a broken heart.


Although she’s never experienced an explosive breakup with a close friend – or endured one of the "friendship felonies" she details in the book (infidelity, theft, assault, humiliation) – Levine writes that friendships end for a variety of reasons. And most women need help coping, whether they initiate the breakup or are blindsided by a dump.


What’s the best way to shut down a friendship that ceases to add value?


First, be absolutely sure you want that friendship to end, advises Levine. Sometimes reducing the intensity of the relationship might be enough to sustain a friendship through a questionable patch.


When you’re ready to end a relationship, "prepare yourself to do it in as gracious and as kind a way as possible,” she says. And know that it’s going to be tough.


To help soften the blow, white lies are permissible, assures Levine, as in "I’m so busy with work right now” or "My kids are consuming me" or "I just need a little time for myself.”


If you find yourself on the receiving end of a breakup, give yourself time to recover, she says.


"It’s somewhat shocking, so you don’t want to lash back or engage in too much conversation immediately,” says Levine. Although the first inclination is to wonder if you did something wrong, or to apologize, sometimes friendships end for no obvious reason, or for reasons that are "mysterious."


As Levine reports in the book, she was deeply hurt when a good friend stopped returning her phone calls without explanation. Only years later did she learn the friend was going through a family crisis that had nothing to do with her. She is grateful, she writes, that they were able to resurrect their relationship.


In many ways, says Levine, female friendships are vastly different from those among men.


And though many women claim their husbands are their best friends, she says men can’t relate to some of the topics that women enjoy discussing – bathing-suit woes, hair issues, mammography discomfort – no matter how sympathetic they are.


Her own husband, Dr. Jerome Levine, is an NYU professor of psychiatry who retired recently as deputy director of the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research in Orangeburg. (The couple are the co-authors of "Schizophrenia for Dummies," which came out earlier this year.)


And though he acknowledges there is a wide range of behaviors among men and women, Dr. Levine agrees that women tend to approach friendship differently.


"In general, I think that women need or enjoy or value more intimacy and sharing feelings amongst themselves than men do,” he says. "I think that men prefer to do things together and share things together with other men – going to the ball game or playing golf – whereas I think women prefer opportunities to share feelings more."


For Irene Levine, writing the book made her realize just how important her friendships were, and found her vowing to devote more time to nurturing those relationships.


One of her closest friends is Donna Dellaero, who hosted a party at her Chappaqua salon, Donna Hair Design, when "Best Friends Forever" was released in September.


Dellaero, who started off as Levine’s hair stylist, says the women have a "tight" friendship.


"She’s pushed me to be a better person,” says Dellaero, who admires Levine’s problem-solving skills. "We opened up with each other.”


Women who endure a sour end to a friendship should learn from the experience, reflect on the good memories and never stop trying to make new friends, says Levine. The health benefits of friendship are well documented, she adds.


"If you have the slightest thought that it’s selfish to seek out friendships, you have to consider that it’s essential for your well being and that of your loved ones,” she says.


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