• Keeping Friends

Reader Q & A: Help! Can collateral damage be avoided in a breakup?

Published: June 11, 2008 | Last Updated: March 17, 2015 By | 2 Replies Continue Reading
A woman wonders whether she can avoid collateral damage after a breakup.


Dear Irene,

I have experienced a catastrophic rift with my friend of over 10 years. “Em” and I met in college, and we’ve been through lots of life changes since then. Over the years, I’ve introduced her to all of my friends and she has become a fixture at our social gatherings.

Our relationship began to sour after I met my husband a few years ago. She is resentful that he has “replaced her” and that I am happy in life while she goes through a series of failed relationships and failed jobs. I feel increasingly that I can never do enough to be a good friend to her.

So, after she said some profoundly hurtful things to me, I decided the best thing to do is make more room in my life for my healthy friendships and relationships. The only problem is: I don’t know what to do about our mutual friends. I have no intention of telling them to choose sides, because that would be childish. But I fear that she will sabotage those friendships, and I don’t know how to go about protecting them while I remove her from my life.

This Thursday, there’s a joint birthday party for two mutual friends. We have both RSVP’d. What do I do?

Signed, Anonymous in Virginia


Dear Anonymous in Virginia,

Of course, you should go to your friends’ birthday party. You may feel a bit uncomfortable but it won’t be too bad. Just say hello to “Em” and focus your attention where it should be—on the Birthday Girls.

Friendships change as our life circumstances change. If you met your friend ten years ago at college, consider how you’ve changed and grown since then, and all the other changes that have taken place in nearly every other realm of your life. Isn’t it natural that the nature of the friendships you need and enjoy might change as well? As one example, you met “Em” before you met your husband. Prior to that, as two single women, you may have had more in common and therefore, you may have been more patient in catering to her whims and neediness.

Now that you have insight you have no choice but to break lose. Over time, connections between close friends become tangled like vines. Friendships that begin as twosomes extend to relationships between families and groups—and the risk of collateral damage after a breakup is real.

While you may suffer some losses, my hunch is they won’t be significant ones. If “Em” is grating, she probably is just as grating on your mutual friends. (She may even be worse without you as a buffer.) Your true friends will remain your friends.

Forget the hurtful things “Em” said and let go. If anyone at the party asks what happened, say that you drifted apart without going into
details. If “Em” goes on to intentionally sabotage your mutual friendships, smart women will see right through her.

Like you, even couples who split—married or not—have legitimate
concerns about subsequent fallout. But if you recognize your relationship with “Em” is toxic, you have no choice but to go forward with the split—or at least a friendship sabbatical.

Please get the word “catastrophic” out of your head. Yours is not the first friendship to fracture and yours won’t be the last. The relationship with “Em” was a good one when it was more reciprocal. I know that the change still feels painful but you have lots of supports in your life and things will smooth out over time. Let me know how it goes and thanks for reading my blog.

Sincerely, Irene

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Comments (2)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Irene, thank you so much for this advice. I found it immensely helpful.
    I am going to carry on through this and be the biggest person I can be. And you’re right, I have a lot of wonderful friends out there who are strong and smart and capable of seeing through this whole situation.
    On behalf of women everywhere, I’m grateful for the topics you have tackled in this blog. So much attention is given to failed marriages or romantic relationships, but a failed friendship — as I’m finding — is every bit as heartbreaking.
    Thanks again.

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