• Keeping Friends

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Published: November 6, 2007 | Last Updated: July 22, 2023 By | 7 Replies Continue Reading

I read a fascinating thread on the balancing work/life forum of the Chronicle of Higher Education. The poster told about ending a friendship with a female friend who was overly critical and judgmental. (In its telling, the relationship sounded toxic to me.)

In a last-ditch effort to salvage the friendship, the poster communicated her discomfort honestly with her friend. After that difficult conversation, she never heard from her once-friend again. While she felt guilty, she knew she had done the right thing for her. Others on the forum expressed different opinions about whether she was right or wrong.

Many people ask me about the protocol of ending a friendship when you realize that it’s time (or past time) to let go. Here are a few thoughts—

Think before you leap

The truth is that while some friendships can be mended after they fracture, the vast majority never reconstitute with the same degree of intimacy or intensity. Before you act, be sure that you truly want to end the friendship. Take the time to carefully weigh the pros and cons; sometimes, a hiatus will help you decide.

Let go of the guilt

If you determine that a friendship isn’t worth saving, sometimes it is more appropriate and courageous to let go than to hang on. The idea that all best friends are forever (BFF) is a myth. You can hold up an olive branch but if the other person doesn’t accept it, you need to cut your losses and move on.

Act responsibly

There is no instructional manual on how to end a friendship. Depending on the people and the circumstances, you can choose to do it directly, let it fizzle out on its own, or tell a little white lie. However you decide to cut off a friend, take responsibility for the decision without assigning blame or being unnecessarily hurtful. Try to exercise kindness and remember that this is a person you once cared about confided in, and trusted.

While losing a friend can be a painful—even jolting—experience, the good news is that you will get over the loss and thrive afterwards.

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Comments (7)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    This was an interesting read – I found it as I was processing through having “ended” a few FB friendships over the weekend (different people, but kinda the same reasons – I ended a couple, and a couple of others “ended” me).

    I can understand ending a relationship in which you realize that, fundamentally, you disagree on something that is truly important to you, and you notice that whenever the topic arises, that person attacks or challenges your beliefs or opinions. That was what prompted my own actions, and the actions of one of my FB friends, and while I am a little sad about the break, it’s probably for the best.

    In both cases, there was an explanation – it helps to know that someone “breaks up with you” because of a difference of conviction that is not likely to change. You wish them well, and you try to move on. No drama – just … closure.

    Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. 🙂

  2. Anonymous says:

    I’d tell her and her boyfriend to stop contacting you: they’ve edged over into stalker territory, and the fact that she’s got her boyfriend aiding and abetting her is disturbing.

    And serve them papers–for cease & desist, or noncontact (I’m mindwiping on what the papers are called, but battered women sometimes use them). It gives you legal ground and notification. It’s drastic, but do you really want her and her boyfriend harrassing you for years?

  3. Sarah R. says:

    Hi Irene,

    I’m in the middle of a breakup with a friend and it’s confusing territory, so I appreciate your blog so much.

    I’ve told my friend that I’ve changed my focus in life now that I’m a new mother and I can’t spend time with her like I did before, but now I realize that I don’t want to be friends with her anymore because I feel the relationship is toxic. I’ve tried many, many times to tell her that I can’t spend as much time with her as I once did now that family is my focus, but she still expects me “to be there for her” as a friend, which in her estimation requires constant email contact and 20 minute phone calls with every detail in her life. My own part in this is that for the past 3 years, I’ve basically been serving as an on-call therapist to the never ending tragedies in which she always has a starring role (eek, hear that contempt?!). Whenever she asks me about my life and I begin to share some details, it’s always, “Really? That reminds me of another story about ME…etc”. I tried telling her once that I don’t feel heard by her in the relationship, but the conversation became muddled at this point and uncomfortable for me when but she tried to explain that it was because she had this (indeed, truly painful) childhood tragedy that was somehow, in no way that I could comprehend, supposed to explain her inability to listen to me. So I left the conversation feeling yet again, unheard and manipulated. Since then, I’ve tried to downscale our friendship to a more casual sort of thing, telling her that I’m extremely busy to which she responded, “Oh I understand” and then proceeded to send me 5 emails in 2 days, phone calls to meet up, etc. She even told me this summer that she was looking at places to move a block away from me. So I’ve learned that she doesn’t understand distance and over this past year of trying to pull away from her unsuccessfully, I now want out completely. I’ve tried not returning her calls and emails, but then she will call from an unlisted number at the hospital where she works, and now she’s got her boyfriend emailing me “just to say hi”, even though I haven’t seen or spoken to him in over a year. What I’d like to do is simply ignore all emails and phone calls from her (and her boyfriend–I tried putting him off too telling him I’m busy with being a mom–he just waited a month, then sent a snarky email reminding me that he’s waiting to hear from me) entirely but I somehow feel like this is rude–even though I’ve tried explaining myself and putting distance between us–but the fact is, she’s never going to get it. I thought about sending her a “I think this relationship is over, it’s me not you” email, but my fear is that she’ll send me a hurtful inflammatory email back (she has before whenever I’ve tried to withdraw) and draw me into yet another of her dramas and the thought of that keeps me from doing anything. I guess what I’d like to know is: is it okay if I simply don’t respond to her contact in an effort to end the friendship? I don’t know why I need this okay from you, me, or anyone else, I suppose I have this vague idea that there’s a proper etiquette for this situation and I want to behave accordingly (yet another clue to my psychology). But then when my husband asks me “How would you like to be treated if you were her?” I always say: simple, don’t call me back and I get the hint. You’re just not that into me. I get it, but I don’t think she does–and I think that no matter what I say or do, she never will. Maybe I need to accept that this is her problem, not mine. In a friendship breakup, is not speaking, speaking?

    Thanks so much,
    Sarah R., Lansing, MI

  4. Anonymous says:

    What if you send a friend money as a gift, just as she has, and she never even acknowledges it, or you leave a message on her cell phone to confirm a dinner date, and she doen’t acknowledge it? THis hasn’t happened before. To not even acknowledge a check is very rude.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I feel we now left fl too soon. It was really hard to make a living there so we left. Now I find myself back in the N.E. ..I have a wonderful husband, and that’s where he and his family are from, but I can’t stop thinking about fl. Circumstances financially are different now, but we gave up our house.

  6. Irene says:

    Dear Anonymous,

    It is always hard to say NO. If your friend isn’t getting the message, it might be time for a little white lie that will get you out of the relationship without making her feel badly.

    Can you tell her that you need to focus on your work, your family, or something else that doesn’t involve her?

    Remain confident in your decision to break up—if she isn’t sensitive to your repeated messages that you want to end the relationship, this is a sign in itself that something is wrong.

    Let me know how it goes or if you have any other questions.

    Best, Irene



  7. Anonymous says:

    what if you decide to break up with a friend, but then she keeps wanting to make another try to work it out? it seems like it’s really hard to say no in a situation like that.

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