Is it okay to stop maintaining contact with a longtime 'friend'?
August 26, 2013 10:32 AM   Subscribe

I have a 'friend' with whom I am not interested in maintaining a friendship any longer. She seems to feel otherwise and is being a bit persistent. I keep ignoring her emails and phone calls, but still, every few months or so, there she is. I really don't want to have to tell her that I don't want to be her friend anymore. What can I do?

I have known this person since high school ; we're now in our thirties. We were close friends in our teens and twenties, but now I feel like we're no longer compatible and don't have very much in common. The truth is that, for various reasons, I don't like her very much anymore and don't like who I am when I'm with her. I become irritable, somewhat bitchy and impatient.

I've seen her once for coffee in the past year or so, and in the past few years, have had minimal contact with her. I tend to not return calls, nor reply to emails. This may be passive agressive, but it seems to me that it would be even more unkind to simply tell her that I don't want to be friends anymore.

In the past few months, she's resumed contact with me again. Once by emailing (and including my sister in the email), saying we should see one another soon. And more recently on the occasion of my birthday -- she phoned and emailed. Again, she asks if we can see one another soon. I've ignored all of these. I've always felt guilty about ignoring her, but now I'm also thinking she's being very stubborn about our relationship, or what's left of it.

I've read other Ask MeFi posts about similar situations, but feel like I still need your advice about this, Mefites. I currently don't have the energy, nor the interest in seeing this person. I'm in the middle of clinical depression, if it matters. So, should I just keep ignoring her? Is it actually okay to do that? Apart from actually telling her to leave me alone, what can I do?

If you wish to contact me about this, I can be reached at
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I've read other Ask MeFi posts about similar situations, but feel like I still need your advice about this, Mefites.

As with all of those, you are allowed to not be friends with this person.
It is OK to keep ignoring them.

It might not be the best way to handle it, but this is generally the way it's done. Most people eventually get the hint. Some folks will just keep at it. It is OK to ignore her.
posted by phunniemee at 10:35 AM on August 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

You know, she might be in the middle of clinical depression too. Just saying it because I think MeFi is very fast to throw out the "you owe her nothing! Just tell her to go away! Read the Gift of Fear!" advice, and I think it lacks compassion.

That said, no of course you do not need to hang out with her. I do think a "Nice to hear from you Mitzi, I'm really busy, hope you're having a nice autumn, best wishes" note is kinder than radio silence and should get the message across; but it's also okay, and maybe easier, to just not answer.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:35 AM on August 26, 2013 [15 favorites]

should I just keep ignoring her? Is it actually okay to do that? Apart from actually telling her to leave me alone, what can I do?

I think others here will disagree, but I am a big proponent of just ignoring people. It's not nice, but you are an autonomous person and if it makes you uncomfortable to confront her, ignore.
posted by Unified Theory at 10:39 AM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think ignoring someone is fine, unless ignoring them takes more energy than a confrontation would. In your case, it seems like ignoring your friend is taking quite a bit of energy. I would write your friend and say, "Right now, I'm not interested in keeping in touch, because REASONS," and leave it at that.
posted by xingcat at 10:41 AM on August 26, 2013

I've been in this situation. It was awkward, and I was grappling with depression as well. You can definitely continue to ignore her. She eventually will get the point. To save yourself the guilt and upset seeing yet another email from her in your inbox, you can put a filter on her messages so that they skip your inbox.

Later on, when your depression is better controlled and you think you can handle it, and if she is still trying to contact you, you can do what I did, and that was to send her an email saying how you are sorry for not being available to her/replying to her emails/etc, but the fact is that your lives have taken differnt paths and things that kept the two of you close a decade ago just aren't there any more. I told her that I just didn't think we had anything in common any more. It wasn't a reflection on her, it was just that we both were different people now, and that our having grown and changed has made a relationship difficult and forced for me.

The woman I was friendship divorcing took it relatively well, we wished each other the best, and that's that. If you don't think this woman would be able to take it like a trooper than do NOT do the "This is why we can't be friends anymore" letter. Just keep ignoring.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:45 AM on August 26, 2013

I suspect we've all been on both sides of this question at various times. What would you want a friend you liked and hoped to connect with to say to you in the case it wasn't working for her? Err on the side of kindness, if you can. Be as clear as you need to be, but understand she's not trying to annoy you.
posted by judith at 10:47 AM on August 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's impossible for her to know what you want from her. Many, many people in the depths of depression are grateful for the friends who gently maintain friendships without demanding anything in this hands-off, once in a while kind of way. If it were someone you liked, you may well appreciate the occasional emails that express interest in your company without making you feel guilty about not feeling social.

