The Truth About Breaking Up with Your High School Friends

In high school, we make friends to survive. We need someone to talk to between classes, someone to sit with at lunch and someone to help us understand how to do the math homework that simply doesn’t make sense. Because we are all thrown into high schools based on the town or zone we live in, we don’t get much of a choice in the people with whom we spend those four years. However, college friendships are different.

In college, we make friends because we want to. We like the people who inspire us, who are interested in the same career paths and who like to party at the same tailgates. We get to choose our friends from an entire campus of over 50,000 students. And let’s be honest with ourselves, if we had the same choice of friends in high school, we probably wouldn’t have chosen the ones that we are ending our friendships with today.

Breaking up with high school friends is painful because we don’t want to lose all of the important memories and people that made us who we are; however, we have to realize that as we grow into ourselves, we grow out of relationships. That’s why when you end your friendship with someone from high school, even though you will miss them, it is important not to look back. They weren’t the right fit for your life, and you have so many years ahead of you to find those who are.

In high school, I became close with some people who had a habit of bullying people within their friend group, including me. They bullied two separate people to the extent of exclusion from their clique. At the time, I did not think much of this because almost everyone was bullied by everyone at my high school. Being bullied by my friends was something I’d come to see as normal.

Unfortunately, I stayed friends with those people well into my second year of college, accepting their inappropriate comments, exclusion, gaslighting and invalidation of my feelings because of being bullied.

Even though multiple other friends had been telling me to cut them off for years, I did not do so until winter break of my sophomore year. They had been through a lot with me. They were there when I broke up with someone I loved, they were there when we graduated from high school together and they were there as my companions during COVID-19 quarantine last summer, which was hard for us all.

Breaking up with toxic friends is like ending a toxic romantic relationship. You still see the good parts of that relationship and want to cling on to them because you still care about those people. You care about the people that hurt you because they were there when you hurt.

However, when I began college and joined my sorority, I met so many amazing women who became my closest friends. There was no bullying, no gaslighting, no exclusion and all my feelings and achievements were validated by these new companions I had found.

I was shocked that I felt so safe in a friend group because I never really felt safe with my friends before. I never really felt like my crew from high school had my back. But because I felt true support from my newfound circle, I was able to become supportive, caring and happy for my friends when they achieved. I felt like their wins were my wins—a concept of unity I wasn’t used to.

After experiencing friendship that was as it should be, it became increasingly more difficult to justify being in friendships that tore me down on the inside, that inspired competition of who could say the meanest thing or hurt someone the most. I realized I was no longer the person I wanted to be around my high school friends. It was exhausting hanging out with people who were mean and cold. I even became mean and cold, and that was also exhausting. 

It took me a year and a half to finally realize that to become the person I was with my college friends all the time; I would have to cut myself off from the person I was with my high school friends. Breaking up with my high school friends was one of the hardest things to do because we have memories, I grew up with some of them, we have pictures together and we have stories to tell together, but I had to do it for myself.

Just like when you break up with somebody for yourself, you are allowed to leave your high school friends behind for yourself. I feel as though many of us want to hold onto our teenage years because we don’t know any better, but I must believe there is something better out there after we take time and allow ourselves to grow. Sometimes people in your past only ever hold you back from being the person you truly want to be and tie you to the person you became to survive a difficult part of your life.

It’s hard when you don’t want to hurt anyone, and you don’t want to lose a part of yourself. Nostalgia can trick us, but the truth is that we don’t have to sustain sentimental relationships that hold us back from who we are meant to be. The relationships we make in high school aren’t the be-all-end-all just because they started us on our journey of forming relationships in the first place.