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My 30-year friendship is failing. Can I give up?

"Today" relationships editor Gail Saltz says an old friendship is valuable, but if it's having a negative impact on you, it may be time to part ways.
/ Source: TODAY

Dear Dr. Gail: I have a friend that I once considered my best friend. We've been friends for 30 years, but our lives have gone in different directions. We've always had spats, like sisters. My problem is that being her friend has become hard for me. I don't have much in common with her, I don't agree with a lot of choices she makes in life and I feel like any friendship we have is based on the past.

Part of me feels guilty, but another part just wants some relief. I would like to be able to back away, but I’m not sure how to handle this without hurting her or having to endure any backlash. — Friend Feeling Guilty

Dear Feeling Guilty: Friendships, like any relationships, go through rough patches. And old friends are valuable. It’s hard to replace someone who has known you your entire life. If you ended every relationship that had minor annoyances or difficulties, you would have no friends at all.

But if you do feel you are not getting anything out of this friendship, or if it is affecting you negatively, you are certainly within your rights to eliminate it from your life. You can’t pick your relatives, but you can pick your friends, as the saying goes.

The last thing you want is to become nasty and impatient around your friend, which is likely to happen if you dislike her company so much.

I’m afraid, however, it will be impossible to retreat from this friendship without hurting your friend (unless she secretly wants out herself).

Chances are that you won’t have the luxury of avoiding a backlash — you are dealing with a person, not a rock. There is no guaranteed emotion-free breakup.

Still, you can terminate your friendship gradually and kindly. The easiest way is to be passive — rarely return phone calls or e-mail messages, be terse when you do, be too busy to make plans and let your association fade away.

But not everyone gets the hint. Your friend might aggressively pursue you or, if you keep avoiding her, ask what’s up.

If this happens, you can try being more forward and saying your life is so busy and complicated that you don’t have much time for friendship, so you need to go your separate ways for a while. I suggest you not insult your friend by saying you find her company unpleasant or disapprove of her life choices.

You can decide what medium is best for you — phone might be easier than face-to-face, and e-mail might be easier than phone.

And if your friend acts hurt, says something mean or badmouths you to others — well, that might be unavoidable, so be prepared.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Ending a long-term friendship isn’t pleasant. It’s easiest to let it fade away. Be direct, if you must, but don’t be unkind.