How do I handle this best friend breakup?
July 21, 2011 2:39 PM   Subscribe

I think it's time to get rid of my best friend for the past 15 years. I don't want to, nor do I know how to, but I think I have to. Messy details within.

So, my best friend and my girlfriend (for convenience I'll call them BF and GF, respectively) have never got along with each other. They have somewhat similar personalities, and each is prone to complain to me about how poorly the other person treats me -- and each of them has treated me pretty poorly at various points. I have spoken with both of them about this, and GF has made considerable efforts to appreciate and respect my friendship with BF and attempt to avoid starting fights with him. BF, in general, has done the same.

A few days ago, the two of them got into a debate over something really unimportant. GF did a very good job not resorting to personal attacks, though I told her a number of times to just avoid the argument entirely. BF, however, escalated it to the point that he sent a series of extremely personal and hurtful emails to GF based on grudges he's held against her for ways she hurt me several years ago, launching her back into a depression she'd managed to stay away from for the past six months or so. And when GF is depressed, she gets angry. And when GF gets angry, I generally become the target of that anger. She's getting better with that, and I can handle it, I am a very patient person, but it is very stressful, nonetheless.

Over the past 15 years, BF has done this sort of thing with other friends of mine, in times when I've had more friends, thinking he's doing me some kind of favor by getting these, in his opinion, "terrible people" out of my life. In reality, however, it just puts me in the position of either ongoing damage control or losing friends. I am a very patient person, and I'm the only longstanding friend BF has failed to alienate through verbal abuse.

And, goddammit, these two people have, on and off, been fighting this protective and jealous fight over me for years. If BF is going to put me in this position where I have to chose one over the other, I think he should be out simply for putting me in that position. But I think that's just the frustration talking.

At any rate, my concerns are:

I am very non-confrontational. I have PTSD, and when I get worked up, it becomes incredibly difficult to communicate clearly and effectively. I have been very, very busy with work lately and am exhausted and stressed out. And BF enjoys pushing people's buttons, holding grudges, and burning bridges -- I don't need that kind of stressful encounter. I'll be less busy in a couple weeks, but he tends to call me at least once or twice a day.

Furthermore, BF and GF are pretty much the only two people I'm close to. I'm not generally comfortable around people and find meeting new people stressful and awkward. I stopped drinking several months ago, and this has only fortified my social anxieties to the point that I'm having trouble convincing myself that meeting and getting to know people is worth the effort required of me to do so.

So, yes:

Is it worth it for me to attempt to salvage this or should I get rid of BF?
What is the least stressful (for me) way to do so?

I guess I can leave off the "How do I make new friends?" question, because I know there are plenty of variants of that in AskMe.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Ouch, sorry.

He calls you once or twice a day? That's excessive and needy, imo.

If you want to remain friends, I'd suggest at least a break. Something like, "dude, those emails were massively out of line, and your actions on my 'behalf' unwelcome. Let's talk in 3 months (or 6) and see if this friendship is salvageable."

Good luck.
posted by cyndigo at 2:43 PM on July 21, 2011 [11 favorites]

Say you're exhausted, then put BF on radio silence for a few weeks, just like you'd do a breakup. If you still feel like you need to say something, say it when you've got more space.
posted by msamye at 2:46 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I also have PTSD. This:

And when GF gets angry, I generally become the target of that anger.

is not ok. Cutting out half of your support network to mitigate something that makes your girlfriend angry, is not the answer to your PTSD and it's not the answer to this relationship question.

Expand your social circle. Then look into (better) treatment for your PTSD. I know I say it a lot, but 3 years of Dialectical Behavior Therapy aimed at survivors of trauma really helped me a ton. A ton.
posted by bilabial at 2:55 PM on July 21, 2011 [16 favorites]

I think he should be out simply for putting me in that position.

I think so too.

I'm not generally comfortable around people and find meeting new people stressful and awkward.

Does part of your discomfort and anxiety stem from your BF's past efforts to separate you from the "terrible people" you were maybe just getting to know?

