“It’s much easier to not know things sometimes. Things change and friends leave. And life doesn’t stop for anybody.” -Stephen Chbosky
Break-ups are never pretty.
That’s the reality. Even the break-ups that are ‘amicable’ are preceded by days, months, even years, of doubts and heartache, fights, tears, and little knocks of emotional trauma. Someone close to me once confided they spent over a year planning a break-up from their previous partner so they could end things ‘amicably’. Which sounds anything but amicable to me.
Romantic relationships aside, an area we also sometimes need to make strategic exits is within our friendships. This type of break-up is rarely spoken about and advice is sparse.
I’ve made the tough decision to end a friendship once before, and I’ve also been on the receiving end of someone I considered a close friend breaking up with me. Both of these experiences taught me there are wrong and right ways to approach this type of break-up. And that the heartache of losing a close friend can be just as cutting as a romantic relationship.
On Being Dumped as a Friend
When my friend broke up with me, it came as a complete surprise.
This was someone with whom I’d enjoyed a close, fun-loving, and adventurous friendship with for a number of years. We were travel buddies, road-trip buddies, and ‘let's hang out on Sunday watching chick flicks and eating junk food’ buddies.
One day my friend started confiding in me about some dubious behavior her boyfriend was indulging in. I’d gone through a toxic relationship myself so alarm bells immediately started ringing.
A few months later I started to notice some big changes in my friend's personality. She stopped wanting to go out, had to ask permission to spend money, and consistently seemed anxious. She became more and more insecure, claiming she was ugly and needed to work out more, even though she always had — and still did — look great. I broached the subject with her a few times, only to be told I was exaggerating.
I knew the warning signs and I tried to bring the subject up with her on a few more occasions. To let her know she wasn’t alone and there was always a way out. On one occasion, she finally agreed with me. She opened up and told me about a few other things that had been happening. None of it sounded good. She told me she was going to speak to her boyfriend and she would call me to let me know how things went.
I didn’t hear from her for 8 weeks.
I sent her a few messages and phone calls but she didn’t reply. Then one day she did. She sent me a short message explaining what had happened.
It turned out her boyfriend felt I was a bad influence on her. And she agreed.
We could no longer be friends.
Her exact words were that I was ‘emotionally bruising’ her. She didn’t see any room in her life for our friendship anymore.
I tried to call her. I sent follow-up messages, asking her to meet with me but she never replied. That was five years ago, and I’ve heard nothing from her since.
On Ending a Friendship
The above is a more common experience amongst females and their friends than you might think. Even though I knew her boyfriend was a large influence on why she felt the need to end our friendship, I still spent a lot of time introspectively reflecting on our friendship through the years.
Maybe I was a bad friend? Sometimes I could be too stubborn, too headstrong, determined to do things my way. Maybe I hadn’t allowed enough room for my friend to grow in our relationship?
I felt awful for months and blamed myself. And the worst thing? I’d lost someone who would normally be an honest and supportive consultant on such matters. My friend.
Nobody likes having to end any kind of relationship, least of all with someone you’ve created a strong bond with, but sometimes we need to. It takes a lot of courage to finally acknowledge that a friendship is no longer serving you and act to remove it so you can continue to grow as a person.
When I came to this realization about an old university friend, I knew I had to be proactive in how I handled the situation. This individual and I had struck up a friendship based on working together during our studies, but as time went by I realized this person had a competitive streak that didn’t sit well with me.
I was what would be considered as ‘working class’, she would have been considered ‘upper class’. Despite us being on the same course at the same university, she still felt it necessary to make comments alluding to this socio-economic divide between us. I had to work two part-time jobs while studying. She didn’t. I lived on toast most days, while she used her parent's credit card to do luxury food shops.
Despite some initial common ground, we were just too different.
Instead of a big confrontation, I simply decided to let things fade out naturally. Once university ended, we moved back to our respective home towns. Initially, I responded to her emails and texts (always asking what I was doing now and what I was earning), but over time I let the distance between replies grow longer until eventually I stopped replying and she stopped messaging.
I’ve never felt guilty about it because it was right for me.
How To End a Friendship Healthily
There tend to be three core reasons behind wanting to end a friendship:
- Not Meeting Your Needs: The friendship is no longer adding value to your growth.
- Toxicity: The friendship has become toxic and is causing you stress and anxiety.
- Naturally Growing Apart: The common ground you once shared no longer exists.
How you go about ending the friendship will ultimately depend on the reasons why you want to break up. Spending some time exploring this can be extremely valuable when it comes to creating a plan on how to approach the situation.
Reflect on the friendship. Often, you will know something just doesn’t feel right. Questions to ask yourself could include:
- Are you transitioning into a new phase of life? How has this friend responded (supportive, critical, judgemental)?
- Has the common denominator for the friendship, such as school or office, changed?
- How do you feel after spending time with this friend?
- How does this friend respond to good news or successes that you share?
- Conversely, how do they respond to bad news or requests for support?
- When they ask to see you, how do you feel? Excited, apathetic or anxious?
- What do you need from a friendship? Is this friendship meeting your needs?
- Does the friendship require a lot of effort on your part, that you don’t feel is fairly reciprocated?
Doing this reflection piece will help you know you’re making the right decision in the long run, especially if you’re seeking to end a toxic friendship, where they might try and convince you you’re wrong.
When you’re ready, remember to:
- Treat Them With Respect
Where possible try to have the conversation in person or over the phone. Ignoring text messages or phone calls, or sending the break-up message via email or text yourself can exacerbate the situation. You were friends with this person, and no matter how things are ending you owe them this level of respect.
- Don’t Lead Them On
Ripping off the band-aid can be difficult. If you’re afraid of confrontation, it can be doubly difficult. But they also deserve honesty from you. Don’t lead them on or fob them off with ‘I’m just really busy right now’ excuses. Be honest and let them know the friendship isn’t working as you’d hope.
- Refrain From Blame
Pointing the finger of blame will only sour things. You’ve made the decision to end the friendship because it isn’t working for you, not because you want this person to change (and we should never stay in relationships because we expect or demand the other person change). If you sit this person down and start pointing out all their flaws and inadequacies, it’ll simply turn in to a defensive fight. Rarely do we self-reflect and assess our own behavior in these situations.
Ending any kind of relationship is tough. We’re essentially closing the door on a connection in life we once held a lot of hope for. But we also have to admit when it hasn’t turned out how we hoped.
Remember to always act with kindness — towards yourself and the other party — and put your efforts into cultivating the types of friendships that bring you value.