• Handling Breakups

Is there a kind way to end this friendship?

March 10, 2017 | By | 15 Replies Continue Reading
Regretful about reconnecting, a reader asks whether there is a kind way to put the kibosh on an unsatisfying friendship.

QUESTION

Hi Dr. Levine,

A couple of years ago, at the suggestion of a mutual friend, I reached out to an old high school classmate. I had lost touch with this woman after I went away to college. We were close friends when we were in our late teens, and so were our families — at that time.

Both of us have been through a lot in the years that we weren’t in touch. She was married and divorced, then remarried, raised a child, and so on. We are now in our 50s so we weren’t “there” for each other during the major events of our adult lives, so we’ve had to get to know each other again over the past couple of years or so.

This old friend is now a caregiver for her twin granddaughters, and she often tells me that she misses “adult company” and hasn’t spent as much time developing her own friendships as she wishes she had.

She has a way of making me feel a bit pressured, and each time we get together I feel as though she is expecting me to be the old friend I used to be.

But I am not that person. As I have gotten to know her (and her husband), I am struck more by our differences in some important ways, and I don’t feel that this friendship is a good fit. I feel I gave it a good chance, but I don’t want to invest any more time in the relationship.

Here’s the problem: I feel terribly guilty, especially since I am the one who reached out to reconnect a couple of years ago. I wish I hadn’t followed the advice of the mutual friend who encouraged me to reach out. I wish I had left this friend in the past, and simply treasured my good memories of her.

This situation has happened to me before. I am an outgoing person who enjoys meeting people for lunch, having people to my home for dinner, and so on, and sometimes I get together with old friends on a casual basis.

But I don’t really want to spend so much “exclusive” time with an old friend who’s clearly grown in a different direction — both in terms of her lifestyle as well as political beliefs and values.  I don’t want to hurt people. Am I wrong to fade out this friendship? How do I distance myself without hurting her feelings?

Sincerely, Jennifer

ANSWER

Hi Jennifer,

Your letter presumes it’s wrong to end friendships that aren’t satisfying. If you believe that’s the case, then you have an obligation to continue this friendship. That entails succumbing to the pressure you feel to make time for someone with whom you really don’t want to be with. Does that sound right to you?

As you might have guessed, I disagree with that presumption. Just because you reached out and connected with an old friend, you have no obligation to sustain the friendship if the gulf between you seems too great. You say that you have maintained this renewed relationship, albeit a superficial one, for a couple of years so you’ve certainly given it a chance to congeal.

You harbor no animosity towards this woman and don’t want to hurt her. But understandably, it’s likely that she’ll interpret any effort you make to distance yourself from her as a rejection. You also have mutual social connections.

If I were you, I would not initiate any further contacts with her. When your friend reaches out, I would just explain how busy you are and don’t have time to get together. You may need to repeat this several times. Hopefully, she’ll back off. As painful as it is to get dumped, it is also difficult to dump someone else.

I was reading an article this morning about Bread Crumbing, the name used to describe a situation when a romantic interest offers someone just enough hope by giving them “breadcrumbs.”

Urban Dictionary (screenshot)

Urban Dictionary (screenshot)

What does this have to do with your situation? If you continue to maintain occasional contact with this woman who is “yearning for adult company” and seems to enjoy yours, you’ll be giving her breadcrumbs, a mixed message. She needs to find other people to connect with—and my sense is that you want to do the same.

Friendships are voluntary relationships. As one or both people change, individuals often discover they’ve outgrown relationships (whether romantic or platonic) that are no longer a good fit. There shouldn’t be any guilt or shame associated with ending them.

Best, Irene

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Category: HANDLING BREAKUPS, How to break up

Comments (15)

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  1. SusanB says:

    I found this story when I searched “need to dump a friend”. The person I want to distance from also makes me feel pressured and she guilt trips me a lot. We are both in our 50’s as well and have only been friends (of sorts) for about 4 years. She occasionally talks about where I stand in her hierachy of friends which is a big turn off and possibly a lie, as I do not think she has many friends. She will talk about the “inner circle” which I think does not exist. Needless to say, after a recent meeting where she made an insulting comment about my hair, I have decided I’m done. Without going into a lot of details her life is, in a word, chaotic and I often feel drained in her presence. The bottom line is I am not getting enough enjoyment from the friendship and despite being a people pleaser and fearing some repercussions, I am going to do the slow fade.