I think that if you're concerned about making a permanent decision about BF while you're still dealing with the recent argument between BF and GF, maybe you could ask - in writing - for the BF to leave you alone for a few weeks or even a few months. On preview, cyndigo's right - calling you that often is excessive. Ask for a break, in writing or by email (so the issue isn't open for discussion or question) and explain that you won't be answering his calls for awhile - but that you're looking forward to getting back in touch with him sometime down the line, when maybe you two can reboot your friendship on more healthy, mutually respectful terms. In the meantime, maybe with some distance you can get a better perspective on the whole picture of this person and his place in your life - what it's been, and what it should be in the future.
posted by amy lecteur at 2:55 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

So, for years, this guy has been alienating people or interrupting your friendships "for your own good". You're the only person who has stuck with him this long. You didn't write anything positive about your friendship in this post. He hasn't shown any inclination to change his behaviour.

Why are you friends with him? Yes, get him out of your life. Just say things are busy right now, you don't have the time if you don't think you have the stamina to deal with his reaction to your telling him the truth. Get someone other than GF to remind you why you are doing this.

You likely won't have issues making friends in the future, it sounds more like you had an issue keeping friends due to BF's insecurity.
posted by kellyblah at 2:57 PM on July 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Your friend isolates you which is exactly what you DON'T need. Yes, get rid of him. And see if you can't get back in touch with one or two old friends. People are more receptive to this kind of thing than you'd think. I know the social anxiety makes it hard.

However, your girlfriend is responsible for her own behavior. It is NOT OKAY for her to take her anger out on you. It is not your best friend's fault. It is entirely her fault and it is something that she needs to work on to keep your relationship healthy.

How to go about breaking up with your friend? Does he check his email often? Set up a filter to filter all his email to the trash (or archive or whatever). Set his phone contact to DO NOT ANSWER. If you can, change ihs ring tone to silent.

Email him, tell him not to contact you in any way. Tell him it is final. Do not get into a back-and-forth with him. You can tell him why if you want to, but you don't have to. Don't answer the phone, don't respond to texts, just don't interact with him at all.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:04 PM on July 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think maybe you'd be better without both. Neither seem to be treating you that well.

As for how to do it, a simple frank conversation is all it takes, and walk away. Don't drag it out. Don't make contact for awhile until you are ready, if you ever decide to make contact again.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 3:08 PM on July 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Or, if you aren't sure you want to completely burn the bridge, which is rather drama-ish in itself, you can just say you're finding him too "intense" right now (less perjorative than "drama-filled whack job") and you need to not hear from him for 2 months (or however long). And you hope he respects you enough to do this for you.

And see how you do. It could be you could let him back in your life on a limited basis. Maybe you only want to play basketball with him (on the grounds that he's not allowed to say ANYthing about your GF, or whatever rules make the relationship feel safe for you).

I think doing a flame out will just make everyone more unhappy, even if, on paper, it's the "right" thing to do, I never feel serene about those kinds of confrontations and I have saved some friendships that I was sure were toxic and doomed this way. We aren't best buds with the multiple calls/day etc any more but we're still good friends and can have a great time together.

I have a sneaky suspicion that the lack of drama will feel really "wrong" for awhile and that you'll start craving to talk to him. Wait it out and resist the temptation. The two months off is as much a good exercise for you as it is for him.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:13 PM on July 21, 2011

If BF wasn't your friend but rather your SO, I think I'd call his behavior abusive.... 15 years of alienating you from your entire circle of friends? Multiple phonecalls every day to do what, check on you? Doing his damndest to cut off the only other person you have left? Not to say your GF sounds all that great either, but you know, if you were to get one of those "is this person an abuser?" checklists, your BF sounds like it would fit him to perfection.

Dump him, he's not a real friend.
posted by easily confused at 3:13 PM on July 21, 2011 [9 favorites]

I'm the only longstanding friend BF has failed to alienate through verbal abuse. [...] If BF is going to put me in this position where I have to chose one over the other, I think he should be out simply for putting me in that position. But I think that's just the frustration talking. [...] BF enjoys pushing people's buttons, holding grudges, and burning bridges.

