Girl looking back with disgust at two other girls
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It’s hard to miss Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album, SOUR. People have been listening on repeat across the world — the album is topping charts and breaking records daily. The cause of her immense popularity? I would credit her vulnerable relatability. Rodrigo’s songs hold power in their ability to voice the emotional struggles of our generation.

Her new song “happier” particularly resonated with me. Most listeners believe her lyrics are aimed at an ex-boyfriend, but this song resonates heavily with my thoughts about a different type of ex: ex-best friends.

I hope you’re happy, but don’t be happier

This line from “happier” speaks my thoughts aloud. I’ve lost several best friends over the years, the endings coming in a variety of flavors: messy and dramatic, mutual or slowly drifting apart. Losing friends comes with the territory of friendships — sometimes people need to go their own, separate way. It’s disorienting and saddening, but inevitable. 

Even though losing friends is a natural part of life, I’ve struggled with the negative rush of emotions that come with friend breakups. I wanted to unpack these mixed feelings, inspired by Rodrigo’s song.

One of my ex-friends — let’s call them V — was glued to my side for years before their red flags waved brightly at me. V had some pretty heavy personal issues to sort through, which I, as her best friend, felt responsible for helping her carry. I thought I was being a good friend, but when their issues started bleeding into my life, it was too much for me to handle. The friendship became draining. I don’t blame V — I have a habit of finding friends who need help and putting all my energy into them. I often end up lost in the friendship, swallowed up by someone else’s problems. 

This pattern repeated with V; as their problems became more overwhelming, the friendship became more claustrophobic for me. I couldn’t find room for myself in our friendship. I knew the friendship wasn’t serving me anymore. We parted ways throughout several tearful arguments. Just like that, V walked right out of my close circle and into the label “ex-friend.” 

After V left, I was filled with anger, sadness, jealousy and — at the same time — relief. I was relieved to have space for myself again. It was a confusing bundle of emotions to unravel. In this bundle, I didn’t find regret; I didn’t wish I was back in that friendship. It was more like homesickness for a past time, a past version of myself — missing the person I was in that friendship but not necessarily the friendship itself.

At first, it was easiest to focus on the jealousy and hateful anger spiking up. Each of V’s Instagram posts with new friends was a slap in the face. After years of my time spent in the friendship, she appeared to be moving on like losing me was not a big deal whatsoever. Hearing about V’s accomplishments — which I knew meant the world to them — but feeling too distant to send a text was a stab in the heart.

I’m selfish, I know, I can’t let you go

In Rodrigo’s song, she so accurately speaks to a feeling that’s been poking at me for years — the bittersweetness of wishing someone the best but also hoping they miss your presence in their life. Who we surround ourselves with helps make up our identity, so of course we’re left hurting when a major part leaves. When those close to us leave our lives, they rip away a piece of who we are as they go. 

Friend breakups can hurt worse than romantic ones. In romantic relationships, you’re either going to stay together or eventually break up. There’s an implied ending hiding in the background. In friendships, however, there’s a sense of “forever-ness.” An ending, therefore, feels unexpected, blindsiding. Even with V, when I initiated the ending, I was left hurting for months, mourning the remains of a best friendship. 

And I thought my heart was attached

It’s weird to hear snippets of how an ex-friend is doing now without knowing the full backstory and hearing them talk about each event in real time. Not knowing every tiny bit of their life after hearing and witnessing it for years. Wondering what they’re talking about. Wondering how they’re feeling. V and other ex-friends used to be so ingrained in my life, exchanging stories and secrets with me daily. We’d trusted each other with the details of our lives. When that ended, there was nothing but silence and salty feelings between us.

Over time, I’ve found my bitterness toward ex-friends has faded, with good memories taking its place. With distance and space to grow, I’ve even reconnected with some ex-best friends, catching up once time has allowed the initial anger to fade. Some ex-friends, like V and I, have now found a place for each other in our lives. It’s interesting to see how we’ve both grown separately; there are still glimmers of the person I once knew so well in these moments. After some time to gain perspective, we can now be kind to each other and recognize the friendship for what it was. We can reminisce on our shared memories. 

For all the sunlight of our past

This is my favorite line from “happier”. Ultimately, the sunlight of the positive memories together will shine through the hurt and ugly moments of the breakups. It’s okay for there to be pain in friendship breakups. I’ve found the pain will eventually pass, the sharp initial pricks subsiding. In its place, I feel mainly nostalgia for that friendship and who I used to be at that time.

I recently heard a statement that helped ease the harsh feelings toward ex-friends. In the podcast, “We Could Be Friends”, one of the guests said, “Everyone’s life happens at a different pace.” I love the way she phrased this. It ties into my new understanding of how friendships work and explains why they sometimes have to end. We’re all constantly changing — that’s what makes life so exciting. With so much change, we should be constantly re-evaluating ourselves and our friends.

Friends are a mode through which we discover ourselves. With V, for example, I found aspects of my personality I hadn’t tapped into before. Around her, I was more outgoing and carefree — I loved certain parts that she brought out. At the same time, I began to recognize that my role in the friendship wasn’t healthy. V and I weren’t living our lives at the same pace anymore.

Once the chaos of ending the friendship with V calmed, I settled into a new version of myself. I realized I’d learned just as much in the friendship as I did in the harsh ending. Each friend breakup has been a necessary process in getting closer to finding who I am and who I want to surround myself with. 

While unpacking my emotions around friend breakups, I realize I’m feeling less sour feelings toward my ex-friends. Through Rodrigo’s songs and the podcast, I feel understood in my complicated feelings toward past friends. I recognize that it’s okay to lose friends. It’s okay to feel salty when they leave. It’s okay to go through life at your pace, which is sometimes separate from your friends’. 

I’m inspired by Rodrigo and We Could be Friends — they’re helping to open up the conversation around losing someone and the saltiness we feel in their absence. I want to continue validating everyone who’s gone through a friend breakup because they’re very painful and common, yet not discussed often. I hope this helps you reflect on whoever comes to mind when you hear “ex-friend.” I hope this helps you sort out feelings toward them and realize how much you’ve grown since that friendship. 

I hope you’re happier now.

Statement Correspondent Natalie Bricker can be reached at