As we age, our personalities, our outlooks, our interests, and our tastes also change. In this process, people may outgrow old friendships as their lives move in different directions. But There seems to be no easy way of telling someone to please buzz off, the relationship is history. Attempts to break off friendships without causing pain are grist for situation comedy plots; in real life, they are frequently tough to handle. They can be even more painful than a divorce.
Major changes in your life, such as marriage, can put a strain on the frequency or quality of contacts with old pals. The trouble is, sometimes the other half of these old friendships has not picked up on the fact that things have changed between you, and they drive you to distraction by continuing to hang around as if nothing has changed. They don’t accept the fact that not all friendships are meant to last.
What can you do?
Before we go deeper into this, you might want to examine the reasons why your camaraderie with good ‘ol Whashisname or Whatsherface has come to a dead end, especially if breakups are something that happen to you with some regularity. Do you tend to form one-way friendships, where you do all the giving and they do all the taking and then, one day, wake up to what’s happening? Why? Perhaps you are not assertive enough in the early stages of your relationship. Are you not selective enough in choosing friends? People who put themselves down tend to welcome any attention they can get coming from anywhere – even when the attention isn’t all that positive and the long-term prospects for companionship don’t appear that bright.
So, another reason for ending a friendship, besides your having outgrown it, is because, for one reason or another, your friend has hurt you or is not treating you the way you want to be treated. As psychologist Phil McGraw tells us, you have got to take responsibility for how well or how badly your friends treat you: “You either teach people to treat you with dignity and respect, or you don’t.” Chances are, if your friends are not treating you right, you are probably doing something to encourage and reward that treatment. Identify your enabling behavior and stop it.
There may be good reasons for closing this particular chapter in your life; there may be equally good reasons not to. Has your friend somehow hurt you? Has the friend laid this kind of hurt on you before? Is he or she beyond forgiveness or redemption? On the other hand, is the friend’s behavior suddenly, and for no fathomable reason, “not quite right,” a momentary glitch that could, given time, right itself?
In LifeScript’s “How to End a Fading Friendship”, Emily Battaglia writes you can properly determine that a friendship is not worth saving only after examining what has happened to spell fini to the bond between comrades. If bad feelings have recently developed between you and your old pal, maybe it would be best to wait a bit and use a cooling-down period before proceeding with the last rites.
But if your answer is firm – Bobbie has got to go – would it be better to make it a quick death or stretch it out into a lingering one? That’s up to you; you can choose to drift away slowly or make a direct break. In drifting away, you make yourself scarce to your friend and hope that he or she gets the picture or, even better, hope that the friend is secretly feeling the same way about you. But, if the friend does not pick up on your clues, there could eventually be a direct confrontation, and that amounts to the same thing as a direct break: You have to tell your ex-buddy in no uncertain terms that it’s all over.
When you do so, consider his or her feelings. Avoid being confrontational, argumentative, insulting, or overly apologetic, but do make plain the way you feel at that very moment. Explain that these feelings could change in the future, but right now you want to go your own way.
There are potential benefits to each approach to ending the relationship. Drifting away leaves the door open to reopening the friendship at a later date with no enduring hard feelings involved. A direct break, with its face-to-face meeting and you stating your rationale for ending the connection, can lead to new understandings and pave the way to a rapprochement.
Perhaps the ending of a friendship can be made less painful by heeding the words of the Rev. Sylvain Chamberland (Buddhist Network), who points out that nothing in life is permanent, including life itself. Your friendship began because of some mutual need and attraction. For a time, you had a partner in mutual discovery and growth. That connection has played a role in your evolution, but now it has run its course, and the two of you appear to have little or nothing to give each other. The bond is “now ready to be released. To do so with dignity and compassion is essential to your continued growth and peaceful mind.”