The Friendship Doctor

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Friendship Advice: Dumped by a Friend at Work

Breakups in the workplace can be particularly challenging to get over.

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

It’s been one-and-a-half years since my good friend and I broke up. As background, I’m 39 and she’s 45. I’m single and she’s divorced. Neither of us have kids. We had been good friends for seven years…met at work. We still have the same workplace and have the same group of lunch buddies. We don’t work closely together but we do see each other at lunch and in the hallway.

I had finally come to a place where our breakup wasn’t affecting me as much. Immediately after the breakup, I went for counseling, as I was so distraught over the end of the friendship. I had never had such a good friend dump me. I’m pretty good at weeding out friends before they become very close but I didn’t see this one coming. I can count my best friends on one hand and she was one of them until it ended.

I was able to, gradually, over a year, get to a place where I didn’t feel so upset every time I saw her. Essentially, she dumped me without an explanation. I had tried, throughout our friendship, to talk things out as issues arose but she never responded well so I didn’t think it would be right to have a post-breakup talk. I have always left the door open, saying hi in the hallway and chatting briefly with her at lunch.

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Just recently, she started talking more to me so I thought she was coming around. I started emailing her every now and then to say hello and see how things were going. Then, she started distancing herself again. Once again, I feel defeated, used, angry, and confused. All my being is telling me to talk this out with her so I understand once and for all what happened and where things went wrong.

Unfortunately, I cannot do that as it takes two to tango, as the saying goes. I find myself caring again about her and going through all the same emotions. What’s happening? Why is she acting this way towards me? And on and on. What advice do you have for moving beyond this fully or – perhaps – holding out for the friendship to return (although I doubt it will)?

It’s not that I lack friends but I do miss what we used to have. I am still keeping busy with extra-curricular activities.  But the question remains…why did this happen and how can I get past if even though part of me wants to hang on to hope?

Many thanks, Holly

ANSWER

Hi Holly,

When friendships fall apart in the workplace, it can be very complicated and painful because it’s so difficult to make a clean break and begin recovering from the breakup: You have to see your ex-friend on a regular basis, and wind up in the awkward position of sharing mutual friends and colleagues.

It sounds like you handled the initial breakup as well as anyone might. To work through the disappointment, you spoke to someone outside of the office, remained collegial and cordial in the workplace, and left the door open should things change.

Perhaps, because this friendship was so meaningful to you, you held out some hope that this friend would want to resurrect the friendship as you did. You may have inadvertently taken small signs of her being more civil as her wanting to reconnect. This is totally understandable.

It’s unrealistic to think you will be able to obtain any more understanding about what happened to this friendship from this woman: Don’t hang on to that hope any longer. Instead, continue your own healing and emotional recovery from this breakup. Here are some suggestions:

1) Consider this friendship over. You don’t need to search for reasons why.

2) Since you are co-workers, be cordial to her in the workplace, only speaking to her about work-related matters when you have to. Focus on your job.

3) Don’t involve any other co-workers in what has happened between you and your ex-friend.

4) Remind yourself that you don’t need to obtain closure from your ex-friend. This is something you can achieve on your own as you did before.

There may be things going on with her that are totally unrelated to you but, regardless, you deserve more rewarding and reliable friendships that this one. I hope this helps.

Warm regards, Irene

Have a friendship problem or dilemma? Check out The Friendsihp Blog, newly redesigned with five years of searchable archives. While you are there, see Dr. Irene S. Levine's recent interview with Katie Couric on friendship breakups.

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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