True friendship sometimes means letting go
May 27, 2012 8:02 PM   Subscribe

Tell me about situations where you've reluctantly cut off contact with a close friend, family member, or confidant -- especially those in which the relationship was good to you but you felt that letting go was the best move for *their* sake.

I once read something along the lines: "a true friendship sometimes requires letting your friend hit rock bottom".

When is this ever truly the case? Do you have any anecdotes of this from your own experience or that you've heard about in the context of close friends, family, or other significant relationships? How did you feel about it at the time and what happened in the long run?


My own story: I have a very close friend who has been my one real confidant for many years. I've learned a lot from him, we've helped each other through thick and thin, and I very much value his friendship and wish him only the best.

However, we both agree that he's made some very stupid choices in recent years whose consequences he will have to face sooner or later. He's been trying to deal with the situation for quite a while now; I've done just about everything I can to help short of getting involved in a way that would place those consequences on me as well -- something he of course would not want.

His main problem seems to be that he leans on his friends as a way of avoiding the actions that he inevitably must take. He knows this, and we've discussed it at length, but nothing so far tried seems to help him get past the problem.

I've thought a great deal about the situation and I've come to the conclusion that the best thing I can do for him is cut off all interaction -- at least for as long as it takes him to really get past this difficulty. It was very hard for me to make this decision; I even discussed it with him well in advance and he agreed that it would probably be a good thing. Nonetheless, I can't stop thinking that in the long run -- even if, hopefully, things work out -- he will see this in retrospect as my having betrayed him.
posted by renovatio1 to Human Relations (9 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I don't understand why it's necessary to completely cut the guy off. Perhaps the two of you could just agree that you are neither going to assist him with this problem in any practical way nor discuss the issue with him any longer. Then you just go on being buddies and do stuff together and chat about everything and anything else.

Life is short. I don't see why you'd want to miss out on your friend's companionship for any significant length of time, or risk losing touch with him completely.
posted by orange swan at 8:13 PM on May 27, 2012 [10 favorites]

I have pulled back significantly. In all circumstances bar one (and that was not due to me pulling away but due to the actions of others) all of the outcomes were positive.

Cutting off altogether - those relationships have never really returned beyond pleasantries. But then I cut them off never actually wanting to go back. Cutting off is really only for toxic territory.

I guess I would suggest pulling back a lot from your friend, being less available, but not being uncontactable entirely.
posted by mleigh at 8:17 PM on May 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Rather than cutting him off, perhaps you can remind him to be more independent when he is leaning on you too much. For example, if he calls you to talk about his problems, you can say something like, "I know we both want you to be more independent. How about we talk for a few more minutes, and then you do something to work towards your goal of independence, think about things on your own, etc."
posted by bearette at 8:26 PM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Many moons ago, I had a very close friend who tried twice to commit suicide. Reason: I did not return the romantic affection and wanted to continue this as a platonic friendship. I learned about both attempts (which were within a week, no less) when their mother called me and blamed me for it. Until that point, I thought we had a perfectly normal friendship; we had talked about the conflict at length, and decided we should put some distance between us for a while. After learning about the suicide attempts, I reconsidered that, obviously, and cut all contact.
In a way, I felt betrayed. We had talked about it; we had come up with a solution, and learning second hand that it was all but solved was certainly not what I had expected. "I tell you we're ok and suggest we see each other less for a while, but as soon as you actually do what I asked, I'll try to kill myself"... is not fair at all. It didn't help to get calls from an angry mother, enforcing the feeling of being responsible despite better knowledge that I only did what my friend had asked me to do.
Of course, I felt guilty; of course I wanted to help. And the only way to do that was to cut all contact.
There was, as I learned from both common friends and mother, a quite unhealthy obsession with the idea of us becoming romantic partners and seeing suicide threads/attempts as the means to change my mind. Such issues can't be solved by trying to stay friends, as much as I valued the friendship we had. Considering this history, I did not try to save the friendship. It was better for both of us.
posted by MinusCelsius at 8:28 PM on May 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think if someone's sense of safety is being threatened or sense of self is being lost or someone's physical, mental, or emotional health is getting worse then it's time to sever a relationship.

I have had to put a relationship on hold because I didn't feel safe with the person in my life at the time. I had to do what was best for me in this situation. I tried finding a way to move past things, but I was unable to do so and decided that putting the relationship on hold would be in my best interest.

I have been in the situation where it felt like a friend had betrayed me. I was never able to let my guard down after that so that we could move past the relationship. Your experience may be different, but I think that doing something like this leaves a mark on most friendships.
I think putting your relationship with this friend on hold would be better than cutting the person off. I would be unable to move past someone telling me that they need to cut me out, but I would be okay with someone telling me that they need a break from me.

