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The Hardest Break-Up of My Life

The hardest part is letting go. Not of the friendship. Often that left long ago. Letting go of the ideals in your head. The dream you had when the friendship ignited years ago.
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Friendship.

This one word brings up so many emotions in me. Sheer joy, limitless laughter, comfort and contentment. It also conjures regret, rejection and shame. Heartbreak so palpable my keyboard is now speckled with tears.

I thought it was supposed to get easier with age. Turns out, it's harder. There's more years shared, greater baggage, the false assurance you've passed the turbulent times, chosen your core group, relaxed a little, given your heart and let your guard down. I'm not talking about friends moving cities, getting busy, having families, a career or traveling the world, not even months without talking or a gradual growing apart, I'm speaking about a specific falling out of a friendship, one or both of you is hurt, stubborn and at an impasse.

I worked with a girl who went through a lot of friend loss in her twenties and I always thought something was wrong with her. "Not a girl's girl," I'd say, "stay away from her." Now, a decade later, I feel differently about the situation. What if she was just more evolved than the rest of us? Stronger, healthier, wiser. The relationships weren't working and she moved on. Simple as that. Think of all the time she likely saved on heartbreak, disappointment, drama...

I thought I'd done a decent job of weeding out my own toxicities. I chose not to hang around certain circles, focus on my career, health and personal growth but, it turns out, I was making excuses for those closest to me. Each time I was hurt, I'd give another chance. I was so busy fixing their messes, cheering them up and giving them advice that I didn't have enough time, energy, emotion or clarity to step back and realize I wasn't receiving the same respect. The caretaker, cheerleader and counselor can only take so much before they need some support of their own. The greatest therapists, trainers and coaches have their own people doing the same for them. We all need help. We all need love.

I've been struggling a lot recently as an 18-year friendship has ended. And, sure, there were warning signs, flags, a progression but, like everything else we'd been through, I didn't think for one moment we wouldn't be able to overcome it, together. After all, we once were inseparable, living with one another, sharing holidays together, she even stood by my side at my wedding and picked me up off the floor after my first and only true heartbreak, until now.

But something changed. The distance grew deeper, the calls and texts less frequent and one day, I realized, in the two-and-a-half-years since I'd had my daughter, she'd never asked about her or me, how I was doing or coping with this profound shift in my life, if was okay, needed help. Instead, it was always me inquiring about her, picking her up, cheering her on. Suddenly, I had nothing left. Couldn't send one more text, muster up the energy to make one more call. And I never heard from her again. Suffice it to say, I'm devastated. And confused. A bit relieved. Exhausted. Mostly just really, really sad.

But, if I'm honest with myself, I'm mourning what was. Like, years ago was. Not what has become. And I think that's the problem. Things fall apart for a reason. Or many. Most don't just disintegrate or implode instantaneously. There's often a series of situations that contribute to the current state of affairs. And, usually, they're not attractive. Or healthy. Certainly not fun. Otherwise the two of you would be together still having some.

The hardest part is letting go. Not of the friendship. Often that left long ago. Letting go of the ideals in your head. The dream you had when the friendship ignited years ago. Whether it was as a cherubic-cheeked child or an already-formed adult, the pain is the same. The harshest reality in the demise of friendship is discovering you're not held in the same regard as you hold her. She doesn't place as much importance on it as you do. It's incredibly painful to feel like you're expendable. Best friends are supposed to be the constant, the ones who heal us from heartbreak, not cause it.

The thing is, we're all broken. We seek refuge in those who make us feel whole. So when those relationships, the ones blocking the bleeding, leave us, what are we left with? And can you call it a failure? Chances are the demise is brought on by events or actions that made you set some boundaries, build back up some walls and distance yourself. And I call that progress. You're no longer giving yourself to a relationship that isn't giving you what you need in return.

Friendships change because we do. They're not all supposed to stand the test of time. Some are simply meant to teach us about ourselves and we don't learn that hard-earned lesson until they're over.

I took my two-and-a-half year old daughter to see the Radio City Music Spectacular this past Christmas. It's an experience I normally would've shared with my bestie, calling and telling her about the show and laughing at the typical and ridiculous "Natalie New York" moment getting there. As we watched the Rockettes dressed as toy soldiers march around, my little girl in my lap, eyes full of wonder, a canon fired and the soldiers collapsed single file like a festive, precise set of dominos, all the while holding up their fellow men, padding the fall for them. That's what friendship is, I thought, or at least how it's supposed to be. Standing in solidarity with your sister, taking a bullet for her, giving her a soft space to land. The revelation couldn't have been more timely. We once had that. Now, no longer. As I sat there breathless, tears forming, it donned on me that I was with my best friend, all three feet of her. She came into my life and, for one reason or another, something I may not fully understand for years to come, if ever, my previous one had to exit. And I was the one who showed her the door.

If it doesn't make you better, happier, lighter or brighter, if you're not feeling loved and supported, if you can't depend upon this person and entrust your heart to them, then it's no longer worth fighting for. Put down your armor, throw the flag and call the game. It's not a loss. It's a gain. For your growth and overall health. Reflect on the good times, be appreciative of the memories, wish her well and allow that space in your heart for someone to come along at this stage in your life who is worthy and open to receiving -- and reciprocating -- your friendship.