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Is breaking up with a friend harder?

Last updated on: May 10, 2010 11:43 IST

Here's why calling off a friendship can sometimes be as painful, if not more so than leaving your partner.

Break-ups and patch-ups. Hook-ups and split-ups. We're always obsessing and speculating over the status and demise of romantic relationships, whether it's Bollywood and Hollywood tabloid-fodder or the state of affairs in a neighbour's home.

Unfortunately, it's not just romantic relationships that tend to have their ups and downs; we have fall-outs with family and friends too. And we're constantly hearing of those, too -- long-standing feuds (Ambani vs Ambani), famous BFFs who fall out over work issues (SRK vs Farah Khan) and clashing egos (Katrina Kaif vs Kareena Kapoor). In fact, putting an end to a friendship of many years can actually be as bad, if not worse than calling things off with a lover.

Sound familiar? After all, fighting with friends is fairly common, right? But there's a difference between bickering for a couple of days and cutting someone you've loved and trusted for years out of your life permanently. And here's why.

You think that while romance may come to an end, friendships are forever

Face it -- when you start dating somebody, you rarely think of him/her as 'the One'. That feeling comes over time, as attraction grows into love, which takes awhile to set in, if at all it does.

But all friends are 'the One' in a way, right? Especially those that are closest to you. When you've connected with a pal on an emotional level, you tend to assume that the relationship with him/her is for keeps. You may go through six partners in the time that you've been close friends with a single individual and that's a constant that makes you feel loved and cared for.

Shares software programmer Kanika Hinduja*, 24, "Back in college I had a really close friend and we did everything together -- we were with each other 24/7. Another good friend of mine, a guy, liked her a lot, but she didn't seem to respond to him."

"One day, my girlfriend sent me an SMS from her sister's phone -- it was just one of those forwards, you know? I forget what most of it said, but the last line was, "The worst thing in life is when the person you love loves someone else."

Continues Kanika, "It may have been just a forwarded message, but this sentence really got me angry -- it looked to me like she thought I secretly liked that male friend of mine and she was taunting me about it. So I didn't respond and ignored her entirely from that moment on."

"She was not in the mood to talk things out with me either, or ask what went wrong. We disconnected from each other completely, without either of us wanting to sort it out. Everyone in college was gossiping and guessing at what went wrong so suddenly between us, because up until that point, we had always been together."

Fortunately for Kanika, nearly a year later, she and her friend finally got to talking things out. "Now it all seems very childish, but I think we were both quite miserable for the time we were apart. We're close to this day, but if we were to have a bad fight and damage our friendship permanently, I think we'd still be very hurt. That's not something that lessens with age."

Often, when friendships start to suffer, it's something you don't see coming. And that can make it even more painful -- a change in attitude, unfortunate circumstances, a fallout over differences of opinion -- you think that a friendship will withstand it all. But that's not always the case and when you have to face up to the reality of losing someone you love in a non-romantic way, it can blindside you.

There is usually less friction in a platonic relationship than a romantic one

You may bicker endlessly with your partner over who left the toilet seat down or plans you're making for the weekend. Not so with a pal.

People generally tend to be more easygoing with friends, as the nature of the relationship is warm and casual. Affection, a desire to please and a build-up of understanding over time ensure that you're at your best with those close to you. There is more of a 'give' attitude, rather than constantly questioning what you're getting out of being friends. High expectations are not hovering over your interactions and friends are also your go-to when you're facing trouble in other areas of your life.

In the case of 24-year-old MBA student Nisha Pehlajani*, however, it was her expectations of her best friend that brought trouble to the relationship. "She and I were really tight," says Nisha. "We were best friends for nearly three years."

So what happened? "A couple of years ago, my favourite cousin brother from abroad came down to India for a visit. He happened to meet her and they hit it off instantly. She wanted to date him, but he was two years younger than her and she had known him for all of ten days, in which she met him twice."

Continues Nisha, "I was not comfortable with the idea because of these reasons and I expressed my doubts to her honestly. She only said that I was being difficult and we went back and forth about it till things soured so much that we were reduced to communicating only via e-mail. She finally told me off by saying it was 'between them' -- ie, none of my business."

"Essentially, she threw away what we had for a week-old relationship. A month later I tried calling her, but my calls were ignored. Finally, on a Saturday morning, I said to myself, 'This is the last time. If she doesn't take the call now, that's it.' And she didn't. That was it and things were quite horrible."

