Is Your Ex-Best Friend Your Roman Empire? Us Too—Here’s How to Handle It

written by LEXI WILLIAMS
woman thinking about ex-best friend"
woman thinking about ex-best friend
Graphics by: Caitlin Schneider
Graphics by: Caitlin Schneider

For months, we’ve been hearing all about how often men think about the Roman Empire. But the TikTok trend didn’t just shed light on the fact that the film 300 was a canon event for most of the guys in our lives—it had us theorizing what lives rent-free in women’s minds, too. It turns out, the thing many women think about all too often isn’t the rise and fall of a great republic, but rather, the rise and fall of a great friendship.

“The female’s Roman Empire is their ex-best friend,” lifestyle influencer Jade Brandt said on TikTok. “I’ve had one big best friend breakup and I’ve literally never stopped thinking about it. It hurt me more than any romantic relationship breakup ever. And if you’re a woman, you know.”

According to the 3,000-plus comments on her video, along with the many other videos expressing similar sentiments, Brandt is spot-on. But why are so many women consumed by thoughts of their ex-best friends, and is there anything they can do about it? We’re getting to the bottom of it.

Why do women think about their ex-best friend so much?

It’s no surprise this is such a popular theory. Best friends share a sacred bond, and when that bond is broken, those feelings shared and memories made don’t just go away. This is a person who, at one time, knew your secrets, co-founded your favorite inside jokes, and loved you for who you were. And now you just… don’t talk? Shaking that off and moving on isn’t that easy.

Friendship breakups can be incredibly heartbreaking, but they’re also extremely common. Almost every woman has had a best friend turn into an ex-best friend, whether it was due to a blowup fight, a mutual decision (or “conscious uncoupling,” if you will), or simply growing apart over the years. In fact, research has shown most people lose up to 70% of their close friendships after seven years.

Best friends share a sacred bond, and when that bond is broken, those feelings shared and memories made don’t just go away.

You may feel guilt or shame over a “failed” friendship

And yet, unlike in romantic partnerships where breakups are common, most people expect their friendships to last a lifetime (hence the ubiquitous phrases like ‘friends ‘til the end’ and “make new friends, but keep the old”). So, not only do you feel the emotions that come with the loss of this friendship—which can include grief, sadness, anger, frustration, nostalgia, relief, or all of the above—but you also may be grappling with the guilt and shame over having a “failed” friendship.

“[Friendship breakups are] not talked about, so you often feel like something’s wrong with you, like, ‘Why can’t I make my friendship last or work or evolve?’” Brooke Collins, a wellness mentor and co-host of the My So Called Healing podcast said in a clip posted on TikTok. “You’re almost ashamed of talking about it with other people, so it’s very internal and isolated.”

You don’t have the proper skills to cope with it

Further, most people aren’t as equipped to handle friendship breakups as we are to handle romantic breakups. Many of us have been inundated with advice on dealing with lost love, from having family members whip out the Ben & Jerry’s after a spat with a high school fling to marveling over Julia Roberts’ post-divorce Eat, Pray, Love adventure—not to mention the countless articles explaining every facet of recovering from a romantic breakup. But there aren’t many well-known practices or rituals associated with parting ways with a friend, so we’re pretty much left to our own devices to process our feelings and attempt to create our own closure.

3 questions to ask yourself before rekindling a friendship

Friendship breakups don’t always have to last forever. Sometimes, people just need time apart in order to come back together, stronger than ever. However, it’s often more complicated than just picking back up wherever you left off. Whether you want to reach out after a recent falling out or you’re hoping to renew a bond with a long-lost childhood bestie, ask yourself these three things first:

1. What was the reason for your breakup?

Before you can move into the future, you’re going to have to address the past. (Sorry, I don’t make the rules!) If your friendship ended because you two grew apart, but you now feel ready to put time and effort into this relationship, that’s a good sign you’re ready to reconnect! As long as you and your ex-bestie are on the same page about what you each need out of your friendship going forward, there’s not much else you two will need to do—except catch up on everything you missed!

However, if there were deeper-rooted issues that led to your dissolution, give yourself time to consider what you’re able to forgive, what you’re able to work on, and what you need from your friend to become close again.