You seemed to be concerned about the future state of this friendship which is why I would tell this friend two things: 1) that you need some space and 2) that you are finding it frustrating that your friend asks you for advice all the time. Talk to him more about why you are doing this. Get the break that you need, but don't remove this person out of your life just yet.
Once you are ready/if you are ever ready, come back to this relationship and if he decides to ask for advice then try to help him become more of an independent thinker and decision-maker by asking him questions such as "how would that make you feel?" "what do you think would happen if...""are you okay with that?" "what feels right for you?" etc... Use yourself as a mirror when he needs guidance. And, provide metaphors so that he can interpret the situation while feeling like you are giving him advice.
posted by livinglearning at 8:54 PM on May 27, 2012

I have cut off a number of people but can only think of one done kind of for their sake. It was a long distance relationship. We met online. One day, he began talking about coming to see me. At that time, I was still extremely ill. I figured if he came to see me, we would end up in bed together, and that would mean exposing him to my antibiotic resistant infection. He swore he wasn't looking to sleep with me, just meet me. But he had a long history of making promises he couldn't keep.

I promptly picked a fight with him and dumped him. I spoke to him again about six months later, to check on him because I felt bad about dumping him. He was all ready to pick back up where we left off. He claimed to have changed his ways. I don't know if he did or did not. I do know he never had a chance to catch my infection. So I think I did the right thing.
posted by Michele in California at 8:56 PM on May 27, 2012

The only situation where this was the only honorable thing to do for me was when I could not ignore it any longer that a very close friend was in love with me and I did not love them back.

I heard this guy was finally able, after years of hoping I would date him, to get a really nice girlfriend, I think he maybe even married her. I happened to move out of the country so avoiding him was easy.
posted by Tarumba at 3:10 AM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

This happened with a close friend and although it wasn't an easy decision at the time, I still stand by it today. I had a really good friend that was there for me a lot and vice versa. We learned a lot from each other and were really close. This person had problems with alcohol and eventually their alcoholism got increasingly worse. By that time, we weren't living in the same city anymore, so I didn't really grasp the extent of how bad their addiction was until we visited each other a few times over the course of a year. Like your friend, this person was making some really bad decisions that they were eventually going to have to face. They were deceiving and hurting people close to them and sometimes I was the only person they would confide these things to, putting me in an awkward position.

I never thought of cutting off contact until their behavior became really outrageous. I confronted them, basically saying I really care about them and I think they have a problem. They admitted the problem, but nonetheless blamed most of it on others and continued to engage in really messed up behavior. It all culminated when they did something really batshit insane that I won't go into here. I confronted them, conveying a message along the lines of "do you not see how this is really messed up?", etc. I wasn't thinking of cutting off contact at that point, but their response to my confrontation was what left me no choice. I thought they would respond with a sort of revelation like, "wow I guess I really do need to do something," but they really didn't get it and blamed other people instead. Basically just classic alcoholic behavior. I realized I couldn't do anything for them and I really couldn't have them in my life unless they got help, so I told them essentially "You have a problem with alcoholism, I worry about you, I hope you get help," and said goodbye.

Now, this wasn't easy because I was really close to this friend, but I felt like for *both* our sakes we needed to take steps back. They were clearly looking for an enabler, and I tend to be an easy target for people who don't respect boundaries, so it was just going to get worse. When I look back I remember this person had a few other close friends who cut off contact, so I suppose I'm not the first friend of theirs to come to this point.

I think about this person often and I sometimes want to let them know that I hope they are doing well and I miss them, but I know it's for the better that I don't. If they end up reaching out to me after getting help and want to rekindle the friendship, I am totally open to that. I don't know the details of your particular situation, but I think sometimes it's for the better to step back in a friendship where one party seems dead set on constantly running with scissors. You may be unwittingly enabling your friend (as I can look back and see that I was inadvertently doing to my friend at the time), in which case it really would be for the better to cut contact. If you want more details or someone to talk to about your situation, feel free to message me.
posted by side effect at 9:36 AM on May 28, 2012

You can refuse to discuss whatever issue is making life difficult for your friend without cutting off all contact.

I used to have a very close friend that I had to almost completely sever ties with because he wasn't supportive of my decision to work through some major issues in my marriage. (None of them DTMFA-worthy.) I really don't miss him that much. I guess that shows he really wasn't that great of a friend in the first place.
posted by Val_E_Yum at 10:38 AM on May 28, 2012

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