When Best Friends Break Up

The invitation to my 30th High School reunion is haunting me. It seems impossible. Thirty years?

At my 10th High School reunion, JL., one of the Popular Girls in my suburban High School’s impenetrable social hierarchy, wondered aloud in the Ladies Room why Andy H., one of the popular boys, hadn’t decided to come.

Andy was my neighbor in Greenwich Village.  I saw him all the time. “Oh,” I said. “It’s his birthday, and his girlfriend is throwing him a party.”

“How would someone like you know where someone like he is?” was J’s oh, so, High School reply.

I laughed out loud.  Wow, I thought, some people never really leave High School.

Now, impossibly, my thirtieth reunion looms.  It’s as hard to believe as my own kids applying to High School, my neck starting to crepe, and NSYNC reuniting at the VMA’s.  But unlike those other inevitabilities, I don’t have to go to my High School Reunion, and I’m not sure that I will. Why? Because ten years ago, my group of High School friends, one of whom had been my best friend since we were eight, dumped me without explanation.

It wasn’t a dramatic blow up. This was a slow series of  un-returned phone calls, of slights both intended and not – on all sides, until I finally said to my lifelong best friend “We need to talk about this.” And, after nearly thirty years of friendship, she didn’t want to talk.  Ever again.

For the first year or maybe even two, I called every few months and left a simple message: Just wanted you to know I was thinking of you.  She never called back.  One of the other women, after a phone call where she said, memorably, “You’re a negative person, and you want to bring everyone else down with you.”  and unforgivably, “Your kids deserve a better mother,”   wrote me a note saying “We both said things we regret. ”  I didn’t answer.

But when she lost her father a few years later, I went to the funeral – we’d all grown up together, after all.  I never heard from her again.

One of the husbands invited me to a surprise birthday party.  After much agonizing, I went.  She didn’t take it as a pleasant surprise.  But when her father died, again I went. “It was surreal to see you there.” said the note that came, not quite thanking me for being there. The third woman in our foursome just followed suit. I haven’t seen or spoken to her in eight years,

And that’s it.  After friendships that included seeing each other through first crushes, first kisses, first marriages, babies and brises and divorces – nothing.

Of course I’m to blame, too.  I wasn’t the best friend I could have been.  I am, in fact, kind of a negative person sometimes.  Oftentimes.  Though I’m harder on myself than I am on anyone else. I didn’t go the extra mile. I could be petty and jealous.  Worst, I called my oldest friend on things – thinking I was being helpful – making her face the tough issues- when in fact, all she wanted was to gloss over them and move on.  Why did I think I knew better how she should cope with her life than she did?  I didn’t.

Nearly 10 years later, I still think of her all the time. Not daily, but close.  And I don’t know that I want to see her again, that I can, at a party, where I’m supposed to be happy and excited and see?, my life turned out great and all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. (We read Candide in High School French class.)

My husband keeps telling me I’m being ridiculous – they are only three of the many people who will likely be there.  I’m not even sure they will be there, and aren’t there other people I’d like to see?  Well of course there are.  My other reunions have been a blast. But still, I’m wary.

What if I break down?  What if I’m overtly slighted?  What if I’m not?  And they all pretend that everything is perfectly fine, like nothing ever happened?  Like one of them didn’t move and not send me a forwarding address?  Didn’t have a baby, and neglect to tell me?  Didn’t imply that I was bad mother to my then toddler twins?

Unlike a divorce, which has pretty clear parameters for dissolution, when friendships break, you’re on your own.  No papers to sign. No  lawyers to pay.  No support groups, no friends trying to fix you up, no getting back in the saddle.  I’m not sure how it’s going to feel, and if I want to feel it.

At my own 40th birthday party, a mutual High School friend, with whom I still speak a few times a year, said “Wow, you had so many friends here, and they said such nice things about you!’  He sounded genuinely surprised.

Maybe I don’t want to reunite with people who are surprised I have friends.  Maybe, having gone thirty years without seeing all those High School friends I remember fondly, I can survive without seeing them again.  Or maybe, I should go, and not care anymore about 10 year old breaks, and old friends long gone.