As Nisha had predicted, the relationship with her cousin didn't last more than a couple of months after he went back home. "She broke it off with him, saying long distance wasn't working out -- but hadn't I already told her all that before? My cousin was heartbroken."

She philosophises, "You can get over a romantic relationship within five to six months, unless you feel like your partner was 'the One'. I'm cordial with all my exes, but with her, I'm not even comfortable in the same room anymore. I've cut her out of my life completely."

When there's trouble brewing in a platonic relationship, it can be far more unsettling than in the case of a romance. Because you've invested far more time and trust in building a solid friendship that has endured over the years -- you may have known your wife for a decade, for instance, but chances are that your best buddy and you went to kindergarten together.

Moreover, lovers fight and make up all the time. In the case of friends, it may not be that easy or simple to make amends.

You have to work towards preserving a bond with your partner, but friendships blossom further over time

How often have you heard someone complain that the spark has gone out of a relationship? Now think back to the last time you heard of a friendship that was on the decline due to lack of interest.

The fact of the matter is that you have to constantly work towards success in a romance. While you do need to invest time and attention in friendships too, as with any other relationship, it's not so much of a struggle. In fact, the more time that passes, the closer you get and the stronger the bond between the two of you. That is another reason why breaking off relations with a friend can sometimes be more painful than a romantic split.

You tend to trust a friend more than a lover

You're not worried that your pal will run away with the hottie from next door and elope -- heck, you'd be happy for him if he did!

Trust in friends comes effortlessly; in romance, it can be tricky to establish the same high level of faith. After all, your partner holds your heart and is capable of shattering it into a million little pieces with even a small emotional indiscretion. You're not worried that a good mate will betray you -- although s/he can, in other ways -- because you know each other well and you don't have to go through every aspect of your relationship with a fine-toothed comb very often.

Aarav Singhal*, a 31-year-old lawyer, suffered a huge loss at the hands of a buddy and that is how the relationship met its end. "When I was still in law school, I had a very close friend. He lived in a rented apartment and we hung out there a lot together. Things were going very well till one day he advised me to make an investment in real estate -- that was his line of work."

"It was a very large sum for me at the time -- three and a half lakhs. He assured me that he was pumping in his money as well and that I would get very good returns on my investment, but that didn't happen. It's not like he ate up my money, the situation simply went beyond his control. But instead of helping me deal with it, he started avoiding my calls, was not cooperative and even became abusive when I asked him for my money."

"A short while later, I was to purchase a house in Mumbai -- it was horribly expensive, I had borrowed huge chunks from friends and I desperately needed the cash back from that investment. Repeated attempts to get through to him would fail and we would have huge fights when I finally did. Finally, he returned 3 lakhs; I would never see the remaining 50,000. From what I understand, he kept it for himself."

Despite the bitter end to the friendship, however, Aarav still misses his pal. "I recently went through a break-up and of late, I often find myself thinking of what things would have been like if we were still friends. We had a lot of fun together and I miss those old times. I'd be willing to try and give our friendship another go, but I'll never make the first move. And he won't either, he's very egotistical that way. He always was, coming from an affluent background and living on his own terms -- which makes me wonder all the more how he could do what he did to me. I could understand if someone really had no financial means, but he certainly did, then and now."

Aarav regrets mixing finances with friendship, but the fact that his friend betrayed his trust is what bothers him the most. "What you wouldn't do to a stranger, he did to me," he says.

You don't have to live up to expectations with friends -- you assume they love you for the person you are

Even a casanova who bounces from one girl to the next every few weeks has close friends. Why? Because the philandering side of his nature is not something his pals are concerned with. While they may not approve of his behaviour, it's not something they are directly affected by and they will continue to remain on good terms, notwithstanding what happens in other areas of his life.

The expectations of a friend are different and not as lofty as those of a life partner -- they're not constantly sitting in judgement of you and trying to get you to change or adjust your personality. They love you with your flaws and they tend to accept you for who you are more than someone you're romantically involved with.

All this reasoning is responsible for the pain you feel when you distance yourself from someone close to you. And in some cases, it's harder to cope with than a failed relationship. The bottom line is, a friend can break your heart too -- just in a different way.

*Names changed upon request

Do you have a similar story to share, of a cherished friendship going kaput? Would you say that it was as painful as the break-up of a romantic relationship? Send in your experiences and opinions to getahead@rediff.co.in (subject line: 'Losing a friend') and we'll publish the best entries right here on rediff.com