How to think about a friendship break up


Dear Coaches,

A few years ago a close friend and I “broke up” our friendship. The break up came on the heels of a lot of things we probably should have aired out loud with one another over many years, and by the time we tried, there was so much hurt and anger on both sides, that the whole friendship blew up.

I have known and admitted both to myself and to her since day one that I contributed equally to the problems in the friendship. At the same time, I have felt immense relief to be out of it. I do not characterize my friend as “toxic” – but I do think the friendship we built together became toxic and by the time it ended, every single day was full of argument and stress. And yes, it became toxic at least in part because of what I did, and especially the number of things I didn’t say or bring to light. This is a major learning for me – maybe the major learning of this part of my life.

Here’s my question. Since the “break up,” my friend has repeatedly sent me letters which I interpret as hostile (meaning, letters that call me an “***hole” among other things). I have declined to answer these letters because in the past doing so has led to more letters on both sides, and it’s not like these letters have ever helped either one of us; more anger and chaos ensues. Whole weeks can be taken up with this and it feels fruitless.

A big part of me feels terrible about not answering. I know that she’s in pain – otherwise she wouldn’t write such things. And I know her history well enough to know that my silence is very likely interpreted as yet another abandonment. Thinking that – and I know it’s a thought of mine – makes me sad. I hate to think of adding to the hurt she has felt in her life – even as I know that it would be her choosing to be hurt if she takes it that way. It has helped me a lot to hear Brooke say that adults can’t be abandoned.

At the same time, I can’t believe how much better I am doing in all parts of my life since our friendship ended two years ago. My business has grown beautifully, new friendships have blossomed, and I seem to have so much energy to create a better life for myself. These last years have been some of the happiest of my whole life. Again, this is not to blame her; I know that it was I who dedicated all that energy to the chaos between us.

I’m not asking you to tell me that it’s OK not to be in touch with her, or that I SHOULD be in touch with her. I’d really like a hand with my own thinking here because the fact is that I’m not in touch with her and I’m letting my own thoughts whirl about it.

I’ve heard Brooke say that ideally we shouldn’t need to “cut” anyone from our lives and that makes sense. If I saw her on the street I would speak to her, but answering these letters feels dangerous and like opening up to a flurry of other letters I don’t really want to receive. Is this the same as “cutting” her out? Or is cutting people out a state of mind in which we characterize them as the villain and ourselves as the victim? And where do healthy boundaries come into this?

Thank you for reading this and for your help in seeing it with fresh eyes.