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Distraught over a Breakup with a Workplace Friend

Published: December 9, 2011 | Last Updated: January 29, 2013 By | 4 Replies Continue Reading
There are ways to minimize the fallout of a friendship breakup at work.


Dear Irene,

Right now, only we know about it, but it’s bound to spread. I am not planning to say anything, but she likely will. Plus, it will eventually become apparent to others that we aren’t friends.

In my opinion, our friendship enhanced my work situation but I am still a great performer at work without the friendship, but our manager is likely to think that this is an epic crisis.I should add that my former friend is more outgoing than I and she’s in my boss’s inner circle (my manager play favorites, but that’s a whole other

My impression is that people see my former friend as this nice sweet thing who could never be selfish, or self-centered, or blow off a good friend. Most would agree though that she is flaky, sometimes unreliable, always late, etc. She has many, many, many acquaintance-type friendships. I have a small circle of super-close friends. (I see now in hindsight I should have kept her just as superficial friend, but I can’t undo that now.)

For me, my word as a friend is super-important — loyalty, reliability, kindness, trust, empathy, compassion etc. are paramount. But she has a different  understanding of these things. I would feel terrible if I had hurt a friend, even unintentionally. I can’t be friends with someone whose response is “Oh well, those are your feelings and I don’t even acknowledge they had anything to do with me. Good luck. I am proceeding with my life as if this never happened.” I’m guessing that
point of view works for her but it’s a dealbreaker for me.

Our friendship ended when we had made a commitment to do something together and she blew it off. It bothered me because all she had to do was tell me, or
since she couldn’t find me, leave me a message using any one of the many electronic means of communication we all have at our disposal now. When I called her to find out where she was and tell her I was upset that she changed plans without telling me, she just blew off my feelings and wondered what the big deal was. I didn’t sleep at all that night I was so upset, so I texted her the next day to tell her I was still upset. Again, she gave excuses about why she did what she did and was basically like, “What’s the big deal?”

She told me she thought something else must be going on in my life to make me react with such rage (Since we were communicating via text, that seems like a leap.) I know I should not have used text to communicate something so emotion-laden for me, but since she’d blown me off on the phone, I wanted to be sure I was communicating clearly) and that she wasn’t going to discuss it with me any further. I have no idea what she is talking about and since she closed with the message that she wasn’t going to discuss it further, I’m kind of stuck.

Here is my problem- outside of the work world, I would have chalked this up to lesson-learned, this person has different ideas and values when it comes to friendships, and I would move on. But we work together. What am I going to do?

Also, even though his person doesn’t meet my personal standards for being a friend, I’m still going through the breakup issues — made all the worse by the fact that I can’t exactly quit my job. I’m stuck seeing her. And I’m stuck in a group of people who haven’t been as close a friend as I have, or they haven’t been burned by her, or they just don’t see or aren’t bothered by what I am bothered by.

The things I most want to avoid are:

  • A fallout with our manager and her getting mad at me and blaming me entirely for the incident (very likely)
  • Tension with other co-workers who might feel caught in the middle
  • Loss of the interconnected work relationships I had due to my friendship with my former friend

I also need some strategies for handling my sadness while here at work. Crying at my desk is not an option (although I’ve been doing it every day. I can’t help it) so I’m really desperate.

Signed, Mia


Dear Mia,

It’s always hard to get over being dumped by a friend. Because we invest so much of ourselves in our friendships, it’s normal to feel disappointed, guilty, angry, sad, ashamed and/or embarrassed when this happens. Admittedly, having to see the person on a daily basis compounds these difficulties. While there’s no quick fix, let me assure you that with tincture of time, these feelings will dissipate.

Not all friendships last forever — so don’t blame yourself for this one ending. Also, be careful about jumping to the erroneous conclusion that office friendships never work out. You ultimately recognized there were parts of this person you didn’t like. Aside from the one incident that appears to have signaled the death knell for the friendship, you began to see this ex-friend as someone who was self-centered, and more concerned with looking good and having superficial relationships than being a loyal friend. Also, when someone is unable or unwilling to communicate and work through problems, minor disagreements or breeches of the friendship
can easily become insurmountable problems.

