They were best buddies for 36 years and shared laughter, tears and secrets. Then, wham! Chris Frohock's pal stopped returning calls, and...
They were best buddies for 36 years and shared laughter, tears and secrets.
Then, wham! Chris Frohock’s pal stopped returning calls, and she didn’t know why.
“I felt like the rug was pulled out from under me,” says Frohock, 57, a Florida real-estate agent. “I shed a lot of tears. It broke my heart.”
Frohock isn’t the first woman to agonize over a fizzled friendship. It’s so commonplace that a spate of recent books and articles tackles the intricacies of women’s relationships.
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Author Liz Pryor probes the reasons behind breakups in “What Did I Do Wrong? When Women Don’t Tell Each Other the Friendship Is Over” (Free Press, $19.95).
“Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth About Women and Rivalry” (St. Martin’s Press, $22.95) looks at below-the-surface conflicts and how that impacts relationships.
Even O, The Oprah Magazine, weighed in recently, focusing on the importance of gal pals.
Handling the split
Breaking up is hard to do, but if you can’t do it in person, write a letter, suggests Liz Pryor, author of “What Did I Do Wrong? When Women Don’t Tell Each Other the Friendship Is Over.” She suggests:
Tactfully tell the truth.
Acknowledge the friendship and the bond you shared.
Express your need, in a kind and loving way, to end the friendship. Here’s a portion of a real-life example from Pryor’s book: “Please believe me when I say it is difficult to write this letter. … I will always be grateful to you, and I will never forget our past together. We have both changed so much over the years and our differences have gotten in the way of my feeling that we are good friends for each other. … For any anger or sadness this letter may cause you, I am sorry.”
— South Florida Sun-Sentinel
For many women, friendship is the glue that helps hold their lives together. They turn to girlfriends for advice, entertainment and a soft shoulder to cry on.
So when friendships go awry, it can be as devastating as a breakup with a significant other, says Pryor, a writer and former actress. The dumped pal gets a free ticket on an emotional roller coaster ride that can last for years.
She might endlessly rehash the past, doubt herself, blame her friend, seethe with anger, even go into therapy.
“Women are so much more emotionally connected than men,” Pryor says. “We’re wired to expect men to break our hearts. But when your girlfriend does it to you, you feel more betrayed.”
Why did she walk away?
Frohock’s experience is typical. The friendship began when the women were single and continued through their married lives. They were there for each other through divorce and widowhood. Then, a year ago, the friend stopped returning Frohock’s calls.
Frohock still can’t pinpoint what killed the friendship.
Same thing happened to Jane Lebofsky, 45, a marketing assistant, left wondering why a 20-year friend brushed her off.
“I miss her terribly,” she says. “I ask myself, ‘Why did she just walk away?’ “
The stories don’t surprise Pryor, whose Web site, lizpryor.com, has collected hundreds of fizzled friendship sagas. But if breakups are painful, not knowing what happened is worse.
Women on the losing end can torture themselves with doubts. They devise theories and point fingers. Maybe it was this. Maybe that.
Pryor cautions spurned women not to assume all the blame. Maybe they’ve outgrown a toxic relationship or they can’t be manipulated anymore.
Or maybe they didn’t pay attention to red flags signaling trouble before the friendship went kaput.
“Most times it’s never one thing,” she says. “It’s an accumulation of experiences that aren’t addressed. So from one perspective, the reason behind the breakup comes out of nowhere. From the other’s perspective, it’s the last straw.”
All too often, the reason for the end isn’t easy to pinpoint.
In “Tripping the Prom Queen,” Susan Shapiro Barash, professor of gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College, writes that some women demand more than a friendship can deliver.
When women seek unconditional love and support, they’re looking more for an idealized mother than a friend.
“We hold the bar so high, it puts tremendous pressure on friendships,” Barash says. “We hold them to a scrutiny that’s impossible to meet. No one is perfect.”
They count on girlfriends for comfort, and maybe some chocolate, when problems erupt. Yet, the girlfriend is the first thing they sacrifice when a man, a job or the kids demands attention.
“The expectation is that a girlfriend will understand,” Barash says.
Change and growth
Healthy adult friendships are like a marriage. They require effort, and mutual give and take.
Women and their friendships are also dynamic, changing with time and circumstances. Women need to renegotiate these relationships if they expect them to last, Pryor says.
For five years, Elaine Rubinson-Taitz, 70, shared lunches, dinners, even vacations with a woman she met at a support group. Then the friendship inexplicably ended.
In the years since, Rubinson-Taitz, a now-retired psychotherapist, used her professional skills to help her understand.
During their friendship, she saw her role as comforter, which helped maintain her self-image as a competent professional. Then circumstances changed, and Rubinson-Taitz needed comforting. Now their roles had switched, upsetting the dynamics of their friendship.
“At the time, I wasn’t ready to see myself in a different way,” she says. “I couldn’t accept this change in our relationship.”
Pain and healing
As with so many broken relationships, Rubinson-Taitz and her friend never talked it out.
Socialized to be nurturing and considerate, it’s hard for some women to be direct.
Marie Abbott, 49, decided to end a 10-year friendship after the woman repeatedly jettisoned their fun outings with negative comments. Abbott stopped returning her calls.
“I don’t like myself for not being able to address it,” says Abbott, a real-estate agent. “But what was I to say? ‘You’re too negative?’ Besides, at our age, I don’t think people change.”
Some women are ambivalent about hearing why they were dropped.
“If she’d tell me, I’d least I’d know the truth,” says Lebofsky, mourning the 20-year friendship. “But not knowing — that way I can think, ‘Oh, I’m just on the backburner.’ We’ll pick up the friendship again.”
Other women want to know, even if it’s painful.
Rosalind Murray, 47, a stay-at-home mom, regrets the end of a close four-year friendship. But not talking it out is worse.
“She never really told me why it was over,” Murray says. “To have such intimate knowledge of each other, then no longer be friends — that’s what hurts the most.”
Telling it like it is
In O magazine, Winfrey says that real friends speak the “the bald, unvarnished truth.”
And Pryor says avoiding the friend doesn’t spare her feelings. There’s no closure. So it’s harder to move on.
So if you can’t tell her in person, write a letter or e-mail, Pryor suggests. Be truthful, not brutal.
Same goes for women on the losing end. Write a letter to yourself, detailing how it hurt, what you’ve learned and what you’ll do differently next time, Pryor says.
Frohock worked at rejuvenating the 36-year friendship. She called her friend. She wrote a note telling her she missed her. She even tried therapy to sort out her feelings.
“I grieved, and I’m at the point where it doesn’t hurt anymore,” Frohock says. “I still love her. I’ll always love her. But I have to accept it now.”