It dawned on me not long ago that a friendship in my life was decidedly lopsided. I made a practice of checking in on this friend and inviting her over frequently. I loaned her a large sum of money and brought her a surprise care package of wine and goofy cat-playing-an-accordian socks when she was down. But as I realized that there was little to no reciprocation of these acts of friendship—and saw how increasingly different our values had become—I came to the conclusion that it was time to call it quits.
Unfortunately, separating from a friend can actually be even more of a minefield than breaking up with a significant other. After all, it’s expected that dating relationships can end in a breakup—but far less widely recognized that friendships sometimes do, too.
In all honesty, I’ve broken up with friends (including the one with the cat-playing-an-accordian socks) in ways that ended up hurting them more than I ever intended. Experience has taught me that having this type of delicate conversation requires grace, compassion, and—once you’ve made your decision—resolve. To ensure you take the high road in this tough situation, consider these tips.
It would be so easy to pull away from a friend slowly by not responding to calls or texts. We could tell ourselves we “drifted apart” from a friend and leave it at that. But no one enjoys the feeling of getting ghosted. You know you have reasons for wanting to end a relationship. Do the other person the courtesy of an explanation.
Do it in person.
Back in the days before social media and texting, I broke up with a friend by writing a long email that detailed all the reasons we could no longer be close. These days, with a bit more life experience, I realize how cowardly this digital disconnection was. Besides, since she never wrote back, and I haven’t seen her, I don’t even know how my words affected her, or if the relationship could have potentially been salvaged. Having an actual face-to-face conversation allows for honest, reciprocal communication.
Choose the right time.
Even though you may want someone out of your life for good, compassion dictates that there’s a time and place to best cut ties. Try thinking about your friend’s life circumstances. Does he have a major exam the next day? Has she been ill? There’s never a perfect time to tell someone you don’t want to be friends anymore, but considering these factors goes a long way toward helping a conversation go smoothly, and you won’t have anything to regret if you go about the conversation with maturity and kindness.
I’m a journaler, so before I have a tough conversation, I like to write down my thoughts and feelings. This helps me distill my emotions into a handful of identifiable, critical issues. Prior to your breakup talk with a friend, give yourself some time to fully process what you feel (and what you really want to say) by writing out a list or by talking things out with someone outside the situation.
Keep it big-picture.
Unless you want to wade knee-deep in all the offenses or unhealthy interactions you’ve experienced with someone over the years, it’s probably wise to keep your conversation big-picture. Focus on a few main talking points, and stick to “I” statements or non-accusatory language, such as “It seems you don’t have time to hang out anymore” or “I feel you haven’t been honest with me.” Have examples to back up your convictions, but don’t feel you need to rehash every little incident from the past.
Say the words.
It’s everyone’s least favorite part of a breakup conversation: Actually saying to another person that you don’t want to be friends anymore. Ouch. But communicating clearly and directly could save you from confusion or complications down the line. An honest statement like “I don’t think we should hang out anymore” or “I don’t feel we can continue to be friends” gets your message across clearly, but not abrasively.
Consider the social media question.
So much of the actual day-to-day of our friendships happens online, adding an extra layer of decision-making (and potential awkwardness) to the friendship breakup equation. Depending on how intensely you feel you need to distance yourself from someone, you may need to detox them out your life entirely, unfollowing and unfriending on social media in one fell swoop—and that’s okay. If, on the other hand, your feelings are less definite, try adjusting your settings so you don’t see their content (or they don’t see yours). After awhile, if it still bugs you to think you’re friends even in the social media sense, you can always go ahead and unfriend.
In the end, breaking up well centers around respect. When your actions show you’ve respected yourself and your (ex) friend, you can move on knowing you acted with integrity and grace.