Based on what you say here, your friend appears to be chronically hostile and angry. The lesson he (evidently) takes from a string of destroyed friendships is merely how to more effectively destroy friendships and create stress, pain, and trouble for the people who care for him.

For whatever reasons, this serves some sort function in his life that he apparently desires. However, the function it's serving in your life is something you do not desire. It's not your frustration talking (or at least, that's not the only thing talking) when you say you want to cut him loose for putting you in this position: it's your self-respect and common sense.

He's a profoundly unhappy, unhealthy person who actively enjoys making other people feel bad. There is nothing wrong with you for wanting to let him go.
posted by scody at 3:18 PM on July 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Having been where the OP is, I think the BF IS a real friend, just not a healthy one right now. And it takes two to tango- the OP is playing a part, too. The dynamic needs at least a reboot.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:19 PM on July 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'm with easily confused on this; he acts a lot more like a jealous, possessive, controlling boyfriend than a best friend. You say that you're very non-confrontational; does that mean that you tolerate too much mistreatment by others in order to avoid confrontations? Your questions makes it sound like this is the case in both of the relationships you describe.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 3:20 PM on July 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is a really tough call. I came in with the intent of warning you away from cutting things of with BF - because depending on your SO and only your SO for socializing can be really isolating, and its a challenging cycle to break out of. BUT - reading about how possessive your BF is, and how he's chased away other friends in the past really raises a lot of red flags. My BF in college had mental illness issues that go way over my ability to cope with them, and I eventually had to cut her off, it's been 5 years, and while I do miss her on occasion I've never once missed the drama, or the way she made me feel about myself.

Given the long-standing nature of this friendship I would recommend pulling back, not cutting off, but I wonder if it wouldn't be best to do it in a less formal manner, perhaps suggesting a weekly get together - and then explaining that you don't have time to take so many calls, so you'll call him when you have time to chat (and then ignoring his calls until you do have time).
posted by dadici at 3:22 PM on July 21, 2011

I think the use of BF says something here, as WorkingMyWayHome hints at.

Start with a cooling-off period.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:23 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know whether or not you should, but a good way to get rid of a troublesome ex-friend is sort of like hellbanning. You don't need to have a talk where you convince him of anything. Just let him know, hey, I need to bring down the level of conflict in my life because of my PTSD, and I'm not going to be talking to you much for a while. You don't need to say, "We're done FOREVER!"

Based on what you've said, he's likely to rail on and on about how it's the doing of your girlfriend or whatever. Let him talk a bit (hold the phone away from your ear if you want), but don't engage him and get off the phone if you're doing this on the phone. "Hey, I gotta go - the plumber's here."

If he happens to catch you on IM, in person, or another channel, go ahead and respond to him, but in a non-committal and boring way that does not foster any sort of conversation. e.g. He says something, then an hour later you type, "oh, that's cool."

In email, never respond right away, but maybe after a few days if you feel like it, and make the content of your email the equivalent of "Cool story, bro." Or just set up email filters that just trash his emails right away.

The guiding principle here is that you do not engage, in a firm way. He'll eventually go away.

If at some point in the future, you - rationally - decide, hey, I have the emotional endurance and interest to engage with this person again, you may be able to do it.
posted by ignignokt at 3:28 PM on July 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

They're both being drama queens, and you aren't going to win by picking either side because it will ultimately only aggravate the insecurity issues each has. Tell the BF that you're an adult and adults get to pick their romantic partners and you don't need him to be acting jealous and supervising your romantic choices. You will still be his friend regardless of GF. Ask him to think about apologizing to GF, as it would make BF look good and smooth things over. Tell the GF that you love her regardless of what BF thinks/says and she can trust you to make up your own mind and that BF won't influence you. Give them some chill out time - keep them separate. If BF apologizes to GF, encourage her to accept the apology. Then if they start picking fights again, be an adult and excuse yourself. Reiterate your position if necessary. Stick to it.

