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Why do friendship breakups hurt the most?

By Dhuha Usman

After failing to find a Pinterest-style quote to open this piece with, I realised that the downfall of friendship can be hard to put into words.

I am certain that everyone reading this will be able to say that they have had a friendship breakup that they still think about to this day. Whether it was major or not, it still hurts when you consider that even your longest and strongest friendships can come to an end. Often, losing these friends can be more hurtful and intense (and all-consuming, but that comment just feels a little extra personal) than a romantic relationship, but why is that?

Entering into girlhood and beginning to forge bonds with others is a unique feeling. There is something euphoric in the phenomenon of acquiring a female friend. There is a trust and love like no other, often coupled with a simultaneous, underlying fear of falling out.

There are a plethora of factors that affect how we act with each other. There is competition, jealousy, and rivalry pushing so very hard on these friendships that is not as prevalent in romantic entanglements.

I’m not entirely sure whether this is a product of the patriarchy (it probably is, let’s be real), but there's something about those relationships that can bring out another level of cattiness and competition amongst young women. As a byproduct, this often means that friendships end with a higher level of hurt.

The notion of the 'friendship fall-out' always takes me straight back to the absolute drama of secondary school (seriously, what was up with all that palaver?). In addition to the element of competition, there's a tension between finding yourself in those early years and shapeshifting to fit in with everyone else. That personal growth that comes with growing up can cause riffs that are inevitably tragic. Trust me, been there, got the T-shirt.


Thanks to popular culture, it is expected that girls deal with friendship breakups by pulling at each other’s hair and shouting about how much of a bitch the other is. Pulling out the film Bend it Like Beckham from the archives of your early noughties memories, we can see how a strong female friendship can be intercepted with cattiness, in this instance stemming from the presence of a boy. This criminally underrated masterpiece of a film fits right into the typical trope of friendship breakups. There is the overarching push of Joe (both football coach and love interest) that comes between Pinky (Archie Panjabi) and Juliettte (Kiera Knightly). We see verbal arguments that rival the soaps, we see the hurt both characters feel and we also see the reconciliation once the all-encompassing agenda of the patriarchy, symbolised by the character of Joe (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) in this case, disappears. The love interest that both girls are pining for ends, yet their friendship repairs and lasts longer than the romantic potential we see. Whilst time has moved on since 2002 and I would hope that as a society we have overcome the ‘best friends fighting over a boy’ saga, the message of everlasting friendship still stands.

Speaking for myself here, at least 90% of my friendships came prior to any romantic interest I have ever had. Due to that, there is a lot depending on my relationship with my friends; my platonic soulmates, the people who step into the shoes of my family, my people. Losing a friend grieves the memories, the growing up, the inside jokes, the vulnerable mornings after the nights before, the getting ready together and so much more. Comparing this to someone you’ve perhaps not known for so long, or not had so much of an intensely long ride with (no pun intended), does not even come close to the amount you lose when you lose a friend, even if they are a romantic partner. After all, when a romantic relationship comes to an end, it’s the platonic yet unaltered love between you and your friends that supports and sees you through.

In the words of our saviour Taylor Swift, “when the words of a sister come back in whispers that prove she was not in fact what she seemed”, this betrayal of a friendship breakup is sore and can leave you feeling vulnerable. It’s that word “sister” that we use in tandem with our female friendships that adds an extra sting. You put all of your trust into your friends and invest in them knowing you in a way no one else does, including romantic partners. Let’s be honest, the thought of someone holding ALL of that information about you and disappearing into the distance isn’t just sad, it’s potentially terrifying! There is someone out there who knows a version of you exceptionally well, as you do them, and they become a stranger or someone you no longer recognise. What a positively weird and uncomfortable thing to experience. And that’s true in even the tamest circumstance, in friendship breakups that didn’t end in an Eastenders style screaming match (not so great on the friendship side of things, but it is great telly, isn’t it?)

So, what can friendship breakups teach us that romantic ones can’t? They teach us how to set boundaries and communicate better, as well as learn what kind of people you need to support you and those who uplift you. You will learn how to spend time on your own which, as you get older, is something that is so important. Most importantly, you will learn how to be a good friend in return. You will learn how to live in harmony with people from all walks of life with all kinds of behaviours. Experiencing this will mean that you will figure out what is best for you, become a better friend to those around you and indefinitely a better person to yourself.

Friendship breakups are painful and entirely rubbish, undeniably creating insecurities and a hurt that no other relationship can. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. You will repair and recover, you will make new friends and you will revive the confidence in yourself, just as you would with a romantic partner.


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