Should you break up with someone if your friends tell you to?

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

In the moment I broke up with my ex – the moment itself, when I said the words, “I can’t do this any more, I’m so sorry” or whatever it was – I knew that at least one of my friends agreed it was the right decision. She’d sent me an email, the week before, which started with the sentence “I didn’t think you were ready to hear this last year, but now I feel like it’s time…” It was one of the best emails I have ever received. It was kind, caring and helpful. It did not trash my ex or instruct me to break up with him, it just reminded me of the conversations I’d had with her over the last few years, and what those conversations amounted to from her perspective. She held up a mirror to the picture I’d been painting in a way that made me see the image as clearly as she did. To this day, I am grateful to her for sending that email. Without it, my life would look very different today.

I don’t think your friends are always right, and I am not telling you to unquestioningly follow their advice: that’s an important thing to begin with. My friends are fucking exceptional but your friends might be nobheads – I can’t be responsible for their terrible guidance. What’s more, no matter how close you are to your friends they’re never going to know the ins and outs of your relationship, and all the different factors that might play into your choice to be with a particular person. So. You might take your mates’ relationship advice with a pinch of salt, but I am going to explain why I trust mine to help me make decisions like this.

If my people don’t know me, who does?

I love reading problem pages, especially when the advice is really well-written and thoughtful – this piece a while ago on fat-shaming in relationships articulated something that it took me many years to be able to say myself (your aesthetic pleasure is never more important than the life of the person you love). But one of the things that I find it hard to wrap my head around is why people want to write to a stranger to get relationship advice rather than turn to the people they know.

Strangers sometimes offer me advice in the comments on this blog (always annoying, by the way, unless I’ve directly solicited it) and whenever this happens it usually sits in very stark contrast to the advice that my friends are giving me about whatever the issue might be. As a general rule, my mates wouldn’t offer unsolicited advice, but they’re the only people in the world from whom I’d welcome it, especially if they thought I was haring off down a path that might make me (or others) miserable.

My friends know so much more about me than nearly all of my partners. They know enough to help me recognise patterns in my choices. A well-placed “you like this guy because he’s like your ex, right?” or “you know I genuinely never realised that you wanted a guy who’d do that, I reckon there’s a high chance the men you’re dating don’t either” can work wonders in helping me to get my head straight. My friends (and some family) have seen enough of my failures and successes to have a good idea of what might fail or succeed for me in future. One of my friends has known me through every single boyfriend I’ve ever had. Annoyingly, that friend rarely gives feedback. He’s extremely hands-off to the point where sometimes I find myself bribing him with cider and begging him to offer up literally any opinion whatsoever.

My people know me, that’s the point. They can sit each relationship I build within the context of others and whether they made me happy, sad or even – as one friend put it shortly after the end of one relationship – ‘small.’

“I just felt like you’d become so much smaller in the last couple of years, like you were shrinking away.”

My close friends aren’t objective, of course (they’re extremely biased towards me, and I love them for it), but they can view my relationships from a perspective that I (a fool, a romantic and horny fool) cannot: they’re distant enough for clarity but close enough for context. My friends know the full context – not just what individual men have done/said to me, but how I have behaved in the past too. They know everything – the good, the bad, the ugly – that has shaped (and shown) who I am.

They have nothing to lose or gain – our friendship will be constant

My close friends aren’t going to incur my wrath for making a judgment about a man I’m fucking – we are beyond that. If they constantly banged on about how much they hated a particular partner, and I’d told them that I was going to stick with this dude anyway, that might make me sad. If only because it’s hard to have fun when the person you’re hanging out with won’t stop bitching about your beau (I’ve been this person, and I am always terrified that I still am one – more work needed in this area, for sure). But my friends have often given me gentle nudges in the right direction (or away from the wrong direction) without me kicking off and deciding I won’t speak to them, so I hope I’ve set an expectation that they can tell me difficult things if they need to.

They aren’t secretly trying to fuck me

I mean come on. They’re MY friends. If they wanted to fuck me they’d have done it already.

In fact, a lot of them have (thanks pals!).

I have chosen them

My friends are kind, loyal, caring, safe, and although they’re human and they make mistakes, they’re never cruel or heartless. They’re funny, forgiving, welcoming fuckups, each in their own unique and fascinating ways. They make bad romantic choices for themselves or they drink too much or they only text me very sporadically to tell me random news like they saw a man in Wetherspoons who looked a bit like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. But they’re my people: the people I have chosen to spend my life with. I chose them because they share broadly the same values and enjoy similar things, and because I love and trust them.

I don’t want to make the same mistakes again

Recently I went to visit a friend for a catch-up. We were talking about my ex and he said something about how he knew it wouldn’t work out but hadn’t said anything at the time because I wouldn’t have listened. That made me sad. In the moment, I instantly wanted to believe that I would have listened to him. With hindsight, I can tell you I certainly should have.

