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How to End a Friendship

“You don’t want an ex-friend to become an enemy, so there’s no point in dumping a friend in a vicious or public way.”

Good friends are precious. They support you, listen to you, and stand by you no matter what. So why would you ever feel the need to say goodbye?

“Unfortunately, some friendships aren’t meant to last a lifetime,” says Carol Weston, author of Girltalk: All the Stuff Your Sister Never Told You. Sometimes friends just drift apart. Other times, a friend stops acting as a friend should. And no one deserves to be in a friendship that’s painful or unhealthy.

How do you know when a friendship needs to end? And how do you “break up” with a friend?

With Friends Like These …

Of course, no friendship is wonderful all the time. Just like any relationship, a friendship can have its ups and downs, and good friendships can take some work to thrive. How do you know if a friendship has crossed the line into the toxic territory? Watch out if friends

  • are frequently sarcastic or mean toward you
  • spill your secrets or spread gossip about you
  • go after your crushes (or your significant other) again and again
  • act overly possessive of you and don’t want you to spend time with other friends
  • only ever talks about themselves
  • never listen to you
  • endanger you with their risky behavior or pressure you into doing harmful things
  • blame you for what’s not good in their lives
  • always insist they’re right — which means you’re always wrong
  • gripe constantly about everything and belittle your advice

Bottom line: a friend who habitually fails to support you, puts you down, and makes you feel insecure in your friendship is toxic for you. Is a friend like this worth keeping around?

Not Toxic, But Not Working Out

Of course, there are other challenges to friendships. There may be increased geographic distance after someone moves away. There might be emotional distance after one or both of you have moved on to different interests — or different social groups — so you no longer have as much in common. You may find the other person is no longer fun to be around, or maybe you just don’t feel like investing as much energy into the relationship.

Lots of situations make it difficult to see where you stand with a friendship. But whatever the case, if a friendship is not adding to your life, you may have questions about its value for you.

The Decision

Do you want to continue this friendship? Only you can decide. Your friend could be going through a rough spot in his own life, and you may want to give him the benefit of the doubt while he’s working through some issues. Or you may feel that despite some draining drama, you can make amends with your friend by talking things out. Ending a friendship is a big step, so if you decide to do it, you want to be sure that you will indeed be better off without this person in your life.

Breaking up with a friend requires a delicate touch — for your friend’s benefit and for yours. “You don’t want an ex-friend to become an enemy,” says Weston, “so there’s no point in dumping a friend in a vicious or public way.”

However you end a friendship, and for whatever reason, it’s between the two of you. Asking others to do it for you or to side with you is simply unkind and uncool.

Drifting Away or Direct Action

Some people take the gradual route by becoming less available and returning calls less frequently. The good side to gently drifting apart is you might be able to keep a more limited friendship and reduce the amount of drama involved in changing the status of the friendship.

The downside? The other person may become confused by your behavior and continue to pursue you. Also, some people feel like it’s important to be honest and upfront with people about their feelings, rather than taking a more passive, less direct, approach.

If you feel that a more direct farewell is called for, ask to speak with your friend alone. Be calm and kind — think how you’d feel if the roles were reversed. Talk to her about how you have valued her friendship, your differences, and why you need your space. Use “I feel” statements (“I felt that you were always making fun of me, and friends need to be supportive of each other”) instead of accusations.

Mention how much your friend has added to your life, and that you’ll remember your friends and value the good times. The upfront goodbye can clear the air and make you feel good about being open. However, it takes courage to look someone in the eye and say you don’t want to be friends any longer. But in the end, you can be proud of yourself for having handled this delicate task with honesty and grace.

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