Breaking up with a best friend is more painful than a split from a partner

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‘Little Mix, who once claimed to be like sisters, are no longer as close as they once were’  (Getty)
‘Little Mix, who once claimed to be like sisters, are no longer as close as they once were’ (Getty)

The ongoing feud between Little Mix and their former bandmate Jesy Nelson has filled many column inches, seeing gossipmongers and fans alike speculating on what’s caused such an apparently acrimonious split.

While both camps have remained guarded on the matter, dancing round questions with a polite – almost balletic – grace, it’s clear that the trio and Jesy, who once claimed to be “like sisters”, are no longer as close as they once were.

It’s a particularly depressing state of affairs that a group that built their branding on female empowerment, and is beloved by so many young girls, have had such clear and seemingly bitter break-up.

Yet it’s not unfamiliar, either – because as dispiriting as the Little Mix rift may be, it’s something many people may have experienced (even if it happens for most of us away from the eyes of the world’s press). In fact, in the US, it’s thought that 47 per cent of adults report having lost touch with at least a few friends over the past 12 months, and in Britain, many of us have fewer friends than before the pandemic.

Like most people, I have experienced friendship break-ups. Some connections with people from my hometown came to a natural conclusion after I moved to London, with little to no need to talk to each other now we were no longer in walking distance of each other’s houses. Others – including those I considered “best friends” at university – are now no more than vignettes, or happy memories; our conversations ending the moment we tossed our mortarboards in the air.

In these situations, neither break-up was acrimonious, more of a mutual farewell after the circumstances that bound us together were no longer relevant. Some I vaguely miss, but I don’t have a deep longing for any sort of reconnection. After all, all good things must come to an end.

But breaking away from some special friendships you thought would be permanent fixtures in your life can leave more than a few bruises on your ego – it can, in fact, create deep and searing wounds. Losing someone you once held dear can be like a grief; forcing you to rethink your entire future: parties, birthdays and weddings now looking entirely different.

I experienced this: found myself ripped away from a person I was once deeply entangled with; found myself in turn papering over their face in my mind, trying to imagine it differently (or forget them altogether); trying to ignore the gaps in memory where they once stood.

The pain I felt breaking up with a friend I once considered my family was more of a pure, unfiltered heartbreak than when I broke up with my boyfriend of nearly seven years. It was a friendship that wasn’t built on particularly strong foundations – it was from a simpler time, where lifelong connections with someone could come from something as flimsy as sharing the same maths class – but that person quickly became my everything.

Female friendships can become intense quickly, and as we grew older, we were each other’s entire support network. We’d spend all day talking and exchanging texts, only to spend hours on the phone in the evening, our families furious about the mammoth phone bills. Weekends were for sleepovers, where we would share her grandmother’s bed and eat stacks of pizza before falling asleep, limbs tangled and crumbs caught in the sheets.

But as the years passed, phone calls and sleepovers where we’d stay up all night whispering became few and far between. The everyday trials and tribulations of growing up drove a wedge between our once-close friendship. As we grew older, it became more and more apparent that in reality, we just didn’t have that much in common. And, as is often the way with these things, in the end it was a small, mostly insignificant issue that decimated our decade-long relationship.

We had a small argument about something so trivial, it should have been inconsequential. But for me, this argument was symbolic of a boundary that had been crossed; that I was unwilling to just let slide. In my red hot rage of that moment, I blocked her from everything – cutting out someone who had been so intricately woven into my life with a few callous, careless jabs of my thumb.

It was a cowardly way to end a friendship that had withstood nearly 10 years worth of memories, but I still harbour some silly, irrational anger towards her – as far as I know, she’s never tried to reach out to me.

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In those moments, I tell myself it’s probably “for the best” that I broke it off. But it doesn’t stop me from silently flicking through her social media accounts; seeing how much she’s changed and grown since we went separate ways.

In my lonelier, more repentant moments, I often wonder about reaching out, but there’s a clawing tug of embarrassment and regret at my actions that holds me back. As much as I want to remind her of the times we clutched each other, howling with laughter, I just can’t. That’s where the heartache of a friendship split lies: remembering what you had, wondering what could have been – and knowing it will never be the same again.

Maybe Little Mix’s silence is symptomatic of their heartbreak, too. Maybe they’re keeping quiet simply because talking about a love lost – the loss of a treasured friend – simply hurts too much to put into words.

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