So yes, if you choose to do the ignore/fade thing, that's your choice. But she can't read your mind and if you feel yourself growing annoyed or angry with her, remember that you haven't told her you don't want her to, and she's just doing what friends do.
posted by headnsouth at 10:49 AM on August 26, 2013 [19 favorites]

You're doing fine. I don't like to de-friend people. But there is an art to keeping them at arms length.

Here are some things one can email, say, do, facebook:

"So busy lately! I'll give you a call when things aren't so crazy!"

"Cute picture!"

"Has it really been a year already? Wow, times flies."

"We're all booked up for the holidays, but I'll try to re-connect in the new year."

You get the idea.

It's all a nice, friendly, facade, and it's social and fine to keep it up.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:53 AM on August 26, 2013 [8 favorites]

The slow fade can be somewhat traumatizing for people when the person doing the slow fade has not made their reasons for stepping back from a relationship clear. I think she probably has no idea what's wrong, and that's why she's still contacting you. If you really want this to stop, you need to be a grown up about it and tell her that you feel that the friendship has faded and that you wish her well but would she please stop trying to get in touch with you.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:54 AM on August 26, 2013 [13 favorites]

Miss Manners' advice for ending what was just a platonic friendship is to gradually taper off contact until there's no contact at all. You only do a blunt "I don't want to talk to you anymore" when the other person forces a confrontation by refusing to take the hint and/or demanding an explanation, neither of which is the case here. Judging from your description, you've probably reached the stage of no contact at all. Screen your calls and don't answer her emails and she probably won't contact you too many more times. In her defense, I'll say that since you've had coffee with her "within the last year or so" it's not unreasonable for her to still be contacting you occasionally.

I know it feels awful to do it and it will hurt her, but it is necessary to do this sort of thing sometimes for the sake of both parties. I know I wouldn't want anyone to go through the motions of being my friend when they secretly disliked being around me.
posted by orange swan at 10:55 AM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you are going to ignore her, put a filter on her emails so they don't go into your inbox. Then if you accidentally run into her and she's like, "Why haven't you been replying to my emails???"... psychologically "What emails?!" will feel more natural. If you're the type for a little white lie. Avoidance tips from a pro.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:56 AM on August 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

It isn't always clear that you're engaging in the slow fade with long time friends because long time friends don't always stay in contact regularly. I have a friend from high school who is so on my list to call, but I don't get to it because pregnancy/nausea. And every time a mutual friend sees him she tells me he keeps saying he has to call me. And you know, eventually, it will work out, maybe over the next year, and there are no hard feelings. So I don't feel he's trying to fade on me or me on him. That's the positive version.

You've got the other version, which is the fade. So, you just have to keep fading - as in, she reaches out, you don't respond. Fading takes time, and really, with long time friends, it takes longer to realize that they are being faded out on. Seriously, if you're depressed and just can't deal, then this is just the best you can do right now, so fade is what you do. Permission granted.

But headnsouth is right - don't get frustrated/mad because she 'doesn't get the hint' for a while. Just keep doing your thing.
posted by anitanita at 11:09 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

If she is persistent, you could reply to her email requesting time together with I'm really busy these days; see you online which basically means I won't block you on fb. or I'm really busy these days. Hope you're doing well, but probably won't be able to get together. and then resume filtering her.
posted by theora55 at 11:09 AM on August 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Hey, friend, thanks for your note. I'm dealing with some personal things, so I'm trying to lay low for a while. Thanks for understanding. I hope everything's going well for you this summer."

And then you can ignore.

Honestly, you can't expect someone to get the message to stop unless you initially say so. (And that goes for friends AND the Gift of Fear folks.)
posted by mochapickle at 11:14 AM on August 26, 2013 [11 favorites]

I always feel bad for the people on both sides of this.

The thing is, from her POV she is probably not trying to be annoying. She probably thinks something like "I was good friends with anonymous when we were younger, and now we see each other for coffee like once a year. She's not good at answering emails or returning calls, but that's ok because I like her. Sometimes I think maybe she hates me. But we never had a fight, so I assume it's that she's busy or even suffering from depression or something, and isn't up to writing but is grateful that I haven't friend-dumped her for that. I don't call her all the time but I'll reach out every few months, maybe invite her out (with her sister so it's not too weird) or wish her a happy birthday."