    My fear is she will confront me and then I will have to make a decision on whether to tell the truth or just continue to fade out. The drawback to fade outs with female friends is the awkwardness when you run into them but I guess I won’t worry about that just yet. Thanks for sharing your story and for Irene’s advice.

    • Sandra says:

      SusanB, you mention in your comment that you fear confrontation with this friend if you distance yourself. You also mention that you’ve “only been friends (of sorts) for about 4 years). To me, this doesn’t sound like a really deep/intimate friendship, so I don’t think you should feel guilty for distancing yourself.

      If you’re not enjoying the friendship, and you’re not longtime friends, distancing yourself would be more comfortable than “breaking up” with her as a friend. If you run into her again, or if she keeps seeking out your company, just keep telling her your busy and she’ll get the hint. In my experience, “distancing” also gives you the opportunity to change your mind, should you ever decide you want to get together again — or if you’re thrown into a situation where you see this friend at a party or in a group. Distancing still leaves the door open, and avoids hurting someone’s feelings.

      • SusanB says:

        Hi Sandra, it may have been 5 years. I will certainly take the advice to tell her I’m busy, not return any texts or calls right away, etc. She latched onto me in the beginning, when I ran into her (had met her through another person at a party) she exclaimed that she was looking for a new friend and could that be me? That should have been a red flag, indeed it was, but being the “people pleaser” that I am, I allowed her into my life. She tries but she is so over the top self-involved that I can barely get a word in. She will ask me how I am, and in the middle of my reply she will cut me off and bring it back to her, each time without fail. As I said before, she often refers to what kind of a friendship we have, where I stand in her reported friend circle, and I don’t need this kind of pressure. I was patient for a while but have grown to see that she has some deep-seated problems that are overwhelming and I have to cut her out of my life. I think she trys to mean well but without going into a lot of personal details, her life is a train wreck and she seems to expect me to be available to her at all times numerous crises occur (I think she exaggerates for attention). I have been overly kind in the past but I now realize I have perhaps been handing her crumbs in an attempt to be polite. At this point I need to pull back completely and let her figure it out. I am done educating entitled, narcissistic and emotionally disturbed 50+ women how to behave. At this point for me, it is much better to have a smaller circle of friends to keep the crazies at bay. Thanks for your thoughts.

        • Sandra says:

          Wow, Susan, after reading this description of your friend, I believe you’re right to distance yourself from her, and to consider the friendship over and DONE. Self-involved people like that rarely change, and it sounds like she’s had a lot of trouble keeping friends in the past. Why else would she announce that she was “looking for a new friend”? Sounds like you’e way better off without this person.

          • SusanB says:

            Thanks for affirming what I already knew, Sandra. Sometimes it takes me a while. 😉
            Indeed I am much better off without this person. It is sad (for her, I am quite sure she loses every friend she makes) but I can only do so much and I have my plate full taking care of my own life, Over and done.

  2. V says:

    It’s always important to be honest! It’s healthy to first be honest with yourself and secondly to honest with how you sincerely feel about the relationship. I was dating a fellow for about 8 months. When I originally met him, he told me that he was ‘a package deal’? The package deal was he is very close with his family. After 4 months , I realized that this close family relationship was totally enmeshed! He always said we were just friends and not ‘girlfriend or boyfriend’. Although, we were intimate and partially lived together with his family. Our intimate relationship became null and EVERY outing and events always included his whole family. I initiated several conversations about that it was too much for me. I slowly became less available to socialize with he and his family. He still texts me to be friends but I continually respond that I’m very busy and don’t have time to get together.. I am so over ‘this’. I am expanding my horizons and have moved on with friends.He says he wants to be friends. He texts that he misses me and hopes I feel better. Any suggestions on how to get the message across?

