Breakups are rarely low stakes. No matter how little or long you've been together, there are always pieces — great or minute, — of a shared existence that change how we live beyond the split. In fact, for many of us, it's not the feelings that make the decision hard, but foreseeing all the change and reverberations to come that throw us off.
And while surviving heartbreak is, unfortunately, part and parcel with life, sometimes, it’s not the breaking up of a relationship that hits us the hardest, but the breaking up of a life you’ve built together that really challenges us. Particularly when lives seem so deeply entangled, wading through it all to piece a life of your own together can feel daunting.
It's important to be able to fit in with your partner's circle of friends and family. But what happens when your partner's social circle becomes yours? Or vice versa? What happens when you break up, and you're no longer equipped with the support system you've come to rely on? For Sarah, 32, the idea of starting from scratch never occurred to her.
"I became super close with my ex's friends over our four years together, until he revealed one day that he was leaving me for one of his close friends" she tells me. "It hurt, but what was worse was that I had become so entrenched in their social circle, seeing them all the time and texting all day that I was convinced that they were my own friends, too. It didn't help that I had moved to a new town for work and hadn't really been able to make other friends."
After the breakup, though, I gave it some time, but it was clear the friendships were conditional to my relationship and that I had gotten the boot. Suddenly, the phone stopped ringing and I never really heard from them again. Now I just see the odd social media post where they hang out the way we used to, and I just moved back home to be closer to my own support system."
For some, sharing friends post-uncoupling is just as tricky.
"I had a serious relationship break up on pretty bad terms, and we had/have a fair few shared friends," explains Alicia, 28. "There was a period of time where people would let me know if he was coming to certain events so I could emotionally prepare myself or take the option to avoid going — which I thought was super considerate."
"It sucked for a while, worrying I'd have to interact with him, but those big group get-togethers faded out and eventually, he moved away."
"I think there's a balancing act here of trying to avoid bringing 'drama' to friendship groups and acting cordial, but you also need to look after yourself and set boundaries around what you're comfortable exposing yourself to. I found one on one hangs with my closest friends worked best there."
When you're with someone long enough, it's not unusual to start being treated as a unit, making a breakup all the more complicated.
While prioritising friends is important, Lysn psychologist Nancy Sokarno tells us it's pretty normal to drift a little when in a relationship. "When you’re in a relationship it can be very easy to get caught in your own little love bubble when you spend the majority of your time with your partner," she tells Refinery29 Australia. "Those weekends which may have been social turn into Netflix and chill weekends pretty quickly!"
For Enid, 29, losing touch with her friends was shitty, but she quickly realised that trying to return to a good place with them was futile.
"My group of single friends and I were pretty much inseparable for a long time. I thought we had deep bonds and were going to be tight forever," she says. "When I started getting serious with someone I was dating; the invites from these friends slowed down before eventually coming to a complete halt."
"I would always ask them if they wanted to hang out, but honestly, it felt like pulling teeth. Then I’d see them taking weekend trips and hanging out without me, and I figured I’d just leave them be. Cut to when my ex and I broke up a year later and suddenly they’re back in my DMs, saying things like 'You’re so much funner when you’re single'... I realised it was a pretty two-dimensional friendship and now I keep them at arm’s length.
"I do miss hanging out the way we used to, but I'm glad I know what they're really like."
When you're with someone long enough, it's not unusual to start being treated as a unit, making a breakup all the more complicated. The more tethered you are to each other, the easier it can become to just stay together.
As Hailey, 29, learned, giving it a chance only delays the inevitable mess.
"We started dating in high school so were always this 'we'," she tells us. "After over a decade together, four of which we admitted we were both on autopilot for, our break up was mutual and harmonious. What went down in the years after was not. "
"Our shared friendship group were convinced they'd have to take sides and they really took his. There was some uproar because of how quickly I moved on, but none of it came from him and our whole group kind of crumbled from there because of the tension."
"My ex and I are still friends, but I don't think our friends will ever forgive me for what they think went down. Suddenly, I was 28 and had to make new friends all over again."
According to Sokarno, this scenario is a bit of a common one. "It's quite a natural thing that happens, and not necessarily something one should take personally," she says. "While it can feel like it has to do with them personally, it actually has more to do with the circumstances, and it's certainly a direct reflection on them."
Breaking up with friends occurs in and out of relationships, and merging lives with someone can feel pretty fulfilling, but the compounding of pain and change when breakups happen leaves us vulnerable. Without the built-in support system we had, all we can really do is start over.
While we know it's not easy to make friends as an adult, according to Sokarno, it's all about getting out of your comfort zone. "Put yourself in scenarios where it is natural to meet people," she suggests. "We all know it’s hard just to strike up a conversation with someone on the street or in a bar, so instead try some new things and see who you’ll meet."
"Find those things that you’re interested in and join a group where you’ll meet like-minded people.”