Gossip girl
January 23, 2012 3:26 PM   Subscribe

Asking for the wife: she wants to break up with a friend, she is not sure how she should do it.

My wife has found out that a good but recently acquired friend has been gossiping about her. The gossip (mainly misinterpreted comments or exaggerations of what was said in private conversations, sometimes complete fabrications) has reached our own relatives, and she is seriously hurt about this.

This friend is still unaware of the new development, and is right now still texting and sending emails asking to hang out. The problem is, it's difficult for my wife to say "no" to people, mostly because she doesn't have a lot of friends in our city. At the same time she feels she cannot trust this woman anymore, and the relationship is ruined. In conclusion: She would like to break up, but she is very apprehensive and sad, and doesn't know how to do it.

How should the break up proceed in your opinion, and what tips can you give her so she finds strength to stop the friendship and say no when asked to hang out, etc?

*I think she should not explain why she is breaking up, and should gradually withdraw, since a confrontation would result in more gossip. She seems to agree with this, but says she's not brave enough to simply kill the relationship without an explanation, and would like your opinion.
posted by Marduk to Human Relations (15 answers total)
says she's not brave enough to simply kill the relationship without an explanation, and would like your opinion.

I actually think that way of killing a friendship requires the least amount of bravery. It takes more guts to tell someone straight up that you're pissed at them. That said, I think the no-explanation driftaway is the best way to here to avoid more drama.
posted by amro at 3:35 PM on January 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

Kill the relationship without an explanation. There are very few situations in casual adult friendships where anything other than the fade-out is appropriate.

And then, maybe therapy. It shouldn't take more courage to cut it off than it does to continue to be abused by someone.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:36 PM on January 23, 2012 [8 favorites]

Suggestion: can your wife kill two birds with one stone and join a class/club/hobby group of some kind? It would both give her a reason to be "really busy, so sorry I can't hang out" as well as an opportunity to make some new friends.

Also, it's easy to forget, in situations like this, that you don't need to hold yourself to an outrageously high standard when someone else is treating you poorly. She shouldn't start gossiping about this woman in retaliation, but she doesn't owe her an explanation for choosing to back off from the friendship.

I wouldn't advise telling the friend why she's ending the friendship unless she's willing to hear her out, accept an apology, and try again.
posted by Meg_Murry at 3:39 PM on January 23, 2012 [10 favorites]

The fade away can take a long time. And doesn't guarantee the end of gossip. Mist of the time I think the fade can create more gossip since the friend will have questions to other friends. I have done the fade away. Now, years later, I feel some guilt. It is a painful process for the friend. I think your wife and her friend would be better served by being honest. I would write or text or even say to my friend that I wanted to take a break/end our friendship. Your wife can tell her friend that is is hurtful to hear gossip and that she prefers to have friendships with no drama. I wish I had said, "Friend, it hurts me to hear what you have been saying about me to other people. I would have preferred for you to come to me directly. Unfortunately I don't think this is something I can overlook anymore or in the future. I also don't feel like I can but the time and effort into our relationship to fix this. I'm sorry this happened this way. Take care."
posted by Swisstine at 3:44 PM on January 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

The best way to end this friendship is by fading out fast. Your wife does not owe someone like this an explanation for ending the relationship. If this person was considerate, respectful of others, and did not gossip then the situation would be different.

Your wife should not respond to texts as often or any other form of communication until there is no contact at all.

I think this requires the least amount of bravery because confrontation can be terrifying for most people.

Yet, if your wife still wants to provide this person with an explanation then she can always send this person an email stating that she is aware of what has happened (the gossip that has spread around), that she does not think of this person as a bad person but that the relationship has been affected because of these actions which have hurt your wife, that it's best that they no longer talk, and that your wife will be ending communication with this person.

This requires a lot of bravery and confrontation and more than likely will result in drama when compared to fading out fast. Breaking up with friends is painful because of the time invested in each other, but sometimes it needs to happen just like breaking up with family members sometimes needs to happen.
posted by livinglearning at 3:46 PM on January 23, 2012

Personally, I would cease all communication with this "friend" immediately because the gossip is not going to stop, and I'd much rather be lonely than constantly hurt. I don't think there is really a way to avoid drama with someone who likes to create it via gossiping - if your wife abruptly stops talking to her, she'll keep talking about her... and if your wife confronts her, she'll keep talking about her - but I like Swisstines's script and Meg_Murray's suggestion to get involved in a new hobby or group.
posted by sm1tten at 3:51 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

says she's not brave enough to simply kill the relationship without an explanation, and would like your opinion.

I actually think that way of killing a friendship requires the least amount of bravery. It takes more guts to tell someone straight up that you're pissed at them.

agree completely with amro. the friend is still texting and asking to hang out. it's entirely possible that she isn't aware that she did anything. it's entirely possible that what's reached your wife isn't an accurate representation of what's been said or what's happened. your wife should email this person to tell her she is ending the friendship and explain why she is ending the friendship. she doesn't need to communicate further but this at least gives that person a clear understanding of why her friendship is no longer wanted.
posted by violetk at 3:55 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

What does she hope to accomplish by explaining? Does she simply want to tell the friend off? Give her a chance to explain her side of the story? Or does she think the friend will simply drop away once she knows your wife is done with her and why?