But then I remembered a different friend, who did say something – at a very crucial point before I tied quite a lot of my future to this guy. She asked me at the time if I thought I might be making a mistake, and I brushed off her concerns. So much so, in fact, that I’d completely forgotten she gave me this helpful pep talk until I was reminded long after the break up, and to my horror realised I’d completely ignored her. Other friends have told me, post break-up, that they noticed certain things: changes in me that had been imperceptible to the people who saw me weekly but were quite stark to those who only stopped by once a year. A search in my inbox shows that at least two other people bit the bullet and said things: sometimes many years before I even acknowledged any issues myself.

I didn’t listen.

Eventually, during the sad times right at the end, someone sent me that email. The one that began with “I didn’t think you were ready to hear this last year, but now I feel like it’s time…” and finally – FINALLY – I listened.

My kneejerk hurt when my friend told me he thought I wouldn’t listen to his worries was misplaced. I wasn’t annoyed with him, I was annoyed with me because he was right: I wouldn’t have listened. Not right then, and not to him alone. It took many friends saying different things over a period of a very long time in order to get me to listen. It was an important relationship – one I loved and treasured with a person I utterly adored – so of course no individual could trash it with a single off-hand comment. But these comments added up, and they mattered. They meant the world to me.

My friends would never want the power to make me change my mind about serious life stuff on a whim, but they are the people I trust most in the whole world, so if enough of them voice concerns, I want to take those seriously. I don’t give a shit if my Mum approves of a particular guy (my Mum is a very supportive woman, and she’s been nice to nearly all the hot studs I have paraded past her over the years) but I care deeply what my closest friends think: my people give me superpowers, and their insight is a superpower in itself.

You might be different: you may prefer to surround yourself with people who’ll keep their mouths shut even if they see you running face-first into a shattered heart. But I chose people who might ring alarm bells in that instance, and I’m grateful to those who’ll ring it, even if it takes me a very long time to pay attention.

My friends reflect me

Shortly before I drafted this post (a fair while ago), despite my best efforts to make it sound to my friends like I was having fun with a particular guy, some of those clever fuckers deduced that I wasn’t actually having as much fun as I made out. I was enjoying the time I spent with him but in between dates/hangouts/fucks I was feeling quite worthless and unimportant. No shade to him – it was a tricky situation to navigate and it’s not his fault I was abject and pathetic – but the situation was getting me down. My friends started to mention it, in that way they sometimes do, by asking gentle questions and making me confront some things that I’d been trying to downplay or brush off.

“How are you feeling about X? You were quite sad last time we talked about him.”

“Are you sure you’re really OK with that? It sounds like you’re a bit hurt.”

“Obviously it’s up to you to decide, but you aren’t weird or mad for having some feelings about that.”

Very few of my close friends had even met him: they couldn’t be said to have an opinion on him as a person (he’s nice, he really is). They were just picking up on the stories I told and the way that I told them. Which brings me (finally) to the point – why these days I try to make an effort to listen to my friends more than I used to: my friends are just reflecting what I say to them. Just as they were with my ex, in the end. They weren’t poking their noses in or interfering in my life, just holding a mirror up so I could see the same thing they saw.

I am extremely lucky to know people who are willing to have these difficult conversations. I don’t always take them on board in the moment, and I’m human so I can be grumpy and defensive if they’re telling me something I’m not yet ready to hear. But I’m extremely grateful to my chosen family for nudging me to confront my own unhappiness.

Most of the time I listen.

And sometimes, I even act on it.



  • I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I find whether or not my partner likes my friends (as opposed to the other way around) to be an adequate barometer of where the relationship might be going.

    One of the things that made me the most upset about my second relationship was the fact that my girlfriend didn’t like all my friends. She liked a few of them, but she was always a little stand-offish about some, to the point where there were a couple she openly disliked. She even made me cry once by saying “they’re not your friends”, when they clearly were. They still are, in fact.

    The worst thing was, however, that she hated my best friend. I know he’s not to everyone’s taste, and he probably wasn’t back then, but she decided on first meeting that she didn’t like him and wasn’t going to be persuaded otherwise. He didn’t offer an opinion on her, and worse still, I made an effort to like all her friends (and did quite well; her closest friend, who didn’t like me at first, eventually did!). But this just hung over me for a long time – he was the person I loved most in the world, and she was the person I wanted to be with for the rest of my life; how could these things co-exist?

    I was utterly destroyed when that relationship ended, and made a lot of bad decisions, but the very first thing I did afterwards was text my best friend, and while I was doing so, a very small voice said somewhere in the back of my mind, “at least you get to see him again now.”

    • Girl on the net says:

      Oh MAN, that made my heart hurt, and yeah that’s a really good point. I think I would genuinely be really surprised if a partner didn’t like my friends (my close ones are especially excellent) and I’d definitely see it as a red flag if they were overtly rude or shitty to my mates. Likewise, I’d always want to be as nice as possible to a partner’s friends… apart from anything else, they’re an extension of the person you’re dating, so why would you not want to get on with them and find out more about the person you’re with?

