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how do i tell her i don’t want to be friends anymore?
mixed feelings is a weekly advice column. Every Wednesday, a different mental health expert, author, or journalist will respond to your problems and existential questions. If you like this sort of thing, why not subscribe?
hi mixed feelings,
I have been friends with M since the 5th grade…She was my main friend I hung out with at school (I didn't really have any other friends)... I really enjoyed her company but…after 8th grade she didn't really seem to enjoy [hanging out anymore]...
I was trying to please her (I am a people pleaser, still trying to break that habit) even though she flaked out on me often...I would try to [make] plans with her and then suddenly something would come up even if I had spent a lot of time planning. I tried to ignore it because I still wanted everything to be normal but deep down I didn't like being treated that way.
She also posted a picture on her Instagram of her doing the fox eye trend with the eye-pulling stretch pose. It triggered me because I got bullied for my monolids like that. I couldn't tell her how I felt [because] I couldn't stand the thought of making her mad…
When the pandemic hit she had to move to another state because her parents split up…Every time we FaceTime, she doesn't talk to me and just scrolls through her phone or is Snapping people instead of talking to me....
Recently for my birthday she sent me a present with a really nice note. I have never received something like that from a friend and it made me so happy yet conflicted…For her birthday recently I spent a bunch of money on a care package because she recently was broken up with by her boyfriend…It really lifted her spirits and I was so happy she was pleased.
I got this book on how to manifest called “Make It Happen” by Jordanna Levin..I did one of the exercises in the book that made me write down all of the energy suckers in my relationships—which relationships made me feel good and which made me feel bad. Unfortunately M fell under the category [of friends who] make me feel bad…
I still care about M and love her but it doesn't feel right anymore. I think we both outgrew this friendship, but the thought of making her angry or sad by “friend” breaking up makes me feel really bad about myself even though I know it is right. I thought maybe I should ghost her but that doesn't feel right…How do I tell her I don't want to be her friend anymore? — Cup of Ocha, they/she
Hey Cup of Ocha,
Breaking up is hard in any circumstance, but I’d argue that it’s even harder when breaking up with a friend. In romantic relationships, it’s typical to have a conversation that marks a clear end. But with friendships, that’s not always the case. Should you have a breakup talk? And if yes, how?
First, a fact: Friendships change at every age and stage. Life events like starting at a new school or workplace, coupling and uncoupling, coming out, transitioning, starting a family, or simply the passage of time can all send ripples through your social life.
This is especially true throughout middle and high school. Most middle school friendships don’t even last a year. One simple but elegant study asked teenagers to name their friends during the fall semester and then repeated the exercise in the spring. Only half of close friendships remained stable over the school year, which means that (drumroll…) the other half did not. So, what you’re experiencing is very normal.
That said, how do you know it’s time to end a friendship? No friendship is perfect—but healthy friendships should meet some basic criteria:
A healthy friendship is symmetrical; an unhealthy friendship is one-sided. Do you initiate the communication, make the plans, and change them if they’re not convenient for your friend? More subtly, do you do all the emotional work—talking them down, shoring them up? If you’re doing all the work, you’re an employee, not a friend.
A healthy friendship is honest; an unhealthy friendship is manipulative. Manipulation is notoriously hard to identify when you’re the target of it, but there are clues: your friendship may feel unnecessarily intricate or exhausting. You feel like you’re always walking on eggshells. You feel crazy and question yourself a lot. It isn’t always drama-free, but you and your friend should generally communicate clearly and respectfully.
A healthy friendship allows you to be yourself; an unhealthy friendship requires a mask. You’re not always one “self.” You show different sides of yourself with your boss, your grandma, and your friends. But if a friendship consistently makes you feel like you need to change or hide who you are, or ashamed or inadequate after hanging out, it’s likely time to back away.
After you assess whether your friendship is healthy or on life support, there are two main paths you can take. Do you want to 1) work on the friendship by giving feedback or 2) end it outright? Since you identify yourself as a people pleaser, I encourage you to give the first option a try, even if just as an exercise for yourself.
How To Give Feedback
Part of being a healthy adult is giving people feedback. It sounds like you regret not sharing how your friend’s flakey behavior and participation in the fox eye trend impacted you. Those things hurt you, but she can’t correct her behavior if she doesn’t know it’s problematic. Challenge yourself to initiate a conversation with your friend in order to grow those assertiveness muscles.
There are a few classic guidelines for giving feedback in these situations.
We’ve all heard the “it’s not you, it’s me” trope, but it’s true: keep it about you and your needs.
Tell them what you want them to do, not just what you want them to stop doing. It’s easier to implement a new action rather than trying not to do something. In your case, you might say: “Hey, since FaceTime is the only time we get to hang out, I’d really like to spend the time talking with you and catching up.”
A lot of things can happen from here. She may apologize and pivot to spending time with you. On the other hand, she may react with defensiveness or blame. Regardless, if her response adds another weight to the scale of “relationships that make me feel bad,” that’s a 100% acceptable reason to move on. You don’t have to keep carrying a load simply because you’ve carried it for miles already and if you feel it’s time to let things go, take the other path: breaking up.
How To End A Friendship
There are no hard-and-fast rules, but these guidelines will serve you:
Own your feelings. Again, keep it about you and your needs.
Be clear. You may feel the urge to bury your message to avoid hurt feelings, but doing so ends up sending mixed messages or dragging things out. Be unambiguous.
State what you want the friendship to be moving forward. Take some time to think about what your ideal situation might be. Is it catching up just when you see each other? Video calls? No contact at all? You might say: “I care about you and want to stay in touch, so let’s keep texting, but I’m ok with not FaceTime-ing anymore.” Or you might go the other route: “I think it’s time to move on from our friendship, and I want you to know I’ll always value the time we spent together.”
It can be tempting to say “I think we’ve both outgrown this friendship,” or other phrases that share the responsibility, but again, keep it about you. Having a tough conversation with anyone can make us feel like we’re hurting them, so pretending they feel the same way reduces our guilt. This strategy often backfires: by assuming they share our experience, we risk making them feel confused, silenced, or hurt. Instead, show your respect for their individual experience by owning your own feelings, needs, and wants.
Regardless of how it goes, breaking up with a friend is complicated and will likely result in you feeling a layer cake of different emotions: grief at losing a friend, relief that it’s over, pride in yourself for doing something hard, or guilt for possibly hurting her feelings and walking away. The latter might take some time to unravel.
Guilt is the emotion for when we’ve done something wrong. And many of us, especially if we identify as female, were raised to believe that hurting someone’s feelings is wrong no matter what, even if we’re being hurt in the process.
It’s true, you may hurt her feelings temporarily by ending the friendship. But you’re also doing the right thing by being honest, straightforward, and having the integrity not to ghost her. Remaining in the friendship would likely turn you into a resentful or cynical friend in name only, which is arguably more hurtful than bringing the relationship to an honest and caring close.
All in all, remember what makes a healthy friendship: symmetry, honesty, and room to be yourself. Good friends enjoy each other’s company and are glad to be in each other’s lives. And that is what you, your friend, really all of us, deserve.
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