In an article entitled 'It's not u, It's me' (in last month's New York Times Magazine), Benoit Denizet-Lewis describes a one-day crash course, called 'Healthy Break-ups', held in July in Boston. Sponsored by the Boston Public Health Commission in collaboration with Northeastern University, the conference aimed to help teens learn how to end a relationship nicely - as opposed to nastily, angrily or unthinkingly - when it has run its course. The writer quotes one organiser as saying: 'No one talks to young people about this aspect of relationships.' Why hold such an event now? With the rapid growth of social media, many adults are concerned about how easy it has become for someone to 'defriend', or to be 'defriended', with the click of a key on a computer or smartphone - regardless of the lasting emotional pain it may cause for the person being dumped. But the truth is that handling a break-up is exceedingly difficult for everyone, irrespective of age. And if children are looking to their parents for advice, or as role models for how to defriend with grace, they may be disappointed. After surveying more than 1,500 women from the ages of 17 to 70 for my book, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Break-up with Your Best Friend, I realised why friendship break-ups are intrinsically so messy. 1. Break-ups carry a great deal of social stigma because our society often judges people, especially women, by their ability to make and keep friends. So when a relationship ends, people tend to see it as a character flaw - someone betrayed or let the other person down. This is rarely the case. People change and no two lives follow the same trajectory, so why don't we leave room for the possibility that many break-ups are no-fault occurrences and that some friendships simply have expiration dates? 2. Sometimes a relationship works for one person and not the other. If you've been blissfully engaged in a friendship with someone you thought would be your best friend forever, there's no easy remedy for not feeling like you've been dumped when you're suddenly cut loose, often without warning. One-sided break-ups are especially hard to execute, discuss and accept. 3. We all have a natural reluctance to let go of something we know (even if it isn't particularly good) rather than risk the uncertainty of something new. Many women I surveyed were afraid to let go of toxic friendships because they felt that everyone else was already paired up, like the animals on Noah's Ark. Whether young or older, they felt it was too late to meet new friends. This is a strong disincentive to healthy endings and healthy beginnings. 4. As compared to marriages, there are no social rituals to fall back on that are associated with breaking up with friends. Not to trivialise the pain and complexities of divorce, but at least there are some rules. Close friends usually encircle the person who is going through a divorce, but when someone loses a friend, people are reluctant to talk about what happened. Both the dumped and the dumper suffer in silence, feeling either shame or blame. 5. Unfortunately, any break-up has consequences that extend beyond the two people directly involved. Very often, the friendship involves connections with other family members and friends. In the case of workplace friends, the break-up spills over to colleagues and co-workers. There are no simple rules for breaking up - except to do so in a way that is graceful and kind. Dr Irene S. Levine is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine.