When I reminisce about high school and college, I think of my girls—the ones I’d never ditch for a dude because friends were forever and guys were, well, not.

We used to say “hoes before bros” or “chicks before dicks” because we knew relationships were never as strong as friendships. We knew that when heartbreak hit, our friends would be the ones to pull us out of the depths of misery. Our friendships were as unbreakable as diamonds. We were friends until death do us part, a commitment we all felt comfortable making because what could ever tear us apart? What could possibly come between a bond this strong?

There’s a certain romance to a great female friendship. It’s a closeness and intimacy that is unparalleled even in romantic relationships. Female friendships are like an art—from the way we confide in each other, to how we share the messiness of our lives. It’s a space where secrets live, where a language is born, where there are no topics left unturned or texts left unanalyzed. Female friendship is love untainted: pure and weird and entirely separate from sexual love.

Female friendship is love untainted: pure and weird and entirely separate from sexual love.

It’s a strange thing, the female friendship. Long before Taylor Swift brought sisterhood into the mainstream, girls have been bonding over anything and everything since forever. I can mark different chapters of my life by my best friend at the time, simply because they were the constant—the person I could spend hours with, but never get tired of.

There’s so much advice for anyone going through a breakup. We offer endless words of encouragement for those who are trying to piece their broken heart back together. Songs, films, articles, and TV shows detail the winding, harrowing world of the heartbroken, baring all and leaving nothing to the imagination. Breakups are almost like a rite of passage: If you make it out of your twenties without getting your heart scarred or even bruised, did you even live them?

Yet, our twenties often include a different kind of breakup, one that nobody writes about. What do you do when you’ve broken up with a best friend? How do you cope when the person who knows all your secrets and dreams and memories over the past however many years decides it’s time to see other friends? Where are the songs about that? This kind of breakup has its own special brand of pain—a feeling of inadequacy that gnaws away at you, an irrational belief that you must truly be a horrific human if the one person who said they’d never leave actually does.

I had two big friend breakups in my twenties, and a few smaller ones that were petty and strange in the way they fell apart. Both big breakups left me feeling a mixture of things, but the one overwhelming emotion was loneliness. I felt alone in my experience partly because I had just lost a friend, but also because it felt like something I should be ashamed of, so I never told anyone about it. Perhaps other women feel this way when their friendships fall apart. Maybe that shame is what keeps these kind of breakups in the dark.

One of the big breakups happened when I was 25. I had a huge falling out with a girl who was my best friend for 14 years. We had grown up together, and were more like sisters than friends. She had seen the best and worst of me. Then, some stupid guy neither of us talk to anymore drove a wedge in our friendship. At least that was the explanation on the surface. In reality, issues had been brewing between us for years.

Like romantic relationships, resentments can build up and fester in friendships—then explode whenever the right opportunity presents itself. In our situation, the guy was just the trigger.

Yet, because it was a friendship, I didn’t know how to properly process its demise. I didn’t know how to grieve or deal with a heartbreak that didn’t seem to warrant the label of “heartbreak” because I’d never seen it discussed that way. I didn’t even know that friendships could combust and die the same way relationships could. Nobody ever told me that.

At the time, I blamed myself. I questioned whether I had changed too much, or was too selfish, or if I had some fundamental personality flaw that pushed away friends I thought would always be in my life.

Five years later, I’ve reconnected with that same friend, and the wounds are only visible in retrospect. Only now do I see the hole that was in my life—the part of me that missed her, but didn’t realize the source of my pain was her absence. It was like a phantom ache: I could feel it, but didn’t know where it was coming from.

Reconnecting has been a bittersweet experience. We’ve missed out on five years of memories and life events—both of us got married, changed careers multiple times, moved cities, lost people—yet filling in the blanks has been equal parts sweet and melancholic. To be able to remember our past friendship with fresh eyes and healed hearts is to understand each other even more. To say, “This hurt me and I didn’t know how to tell you back then” is to make progress, to bond even further.

Our friendship is a little love story—entirely platonic, but full of romance nonetheless. I missed her more than the guy who broke us up; more than any guy in my past; more than any relationship that felt like everything in the moment, but turned out to be nothing at all. I missed her. I needed her. If that’s not love, then what is?