The psychological reason breakups lead us to re-prioritize our friendships


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While navigating a breakup with a long-term serious partner earlier this year, I found myself with a lot of spare time on my hands, and a lot of feelings to sort through. That’s when I noticed myself reaching out to friends I earnestly love despite having not spent so much time with them during the length of my since broken relationship. This act of a rekindling friendship after a breakup felt natural, but also dirty and opportunistic—I couldn’t figure out quite why.

In this era of solo everything, from solo travel and solo working to solo sex (okay the last one is just masturbation, but still), it can be tough to admit that you need someone…especially if that’s someone you ditched before you met whats-their-face. But according to psychotherapist and relationship counselor Larry Letich, LCSW, this isn’t the marker of a fair-weather friend but rather someone whose basic survival instincts are kicking in.

“Humans are social creatures. For all of the talk about being ‘self-sufficient,’ we really aren’t evolutionarily designed to survive alone.” —Larry Letich, LCSW

“Humans are social creatures,” says Letich. “For all of the talk about being ‘self-sufficient,’ we really aren’t evolutionarily designed to survive alone. Back a couple of thousand centuries ago, to be alone and cut off from everyone else meant a quick death, pure and simple. The fact that we don’t have to worry about saber-toothed tigers, and we get our food from a supermarket down the block doesn’t change our basic wiring.”

Beyond being social by nature, we also feel a subconscious need to fill open time and space by reattaching to others. While in a partnership, you have a, well, partner, with whom you spend your weekends and weeknights. You grow comfortable with this situation, if not vaguely codependent. You become two halves of a life together. Until the relationship ends, that is—thus ushering in the instinct to rekindle friendship after a breakup.

A breakup is a loss, and you, grieving, become an absolute mess searching for someone to cling to. Before the breakup, you were down to transform into a couch potato, but now? Every day is a new rom-com-style adventure because you’re trying to replace who and what’s been lost.

“Every romantic relationship—every time you fall in love—brings up the feelings associated with ‘maybe this is my one-and-only-forever,'” says Letich. “So when that person turns out not to be ‘forever,’ you want to go back for comfort to the people who are still there, especially those you feel you won’t lose, the people who won’t leave you.”

I’ve said this a lot over the past year, but let me put it in print: platonic love is seriously underrated, and we’d all be wise to appreciate it more at all times—not just when romantic love exits our lives. But for now? Practice self-compassion. You’re navigating pain, and without your would-be S.O. by your side, you crave being around your original caretakers.

“Scans of the brain have shown that emotional pain is processed in the brain exactly like physical pain, which means that a broken heart is processed in the brain exactly like a broken arm or leg, or the pain associated with being very sick,” Letich says. “The sadness you show and the phone calls and texts to your family and friends are natural responses designed by evolution to bring you the comfort and support you need until you feel back to yourself again.”

If you need any more reassurance, here’s the healthy reason you should book that trip with friends. And are you reattaching in a more one-on-one type of capacity? These relationship pros differentiate between rebounds and the real deal.

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