You don't have to respond, ever, and you don't have to be friends with her. But in this case I'm not sure that's working. Nor have I ever witnessed the "I can't be your friend" talk going the way the de-friender planned. And it seems like you don't despise her, you're just afraid of the manifestation of the situation you think she wants, which is to hang out all the time. If you'd be comfortable with an email a few times a year, just stick with that. You might be less stressed about the situation if you decided for yourself, I'll answer every 2nd or 3rd email of hers, write a short, polite response, and then forget about it.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:16 AM on August 26, 2013 [10 favorites]

I think it'd be a lot easier and take up a lot less energy/headspace to just respond to one of her emails with something like what mochapickle wrote and ignoring her if she persists beyond that.
posted by sm1tten at 11:19 AM on August 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

I like this Miss Manner's suggested line in response to all overtures and invitations: "I'm terribly sorry, but I won't be able to make it." And then block emails.
posted by bearwife at 11:26 AM on August 26, 2013

You're certainly allowed to continue to ignore her if you wish. But I will say that I think you're being a bit harsh in describing her as "very stubborn about our relationship" for three contact attempts (two via different modes of communication around the same event, as if perhaps she wasn't sure the first got through) in the space of a year; I don't think this is really out of line for a formerly close friend, who you've seen maybe a year or so ago, and without a clear signal that the friendship is definitively over.

I'd also like to suggest that your depression may be contributing to your angst on the subject. When I was suffering from depression, what would have been an ordinary social contact, regardless of whether it was from a casual acquaintance, or from very close friends or family, could turn into a huge crushing weight because I could either respond (which seemed to require an unbearable amount of effort, in the throes of depression) or ignore it (guilt guilt guilt guilt guilt).

I guess what I'm trying to say is that depression can make this sort of thing a lot harder to handle than it otherwise would be. I'm not sure that helps because it doesn't answer the "what to do" question, but perhaps it helps just to know the situation can be colored by depression. As far as what to do, I like the various vague noncomittal responses suggested above, but I'm afraid I don't have any advice for actually working up the emotional energy needed to deliver them.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:51 AM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would give her a blow-off, non-committal answer that you're really busy right now and will try to reconnect in a few months.

Although an actual answer is tougher than simply ignoring, a) you don't know what your future self would want of this person, and why make an enemy if you don't need to, and b) from what I can see, she hasn't actually done anything wrong -- you've just grown apart.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:22 PM on August 26, 2013

If you continue to ignore her, she'll get it eventually. Voting ignore.
posted by cnc at 12:36 PM on August 26, 2013

I just dropped in to say that I've been trying to do the slow fade with someone for three years now. And she still hasn't gotten the hint. Like both Saturday and Sunday she emailed me to go to breakfast and shoe shopping.

Ultimately, I think some people are just THAT clueless and if after three years you are still trying to ignore phone calls/emails, you might just want to lay it out for her.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 12:46 PM on August 26, 2013

Here's the thing.

Let's say you're my friend, whom I know has clinical depression.

There is no amount of fading you, as a depressed person can do, that I will not assume is because of that particularly vicious disease.

Absolutely zero. Because you see, externally, there is no difference between you fading because you actually don't like her anymore, and you fading because you suck at being a friend because of depression.

If you want her to stop trying to be her friend, you have to tell her.
posted by corb at 12:56 PM on August 26, 2013 [11 favorites]

Wow, is it really that hard to communicate to your former friend that you don't want to be a friend any more? It would kill you to respond in some way so that, at least, she knows that you don't care for her any more?

How is she supposed to read your mind? Why is she supposed to read your mind? Why don't you just do the decent thing and communicate, in some polite way ("I've been soooo busy"), rather than making her guess.

She's doing a nice thing, by giving you opportunities to get back in touch. You're offended by that?
posted by musofire at 12:58 PM on August 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

Fwiw, having depression doesn't excuse you from being able to act decently towards others. You need to take responsibility for your actions here. Maybe this dislike of your former friend is just your depression talking and when you're back to normal you'll wish you hadn't cut her off. Why not just say, "I am going through some stuff right now and can't be a good friend. I need some space and time to work through what's on my plate, and that means that I can not and will not return calls or letters or texts. Thanks for understanding." It's the decent thing to do for someone who has no idea you don't like her anymore for reasons she likely has no knowledge of.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:05 PM on August 26, 2013 [11 favorites]

I tried doing the slow fade with a friend who would just not.take.the.hint. She continued to contact me even after I said I wouldn't be going to her wedding. It took far longer than I wanted to for her to get it, and eventually I had to be clear and ask her to stop contacting me. So in my experience, slow fading just prolongs the drama and annoyance, and even then you actually have to SAY what you want from the other person.

