Dear Kiki: My friend group is breaking up, and I’m in the middle

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Dear Kiki,

I have a friend group from college that have kept in touch over the years through a group text. Friend A and B lived together, while friend C and I live fairly close and occasionally visit each other. I always knew A and B to be pretty inseparable, but recently A texted me saying that B moved away suddenly with very little warning, leaving A in a bit of a bind, and now they’re having a falling out because of it. I’m not sure what to do. I’ve known B to be a bit selfish in the past, so this behavior tracks with her past actions, but it was still shocking. B hasn’t mentioned it at all, and I’m afraid to ask for details. I feel like my long-standing friend group is falling apart and I don’t know whose side to take. A isn’t texting me back about the situation and I don’t want to pressure them, but the whole situation makes me feel so distant and I’m not sure what to do. I don’t want to just stop talking to any of them, but I’m worried that talking to one will make the other think that I’m taking sides. We’ve all been friends for so long and it’s breaking my heart.

Sincerely, Frazzled Friend

Dear Friend,

I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling frazzled. It’s hard when people we care about beef with each other, because we absorb all of the hostility yet feel powerless to affect the situation in any way. It sucks.

There are a couple of things to dig into here.

The first is the toll the situation is taking on you. This is a prime example of a “put your mask on first” situation. You’ll be no help to either of them (or the other people in your life) if you don’t protect your own capacity. What’s important for you to remember is that these are grown-ass adults making choices. As their friend, you are allowed to have opinions. But you don’t bear any responsibility for their decisions nor do you need to bend your reactions to their convenience.

The best thing you can do in this and any other relationship is react honestly and speak with kindness. Because this is a fraught situation, one or both of them might feel like you’re taking sides. But you can’t control their feelings. They might feel like you’re taking sides even if you do nothing at all. And at the end of the day, it’s better to deal with the fallout of honest reactions than to change your behavior and face that fallout anyway. Just be there for them, as much as you are able.

The other issue, Friend, is that awful feeling of fracturing that you need to navigate. I wish I had better news, but the truth is that people and situations change, and some rifts are unmendable. What I want you to do here is give yourself permission to grieve. Again, you can’t control them. You can’t “fix” this, no matter what you do. Whatever happens, happens: If the friend group is broken, you will have to find a way to survive that, just like any other ending.

There’s a trivialization of friendship in U.S. culture, but rest assured that this experience carries as much trauma as the end of a romantic relationship or the loss of a job. Don’t be a hero, Friend. Your heart is breaking and you need to honor that grief and be gentle with it. Give yourself time and space to heal, and cherish whatever platitudes have gotten you through similar situations in the past: Yes, you will find new friends eventually. Yes, you will still have joy in the future even though it will look differently than you imagined. Yes, you are still a good friend. And yes, this happens to even the most diligent and caring people.

You speak of being afraid to talk to B and say that A isn’t returning your messages. But where is C in all this? How are they feeling? Have you spoken to them? No one wants to feel like they’re talking out of class about other people’s problems, but you need to respect the ring theory here: comfort in, dump out. A and B are at the center of this. They are the ones the core situation is happening to. Be there to comfort them, but only express your frustration and grief to people on your ring or further out.

Lean on C or on other friends less involved. Expressing and trying to come to terms with your own feelings isn’t gossiping and it isn’t disrespectful to A or B. It’s how you protect yourself in order to help them better. Here’s to a less-frazzled future, Friend.

xoxo, Kiki

This article was originally published in Little Village’s March 2023 issues.