You can be the adult here and set the example. Treat them both with patient kindness and see if that helps. If not, then you can ditch one or both.
posted by griselda at 3:30 PM on July 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you should Google the Karpman Drama Triangle, because you seem to be at the sharp end of one right now.

"And BF enjoys pushing people's buttons, holding grudges, and burning bridges"

and you have PTSD and have gone on the wagon lately. You've got enough to deal with, without your BF deliberately setting off your friend's depression and I don't know what all. Now, I believe my tendency to say DTMFA has come in for some criticism lately.

So I could give you some advice on not engaging, and de-escalating, but I've spent major portions of my life dealing with people who revel in antagonism. And just reading that sentence makes me weary. It unleashes my inner oh just piss off, why don't you. (I mean not you, him.)

Seriously go make a hundred friends. It's ONLY because you don't have a hundred friends that you've put up with these two for so long. Once you get the ball rolling it really is actually very easy. No kidding. It's only because of HIM that your social circle is so small. Hell, if you live anywhere near me, I'll be your friend (as long as you don't bring either of those two with you).
posted by tel3path at 3:38 PM on July 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

I do think this friend isn't engaging with you in a healthy way at all ('protectiveness', jealousy, clinginess, emotional attacks, etc), but if I understand you correctly, you're thinking of cutting him off to get your girlfriend to stop her angry attacks 'cause he depressed/angered her and/or as passive-aggressive 'retribution' for hurting her and causing you this headache. Further, you seem to imply that you can't trust yourself to talk about these concerns with him straightforwardly, at least right now, so you'd prefer to end the relationship entirely, given an easy method exists to do that.

First of all, cutting him off as a way to placate your GF isn't a solution as such, since it works by making it all go away; besides, if he really pressed her buttons, she'll still be working through her feelings even if he were gone. More important is to work on the issue that the GF takes out her feelings on you; that is not ok. I realize that you feel you have very limited capacity to deal with such conflict, and this manifests as patience (at best) and stressed out freaking (at worst), but both patience and freaking are actually part of the same difficulties reacting constructively. It's not actually that great of a thing to be that patient. Not just for the usual reason given-- that people 'walk all over you'-- but because often they don't even know what they're doing wrong at times. I mean, this is because you fail to provide enough feedback to really have them realize the extent of the problem. To make it clear, you have been enabling this behavior with your 'patience'.

So in general, how are you dealing with the social anxiety and PTSD? This plays into the problematic dynamic quite a bit. There's no way to 'fix it' in any real way without addressing the underlying issues in your response that enables the others' problematic behaviors.

Meanwhile, I also encourage you to address this in writing-- that's always helped my own anxiety quite a bit. Sometimes I've gone far enough to write actual paper letters to people and hand them to them in person, so they can read a more thoughtful summary of my feelings and respond more constructively. Sometimes that does work to route the conversation in a more thoughtful, less confrontational frame. If anything, this is a function of just how long and detailed my letters are; by the end of reading them, they're probably more bored than angry. But anyway. While most people will tell you to DMFA-- and they're right in that you do need a break right now, from both BF and GF, to be honest-- ultimately you can only move forward if you have honestly tried to address these lingering issues at some point. You can then decide that it's not going to work with the BF through rational discussion rather than creating sudden drama with a 'break up', which would bother you yourself most, probably. This largely depends on whether your BF is potentially a rational person, of course.
posted by reenka at 3:38 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

"If BF wasn't your friend but rather your SO, I think I'd call his behavior abusive"

Your SO isn't the only person in the world who can possibly abuse you, so I have no problem calling your BF's behavior abusive.
posted by tel3path at 3:45 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have to warn against being non-committal or suddenly a lot less responsive. It works okay with loose acquaintances who don't really care about you one way or another. However, with friends who are used to a certain level of contact it tends to lead to more drama over the long run than just being upfront and blocking them from contacting you.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:52 PM on July 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

And when GF is depressed, she gets angry. And when GF gets angry, I generally become the target of that anger.