  3. V says:

    It’s always important to be honest! It’s healthy to first be honest with yourself and secondly to honest with how you sincerely feel about the relationship. I was dating a fellow for about 8 months. When I originally met him, he told me that he was ‘a package deal’? The package deal was he is very close with his family. After 4 months , I realized that this close family relationship was totally enmeshed! He always said we were just friends and not ‘girlfriend or boyfriend’. Although, we were intimate and partially lived together with his family. Our intimate relationship became null and EVERY outing and events always included his whole family. I initiated several conversations about that it was too much for me to handle…it co tunue anyway. I slowly became less available to socialize with he and his family. He still texts me to be friends but I continually respond that I’m very busy and don’t have time to get together.. I am so over ‘this’. I am expanding my horizons and have moved on with friends.He says he wants to be friends. He texts that he misses me and hopes I feel better. Any suggestions on how to get the message across?

  4. Lisa says:

    I agree that you shouldn’t be compelled to have to keep seeing and talking to this old friend. You’re not wrong in your feelings about this nor are you wrong in wanting it to end.

    One thing that I would love to see change in this country is for us to all stop being activist minded. Why can’t we visit with friends without talking about politics and religion and breast feeding?! A lot of these friendship problems stem from the fact that we have to have every single thought, decision and opinion in common before we feel comfortable enough to share a meal or go to a movie.

    It shouldn’t be like this, but it is. Everyone has chosen an opposing side and the culture war continues unabated.

  5. Denise says:

    Jennifer,

    You simply reached out to an old friend, started catching up and were
    “struck more by our differences in some important ways, and I don’t feel that this friendship is a good fit.” It’s understandable that you don’t want to continue and kindly telling her about the differences is a good way to part ways again.

    If I were to hear this from a past friend that I enjoy spending time with now, I’d be disappointed and hurt and also realize important differences make sense to a friendship. I kind of see why you feel terribly guilty, especially since you’re the one who reached out to reconnect a couple of years ago, but, you had good intentions and couldn’t foresee the current, important differences. I don’t think you should wish you hadn’t followed the advice of the mutual friend who encouraged you to reach out. At least for a short time you were there for her to talk with and hopefully this has helped and comforted her.

  6. Joely says:

    No obligation to keep a friendship that no longer brings pleasure to you. I wish I had learned this at a much younger age, would’ve saved myself much wasted time and energy! Friendship should go two ways and be mutually beneficial to both parties.

  7. Sandra says:

    An excellent response from Dr. Irene. I have struggled with painful guilt over fading out friendships that weren’t feeling right anymore, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes I question if “loyalty” is a good thing if your heart is no longer in a friendship and you don’t look forward to getting together with someone anymore. Things change and so do our friendships, and it is hard enough to make time for the people we love and enjoy. Thank you for this posting.

  8. Lola says:

    Thanks Amy F for getting your jab in on the president in literally every response. It’s getting ridiculous.

  9. Lady Mary says:

    I see nothing wrong with the slow fade in this scenario. I am hesitant to write a person off completely, and since she hasn’t done an egregious act that needs to be confronted and pointed out as behavior that is unacceptable, then to me slow fade is the answer. There will be reunions in the future, and as Amy mentions, you have mutual friends with her. We don’t know what tomorrow brings. I’ve lost 4 YOUNG friends to cancer in 15 months. So I would likely slow fade any contact with her, and if/when she reaches to me, I’d keep any response short, but I’d not cull her from my circle of friends entirely.

  10. Amy F says:

    I wouldn’t want to spend time with a friend whose values and politics I didn’t respect, particularly with 45 in the office. Just because you reached out to her intitialy doesn’t mean you extended a lifetime guaranteed exclusive relationship. Time to tighten your boundaries. Don’t reach out, be cordial but not friendly. Don’t accept invitations. Be honest without being hurtful, particularly since you have mutual friends and acquaintances.
    When I feel pressure in a relationship, I take a step back and ask myself why am I allowing myself to be pulled in. I make sure I’m utilizing clear boundaries and not sending mixed messages. Most often I simply need to be clearer. Your relationships don’t have to be all or nothing. Since the problem has happened more than once, I’d work on clear messaging.

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