You can’t live without good friends. But every once in a while, there’s one pal you think you just might be able to survive without. What’s the best way to end a friendship gracefully (with as little distress and hurt feelings as possible) without relying on social media to do the dirty work for you?
Learn how to gauge whether or not a friendship has run its course, and if so, three ways to keep the parting short and sweet:
Signs it may be over
If you dread the very idea of calling her or seeing her, and if looking at her Facebook page gives you a migraine and/or the powerful urge to leave nasty comments on her vacation photos then your connection may well be past its best-before date.
That’s okay. You’re not a bad person. You’re just going through what Dr. Jan Yager, author of When Friendship Hurts, calls a “friendshift.”
“This ‘weeding out’ process takes place throughout our lives,” says Yager, adding that “it is those friendshifts that help us ‘fine tune’ our friendship network since there’s only so much time and emotion that anyone has for close or best friends although it’s possible to have a huge network of casual friends since they don’t make the same, or as intense, emotional or time demands on us.”
Maybe the problem is you?
Impossible, right? How could you be the problem? You’re practically perfect! Your friend, meanwhile, is a land mine of imperfection, with all of her passive-aggressive comments about your job, your cooking, and your new haircut. While that’s all undoubtedly true, it may be worth considering that the problem may still lie with you.
“Perhaps the friendship is teaching you something about yourself and if that’s the case you may want to work a bit harder to try and understand what that lesson may be before you end the friendship,” says Dr. Lisa Skelding, a relationships and marriage therapist based in Oakville.
That life lesson: “You need to stand up and teach your friend how you like to be treated,” says Skelding. That doesn’t mean overturning the brunch table the next time she says, ‘Just kidding!’ It simply means telling your friend when they’ve hurt you and that you’d prefer she pumped the brakes on her “jokes.”
Weigh your options
The great thing about friendship is that it’s an optional and voluntary arrangement, says Dr. Yager. “Once a friendship is continued because you feel you ‘have to’ rather than you just want to, it’s probably not going to last in a strong, connected way anyway,” she explains.
Just because it’s voluntary doesn’t mean that you should toss away a challenging friendship willy-nilly, she adds. Sometimes friendships go through natural cooling-off periods. Your lack of enthusiasm for that weekly lunch may just be the result of overexposure. Step back and ask yourself whether you need a break or a full-on break-up before you act rashly and unnecessarily damage a friendship.
Option 1: Let it fade out
If possible, let a so-so friendship that’s no longer working for you “fade out” says Dr. Yager rather than make a big performance out of ending things. “There’s a difference between ending a friendship and letting it fade,” explains Yager. “You may have to end a friendship if you are dealing with an act of betrayal that can not be ignored or forgiven or you feel that continuing the friendship puts you or your loved ones or your career in jeopardy.”
But if the friendship has simply run its course, then let it die a natural death. Don’t just stop calling and emailing cold turkey, slowly let the contact diminish over time. If you’re talking three times a week, bring it down to once a week.
Option 2: Tell her how you feel
If you’ve decided that you want to break up with your friend you can choose to let them know that officially too — but don’t be a jerk about it. Don’t call a friend and ask her to come over only to unload three years worth of resentment at her feet.
Instead, take responsibility for how you feel. “First of all, you have to let your friend/former friend know that it’s not her but it’s the way the two of you interact that isn’t working,” says Dr. Yager.
If you want to go into details about your decision — though you’re not obligated — do it in “a way that is kind and informative rather than judgmental and overly critical.”
Once you’ve made the break, behave accordingly. Don’t gossip about your former pal among your general acquaintance. You’ve chosen to end the friendship — not destroy it or disrespect it.
Option 3: Take the boutique approach
Don’t like options one or two? Then get creative and consider your friend’s specific personality. As Dr. Yager says, “There is no one way to end a friendship.” Maybe your pal doesn’t like puppies or yoga or vegetarians. Perhaps it’s time for you to channel your inner spirit animal while perfecting your downward dog and hummus recipe? Become the kind of person your pal dislikes and maybe she’ll go cold turkey for you.
Originally published October 2013, updated March 2017.