After recently reading “My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friendships," Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger's thoughtful and empowering collection of essays about friendship breakups, I was not only deeply moved by the raw truths about the challenging aspects of female friendships that come alive on the pages of this book, but I also felt a huge sense of relief. The honest and vulnerable accounts of friendship breakups helped me wipe away the shame of ever being involved in a friendship that went awry. While thankfully, I do not have many ex-friends and I am now at a point in my life where I feel beyond grateful for the amazing friends I have, both old and new, I certainly have encountered friendship stumbles along the way. I know how much it hurts to feel completely rejected by a friend and I also know how uncomfortable it is to be the friend who needs some space but doesn’t quite know how to communicate that without being hurtful. This book gets to the heart of why friendships can be so amazing and so complicated, how easily misunderstandings between friends can implode if not addressed, and how important it is to be thoughtful in how we treat our friends.
I like to call friendships “icing on the cake of life.” And while friendships are indeed sweet, there is no denying that they take effort, attention, trust and love. And like any relationship, if any of these four elements are missing or tampered with, a friendship will have a hard time surviving. And even when a friendship starts out with a bang and seems to contain all the right ingredients for a BFF scenario, just as people change, so do friendships. The essays in My Other Ex take the reader into the trenches of some extremely difficult friendship challenges—some of which were mitigated in the effort to salvage the friendship, and others were too great to overcome and led to the demise of the friendship. The essays speak to how exhaustingly difficult and excruciatingly painful these break-ups can be regardless if you are the one leading the break-up or the one being dumped.
I loved Galit Breen’s essay about being a “friendship abandoner” and how she claims that it took a close friend to teach her that, “friendships sometimes feel uncomfortable. Discomfort doesn’t weaken. In fact, when handled correctly, it strengthens. Because still being 'in it' after the discomfort will mean knowing that our friendship isn’t delicate or fragile, that it’s not going to break because of a problem.”
My biggest take-away from this book, aside from great inspiration from all the brilliant writing contained in it, is the essential message about how important it is for women to take care of themselves and each other in relationships. Women do this by creating healthy boundaries within the relationship. And for me, I have learned through some trial and error, that if something is not working, it is best to first take a close look in the mirror and try to figure out what role I could be playing in the relationship deterioration without unjustly blaming myself. As a people pleaser and one who does not sleep at night if I think someone is mad at me or that I did something to hurt someone, I do not like it when things turn sour with a friend and will go to great lengths to try to make a friendship work. However, there have certainly been times when my efforts fell short and times when I have needed to let go of a friend (at least for a time) in order to take care of myself.
Katrina Anne Willis nails it when she says, “I’ve let go of what was bad, what was wrong, what tore us to pieces. There were no answers, no explanations…Anger and disappointment and grief will eat you alive if you let them. When loss comes—as it often does— a journey through grief is inevitable. But it is no place to reside. I choose the other side, where love and forgiveness abound. And most importantly, even when someone else might not, I choose me.”
(Note: In addition to Jessica and Stephanie’s fantastic book, they also offer a friendship advice column where you can submit your friendship questions, and friendship expert Nina Badzin will offer her thoughtful and sensible advice.)