I wanted to put a whole bunch of exclamation marks in that title, because I am unbelievably excited about the publication of the second HerStories Project anthology, My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends. Along with my co-editor, Jessica Smock of School of Smock, we have been working hard for the past six months to create this collection of essays about the painful and powerful experience of ending a friendship. I suspect there isn’t a woman alive who hasn’t experienced a difficult friendship breakup; whether you were the one who walked away or you were on the receiving end of a cruel betrayal, whether it was an explosive argument or a close friendship slowly dissolved over a long period of time, whether it happened recently or is still vivid after decades, I imagine everyone has been through this unique type of pain. I know I have.
I stared at my feet in the bathroom stall, unable to believe my ears. In hushed tones, one of my (soon-to-be former) friends was speaking urgently to another friend of mine. About me. It was obvious. The contempt in her voice was palpable as she attempted to turn our mutual friend against me. “We can go to the office right now and drop out of the class so that we don’t have to see her anymore,” she suggested confidently. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, blood rushing to my face. My cheeks burned with disbelief and humiliation. “She’s in here, you know—she can hear you,” my trustworthy friend informed her cruel companion, making it clear she was unwilling to participate in this juvenile, clichéd interaction. I heard the door swing shut, and I emerged, shaking. I later found out that my “friend” knew the whole time that it was my feet inside the stall, paralyzed, waiting until it was safe to come out. What kind of bully is passive aggressive enough to gossip about somebody in a public restroom?
You might imagine that scene took place in junior high; a school bathroom is the perfect backdrop for adolescent drama. But, no: it happened when I was 34 years old, at my workplace. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. When women’s friendship goes bad, it often turns really, really bad. The aggression and cruelty women unleash on their friends can be mind-boggling. But it’s not always so clear-cut, with one person wronging another; women often drift away from close friends for no identifiable reason. Somebody moves away. You graduate from high school or college. One of you has a baby and the other one doesn’t want children, or worse, can’t have children. You hate her husband, or your kids stop getting along. There are myriad reasons why women’s friendships fall apart, and the essays in My Other Ex highlight these diverse experiences with stories that are somehow simultaneously unique and universal.
But women’s friendship isn’t always black and white; sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether a breakup has actually occurred. In the introduction to our final section of the book, “Reflections,” I write:
Friendship is complex, and sometimes the end of one, when it comes, is not so easily contained by the word ‘breakup.’ Sometimes friends simply drift away, and sometimes they drift back in. Often, there is no discernible rift to pinpoint, just a natural, albeit disconcerting, parting of ways. As we move from phase to phase of our lives, there are usually casualties; the flux of our ever-changing roles inevitably has an impact on our friendships.
In fact, many of my closest friendships have been characterized by breaks that have spanned years; fortunately, the closest, most important relationships always resumed in time. I’ve always been a little self-conscious about this tendency of mine to let friendships lapse during major life transitions. In my introduction, I wrote,
When I reflect on my oldest friendships, the only ones that have survived were marked by a period of years in which we drifted out of each other’s lives, established ourselves in new roles, relationships, and locations, and eventually came back together when we were certain we had found our footing. Often, I have criticized myself for an apparent inability to sustain old friendships during periods of transition. Some of my closet friends, the women I swore I could never live without, have vanished from my life for years at a time.
I am supremely grateful for the fact that many, perhaps even most of the women I have called trusted confidantes over the years are still in my life today—even if it meant a friendship break was necessary to move forward. But many of the stories in My Other Ex aren’t quite so uplifting; some of them will haunt you.
We would love your support to make our release day a success; My Other Ex is now available in e-book and paperback. You can buy a copy here, and we’d love help spreading the word: use the hashtag #MyOtherEx on social media. Thank you so much to all our friends and family who have already helped support this project, and especially to our friends in the blog world who have graciously written reviews of our book. For those who have read it, we are always very appreciative to have you add your reviews on Amazon!
**Writers! Did you see our next call for submissions and announcement of our first writing contest? We are now accepting submissions and entries to our writing contest for our next project, Mothering Through the Darkness: Stories of Postpartum Struggle. Submissions close December 1st! You can find out all the details on how to submit by visiting the HerStories Project website here.
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