Breaking Up Is Hard… For Your Friends, Too!

Photo by Kristin McKee via Flickr

When my friend is going through a breakup, it becomes my personal mission to mend her figurative heart. The quantity of chocolate ice cream at the supermarket diminishes noticeably. The local Blockbuster’s angry-girl-loses-guy-but-then-meets-even-cuter-one genre experiences a huge spike in rentals. I have all the right tools to combat my friend’s newly acquired depression….

Except the verbal skills.

Some people are born with a silver spoon in their mouths. My spoon is more of a copper alloy (you know, the kind that turns your skin green after you’ve worn it for too long).

A few years ago, after her relationship had come to a fiery end, my bosom buddy and I sat on her couch while she poured out her heart. I tried to keep my terror from showing on my face. What was I supposed to do? What could I say?

She paused and looked at me with those pleading, tear-filled eyes. I had to come up with something both insightful and comforting. And quickly. Hurry, hurry! What always made me feel better?

“Uh, I want ice cream.”

We asked our readers what’s the worst thing a friend can say to help someone get over a breakup. I’m ashamed to realize I’ve used almost all the clichés out there. Miss Bonnified doesn’t want to hear,  “I always hated him,” while Anna cringes at, “he wasn’t that great, anyway.” I used both of these lines on my friend that day.

Next, I tried to be gentle, telling her that “it wasn’t meant to be.” But those are words that Lauren H never likes to hear. I knew for a fact that she was “better off without him,” but that’s something reader Resullins despises.

FatalFlyingGuillotine sums up the general sentiment on clichés:“I basically dislike any clichés concerning breakups, along with needless–and usually baseless–insults or judgments of my former significant other. I’m the one who was close to her. Only I’m allowed to make rude/hostile/insulting comments about her, if and when I’m ready to.”

Once I finished trying to force-feed her ice cream, I started force-feeding her my opinions of her ex-boyfriend. I took every break in speech as an invitation for another judgmental comment. When she paused to blow her nose or wipe away a tear, I mentioned how much of a scumbag he was. I reminded her of that time he hit on the girl who turned out to be jailbait. She stayed silent during my verbal assault, and I figured the grimace on her face was just a part of her healing process. My comments were like gargling with salt water: unpleasant and nasty, but ultimately good for her.

It never occurred to me that my words of wisdom were lacking most of the wisdom. I continued drawing from my stockpile of well-meaning, clichéd diatribes. Diatribes other readers have heard and hated:

“I never understood what you saw in him, anyway.” -Averardoll

“There’s nothing to be upset about. He was a jerk.” -Denice

Despite the black river of tears cascading down her cheeks, I saw how beautiful my friend was, and it infuriated me that this tool couldn’t see all that I saw in her. But even my attempts to be supportive were clichéd:

“It’s for the best.” -Allison S.

“Everything happens for a reason.” -Carly

“You can do better than that.” -Elizabeth CW

I continued to reach for those elusive words that would finally make her feel better. Impulsively, I reached across the couch and wrapped my arms around her.

“Well, I think you’re awesome.”

Her sniffles subsided. Finally, success! I took that as my signal that I was doing something right.

“Let’s watch Pride and Prejudice and compare [insert douchebag of an ex-boyfriend’s name here] with Mr. Darcy, so you can see just how horrible he really is.”

For some reason, the tears started again.

Some readers did share a few comments that I would never have dreamed of saying, though. For Helena E., one of the worst things she can hear is the overly optimistic, “he’ll come to his senses. Just give him time. You two were meant to be together.” Sam L. doesn’t want to be told, “I knew he was cheating, but I didn’t tell you because I wanted you to find that out on your own.” Similarly, C.Munro doesn’t care to hear, “oh forget her. She was cheating on you the whole time, anyway.” Admittedly, this is something I would’ve used for fodder during my ex-boyfriend bashing.

Other readers shared tips on how to be a helpful friend. According to Max, “the best that happened to me was my friend listening to me, without saying anything back.” BeccaAnne adds, “just let them vent.” As for bashing the ex, Anna offers this: “Don’t jump to conclusions and say he sucked… unless you hear it from me first! If I’m calling him a douchebag, he probably is. Just wait until I give the okay to insult.”

Hellzno summarizes breakups most eloquently: “the relationship is over, your life is not.”

The next time my friend went through a breakup, I did better. I kept my insults to a minimum. I asked questions, nodding sympathetically at the right moments, offering compliments and hugs at others. Ice cream and going out in public were one of the last stages of the consolation process, not the main event. I took her places, so she didn’t have time to mope. We played Laser Tag and stayed up late doing mindless, entertaining activities. According to Resullins, the best thing anyone can offer her is a “beer (or 20)” and the opportunity to “ogle hot butts.” Well, the latter was something I was always happy to scope out for my friend.

My strategies for dealing with my friend’s breakups are far from perfect, but I’d like to think that I’m slowly improving. I realize now that she’s not looking to hear about how much time and effort she just wasted on someone I consider to be a horrible person. Insulting someone’s ex is like insulting their personal taste, and the last thing a person needs to hear when they feel unwanted is that, not only can they not keep a partner, but they have horrible judgment too.

If they were looking for inaccurate clichés, they could probably find a more efficient list from Google. What they can’t receive from the internet is a sympathetic ear, a comforting shoulder (and my shoulder is pretty comfortable), and a reassuring hug.

