Pulled back from a friendship and now he's asking why
January 16, 2018 1:12 PM   Subscribe

I've been doing the slow fade on a friend over a couple of months for reasons I'll explain inside, and now he's wondering what happened. I don't have the emotional energy to get into a long conversation, but maybe I owe him that? I'm fine with a cordial relationship so there doesn't need to be a confrontation, but I don't want anything more than that.

I've known him for about two years. My primary reason for pulling back is that he has done and is doing some things that I consider unethical. Not on the level of harassing someone or embezzling money, or anything that affects me directly, but things that do not comport with my value system. Secondary reasons are that we have very little in common in the way of interests and life experience, in part because there is a huge age gap. There's more but the point is that we are not compatible.

He used to contact me daily, I think in part because he was lonely and I paid attention to him. I'm positive there was no romantic interest. I suspect I was his only IRL friend so I responded more than I would have otherwise. I let this go on way too long; I have a history of poor boundaries and thinking I'm obligated to please people. I've been leaving him on read but he can see I'm active on other social media so he knows I'm avoiding him. I feel weird saying "hey, you know that thing you did a year ago, it still bothers me" or "I've always had a bad feeling around you because of X and it got to be too much." But I feel I owe him something better than just ghosting.

There aren't likely to be any repercussions from breaking it off; we have a few friends in common but they are closer to me than him. I'll probably see him at social events but I wouldn't be uncivil and I highly doubt he would be either. I just want some closure to this so he's not left hanging and I can go deal with the other stresses in my life.
posted by AFABulous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You owe him nothing. If you want to give feedback that is admirable but not your responsibility.
posted by Mistress at 1:26 PM on January 16, 2018 [7 favorites]

I think as a friend, it's ok to want give him a reason why you're not in touch with him daily. And for him, it can be helpful to have some understanding of why.

I'd say something to him like, 'I've been focusing more on myself lately. I am sorry, but daily contact is just too much for me. I should have said something sooner, but didn't realize until it was a little far in. We can still be friends, but I want to make more room in my life for myself and other people. Would you like to meet for coffee in a month or so (or whatever you feel comfortable with).'

(I'm sure others will take issue with shifting some of the blame to yourself, but I feel that's a white lie that is meant in kindness to his feelings.)
posted by hydra77 at 1:34 PM on January 16, 2018 [14 favorites]

You don't owe him an explanation, but it's reasonable to give him one *if you want to*. It can be as little as, "Hey, I'm focusing my time and energies in different directions these days, I'll be glad to see you around when we run into each other!" When I've shifted away from spending time with particular people in my life, I have regretted suggesting we find a way to continue to hang out, even occasionally, so I'd lean away from hydra77's, suggestion of meeting up again later. Your inner compass knows you're done.
posted by spindrifter at 1:42 PM on January 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

You don't owe him anything, but how would you feel about saying something along the lines of, "I don't think that we're very compatible as friends. We have different interests and different life experiences. I'm just finding myself spending more time with people who share my own interests."
posted by astapasta24 at 1:44 PM on January 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

Deep down inside he probably knows what drove you away, and is even less eager to talk about it than you are.

Keep fading.
posted by jamjam at 1:55 PM on January 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

What do you want out of any steps you take to talk to this person? If you want nothing more than quiet, don't say anything more. If you want to feel you've drawn attention to or made clear how you feel about what you see as unethical behavior, let him know as much. When you say you feel you owe some action, are you saying that you feel like you owe it to yourself or others to speak up? If that's the case and you feel secure enough to contact him again, that's a way to take agency away from him and assigning it to you.

I don't always call out people who I think are crossing lines, but sometimes I do feel like I owe it to myself--to my integrity--to make my disagreement clear. It's not automatically worth a battle with yourself or anyone else, and yet we all tend to acknowledge the value of speaking up.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:28 PM on January 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Boy, I can seriously relate to this... both the history of poor boundaries and people pleasing. Add a dash of conflict-avoidant personality to the mix and it becomes extremely difficult to navigate these kinds of relationships.

The few people I've had to do the slow fade with thankfully moved on without further protest, but one or two have asked for an explanation and what's worked for me so far has been to just be honest with them -- in an email or other written communication. This way, you can say what you have to say, wish them well, but tell them you can no longer be a part of their life. I usually add I'm not holding a grudge and, "if I see you when we bump into each other while out and about or with other people, I'll be polite and hope you will too, but I'm not interested in a deeper relationship."

Good luck. This is so hard, but it gets easier as you grow older and have less fucks to give about what other people think of you.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 2:40 PM on January 16, 2018 [7 favorites]

If you think what he's doing is likely to cause harm to others, it would probably be worth saying something, as it might minimize the harm he causes.