Is getting rid of your current best friend going to fix this long-term?
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 4:06 PM on July 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

1. Cut him out.

Maybe it's permanent, maybe it's not, but if it isn't? You'll both need some years of space to figure that out.

2. Then, decide if GF and her issues are something you want to deal with as well.

Without him in the way, cutting into any other relationship you might have or make, you can see who SHE is as well. Maybe it turns out she's not worth having either. Again, maybe it's permanent, maybe it's not, but that's not for you to worry about now.

I cut out two of my closest friends whom I had known for over a decade - they helped, at times, and at a cost, and in the end, they ended up enabling everything that held me back and expected me to do the same for them.

When I decided I wanted more - of myself, of the people I surround myself with- in terms of maturity and integrity, suddenly there were problems. I was depressed for the few years we were friends, and definitely a few years after cutting them out- but in the end, it was completely worth it and I only wish I had done it sooner.

We're still not in contact, but, at least I'm in a headspace where I can be a judge of whether they'd be worth having back in my life at a later date now. The question that I had to come to is changing my attitude from "Why not have them in my life?" to "Why have them in my life? What are they bringing to the table?"

It seems like an ugly question, but ultimately when I look back at how our relationships went, the whole time the question that needed asking was "What are they taking from my life?" - as long as I didn't look at that, it seems like we were the best friends ever.

Maybe you should ask those questions for yourself and your situation as well.
posted by yeloson at 5:06 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have been (partially) that best friend character. I have gotten into heated discussions with friends' wives and girlfriends, and it makes my friends very wary. The girlfriend and I are totally cool with it- it is heated, but not personal.

But if I ever crossed the line into making it personal, I would expect my friends to dump me, and I would deserve it.

So, that's the advice. Two high spirited people enjoying a good argument is no big deal. Crossing into personal stuff IS. I would inform him that he has used up his two strikes, and next time he has got to go.
posted by gjc at 5:07 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

you need to take care of yourself emotionally. lots of good advice in this thread about taking a break from the best friend.

you're a very patient person. you say this twice. it sounds like, with teh people you're close to, that's how you cope. it's something i relate to strongly, and i'm trying to work on being more assertive.

nthing what someone said about a triangle. i read the dance of anger recently--it's targeted to women, but is relevant. you're very patient and accommodating in order to avoid conflict, and it seems that your own needs may get short-changed as a result. she talks about that a lot in the book. it's an old book (1985 i think?) but it gets recommended by therapists over and over for good reason.
posted by JBD at 5:10 PM on July 21, 2011

This may not be helpful - although I hope it is - but having been (unjustly) on the receiving end of a defriending because of his new GF, after years and years of putting up with HIS bullshit, I can tell you it is not something to be considered lightly.

You did not say how long you've known GF, but is it comparable to the 15 years you've known BF? If she is The One, well, ok, but if not, consider how you can replace the 15 years of shared experiences with BF should you decide to ditch him. If you're old enough to have had a friend for 15 years, you're old enough to know how difficult it can be to bond with other men later in life. And how irreplaceable that is.
posted by digitalprimate at 5:49 PM on July 21, 2011

My best friend (who doesn't have a computer and never will so it's ok to say this) is immature, lazy, and foolish. I have thought of ditching him over the past few years. Thing is, I love him like a brother. If he did something that bothered me in the fashion that you described, I would just tell him how pissed off he was making me, and he would probably stop. Why beat around the bush? Tell him how immature he's being, tell him that he messing with your girlfriend and that it has to stop. As his friend, you owe him that much - to make him aware of his boorishness.
posted by brownrd at 8:45 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're old enough to have had a friend for 15 years, you're old enough to know how difficult it can be to bond with other men later in life. And how irreplaceable that is.

