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No Manual for Friendship Breakups

In the hair section of a Target in the suburbs, north of Atlanta, my 3-year-old sister pointed toward a purple bottle of shampoo and said, “You should get this for Et-ra, your best friend.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was taking a break from my 11-year-old friendship with my friend, Iqra, so instead, I brushed off her comment with a “maybe later,” and pushed the shopping cart toward the toy section.

Truthfully, I didn’t know how to react when my friendship first came to a halt. Iqra and I were traveling to Chicago for a friend’s college graduation. We ended the night barhopping and had a relatively good time, until we were faced with the harsh truth that our friendship was falling apart.

“I can’t be the same friend for you that I was the past 10 years,” she said, lying on the sofa in front of me. At the time, she was living in New York, trying to understand who she was and who she wanted to be in a post undergrad world. I was in Atlanta, in grad school and working full time in my desired field. Throughout most of time as friends, we were inseparable, but the difference in our lives as adults brought to light that we won’t always be on the same page. She needed to find herself, but we had a hard time letting each other go completely.

I said “OK,” and suggested we take a break, rather than end our friendship entirely. I spent the rest of my night on an uncomfortable AirBnB mattress, scrolling through online forums about what it felt like to lose a 10-year marriage. Those articles resonated with me more than the ones on losing a friend.

Being raised in a heterosexual society skewed my vision of platonic love. I grew up believing my soulmate would be the boy from sixth grade who had brown eyes and played on the football team. What I didn’t know was the deepest love I would experience outside the love for my siblings would be the brown girl in my eighth grade classroom who skipped a grade and wore thin-framed glasses and a headscarf.

Meeting her changed how I viewed love. I was once a self-proclaimed boy-crazy teenager who grew into a queer, gender-nonconforming relationship anarchist. My anarchy steered me away from the belief relationships had to form some type of hierarchy.

There were times my partners felt a twinge of jealousy for my love for Iqra. Knowing her helped me understand my history of romantic love, which was often chaotic and fleeting, wasn’t more important than the platonic love I experienced with her. That love cleaned up my house after I spilled my guts on the living room floor from too much tequila. It squeezed me tight in the back of an Uber after a nightclub panic attack. I once told a past partner I often engage in romance only to see the worst parts of myself reflected. With Iqra, I was able to see my best parts. Sometimes I felt our connection was too big for the world.

Being a Black, femme, relationship anarchist makes me see myself as an anomaly in my community. The traditional way to approach love is to experience it with someone of the opposite gender. So, when I told a family member my friendship with Iqra was no longer viable, they seemed confused by my sadness.

“I don’t get it. It’s normal to grow apart. You two aren’t in a relationship, so why is it so complicated?” they asked.

But friendships can be deeply personal relationships to a relationship anarchist, and Iqra and I hadn’t grown apart. We’d made a conscious and mutual decision to spend time away from our friendship.

“It’s kind of like a breakup,” I responded.

After searching posts on how to heal from a friendship breakup, I realized there was no manual to help me process my loss. As I meet new people and engage in new types of relationships, I have started to understand that friendships aren’t perfect and maybe they aren’t supposed to be.

The day my baby sister brought up Iqra, I was overwhelmed because I didn’t know how to explain the dynamics of such an intimate friendship breakup.

“When will Et-ra come to your house?” she’d asked as I walked with her to the checkout line.

“Iqra and I aren’t going to be hanging out for a little while,” I replied.

“Oh,” she said, seemingly confused. As the cart came to a stop and I loaded the toys on the conveyor belt, her eyes lit up.

“OK, well, maybe later?” she asked.

I nodded my head. Maybe, later.

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