Maybe it’s time to really leave high school. But whether that means going to the reunion or not, I’m just not sure.


  1. says

    OK, so first of all, never in a million years would I peg you as a negative person. Then again, since I can’t stand perky, upbeat people, my meter may be off a little.

    So here’s the thing: it sounds like there are plenty of other people you’d enjoy seeing, so you have to decide what will suck more: missing out on that fun, or going and being completely bothered by those three women. Because it sounds like short of showing up with a notarized apology letter, anything they do is going to bug you.

    How likely is it that you’ll be able to ignore them and have a good time? And will the effort spent doing that outweigh the fun you’ll have?

  2. Dom says

    Nancy—you have me in tears over this blog post. I have been following you, but never comment. Today this post strikes a cord because I can relate….. You are so real and honest and I hope your friends read this and call you. Life is too short and if they don’t then— “c’est la vie” and you will be fine. So why do people we love and love us hurt us at the same time? Most of all why do “we” women have to be so hard on each other and try to hurt one with something that “as a mom” we all should be good at regardless. Because being a mom doesn’t come with a guide….instead “we” should remember how blessed and privileged we all are…….For what it ‘s worth, I don’t know you at all but, I admire you and you do not come across as a negative person. Thank you for allowing us all into your life.

    • says

      What a lovely response, Dom, and all the more meaningful to me because we don’t know each other, but still you took the time to read and write and offer your support. I don’t think I’m blameless in the end of these friendships…not at all. I hope I conveyed that. But since the three of them are all still friends…I assume so anyway, I feel like the shunned one. I guess I am. And maybe there’s a real reason for that. I only wish that after decades of friendship they’d have told me what it was. Thanks for reading, keep commenting. This was a hard piece to write…took me ten years, I guess. So it means a lot that you read it and it meant something to you. Thanks.

  3. Neshama Mousseau says

    Nancy, I felt so sad reading this post. Clearly this is their loss. The bigger issue to me is that there is often no clear way to grieve friends who go away without explanation. I agree with the other comments-go to the reunion if there are other people you would enjoy seeing and skip it if it would be too painful. I almost went to my 30th last year ( had gone to 25th and sort of had fun) and blew it off at the last minute. It was a good decision at the time.

  4. says

    Nancy, your story is the same as my story. I could literally lift it and put it in my blog. But that would be wrong. lol.

    If we as woman were able to stand together and support each other I don’t think the country would be fighting again for rights we thought we would never have to fight for again.

    I wish I knew why people we think are our friends one minute can turn around and rip our hearts out the the next. It’s a tough process to go through. I took my experience with losing my best friend as a chance to take a hard look at myself.

    Now that I look back on it, and have the benefit of hindsight, I see the cues I messed. But I also realized that we had changed as people. I was no longer willing to take her belittling me and she wasn’t interested in a friend she couldn’t abuse. So there you have it. I still hurts when I think about her. We had so much fun together and wasn’t all bad.

    it’s really not that easy to make new friends. My walls have gone up again and I have found anyone whose really interested in scaling them.

    My life is busy with family and kids but I miss my best friend.

  5. says

    Nancy, wanted to check in on how things are going in your world and read this post, so moving. Thanks for sharing.

    After 3 different high schools and a move to the States from Canada for college, my relationships with high school friends are nil. But it’s probably easier to not have built those relationships at all than to have built and lost – hope things are going well in your world these days. Have been thinking about you. Sending my best…

  6. says

    I was sitting here looking for a funny blog to read on a Saturday night and thought of you, someone who I was fortunate enough to spend two fun filled days in Disney with. You are definitely not a negative person. Realistic – yes. Hysterically funny – yes. Honest – yes. Ambitious – yes. Negative – still no.
    You have confirmed something for sure – high school never ends. For three life long friends to stop speaking to you without any explanation is wrong and immature. I would have a very hard time getting over this, as well.
    As for the HS reunion – that is a decision only you can make.

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