It's surely possible to keep ignoring the other person. It doesn't give the other person any kind of clarity though, which isn't a particularly nice thing to do. A one line email saying that you wish her well but don't want to be in contact with her any more won't cost you any more than what you're already doing, if you're just going to ignore her when she contacts you anyway. And it would likely solve the problem of your friendship existing in a more expedient fashion.
posted by Solomon at 1:23 PM on August 26, 2013

since your friend isn't getting the hint and she was an old friend i think the best thing to do is send her a very brief email. just say something to the effect of you are really busy and don't have much time for a social life so won't be able to stay in touch or you are dealing with personal issues and are not too social lately or some other explanation for why you are unavailable. personally, i think ignoring people shows a lack of common decency.
posted by wildflower at 3:41 PM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

You can ignore her yes, but gee whiz it's not very nice. It doesn't take much to say "I'm going through some stuff and can't be in contact for a while" which is at least partly true. It at least gives the other person a reason instead of (to them) inexplicable and possibly hurtful silence. It may not be a meaningful friendship to you anymore but it may well be to her, that's still worth a bit of kindness in my view. Be kind to the memory of the person she once was to you.
posted by mooza at 5:47 PM on August 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am with RuthlessBunny on this one - if you give boring one lners, eventually she will find other more interesting things to do. If you keep silent, that leaves some space for "Oh, maybe he is still into me (in whatever sense that may be) and doesn't know how to react now but will come around".

So, maybe say something like "Busy with a GF / date / anything to indicate your life is interesting and fun and you dont need her".

If you weren't depressed, would you still be so irritated by her? Just something to think about as other have noted above.
posted by Spice_and_Ice at 7:00 PM on August 26, 2013

It's okay to unfriend a friend for whatever reason you feel you need. It's totally okay to stop being this person's friend and not seeing them any longer, especially if you feel that being her friend is a detriment to you and makes you feel bad.


Slow fades are terrible to be on the receiving end of. They're confusing, and hurtful-- you don't know what you did, you have no idea whether the person wants you around or not -- is it you? Is it something else? Or if they're having a bad time of it for other reasons. It creates so much pain and angst and hurt feelings on their side, because the person will keep reaching out because they care about you. "She was my friend, right? She gets depressed, right? Well we're friends and we'll get through it." You can ignore her if you wish, but if she ever meant anything to you the kindest thing is to just tell her you can't continue the friendship. Otherwise she will continue periodically contacting you. She is not doing it to annoy you. She's doing it because she cares about you and is your friend. You two not having anything in common, and getting angsty/bitter around each other... understand that her perception may be completely different. Her perception may be that you always have fun times around each other. She may find the notion of the opposite hard to believe. It happens.

Think of a friend you really really like but don't contact often, then imagine they start ignoring you out of the blue. You even sent them a birthday greeting, but she ignored you. But you're friends, right? You like each other. So why would she not wanna talk to you? Then imagine the slow realization that they just don't want you to contact them. The fun times you have together are terribly negative for them. You had no idea you were annoying her. You wish you'd known. It would make you feel stupid for even reaching out so often. You'd wished they'd just said, 'stop bugging me,' a year ago, so you could stop wasting time and energy on them.

I would tell her in the kindest way possible that your heart isn't in it. Maybe by saying, "I've been kinda depressed lately, and I don't feel I can maintain this friendship any longer. I don't think it would be possible to meet up again. Thank you so much for being concerned for me. I wish you all the best." Don't apologize, don't offer a 'busy' excuse, because then she'll just look for you when you're not busy. If you truly don't want it to continue, don't allow any open-endedness.

If she replies, and is hurt, you kind of need to give a line that is firmer. "It's not you, it's me." kind of line. "I'm really in no state to be a friend to you any longer. It's nothing you did but it would be best if you didn't contact me again, and I won't reply or be in touch. Best of luck in life."

Don't blame her or tell her what you wrote here. Don't make it about her annoying you. It'll just create drama. Make it about you, and that you're not ready to be a friend to her. Treat it like a breakup, sorta. Then block her, and move on. I really doubt that she would contact you after all that, but if she does, you should be able to easily ignore her and she will most definitely get the slow-fade hint after that.

As others have said, it's totally fine to not wanna be friends with her. It's not as fine (in my opinion) to slow-fade a once close friend. The kinder thing is to be brave and tell her. For both of you.

