The end of a friendship leads to dark places and painful consequences in “The Banshees Of Inisherin,” the movie nominated for a Best Picture Oscar at the 2023 Academy Awards on March 12.
Colin Farrell stars as a dairy farmer in anguish when his lifelong drinking buddy, played by Brendan Gleeson, suddenly decides he no longer wants to be friends and cuts off all contact. “I just don’t like you no more,” the man says when pressed for a reason, explaining that he finds him “dull.”
In real life, it’s common for adult friendships to end, though not in such an abrupt fashion, psychologists say. The parting of ways could be as painful as a romantic break-up, they add.
“I think there is a particular shame that comes with a friend dumping you,” Marisa Franco, who has a doctorate in psychology and is the author of “Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make — and Keep — Friends,” tells TODAY.com.
People are usually expected to have only one romantic partner, but can have lots of friends, so it can feel more personal to be excluded from that large group — “this feels like you really don’t like me,” she notes.
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Friendships that have more history are the most painful when they end, says Nicole Sbordone, a therapist in Scottsdale, Arizona, and author of “Surviving Female Friendships: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.”
Since there are so many shared experiences, it truly feels like a loss when that person isn’t in our life anymore, she notes.
“Especially if there’s no reason given, that’s even sometimes worse, because then you you’re like, ‘What did I do?’ and you go in your head and you think about all the scenarios,” Sbordone tells TODAY.com.
“It’s really hard and you have to grieve.”
The importance of friendships
Connectedness with other people is the only factor that consistently predicts our happiness, says Franco, who teaches a class on loneliness at the University of Maryland.
When we’re connected, we release oxytocin, a hormone that’s considered the fountain of youth, which is why connection makes us feel better, regulates our emotions, decreases our stress and makes us feel more capable of challenges, she notes.
“It’s one of the most important things that we can do to live a long life,” Franco says.
In general, both experts described female friendships as more emotion driven, while male friendships as more activity driven.
So men may do something together sitting side by side and focusing on a third object, like watching a football game on the TV, while women will focus on each other and display more vulnerability and affection.
Why friendships end
The most common reason isn’t tension; it’s just that friendships fizzle out, both experts say.
Friends move, get a new job, start a family and may just gradually stop talking to each other. One study found we lose about half our friends every seven years, Franco says.
People are allowed to change, grow and want different things — some friends may welcome the change; others may not, and that’s OK, Sbordone adds. She believes people come in and out of our lives for various reasons.
“Friendships reach the end of their time, if you will,” she says.
“Sometimes people feel they outgrow their friends. Sometimes we can feel like, ‘I’m not sure I want this person in my life anymore. I’m not sure I want to spend time with them. I’m not sure this is really benefiting me.’”
When there is an abrupt end, like in “The Banshees Of Inisherin,” one party clearly feels it’s not worth it to continue, perhaps because the friendship is toxic or unbalanced, Sbordone notes.
But most of the time, it’s a more gradual process.
“When it comes to ending friendships, people don’t have a script like they do with romantic relationships, so it’s often not clear, it’s just sort of backing away slowly,” Franco notes.
“That can trigger ambiguous loss, which means we struggle to process the end of the friendship because we don’t have closure, we don’t have a reason why it ended.”
What are the signs of a friendship ending?
Think about what’s standard for your friendship and notice whether a friend is suddenly deviating from that, Franco says. Look for a desire to withdraw or avoid — maybe you stop talking as much, you’re not trying to set up plans and there are fewer texts or calls.
You could save the friendship by saying, “Hey, I noticed we’ve been in contact less. I’m not sure if you’re just busy or if anything’s been on your mind. But if so, I’m totally open to hearing about it because I really value our relationship,” Franco advises.
“Friendships heal by making the unsaid said, and they die from the unsaid never being said,” she adds.
“Have those conversations instead of just quietly sulking because that’s slow poison for a friendship.”
Sbordone offers friendship therapy where she helps friends work through conflicts.
How to cope when a friendship ends
It’s natural for friendships to end, a fact that needs to be normalized because otherwise people feel shame about it, Franco says.
If a friend breaks up with you, respect that decision and accept the boundary, both experts advise. Don’t be like Farrell’s character in “The Banshees Of Inisherin” and keep looking for clearly unwanted contact.
Allow yourself to move through emotions such as anger, confusion, frustration and sadness, Sbordone says. It’s OK to have a grief reaction to the loss of a friend — talk about it with your other friends, write about it in journal or listen to music that helps you express your feelings, Franco adds.
“It doesn’t mean that my other friends don’t love me, that there’s something fundamentally wrong with me and that this is going to continue to come up for the rest of my life,” she says.
“Having that sense of hope around it rather than internalizing it and turning it into cynicism is really important.”