After we announced our call for submissions for our next book, My Other Ex, we started hearing feedback almost instantly. Women wrote us, “I have a breakup story I’d love to tell, but I’m not sure I’m brave enough,” or “I haven’t thought about this woman in years, and I can’t believe how many emotions are coming up.” Some of our past contributors have told us that they’ve begun writing a breakup essay, and it’s just so much harder than they expected. Here’s what we’ve heard from some of these writers:
- Attempting to write a break up story feels sort of ugly and dirty. It’s like sorting through a mess that you aren’t sure who really made or how it got to that point where neither one really feels like cleaning it up, or it is too overwhelming to do so.
- Writing about my big friend break up has been only slightly easier than having root canal without drugs. But just like it is with a root canal, dealing with the issue is the only way to heal.
- I was more certain than I have ever been that the friendship was well and truly over.
- Writing this and attempting to capture and express the initial affection and then the pain and anger has made me feel like I’ve been dumped by my best friend all over again.
- Just the thought of her reading about it and knowing she affected me makes me want to punch her.
Honestly, we’ve been experiencing the same thing writing our own essays; in fact, I (Stephanie) have written three different versions about three different friendships in the process of finding the right story to tell. I’ve emailed old friends, asking if they can remember specific details that happened nearly 20 years ago. I’ve cringed as old memories have drifted to the surface, and the accompanying emotions that I thought I’d buried long ago. One weekend, I firmly believe I made myself physically ill as I spent hours absorbed in my laptop and the caverns of my adolescent brain, astonished to realize how many long-forgotten moments made their way back into my memory.
To say the least, it is draining, uncomfortable, and yet somehow exhilarating to tell our old stories about friendship breakups. Why is it so painful?
Is it because of those painful emotional flashbacks? Is it because we feel a sense of shame because female friendships are supposed to last? Is it because there are no emotional “scripts” for how to cope with friendship loss, unlike the loss of a romantic partner?
For every woman there may be a different reason for why it’s so hard to talk about or write about the end of a friendship, or maybe a combination of many different ones.
Is it worth it to dredge up these feelings? Again, we turn to our contributors’ thoughts:
- It allowed me to say what I have not been able to say to an important person in my life who has not only done me wrong, but herself wrong. It has given me a voice that I could not find for over a year. I hope something positive comes from it as I see this as the first step in a longer journey about a breaking up and trying to re-engage.
- I thought that writing about it would make it easier, clearer somehow. That it would push away the fog of uncertainty and the dull ache that had been hovering just below the surface for more then four years. But it didn’t, really. For me, writing about it was messy and confusing and it asked more questions then it answered. It made me mad and sad all over again, but, strangely, when I was finished, I was more certain than I have ever been that the friendship was well and truly over. I realized that I had been holding on to the mistaken belief that we would someday come back to each other and heal whatever it was that went wrong, but the writing made me understand that that was never going to happen. And for that, if nothing else, I felt relief.
Both of us — Stephanie and Jessica — felt that sense of relief after writing our own stories.
We hope that this collection will allow women to realize that they are not alone in their feelings of confusion, heartbreak, guilt, and sadness. Most of all, through sharing our stories, we want to acknowledge the complexity of friendship.
We would love to hear your story. If telling the story is much more difficult than you expected, know that you are not alone. We encourage you to keep trying to write your story. We want this collection to help women realize that they are not alone in their intense and sometimes confusing feelings. It’s not a topic that is frequently talked about, and we’d like to change that.
Please submit your story here: https://herstoriesproject.submittable.com/submit
We’ll be accepting submissions through early March. We’d also be grateful if you took our short, anonymous survey to help us understand more women’s experiences.