And chocolate ice cream, of course.

Advertisements
The following two tabs change content below.

Julie Hartley

Latest posts by Julie Hartley (see all)

13 comments

  • Yay, chocolate ice cream!

    Yeah, apparently I suck at being the post-breaker-upper person to talk to as well. I’ve done some of these things (sometimes not even post break-up, but when GF is telling me BF is being a d-bag … apparently she did NOT want me to agree with her on that count).

    Here’s to getting better social skills and eating ice cream… maybe with beer. I heat that Guinness ice cream floats are pretty rockin’.

  • Well, I don’t believe in babying people, so… what about the friends who need a figurative kick in the ass because they keep doing stupid relationship things?

    I bet you could be good at that. 😉

  • Jaberkaty (sometimes not even post break-up, but when GF is telling me BF is being a d-bag … apparently she did NOT want me to agree with her on that count).

    Aw, I hate when people do that. I’m, like, “you were just bitching about your sig! And I was just agreeing with you! Why the hell are you getting mad at me for agreeing with you?!?”

    See previous post about figurative ass-kicking.

  • I have a hard time dealing with people who jerk me around like that. If you’re going to confide in me all the rotten things your significant other does I will probably tell you he’s an ass and you’re too good for him. Then I will lose respect for you when you get mad at me.

    It boggles the mind. This was an otherwise pretty awesome friend, but after that it was a little weird, gotta say. She has since moved on from d-bag to rather awesome guy, but I don’t tell her what I think about people anymore. And I think it goes towards the idea that when people are involved with someone, they don’t actually want to know what you really think. They want you to echo what they feel (not what they say).

  • Agreed. I think we just have to learn to distinguish between someone who’s looking for feedback and someone who’s looking for validation.

    I hate validatin’ people.

  • Julie, great article!
    Like FFG said: “I’m the one who was close to her. Only I’m allowed to make rude/hostile/insulting comments about her, if and when I’m ready to.” Just because she is bashing her ex, it is not an invitation for you to do so as well. Also, you don’t have to “baby” your friend, just don’t stomp on them, which is how they might feel you are doing if/when adding your $.02.

  • Well done love!!!!!

    Though I’m pretty sure I would never use the word butt when there are better options.

  • The thing is, if one of your close friends was dating someone you truly cannot stand, right after the break-up is when you finally feel free to speak your mind about the ex. And that can be a difficult thing to resist. It’s like taking a breath after swimming underwater.

    “Yes! Yes! I’m so glad you and (ex) broke up. That piece of crap was never any good for you. Thank heavens that relationship didn’t go any further.”

  • Dennis Hong :

    Jaberkaty (sometimes not even post break-up, but when GF is telling me BF is being a d-bag … apparently she did NOT want me to agree with her on that count).

    Aw, I hate when people do that. I’m, like, “you were just bitching about your sig! And I was just agreeing with you! Why the hell are you getting mad at me for agreeing with you?!?”

    See previous post about figurative ass-kicking.

    I have to be really careful with this, but I’ve discovered that as long as I stay on topic, it’s not too bad. If she’s venting about the time he was talking to some other girl behind her back, and I agree that it was totally out of line and he was a jerk for it, she doesn’t seem to mind. If I take it as an opportunity to jump in and tell her how I hated the way he handled another situation or bring up another douchey act, well, she usually doesn’t like that.

  • Ah, good point.

    “Stay on topic. Stay on topic.”

    “I can’t shake her!”

    “Stay on topic. Stay on topic.”

    “We’re going too fast!”

    “Eject, eject!”

    “No, no! I can do it. I can….”

    [kaboom]

    Ah, the Star Wars references. Again.

  • Worse thing I ever said to a friend who called to tell me that she had (finally!!) ended a relationship with her long time boyfriend? “Well, it’s about time!” In retrospect, not the most tactful thing to say, but she had one foot out of the relationship for almost 2 years! Still, I am not proud. My go-to response? “Are we happy about this, or not happy about this?” The response to that question lets you know where to go from there.
    Here’s the only problem about being a good friend and sympathetic ear: sometimes it takes people a long, and I mean LONG, time to get over someone. So, it can get pretty old when it’s 6 months later and you are still talking about “what went wrong” or “I think I want her back.” The next part of this article is “get over it already!” dealing with the moratorium on break-up angst.

  • Jaz :

    Worse thing I ever said to a friend who called to tell me that she had (finally!!) ended a relationship with her long time boyfriend? “Well, it’s about time!” In retrospect, not the most tactful thing to say, but she had one foot out of the relationship for almost 2 years! Still, I am not proud. My go-to response? “Are we happy about this, or not happy about this?” The response to that question lets you know where to go from there.
    Here’s the only problem about being a good friend and sympathetic ear: sometimes it takes people a long, and I mean LONG, time to get over someone. So, it can get pretty old when it’s 6 months later and you are still talking about “what went wrong” or “I think I want her back.” The next part of this article is “get over it already!” dealing with the moratorium on break-up angst.

    That’s a great go-to response! I’m going to have to remember to use that next time!

  • Pingback: Talk To Us: If you’re trying to get over a breakup, what’s the worst thing a friend can say to you in an attempt to make you feel better? « Musings on Life and Love

Tell me about it....