Oooooh, boy, the friend breakup. Every people pleasers worst nightmare. You’ve got this friend who you’ve known for a good portion of your life, maybe you met during college or another vulnerable time in your life, and they super don’t jive with who you are anymore. Part of you feels a bit like you “owe” it to them to continue being their friend and maybe even have an internal monologue going that says “come on, just suck it up and be their friend. It’s not like you have to see them all the time, so what’s the big deal?”.
Suffer Through It
Trap number one is believing that you have no choice in the matter, that your fate to be their friend has already been determined because you knew them in high school. That’d be like saying, “well I remember liking oatmeal cookies when I was a kid, so I guess I still have to like those things.” I don’t mean to compare people to food, but what I do mean to illustrate is that sometimes we just grow out of things and yes, that includes people.
It totally sucks to come to the realization that a friendship is no longer working out and the little guilt monster starts slinging out harsh statements like, “you’re not a good friend if you do this…. he/she/they need you and you’re just abandoning them…they wouldn’t do this to you”. Trap number two is believing these little statements and using your guilt as a way to keep you from growing or expanding as a person. However, guilt isn’t all bad.
What that emotion is showing you is that you care deeply about the person in question. You don’t want them to feel hurt or sad, and sometimes we register the guilt as a “message” suggesting that it’s not right to end the relationship and that only a person doing a bad thing would feel guilty. I think a better option would be to listen to this guilt and realize that you can use It to deliver your message in the most heartfelt way possible.
The truth is that we cannot protect other people from their feelings; They’re going to happen whether we like it or not. What we can do when it comes to a friend breakup, is recognize that our job is to communicate our intentions, feelings, and decisions to the other person. We do not need to orchestrate the perfect moment to deliver our message in hopes that it will prevent our friend from feeling bad, sad, mad, etc. Our friend is going to likely feel those things, and that’s okay. It’s not up to us to prevent that. In fact, I’d say it’s better for them to feel all of those things in one honest conversation than to feel them slowly over time as we silently pull away without giving an explanation.
How To Start
There are several ways to go about a friend breakup, but really the best way to determine how you want to do this is what would be an approach you can feel okay with? For some of us, it means being honest about how we’re feeling, communicating it in a kind yet assertive way, and moving on. However, not everything can be conducted in the most perfect fairytale sort of way. In some cases, being less direct is actually the more kind and appropriate way to handle the situation.
For instance, breaking up with a friend who is highly self-deprecating, insecure, and see’s the world in a more negative lens, might be better served through small doses of weaning off the friendship. Setting more limits during hangouts (sorry I can only hang for an hour), bringing them along to group settings to reduce one-on-one time and keeping that cadence for a while might work to both of your benefit.
If this feels wrong or too sneaky, know that it’s always your choice in how you want to approach this. The way I think of this particular approach is by asking myself the following questions (which I believe is found in many Buddhist practices): “Is It True? Is it Kind? Is it Necessary?” Depending on your friend, this might be the kindest and most necessary way to breakup. However, if your friend is blunt or maybe struggles with a personality disorder, you might be doing them more of a solid by being upfront and honest with them.
Speak and Act From Your Heart
It’s so important that you first and foremost treat yourself with compassion while you’re going through this breakup. You’re not trying to hurt your friend; you’re doing something that is really hard and it’s often not talked about (so it’s not normalized and we can end up feeling really ashamed at our desire to end a friendship).
I also think it’s wise to speak and act your truth, from a heartfelt place. You don’t need to overly apologize, beat around the bush, or downplay your own needs (i.e. “it’s fine, I mean I guess if you don’t mind, but I don’t want to burden you”). If you grew up wearing polyester but found out that it was giving your skin a rash, would you continue to wear it? I doubt it. The truth is that sometimes friendships end and it’s up to us to honor that friendship and its subsequent breakup with dignity.