How Do You Break Up With a Friend?
Hi Amy –
I’ve just been agonizing about this lately, and you always have the most level-headed advice, so I’m hoping you might have an opinion for me. My best friend from college (we graduated 12 years ago) and I remained really close for all these years since graduation. She has always been my best friend in the world, and I love her dearly. Then four years ago we had a shift in our relationship where I felt like we weren’t connecting anymore. It was one sided though – I felt like I never said the right things or did the right things, and I felt like she was keeping me at arms length most of the time. Worse, I felt like she was lying to me all the time about making plans or canceling plans (which was frequent). While we had always been close, she was never the type to talk about our friendship. If I brought this up to her, she would just deny or get insulted somehow, and so I never did. I just ignored it and pretended like nothing had happened and hoped it would go away.
Four years later I’m tired of that. The final straw was making tentative plans for our families to rent a beach house together for a weekend (we live three hours away from each other, and my husband and young child have been to visit her and her husband and child at least three times. The three of them have never come to stay with us), and after her long-winded multi-excuse-laden B.S. email canceling, I finally decided I don’t want to do it anymore. So I just said to forget about it, and haven’t been in touch since. She must have picked up that I’m upset about on this and has called, sent emails, tried to contact me more since this incident than she has in four years. She hasn’t said anything like “are you mad about canceling?” but I know if I just carry on now that nothing will change.
Should I try to discuss this with her? I know it wouldn’t make a difference, and it seems so heartbreaking to just say “I don’t want to be friends anymore”. Should I just continue my ignore stance? I’m at a loss here. I thought my just falling off the earth would be what she has wanted, because it clearly seems like she isn’t interested in being friends with me anymore, but she just won’t seem to let me go either….
Thanks for your help….
Okay, so you’re sending two very distinct, conflicting messages here. Message one is that you are agonizing over this decision and feeling a bit guilty and hurt about the loss of this friend. Message two is that you absolutely don’t want to actually do anything about that loss, because you “know” it won’t make a difference. I know I haven’t been there through the decade-long ups and downs of being friends with this flaky person, but truly: I think she deserves to hear what’s really wrong.
Imagine she’s a long-term boyfriend you’re breaking up with — even if you were really truly thoroughly DONE with the relationship, you STILL wouldn’t just…stop calling and emailing him. You’d tell him you were breaking up with him, and you’d probably tell him why. This long-term friendship deserves the same courtesy, no matter how one-sided you’ve found it to be. You ARE right about one thing, though, that if she really did want an “out” of the friendship she’d probably be taking the one you’ve offered her. But she’s not. That suggests that she either 1) has no idea how you’re feeling, or 2) has a sense that she messed up and feels guilty about it.
So I would take a deep breath and let go of the fatalistic thinking like “she’s never wanted to talk about the friendship,” or “she’ll just deny everything and get insulted,” or “talking to her won’t change anything.” Maybe you’re right, but from this side of the computer screen I feel like you’re being a bit proactively unfair to her. You’ve been harboring hurt feelings and unfair visit/plans checks/balances for YEARS now, but admit that you never, ever talked to her honestly about any of it. I have no idea if her behavior is just clueless or cruel…but I do know for sure that she’s not a mind reader, and ignoring her completely in response to feeling ignored in the past is a bit two-wrongs-not-making-things-right, y’know?
The next time she emails, tell her you guys need to Talk. I would definitely vote for doing in on the phone, or in person. And talk to her. One last time, one last chance. Tell her that you’ve been feeling that the friendship is growing more and more one-sided, that you’re tired and hurt of the constant canceling, because it makes you feel like maybe she never took the plans seriously to begin with. A commenter on the “talking to a friend about PDA” column a few weeks ago mentioned the BEST strategy for talking to someone who might be offended and argumentative: the “I” statements. Don’t frame her offenses in terms of stuff SHE DID. Talk about YOU and YOUR feelings and YOUR reactions to that stuff instead. She can argue about her reasons and justifications for canceling or being busy all she wants, but she can’t really argue with how her actions made you feel.
Will getting all this stuff hashed out suddenly cause the floodgates to open and the state of your friendship to return to its former glory as she promises to change and actually does change? Eh. I guess it could. Or you could be completely right about the “she isn’t going to change” thing, or maybe she will get mad and you’ll basically be in the same spot, only without her trying to reach out to you anymore. Zero-sum. BUT here’s the real problem: as hard as confrontations are, I can safely say that YOU aren’t going to feel better about letting this particular friendship go without one.