For example, if there was a specific event that led to your breakup—such as a betrayal or a disagreement you couldn’t see past—there’s going to be a lot more work involved for each of you as individuals, as well as you two as a pair, to resolve the conflict. If you think you will both be able to move on from what happened, that’s great! However, if one or both of you refuse to budge, you’ll run into the same issues you had in the past.

Then, there’s the question of compatibility. If you two broke up because you constantly bickered, the relationship felt one-sided, or perhaps your friendship was toxic, as badly as you want to get back together, it might not be wise or healthy.

If your desire to rekindle is clouding your judgment and you’re struggling to unpack all your complex feelings surrounding your breakup, talking through your feelings with a therapist or impartial loved one can help you find clarity.

Source: @yankrukov | Pexels

2. Why do you want to reconnect?

I hate to break it to you, but missing someone is not a solid enough foundation for rebuilding a friendship. “A lot of times what happens is that we are just missing the history of this person,” Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, psychologist and author of the book Sisterhood Heals, said in a TikTok. “But when we think about it, we’re really not interested in rebuilding with this person. We really miss what this person represented in our lives.”

So, how can you tell if you’re feeling nostalgic for old times or you truly want to put the second F back in BFF? “The first question we can ask ourselves is, ‘What has changed?’” Bradford said. “What’s different about the friendship now that wasn’t present before? Is there evidence of changed behavior? Has whatever barrier that got in the way before been removed? What would be different about the friendship this time? The second question I think we can ask ourselves is, ‘Am I really interested and invested in rebuilding a friendship with this person, or am I just lonely?’”

If the answers to these questions still point you toward reaching out to your ex-best friend, there’s only one more big consideration to make…

3. Are you prepared for rejection?

Even if you’re willing to reconnect, they might not be. So before trying to initiate any sort of reunion, you have to be OK with that possibility. If you reach out and they’re not open to a future with you, it could reopen the wound of your original breakup and only make that pain greater. If the prospect of that sounds too daunting, you may want to reconsider.

However, if you are emotionally prepared, then go for it. Regardless of the outcome, reaching out just might provide you the closure you need to stop obsessing over your breakup so much. And if things go well, then you’ll be able to repurpose all that time you’ve been spending thinking about this person—and instead spend it building a new, positive relationship that benefits you both.

How to move on if ending the friendship was the right move

Despite how you might feel about your former friendship, sometimes the past really is best left in the past. But that doesn’t mean you’re confined to thinking about this person and rehashing what went wrong for the rest of your life. There are ways to gain closure that don’t involve becoming friends again.

Contact them for closure

If the friendship ended because you hurt this person, an apology can go a long way—not to clear your conscience, but to help you both heal. A brief but sincere email is likely your best bet here; it’s more formal than a text, but without the awkwardness of a phone call or face-to-face meetup. This gives your former friend the option to respond to your message, leave you on read, or delete it before even opening it. Just make sure you’re prepared for any of these outcomes to happen before hitting send.

In fact, you might decide you’re better off not contacting this person at all. Friend breakups are complicated, and apologizing may end up bringing back all the negative emotions and memories to the surface. In these cases, it’s best to focus on healing yourself.

One day, you’ll realize this person is no longer your Roman Empire, but rather a chapter you occasionally reread in the history book of your life.

Process your feelings in therapy

As with any emotional, life-altering event (which a friendship breakup is), therapy is an incredible resource for processing your feelings and learning how to move on. When you have thoughts ping-ponging around in your brain, sometimes simply speaking them out loud can help quiet them. What’s more, a therapist can provide tools to help when you feel you’re fixating on your former friendship. Over time, you can learn to recognize triggers that lead to you thinking about this person and avoid spiraling over them altogether.

Give yourself time to grieve

In addition to therapy, one of the most important things you can do to move on from your friendship breakup is to treat it like a romantic relationship breakup. Give yourself time to grieve, and then do whatever usually helps you get over an ex, such as spending more time with your current friends and loved ones, dedicating yourself to a hobby, and practicing self-care.

As you actively work toward moving on from this friendship, little by little, it will take up less and less space in your brain. One day, you’ll realize this person is no longer your Roman Empire, but rather a chapter you occasionally reread in the history book of your life.