Good luck.
posted by Dimes at 9:31 PM on August 26, 2013 [8 favorites]

As for someone who just lost someone who was dearly important, not a slow fade but saying "we should hang out, I'll be free next month, can we meet up? Let's arrange something for the summer".. Then just disappeared..

Tell your friend. It's horrible not to hear back from someone you care so much about.

"Things are so hectic and I don't have a lot of time, in the least. If things change, I'll contact you. Have a good summer. All the best to you", would really help. Not responding to someone with whom you've had a close friendship with, is so confusing to the other party.

It hurts to have someone you love just drop away for no reason. You're just trying to contact them because you really do miss them, and wish them the best. Be kind enough to let her know you've heard her and "you" will contact her in the future, so there's at least some closure to the matter. Otherwise she's just concerned and trying to be a good friend.

Be kind enough to respond and let it go, if that's where your head is at. I'm sure she'll get the hint, if you actually take the time to give her one.

All the best to you :)
posted by readygo at 11:39 PM on August 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was in a similar situation to you a few months back. I found myself in a friendship where I noticed I was no longer looking forward to the coffee dates with my friend or spending time with this person

She was generally the one who initiated contact with me, and I tried the, “I’m sorry, I’m busy right now” route—but it didn’t work.

Eventually, she actually asked me if I was angry with her—which led to a conversation about issues I’d had with our friendship. In the end, I told her that I no longer wanted to be friends. There were no bitter feelings on my end, but I just felt like we weren’t really compatible.

I’m glad that I had the conversation even though it was difficult and awkward at the time, it was much better than ignoring her persistent texting (which made me feel guilty) it was also the most straight forward and compassionate way to end the friendship.
posted by Ocellar at 2:27 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Count me among those who think the slow fade, etc., is gutless, mean-spirited and lazy. Is a four-sentence email that hard?
posted by ambient2 at 5:24 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Don't ignore; just respond that you're busy. Which is, technically, the truth.

You're busy trying to work on yourself.
posted by PsuDab93 at 6:10 AM on August 27, 2013

I don't think you should give what seem to be false-hope messages i.e. "Busy now, will call sometime later!" Or messages that imply a continued but distant relationship. There is a difference between those messages and "Sorry, I've been busy" or "I can't."

The thing is - I have a lot of friends who are really busy. I have friends I only see every couple of years but we get along like a house on fire. I have an old friend that had not returned an email for two years who called me when he came to town and we had dinner with our partners. I don't begrudge this because he's not a close friend and he does not owe me a stream of social interaction for me to continue to like him and like seeing him when it works out.

But feigning lukewarm ongoing interest in someone's life that you actively don't want to be around is, in my view, not appropriate. It's not true to how you actually feel, and to me it's just a lot of bad relationship karma.
posted by skermunkil at 10:38 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

People grow apart. It happens.
But grow some balls and tell her you are no longer interested in being her friend.

She probably has no idea what's going on and why you keep ignoring her.
Spare a thought for how this makes her feel and do the grown up thing and tell her... I really think you at LEAST owe her that.

(Sorry - I'm going through a similar thing right now:
Best friends all through school, bridesmaid at her wedding. I moved to Canada, she stayed in England and procreated. We are just on different pages, which is FINE, but she ignores ALL of my cards, facebook messages, texts, letters and the more I think about it the more annoyed I get. If you don't want to hear from me... JUST TELL ME. I've got other friends, I'll be ok!!!)
posted by JenThePro at 11:01 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't know - if I was the friend in question, I'd be a lot more hurt hearing you tell me you didn't want to be my friend anymore or didn't have the time to interact with me than by having you slowly fade out.

The thing about the fade out is that it is sort of a natural progression and leaves room for kinder interpretations, e.g. friend must be really busy, a bit of a flake, whatever.
posted by Jess the Mess at 1:04 PM on August 27, 2013

Short email saying it's time to let go. The other way is cowardly. I've been recently friend-dumped for growing apart from the dumper's perspective and I'm glad she at least had the stones to tell me, because she has been down lately, complained I didn't contact her enough when she was lonely as recently as a year ago, and has family issues going on right now. Had she not said she wanted to call quits, I would have kept reaching out now and then because I thought the problem was that she had shit to deal with, not that she had shit with me specifically to deal with. I've friend dumped people, too, and been honest about why. It's just easier in the long run.
posted by OompaLoompa at 10:16 PM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

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