The relationship red flags aren’t as clear cut when it comes to friendships, but should you ever reconcile a friend breakup?
Ours wasn’t a relationship that slowly faded as we grew further apart, it was something I made the difficult decision to cut off. While it’s hard to pinpoint all these years later what tipped the balance, I knew in my heart then – and still know now – that things couldn’t continue. A clean break was the only way forward for both of us.
It’s been six years and we’ve hardly spoken since, save a few pleasantries when around mutual friends. It’s a sad reality for someone I once considered akin to a sister, but as milestones have passed us by separately and new friends have been made, it’s not a loss I actively feel.
However, lockdown left me ruminating more than ever on what could have been if we hadn’t ended things, and if we could ever be close again.
Friendships, like any relationship, are about ebbs and flows. They stagnate sometimes or fade into the background.
But once they end, can you ever attempt to cross back over a bridge you’ve burned? Should you, even?
Should you ever go back to an ex-friend?
We’re so well-versed in how to navigate relationships with ex-partners (the answer, in most people’s view, is never to go back) but what is the etiquette when it comes to going back to ex-friends?
“When we think about bad relationships we typically consider romantic partners,” Nima Patel, a mindfulness expert and founder of Mindful Champs, tells Stylist. “However, toxic relationships really can come in all shapes and sizes – including friendships.”
“We have to accept that people make mistakes and are entitled to be flawed in some way; this is all a natural part of the human experience – no one is perfect,” she says.
“If a person has done something to upset you previously and this was a singular event, they may well have grown and learnt from this since then. However, someone demonstrating toxic behaviours again and again is most definitely a red flag to look out for and I would be hesitant to allow them back into your world.”
“Ask yourself the question: do I like being in this person’s company? Do they make me feel good?” suggests Rebecca Lockwood, a neuro-linguistic programming coach.
“The important thing to remember is that you should always surround yourself with people who care about you. If you have relationships that are no longer supportive, it’s time to end the relationship or at least reduce the amount of time you spend with that person.”
How to rekindle a friendship that has ended
Patel emphasises the importance of reflection before allowing someone back into your life. “Firstly, think about why their behaviour triggered you; were you not protecting or prioritising yourself? Why did you attract that relationship – are you more accepting of negative behaviours perhaps because you’re insecure?”
“Use this as an opportunity to heal part of yourself and if you feel you can be more self-aware and hold those around you accountable for their actions, accepting them back into your life won’t be a self-destructive decision,” she advises.
It’s also key to consider your motivations for rekindling the relationship. Are you reaching for the comfort of nostalgia and historic friendship out of self-pity, and is there something else driving you. The same goes for if an ex-friend reaches out for reconciliation with you.
“This makes all the difference,” says Patel. “If someone is trying to change the narrative with regards to what’s happened previously, they haven’t accepted responsibility and haven’t grown. If they recognise their previously toxic behaviours and seem more objective and understanding, this is a positive start.”
“It’s important to consider how toxic the friendship was, and how much you miss it, before deciding if you want to go back to an ex-friend,” adds Lauren Cook-McKay, a relationship advisor. “Are you going back because you miss that person’s company, or because you feel you ‘should’ because you’ve been friends since school, for example? These are all questions you should be asking yourself before rekindling your friendship.”
Cook-McKay identifies that since the pandemic hit, many people have been feeling lonely, which can be a breeding ground for making up with old friends. “We may all have felt reminded that life is too short, but if you do decide to do so, just make sure it’s for the right reasons.”
And if you do decide to rekindle a burned out friendship, she has some advice.
“Going back to a past relationship, whether romantic or platonic, has many pitfalls, but my top tip is to remain patient,” she says. “Remember that the friendship won’t immediately go back to how it was before, so take it slow and don’t force anything.”
“The hardest stage is learning to rebuild trust with each other and making sure that your friendship has a solid foundation. In many ways, you’re not rekindling an old friendship, but building a completely new one.”