If she just feels the need to be honest without stirring up drama, I'd go with an email saying something like:

Hi Mary, I know you've contacted me several times asking to hang out, and I apologize for not responding sooner. I haven't really known how to respond, as I've been rather upset by something and was not ready to talk about it until now. Some family members of mine have mentioned that you said some things about me that I find hurtful. I feel like confidences were broken and that some of my words were twisted, and because of this I'm not comfortable being close friends with you any longer.

I'm don't want to stir up a confrontation, I just prefer to be honest about why I'm keeping my distance, rather than leave you hanging and wondering what is going on. Regretfully, Sally
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:00 PM on January 23, 2012 [23 favorites]

Once someone has shown me that they aren't responsible about conversations, I see no reason to have real conversations with them.

Sounds like your wife is still hoping for a magic spell that will make this all better. Please help her understand that this is not going to happen.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:18 PM on January 23, 2012

Receiving this email her friend might feel / think: chastened, ashamed, apologetic, wanting to beg forgiveness, misunderstood, misrepresented, angry at the friends who reported back, defensive, "all I did was say what she said," "I don't think it's such a big deal," "why is she blowing this out of proportion?," "if she's so ashamed of others knowing what she said maybe she should just [act right] in the first place," straight-up just furious, "she thinks she can judge me!" "she thinks that was gossip? I'll show her gossip!" or a million other things. This could go in many different directions, especially given the friend's proven proclivity to twist her words, outright lie, and gossip to others. I wouldn't talk to her unless your wife is willing to handle that. People who do crazy stuff tend to do more crazy stuff. If she's sure about what happened and her desire to end the friendship, I'd fade out.
posted by salvia at 6:50 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Cutting someone out without letting them know why you're not returning calls, is gutless and childish and unnecessarily hurtful and prompts misunderstandings and no-one is ever the wiser afterwards.
It feels harder in the moment to do the responsible thing, but the alternative is harder over the long run, and doubly so for the person being given no clue.

(I also personally don't like feeling like I have to screen calls, and I like to keep it that way. If my phone rings, it's always someone I'm happy to be talking to. No drama, no bullshit, no living like a fugitive in my own home.)

Perhaps something along the lines of "Some stuff I told you in confidence made its way back to me through other people. I was hurt and the vibe for hanging out isn't so good any more, so I'd prefer not to. Sorry :-/"

Maybe they'll defend, maybe they'll attack, maybe they'll apologise, but whatever form the instant kneejerk fight/flight response takes, it will fade, and afterwards, you've done right by someone, even though they did (and may continue to do) wrong by you.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:36 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Fade out! No drama! Listen to salvia.

Seriously, if you (I write "you," I mean "your wife") explain to this person why you're dumping her it will just create a big, drama-filled mess (see salvia's post). Unless you are in high school, this is not what you want.

Can you hang out in groups only for awhile? The fade-out will take a long time and a lot of effort, but it's probably better that drama.
posted by AmandaA at 7:29 AM on January 24, 2012

I have successfully friendship divorced two people in my adult life, currently trying to remove a particularly poisionous person right now. of the successful ones, one I told outright that I didn't feel able to be her friend any more because of the choices she was making, and the other I just faded away. I think the tactic I used depended entirely on the person. I know that the person who I told outright what was going on was able to hear what I was saying without losing her mind or creating buckets of drama, but the person I friendship divorced by fading out would never have listened or understood, and instead would have just become really defensive, hostile, and "poor me, I am so wounded". The same goes for the current attempt at friendship divorce - I know she would just kick up so much more drama if I attempted to explain why I didn't feel capable of being her friend any longer.

My advice to your wife is to really think about why she wants to tell the other woman. If she thinks the woman is the type of person to hear that sort of message and respond to it maturely, maybe even changing her behaviour for the better, then fine, go for it. But if there is any chance that she won't, all that will happen is the gossip will become worse, more vicious, and more hurtful.

Frankly, my vote is for the fade away. Become very busy. (Agreeing with other about taking up a new hobby. Join a gym, take up an art class, volunteer somewhere, anything!) I think the abrupt cut off is playing with fire because that can be taken as rude behaviour. I think she is better just politely declining any invitiations with a simple, 'Sorry, I can't. I'm busy.", reply to *some*, not all of the emails and then only a few days later, not immediately after she gets them, and peter that off. Eventually the other woman will give your wife up as a bad job and just stop.
posted by gwenlister at 7:50 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do not provide an explanation to the gossipy-friend, because if she's the type of person who gossips, she is probably the type of person to blow the explanation out of proportion and spread (possibly false) rumors about it as well. The safest thing your wife can do is not reply to the friend, in order to avoid any drama and blowouts that can happen during and after an explanation.

And do you have friends in the city that you can introduce your wife to? Include her in after-work drinks, or introduce her to both your friends and their wives during group hang-outs? She really shouldn't stay friends with someone crappy just because she doesn't have a lot of friends.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 11:18 AM on January 24, 2012

I prefer to tell people we're through. But I think it's more for my own benefit: I find that clarity in my own speech comforting. I also haven't had to break things off with a gossip-monger. In that case, yeah, fade-out probably.
posted by ead at 9:48 PM on January 24, 2012

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