The decision is not an easy one to take, and the gesture is often difficult. As in love, ending a friendship takes a lot of determination and courage. However, some endings are more often than not beneficial and can lead to good new beginnings.

“It was probably the most difficult period of my life,” says a reader. “Sarah and I were childhood friends, but the relationship had become one-sided and completely emptied me. I had no choice but to break that old friendship.”

Whether a romantic relationship or a friendship, an ending is rarely something that one can anticipate in advance. Just as in love, friendship often follows the same path: an idealization of the person, followed by (unfortunately too often) a disappointment. The suffering can be immense, leaving quite a gaping hole in one’s life. Friendships are usually tacit pacts of equality and reciprocity. Just one tiny crack in the concrete and the entire relationship crumbles.

Who has not felt, at one time or another in his life, the painful feeling of distance that develops between two friends, or the impression that both are heading down different paths? It may have been the same road travelled at one point in time; but time can alter people’s courses dramatically.

A Genuine Pain

We often speak of the suffering that a breakup causes, but it would be wrong to underestimate the degree of pain that follows the end of a friendship. There is a certain romance about friendship: that friends are forever; that nothing can separate them. The extent of distress caused is in the expectations that have been put in this sort of relationship, and the shock of the break is huge.

Four years ago, Sandra dealt with this existential shock in full force. Her best friend told her she had an affair with her husband. She did not see it coming. “Besides the fact that this completely ruined my relationship with my husband, the hardest part was to accept the betrayal of my best friend. A spouse can be replaced; a childhood friend, I don’t think so,” she says, still shaken by the memory.

To many experts, the concept of friendship has, in recent years, filled the gap caused by the fragility, or the lack of, long-term relationships. Without strong romantic relationships, we turn to friends, to some extent, as a replacement. “Love” is sometimes expected and does not come. To sum up the danger, the “friend for life” comes gradually to take the place of “eternal love”.

When Endings are Welcome

There is no miracle “how-to” or procedure when it comes to ending a friendship. In this regard, psychologists are unanimous in their opinion: there is no standard operating procedure when it comes to break-ups. In some cases, the bonds must be cut quickly and cleanly, especially if the situation has become unhealthy. In other cases, one must first weigh the pros and cons. Throwing everything overboard is not always the best solution, especially when it comes to a friendship that has long been a part of one’s life.

“I gradually brought the subject up,” says John. “My friendship with Ann didn’t really suit me, but she didn’t seem to grasp the situation. I didn’t want to hurt her by simply abandoning the friendship. Gradually, she did realize that it was better not to be friends anymore. However, despite the apparent softness of this sort of ending, I took weeks – months – to get over my grief; it was so immense. I realize now, though, that this was the best decision.”

Despite the pain that such a break causes, experts agree that one should never continue unhealthy friendships at any cost. As in love, there are situations that one cannot tolerate. Breaking a friendship is also an act of courage that can give one wings, marking a turning point in one’s life. One must never lose track of the fact that one has also contributed to rifts in friendships, and that one’s pain isn’t the centre of the universe. Break-ups also help build us mentally.

Having the courage to break a friendship is part of the deal; these steps can help us lead a better life in other spheres of existence. Pain surrounding a break-up is normal, because it becomes a throwback to the original separation we endure: that between mother and child–or so psychoanalysts say.

Ultimately, though, endings are more often than not healthy and beneficial. Because break-ups all have root causes, they help us dig deep and understand the rationale underlying the event, letting us apply new knowledge to future situations. And in a society where we now see more women in general than single men or couples, one can realize how important the meaning of friendship has become, and how painful it can be when it fails. A mourning that is wholly genuine, some say, but one that always passes.