Break-ups suck. You go from spending all your time with a person and planning a future together, to staring at pictures of them on a tear-soaked pillow and relating a little too much to the Taylor Swift lyrics you used to sing ironically. But there aren’t half as many songs and movies about friendship breakups, even though they might just be the worst kind of all.
While losing a romantic partner hurts (oh do we know how much it hurts), the sting is different from the one that accompanies the loss of a friendship. Why? Because romantic partnership always clearly includes the possibility of an end date. In fact, the vast majority of couples will eventually breakup. Even if they’re married.
But friends? Friends are supposed to be forever. So when they’re not, we’re left shocked, disappointed, and maybe even embarrassed at the failed relationship.
When You Should Break Up With a Friend
Let’s get one thing straight before we continue: there are very valid, legitimate reasons to cut off a friendship. And while it might leave you hurting, friendship breakups aren’t all bad.
Here are some instances where you might be better off saying adios to your bestie:
- The relationship has turned toxic.
- You don’t feel like you can be yourself around them without fear of judgment or teasing, or you think the friendship is codependent.
- They are attempting to isolate you from your other friends or are generally overbearing and controlling.
- You feel drained in their presence – the friendship is starting to feel very one-sided.
- You’ve run out of things to talk about and feel like you’ve both just changed and grown apart.
- They’ve betrayed your trust or don’t respect your boundaries.
So, Why Do Friendship Breakups Hurt So Much?
The reasons are manifold. But if you’re beating yourself up because you can’t shake this break, allow us to commiserate.
They’re often unexpected.
Okay, even if you’ve seen it coming for a while, spent time trying to fix the relationship, and ultimately decided it’s time to end things with your pal, friendship breakups are still somewhat surprising.
Maybe you’ve been friends since Kindergarten and thought you’d be there to see each other walk down the aisle. If someone had asked you whether your friendship would last forever, you wouldn’t have hesitated in screaming out, “of course!”
So when the reality is that you – or worse, they – have decided to go separate ways, it can come as a real shock to the system. Suddenly, the person you turned to about everything from boyfriend drama to how much to invest in your IRA is no longer in your life anymore. And that hurts.
Friendship breakups are complicated.
The glorious thing about a romantic breakup is that, in most cases, it’s easy to break up with your partner, say “sayonara!” and never see them again. But when it comes to friends, the reality is rarely so simple.
You have about nineteen mutual friends, you’re both going to be at all the same upcoming weddings, your kids are still friends, your parents love them, and you share an apartment. The list of the ways in which you and your ex-friend are connected could very well go on and on.
A lot of people will stay in a toxic friendship for too long simply because breaking up is hella complicated. But we’re big advocates of protecting your peace and your own mental health first. So while this isn’t a reason to avoid breaking up, it is a factor in making the process stickier than a romantic breakup.
You feel embarrassed.
Unlike romantic partners (of which most of us only have one – although we see you, polyam community!), friendships are unlimited. So it’s only natural for you to feel a bit embarrassed, ashamed, or even like there’s something wrong with you if a friendship ends.
Maybe you’re worried that others will look at you and think that you must love drama. Or that your mutual friends are gossiping about you and deciding whose side to take. (P.S. if they are – ditch them next!)
It’s normal to feel embarrassed that a friendship has ended. But remember that this happens all the time, people aren’t thinking about you as much as you think, and that as long as you’re doing what’s right for you, there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
How to End a Friendship Without Inciting World War III
If you’ve decided that your friendship has run its course, it’s time to officially end it. There are a few ways to go about this. You know your ex-friend best, so choose the method that’s least likely to cause drama for you. Unless you like drama. You do you, queen.
1. Have a conversation.
Best for: Close friends, a friend who has asked you why you’re pulling back, or a dumper who wants this friendship to be clearly and explicitly over.
Won’t work for: Friends who get super defensive or are naturally combative, or a dumper who is non-confrontational and won’t hold their ground.
Perhaps the easiest, most direct, and most mature way to initiate a friendship breakup is to have a conversation about it.
Try saying something like, “I think we’ve grown apart, and unfortunately, our friendship isn’t working for me anymore. I valued the time we have spent together as friends, and I wish you nothing but the best in the future.”
You can get more specific if you want to, or you can leave it vague. After all, you’re ending this relationship, which means it doesn’t really concern you whether they change their problematic behavior in the future or not. And bringing it up in this context is likely to spark a defensive reaction – so proceed at your own risk.
2. Do the slow fade.
Best for: A looser acquaintance or someone who is pulling back from you already.
Won’t work for: Close friends who will probably ask what’s up if you keep swerving them, or dumpers who want this person out of their life ASAP.
They call, you don’t answer. They ask you to make plans, you say you’re busy. The goal here is that eventually, they’ll take the hint, you won’t have to deal with any awkward confrontations, and you’ll both live happily ever after. Sans each other.
It’s not exactly ghosting, because you’re still sporadically responding to them, but you aren’t making plans to see them.
3. Heat of the moment blow-up.
Best for: Nobody.
Won’t work for: People who want to stay on good terms with the person they’re breaking up with.
The least ideal option of the three, the “heat of the moment” break-up happens organically once you’ve reached your breaking point. In a perfect world, we’d all communicate our needs, expectations, and frustrations before it reaches boiling, but nobody’s perfect, and if this happens, cut yourself some slack.
In this case, it might be a good idea for you to apologize (for the blow-up, not necessarily for things that happened in the friendship that caused it), while still clearly stating your intention.
Try this: “Hey Lisa, I’m sorry for blowing up at you the other day. To be honest, I’ve been feeling badly about our relationship for a while now, and I should have voiced that sooner. I think it’s best if we go our separate ways, but I wish you all the best.”