In terms of your immediate problems in the workplace, here’s my advice:

  • This breakup shouldn’t affect your work, per se, so I wouldn’t worry unnecessarily about your manager having an extreme reaction or blaming you for something that doesn’t affect your work. Remember, what happened was personal, not professional.
  • Act cordially to your friend in the workplace (e.g. Greet her when you pass each other in the hall and conduct business, as necessary.)
  • Don’t involve other co-workers or friends in any discussion of the breakup. If anyone asks, just say that you and your colleague decided that you both needed a bit of space. Be especially careful not to badmouth your friend or ask others to choose sides.

Hold your head high, stay engaged with your work and your co-workers, and for now, depend on your friends outside the office for support.

Hope this helps.

My best, Irene

Prior posts on The Friendship Blog about workplace friendships:

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Category: HANDLING BREAKUPS, Workplace friendships

Comments (4)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I have the same thoughts about ‘the high road’ especially with a workplace frenemy, after going through a similar and very long drawn-out scenario like this. It was pretty serious actually – the frenemy began harassing and bullying me, in subtle ways but these things were against workplace policy – it reached the point that I had to report it to HR to deal with it. This brought its own retribution: same frenemy did a lot of gossiping about me, and in fact another co-worker decided she didnt want to be my friend, simply based on frenemy’s gossip. At that point, I began to question whether I was doing the best thing for myself by continuing on ‘the high road’ – perhaps I should let co-workers know about her behavior and harassment? Also, we had same manager during this time and frenemy was trying to make me look bad to the manager… it was all very very ugly. But guess what? time passed – and frenemy showed herself for what she was, other people are onto her now and she has fallen way out of favor in the dept, and I never had to say a word to anybody. The old manager left for another job, new manager is much better overall. Time heals. Frenemy continued to act vengefully and in a bullying way for a long time and eventually got caught up in it. I have other people in the dept that I am friendly with (and I also learned valuable lesson about trusting too quickly and about divulging too much at work). So, stay on the high road, it usually turns out for the best, even for your own sense of integrity!

  2. Anonymous says:

    The fact that you say you are crying at your desk every day concerns me. You have to be careful that this isn’t seen as affecting your work performance, or you could have far worse repercussions than just losing a friend. Since your former friend seems to have the attitude of “What’s the big deal?” I suggest you take that attitude at work as well. Tell yourself this is no big deal, it just didn’t work out, and treat her like you would any other coworker/acquaintance who you aren’t that close to (friendly, but keep some distance). Cry and deal with your feelings at home if you have to, but try to keep your chin up and keep a smile on your face at work. Good luck!

  3. Anonymous says:

    I respectfully disagree with margarets comment and agree with Irene’s comment. I don’t believe that getting the word out first is the right thing to do, as tempting as it may be. Taking the high road is always the right thing to do. People may talk. Let them talk. You know the truth. Keep your integrity.

    On another note, I have experienced a similar situation. I became good friends with a co-worker a number of years ago. She was one of my closest friends of which there are few. This year, she started distancing. Ultimately, our friendship ended. I’ve tried for months to get over the loss of my close friendship. It’s very hard for me to accept because I see her every day at work. If she hadn’t been so close or if we didn’t work together, it would be easier. I wouldn’t have to be reminded of the loss every day. I’m still trying to deal with it.

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. It helps to know that there are others in my shoes. All the best.

  4. margarets says:

    The best-case scenario is that your manager and other co-workers are mature adults who will respect your privacy on this matter, not get caught up in petty gossip and rivalries, not take sides or punish anyone in any way.

    Which doesn’t sound like any workplace I know.

    You’ve got to prepare yourself for the worst-case scenario: ex-friend will gossip about you, tell lies to your co-workers and manager, which they will believe and then turn against you. You could find yourself very isolated, and this could affect your work. E.g. suddenly your manager is never satisfied with anything you do, it’s not really about your work, she’s lashing out at you for being so mean/selfish/etc with the ex-friend.

    So, know your enemy. You may have to do some damage control by getting your message out first about what went on. You may have to embellish certain things and leave out others (I know, this is playing dirty, but it happens all the time). Ultimately it is a judgement call.

    Be aware that taking the high road, being mature and discreet, won’t necessarily affect ANYONE’S impression of you or the friendship-breakup, if someone else got to them first.

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