If what he did is over and unlikely to repeat, or is not harmful to others, then I'd avoid the dramz and just ghost.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:21 PM on January 16, 2018

the only times you should give someone a formal bad performance report on their personality is when 1. you're mad about a specific thing they did, and if they stop doing it or apologize, you'll be friends again, or 2. they back you into a corner and won't let you leave until you tell them WHAT DID I DO, JUST TELL ME WHAT I DID.

because look, there is only one reason anybody ever slowly and deliberately stops talking to you the way they used to, and that is: they don't like you as much anymore. they have stopped being your friend. that's it; the details are always just details but this is the answer. he already knows this.

because we all know this. we all hate it. we make people say it out loud to our faces if we are deluded, if we are so hurt that we want them to share our suffering by having to say something socially uncomfortable, or if we want to be told that we were just imagining the distance and everything is totally fine, silly. but that never happens.

if he actually asks you or has asked you, explicitly, then tell him something. be vague if you want. if it crushes him, it's his own fault for asking. but it is doing him no favors to announce it if you just suspect he might be wondering. in fact it would be awful.
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:25 PM on January 16, 2018 [19 favorites]

One problem with trying to express WHY you don't want to do something (such as "be friends with you") is that it invites the other person to interpret it as a comprehensive list of instructions. "Okay, you said X, Y, and Z. I'll fix thing X and thing Y, and promise to never mention thing Z. So when do we start hanging out again?"
If you feel there's any chance he'd try to take it down that path, don't try to tell him why.
posted by aimedwander at 4:32 PM on January 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

What queenofbithynia said.

I have a history of poor boundaries and thinking I'm obligated to please people

and it will be that history, rather than any actually reasonable obligation, that has you wondering

maybe I owe him that?

because you don't. Obligations are the consequence of promises, not of friendships. Friendships are a mutual enjoying of each other's company. End of.

I suspect I was his only IRL friend

and now you've found out why.
posted by flabdablet at 4:51 PM on January 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

I think that if what he did isn't problematic on the level of harassment, and doesn't affect you directly, an explanation along the lines that hydra77 is suggesting would be best - the only thing I might change is to leave off the offer to see him at X point in the future (unless you really want to do so).

I mean no, of course you don't "owe" him anything and nobody is going to drag you to Friend Court for cutting him out of your life, but to go from daily contact to ghosting seems unnecessarily harsh in this situation. No need to get into a big discussion on ethics or anything, just let him know you're focusing on yourself and need space. It would be a kindness - I suspect all of us could come up with a thousand reasons as to why we suck when a friend ghosts on us, and (again, assuming that whatever he did tweaks your moral compass but isn't something harmful or hateful) I think that when you look back on this situation you'll feel better about yourself if you spare this guy the mystery with a little white lie.
posted by DingoMutt at 4:56 PM on January 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

This how to guide from Buzzfeed seems to have solid advice.

Having been the ghostee a few times, it is a confusing time for both parties. Time does help. It is a kind of grief for both involved. Good luck!
posted by Calzephyr at 5:20 PM on January 16, 2018

Depends on what your goal is.

Get him off your back: continue ghosting.
Get him off your back, as kindly as possible: exactly what hydra77 said. Make it about you, and not him.
Give him fodder to be a better person, as kindly as possible: the above, but include non-judgmental talk about having differing values.

AskMe advice is heavily biased towards self-care because a lot of people here have boundary issues or a history of being taken advantage of. But like, "kindness" is basically just emotional labor that you're glad to take on. Caring about other people doesn't make you a victim of others' needs, just as caring about yourself doesn't make you selfish.
posted by danny the boy at 9:11 PM on January 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

The fade will be your closure. It doesn't have to be fully no contact, but you don't have to detail why you're fading away. "Sorry, busy" if he asks, but it seems like it can naturally fade away now.
posted by RainyJay at 3:07 AM on January 17, 2018

Well, it's true you don't owe him anything, but I think it's very unkind to cut ties without even a word to someone you once considered a friend. (Assuming as you say there's no danger of backlash.)

Then again, I guess I'm in the minority in preferring to hear the bitter truth? I'd say, "Hey pal, I know you've been wondering where I am. Truth is I just don't get as much from our friendship as I used to, and I'd rather not continue it. I wish you well as always and I'm happy to say hi if we run into each other. I'm just not interested in frequent contact anymore. Thanks for respecting my wishes."

You could also throw in a "You didn't do anything wrong, I've just grown in different directions," or a "I know this must sting, but out of respect for our past good times I thought you deserved a clear answer."
posted by fritillary at 9:31 AM on January 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you already know what you want. You want to have closure and for this feeling of guilt over ghosting to stop. I think the easiest way to do that is the way you suggested, which is just tell him. Being honest is likely going to serve you best here, and long run it will likely serve him best as well. If in doubt, fall back on honest discussion.
posted by Oceanic Trench at 3:26 PM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

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