The Friendship Doctor

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How do I handle a messy friend breakup?

Sometimes angers spews out all over the place.

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

A few months ago, I had a horrible falling out with my closest friend of 15 years. She had been such a solid fixture in my life for so long that I'm feeling rather unmoored. It was - up to this point - a really wonderful friendship.

On the night that precipitated our falling out, her and I and her boyfriend (whom I did not care for, but tolerated for her sake) went out for a couple of drinks. Afterwards, I came back to her apartment with them and crashed on her couch, as I had done countless times before. Only this time, the boyfriend didn't go to bed right away. He stayed on the couch and made a rather aggressive pass at me. I extricated myself, but was quite shaken.

My mistake here was that I stayed after he went to bed - I slept over and left the next day. I felt paralyzed - had that really happened? And how in the world was I going to tell her? I briefly entertained the idea of not telling, of sparing her, but this was not something I could keep from her. They had recently decided to move in together. I wanted to meet with her face to face, to answer all of her questions and be there to give her as much support as I could. Unfortunately, it didn't work out (it was minus 40 and no one in their right mind was going outside). So, the next day, I told her over the phone. She was, of course, devastated and extremely angry. 

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He had gone out of town by the time I told her, and apparently during those two days, they had taken their relationship to the "next level" (she didn't explain what exactly that meant), but whatever happened in those two days made her considerably more angry about the situation. In the few days that he was gone, she got her revenge. She stole two flatscreen TVs and $700 from his apartment, and poured elk urine into the cab of his trunk (possibly the worst smell ever). A couple weeks later, she saw him buying a new TV, and she followed him home, grabbed the TV out of the back of his truck and stomped on it. They exchanged a few words, and then she pushed him down, kicked him and stepped on his cell phone.  

Afterwards, she turned her anger on me. She was incredibly upset that I took two days to tell her. The fact that I left her with him for those days is unforgivable (her words). She said I was selfish, took control away from her and was not the friend she had trusted. She said my not telling her right away was the worst part of the whole thing. I tried to talk it out with her - I apologized, explained, and tried everything I could think of, but it got absolutely nowhere. I left it alone for a month or so and then tried again, still nothing.  

So. What do you think? Was it really that bad to not tell her immediately after the fact? While she did go a little crazy with the revenge, I still feel like the bad guy. I feel guilty that I was in that situation in the first place, and that I didn't react differently (situations like that make me freeze up). I'm still in disbelief that our friendship ended under these circumstances.

Any insight would be greatly appreciated. Love the blog.

Thanks!

Alyssa


ANSWER

Dear Alyssa,

This was a tricky situation but you were right to tell your friend about her boyfriend's pass at you. You told her as soon as you could and, to me, that seems to be the right time. You should only feel guilty if you did something to provoke him, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

Your friend has a very volatile temper but you have probably seen it before if you've known her for such a long time. I can understand her anger at her boyfriend but stealing and pouring elk urine in the cab of his truck sounds a bit out of control.

I suspect she was very upset and humiliated by what you told her so her anger spewed out on you as well. Given that this is a 15-year friendship, I think it is likely she will come back to you after she gets over this. Give her all the time she needs. You've said and done what you could to help her at the moment.

Best,
Irene

 

Other posts on The Friendship Blog about handling breakups:

Obsessed by a breakup

From almost sisters to almost strangers

Getting over getting dumped

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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