How to Politely End a Friendship

Breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend is hard, and we’ll discuss a polite way to handle that in a future lesson, but what about breaking up with a friend? Although it may seem easier on an emotional level it’s actually a little more tricky to maneuver.

You can always come up with a reason not to date someone. After all you’re (typically) only allowed to have one significant other and if it’s not working for one reason or another no one can fault you for ending something you don’t see working in the long term. But friends… well you can have an endless amount of friends. You can’t pull the, “I want to see other friends card.”

So what are you to do when you have someone in your life you well… don’t want in your life anymore? They may be a negative influence, they may have wronged you in some way or it may be as simple as you’ve grown apart and don’t enjoy their company anymore. Surprisingly the former circumstances can be easier to handle as the reasoning is more straight forward and you’ll probably feel less guilty about potentially hurting their feelings. If you’ve just drifted apart it becomes harder because there’s no solid reason, you may even still like them as a person, just not enough to want to spend time together.

Before taking any action, no matter the reasons, it’s best to really consider if you want to end the friendship. You don’t want to make a cut based on temporary anger or disappointment. Although I believe it’s always possible to mend relationships it’s better to not steamroll one if you think there’s a chance you will forgive or forget or have a change of heart.  However, if you’ve thought it through and you’re officially over it then feel free to end it. Life’s too short to waste time on people you don’t genuinely want to be around and it goes both ways. If they knew how you were really feeling I’m sure they wouldn’t want to waste their time on you either.

So now you’re sure you want to cut ties, consider what type of relationship it is. How close are you? How long have you known them? How often do you even see them?

If you only see one another a couple times a year and hardly catch up then it will be a pretty easy transition. Just stop reaching out. Don’t call, text or email. Don’t go out of your way to interact on social media. You mustn’t defriend or unfollow them, that’s a cold slap in the face. But don’t fan the flames by liking and commenting on their content.

This also applies to a relationship where you’re definitely in contact, but not necessarily besties. You have a history, you see each other occasionally, but you’re not sharing all your secrets. Again, cease reaching out and if they interact with you give a polite, but tepid response. If they invite you to coffee give a kind but plausible excuse. Don’t go overboard and say how you’d absolutely love to but can’t, or make plans you never intend on keeping. Just give a lukewarm “Oh I’m sorry I already have plans that day” and quickly change the subject.

Now the closer the friendship the tougher it gets. When it’s someone you’re used to keeping regular contact with, either digitally or in person, it may be harder to go from always chatting and hanging out to never responding or seeing one another. If that’s the case phase out the contact. For instance don’t reject every invitation to hang out. Maybe accept only one for every three asked. and then widdle it down from there. The trick is to slowly remove yourself from their life so your absence becomes less noticeable.

If a cordial brushoff won’t do it then you may have to get a little more direct. If there’s a real issue, although uncomfortable, it’s better to be honest and direct. Tell them you’re unhappy with how they’ve treated you, or whatever particular actions may be bothering you. This can be incredibly awkward for most people, but it is the most mature and in the end gracious route. Direct doesn’t mean rude it only means honest. You can phrase your grievances in a polite yet truthful way stating the facts of how you feel. It’s the same way you would ideally approach any confrontation.

If you really can’t bring yourself to be that direct then continue to distance yourself by never initiating contact and politely refusing invitations. Of course this is a more passive method and will take more time to end the friendship, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. Although etiquette isn’t about lying it is about making others feel comfortable and if a gentle distancing is kinder and you think it will be effective then it’s ok to take that approach.

The only time I would say suck it up and try to be direct is if you have serious history with someone or have formed a deep bond. Only because it does justice to the relationship, and a relationship like that deserves respect, and to at least go out on a truthful note.

Once you’ve successfully ended the friendship be mindful not to badmouth your exfriend, even if they did something terrible. Of course you can vent, but only do so to close secret keepers. You may no longer be friends, but it’s still best to be polite and move on with grace.

It may be tough and even sad to end a friendship, even if it doesn’t serve you. But it is something we all have to deal with at some point. You don’t want to end up a living a life surrounded by people you don’t actually like or appreciate. And everyone deserves to both appreciate and be appreciated by good friends.

HOMEWORK: Think about your friendships, hopefully they’re all wonderfully fulfilling, but if not then try implementing some of these tips to make for a graceful transition out of an undesired friendship.

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