True, but the BF has a history of sabotaging other friendships that the OP has made over the years. That, plus pursuing an argument with the OP's girlfriend to the point of sending her a string of abusive emails, is grounds for a "come to Jesus" talk about boundaries and respect, at the very least. Additionally, BF no longer has any long-term friends except for the OP, due to verbal abuse. It doesn't sound like BF is being a very good friend at all, frankly.
posted by palomar at 10:05 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

In defence of the girlfriend being angry with you [and not to minimise the behaviour that is hurting you] that I'd be angry too if my partner let slide his friend's continual rudeness to me. Behaviour that you say has made her depressed and angry. Yes, she can stand up for herself. Yes, she can modify her reactions to your friend as she seems to have done after you talked this out with her, but the rude emails should be rejected by both of you. You're her partner and you shouldn't leave her feeling unsupported or attacked. You need to assert a boundary around your primary partnership with your gal. I'm a little wary of one partner's moods being pathologised as simply being angry when there's ample provocation for her to feel this way. She's dealing with, what seems to me, to be a boyfriend who is wrapped up in an unhealthy attachment with a friend who has a history of sabotage and doesn't support her rational attempts to deal with this friend.

If you removed this clearly unhealthy, obsessive, sabotaging friendship from the equation, I'd guess that she'd feel you took a healthy stand for the relationship and not be so depressed and not feeling so angry with you. Or, you could judge her individual qualities outside this friendship dynamic interfering so strongly.
posted by honey-barbara at 12:11 AM on July 22, 2011 [6 favorites]

The whole time I was reading your question I kept thinking, you really need to stand up for yourself!

Forget about being patient, it's overrated. Lay down the law, dude. Take back some power. If it takes getting angry, get angry. If it takes shouting, shout. Issue those ultimatums.

When you're at the point of cutting someone off, you literally have nothing to lose by being open and honest with your fury and disappointment. Unless this guy is the type who can shout down anyone and absolutely will never, ever leave you alone until he "wins" in which case, he's seriously abusive and you need to just get out quietly and forever. But if he's not at that extreme, you might as well go off on him, and if he is you should have stopped being friends with him yesterday.
posted by Nixy at 8:01 AM on July 22, 2011

In defence of the girlfriend being angry with you [and not to minimise the behaviour that is hurting you] that I'd be angry too if my partner let slide his friend's continual rudeness to me.

This is true. Having the loved one of a loved one attacking you makes you feel helpless in ways few other things do, because you don't have the usually defense/offense options at hand. If it were just someone off the street treating you badly you'd either cut them out of your life, call the cops, or tell them to go fuck themselves when they overstep. When they're sort of "under the protection" of you (which is what it feels like, since you tolerate it, even if you complain) these don't feel like reasonable options any more.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:37 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds to me like the only two options you have are to either set him down and say "These are the sorts of behaviors that don't fly anymore, and I will enforce them" or to cut him out altogether. I suppose the task you're faced with is how valuable this friendship is to you, how stressful it will be to confront him like this, and how well he will respond. If you think that the friendship is valuable, you can handle the stress, and he will respond, go ahead and make a list of behavior that is no longer allowable, and let him know that it's not up for discussion and if he crosses you, it will be the end.

If none of this seems worthwhile, you're going to have to break up. Breaking up with a friend is even more awkward than breaking up with a girlfriend, because we don't have any really good social mechanisms for doing so, or language for the discussion, like we do for when romantic relationships break up. But it's about the same. You can be uncivil, and just stop calling or reacting to attempts to communicate, which isn't very nice but is sometimes the best way to do things. Ir you can sit down and have a really awkward and long talk in which you map out the issues and let him know that you're unsaying. Or, I suppose, you could email and say "Dude, you crossed a line, and I'm done with you." Although that might actually cause more conflict, rather than resolve it.

If this is too much for you at the moment, take a break. Email and say "I'm dealing with shit right now and will be incommunicado for a while." If he can't respect that, he's probably not worth your time.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:39 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Dear BF,

In a fight between you and GF over me, GF wins.

Thanks for being a friend in the past and have a good life.


Follow-up by blocking his email address(es) and phone number(s).

As for the GF, she's not innocent in this. As difficult as it is you must confront her and talk about how she's been treating you and demand that it cease. If it doesn't, you need her out of your life as well.

You need to be good to yourself and you haven't been doing it.
posted by deborah at 2:28 PM on July 26, 2011

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