      I’m so sorry your ex was like that – that’s really horrible. Even if people aren’t a natural ‘fit’ (I’ve definitely got some friends who partners have found it harder to get on with than others) I don’t think a partner should ever be saying (or making you feel like) you shouldn’t hang out with a particular friend. That’s appalling.

  • Ferns says:

    Bah, this comment got stupid-long :/.

    I would never offer you relationship opinions or advice based on what you write. You don’t offer an open door into your every feeling or the minutiae of your relationships: That’s not your style. It’s very clear that we see curated snippets into your personal life, a glimpse here, a hint there, an evening fully revealed, self reflection on the whole once in a while. And often well after the fact.

    BUT (ha!)…

    I’ve read dating/relationship blogs where folks (mostly women) throw everything out there, day in and day out: They share their every encounter, every converation and thought and action and reaction and feeling about their relationships, or potential relationships, or last date, and etc in great detail and in real time.

    And hoo boy then it’s EASY to see patterns and to see them make the same choices over and over, resulting in the same suboptimal experience over and over. From an objective distance, it’s often so frustrating that these smart, introspective, thoughtful writers can’t see it themselves. Not least because if I’m reading and enjoying their writing, I feel invested in them, I like them, so watching them keep getting on that same dirty old hamster wheel going nowhere over and over is excruciating.

    Obviously I’m not their friend, I don’t know them, but there’s value to be had from the objective observations of someone who just hears what you say without any skin in the game (I mean, therapy relies on that kind of self-exposition, no?).

    I try very hard to wait until they ask for advice before I say anything, I really do, but sometimes I CAN’T BEAR IT AND I HAVE TO SAY SOMETHING!.

    If I ever do say something, solicited or not, how it goes varies. Sometimes they agree, or say it raised some questions to think about. Sometimes they don’t want to hear it, think I’m getting it all wrong, get defensive, get mad about it. I always keep reading, and I’m rarely wrong :/.

    Either way, I don’t think anyone (friend, bestie, some rando on the internet, therapist, advice columnist etc) can give anyone an opinion about their relationship/s, and have them act on it, even if the person specifically asked. Because they’re all emotions, they’re in the maelstrom, and it’s really good sometimes, and etc.

    I think the best you can hope for if you DO say something, is the possibility that if they start to feel it for their own selves, have some niggling doubts, they will realise that it’s not just them being overdramatic or wrong: They’ll remember that someone else saw it too.


    • Girl on the net says:

      Ohhhhh yes so well put – ‘they will realise that it’s not just them being overdramatic or wrong’. This, I think, is the heart of it. Sometimes saying these things is a helpful anchor for someone who might be having those doubts or who later comes to those doubts – these comments can be a bit like breadcrumbs in Hansel and Gretel leading somebody out of the woods.

      I totally see what you mean though and I also ITCH with desperation to say stuff sometimes too. Very rarely to strangers but definitely 100% to my friends. I fully understand that feeling of just wanting to burst with it. Especially if I see one of my friends’ partners treating them in bad ways, I feel like I just need to yell BUT YOU ARE SO GOOD, THIS PERSON IS BAD, THEY SHOULD BE TREATING YOU AT LEAST AS WELL AS YOUR FRIENDS TREAT YOU!!!

      But yeah I definitely don’t think any one comment would or should ever be enough – it does take time, and it does take more than one person saying stuff I think. And yeah, I think you’re right that these things only really work and get taken on board when the person also has a doubt of their own that they can kind of coalesce around.

      Thank you for your perspective Ferns. For the record, you’re one of very very few people on the internet I might accept unsolicited advice from, because I admire you from afar as someone who very much appears to have their shit together =)

  • Mark says:

    Piggybacking on this comment if I can, having been in a very similar situation. 9 year relationship in which she didn’t really like any of my friends at all. Never wanted anything to do with them, their presence at a social situation was always a detraction and reason not to involve herself, the whole kit and kaboodle. I did some serious mental gymnastics to reach “everyone in my life doesn’t have to get along with everyone, and maybe she doesn’t know them like I do” etc etc.

    When we broke up, my friends were pretty relieved about it. They didn’t think all that much of her, and (biased though I may be), I trust my friends judgement when it comes to character. I was pretty upset and blew up at them; “Why didn’t you tell me?” Turns out they did, and I’d ignored them. Whoops.

    One of said friends is now in a pretty toxic relationship, and with the boot being on the other foot I find myself struggling to summon that courage to say “Hey man, is everything okay with X? You’ve not been yourself of late?” Not like that’s the magic words that open the doors and reveal all the answers, or that they’ll even take it in and not react badly. I, and I’m sure everyone else, just don’t want their friends and family to hurt themselves or be hurt.

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