I have this “friend” (and I use this word loosely) who could make a serial killer look emotionally kind and empathic. I sometimes shudder at how mean and devaluing she can be. Did we have a friendship breakup? Yes, a non-defined one, a long time ago. But people are complex and even she has her fun, supportive and charming qualities.
My solution is to see her once every eight years. This frequency seems to work well for us and allows us to be friends. We get to talk about old times, catch up, share our personal successes and failures, and then we go back to our regular lives.
I’m all for getting toxic friends out of your life, but I’m just not so sure that telling them you want to break up with them is the best way to go about doing it. Once you burn that bridge it makes it very hard to go back. And this may mean missing out on someone who actually has a unique place in your constantly changing life.
Friendships are cyclical, not static. They also are voluntary — not a “have-to-do-no-matter-what” kind of situation. You certainly shouldn’t bother with someone who is no longer good for you, and you have every right to end any relationship you want. But breaking up is hard to do, especially since there is no universal handbook on how to do it.
Before you break up with a friend, you should definitely weigh all of the pros and cons, because everyone has flaws. Some friendships run out of steam for any number of reasons: Life becomes crowded, values change, lifestyles shift, emotional needs intensify. And sometimes you have to acknowledge these changes.
So when the people you once felt close to no longer fit into your life, what should you do? I’ll admit it: I’m not one for the direct “Hey, guess what? I don’t want to be your friend anymore” conversation. Life gets busy, so it really is possible to let these friendships fade away or shift into a different gear. So, if you don’t want to bother with someone, you really don’t have to.
Here are some steps to help you break up with a friend.
1. Decide to what extent you want to break up with this friend. Maybe you want to go from best friend to a casual friend that you only see on certain occasions. Or do you want to stop talking to this person altogether?
2. Give yourself a temporary separation to cool down and gain some perspective.
3. Don’t initiate any phone calls or get-togethers.
4. Let them know that your life seems to be moving in a different direction, but keep your cool. Don’t be nasty.
5. Avoid doing major damage, by assigning blame or hurling insults. You don’t want to end things in a way that makes your mutual friends uncomfortable or won’t allow you to have some kind of relationship possibility in the future.
Life brings many surprises. Although some friendships should have a defined beginning, middle and end, you never know when or if a person may assume a special place in your life again. As for my every-eight-years-friend ... it’s kind of nice to know that even though we have our separate lives, we can still happily catch up with each other, and even cheer each other on from the distinctive corners of our lives. But this kind of rewarding experience might never have happened if I had told her, “You’re meaner than a serial killer, so I think we need to break up!”