Ending a negative friendship?
February 21, 2021 5:25 PM   Subscribe

I have been friends with someone for 6.5 years and we met at our university. I quite respect and enjoy this person's company fro time to time, but at times, the friendship can be overwhelmingly negative I find it from the friend's part and I believe I need to end it since it is taking a toll on me. Also, this friend kicked out her roommate because the roommate kept going on several dates (new partners) and it seemed to make my friend upset and jealous, which I thought was harsh. Is it wrong to end a negative friendship if it is not improving? How can I not feel guilty about this? I feel like I will miss this friend in someways and it will make me sad for the next few months or more - does anyone know how to cope with negative friendships ending?

This friend has a lot of redeeming qualities - a lot of shared interests and ideas. Yet, this friend can be quite negative about things in their livelihood - sometimes over things that are beyond their control, which is understandable but difficult for me to digest at times and it takes a toll. Sometimes this friend can be quite self-absorbed with their own accomplishments and skills, and sometimes the friend doe not always pays attention to me or asks me questions at times - it's like they need encouragement or validation for their work and university accomplishments. This friend has also liked me more than a friend in the past, which also makes things awkward at times as well, which makes it difficult for a true friendship to flourish. My friend is also constantly looking for someone to date and keeps getting rejected all the time - and they talk about this constantly and it can be draining to hear. They are also stressed out all the time with school and trying to do well, sometimes not being able to hangout since they are so academic-oriented with their graduate degree.

Is it best to end a negative friendship if the person cannot improve or change? I am feeling guilty but it is taking a bit of a toll on my emotional well being.
posted by RearWindow to Human Relations (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
One of the advantages to friendships is that there's no need for a dramatic breakup. If this friend is draining your energy, distance yourself a little bit. Set boundaries on what you want to talk about: "We've talked so much lately about *negative topic,* let's talk about *shared interest* today." Be a little bit busier thsn usual and check in again in 6 months or a year. Friendships -- even great ones -- have fallow periods, times when you struggle to connect. Instead of ending things, give yourself and your friend a little space to miss each other.
posted by shadygrove at 5:50 PM on February 21 [13 favorites]

Most friendships have a shelf life. People change, circumstances and priorities change, you will experience this over and over in your life. You'll also have friends you move in and out of real contact with over the years as things change and change again.

But also, adult "friendships" exist on a very broad spectrum, and most of them are fairly superficial. Most adults just don't have the intense almost-partner-like BESTIES like you often do as a child and young adult, and it does feel like you're assuming or expecting that your relationship with this person has to be like that.

If this person isn't entirely horrible and you would like to have some relationship, you can just take enough steps back that you're not so directly the recipient of the worst of their personality. It kind of sounds like if you stopped reaching out so much they would be too busy to notice or chase you, so it seems like that might be a pretty easy route to take here.

Very few situations actually call for any sort of confrontation about this, unless this person is trying to harm you or is so awful you feel like you should tell them off on your way out. It mostly sounds like this person needs to do some growing up - and that often does happen eventually! So no need to bin the entire friend, just back off for a while and see what happens.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:59 PM on February 21 [9 favorites]

Have you talked to your friend about this? Do they know that you would like them to improve and change? That being said, I agree with shadygrove. There is no need for a dramatic break-up. If steering the friendship towards more comfortable ground doesn't work, simply ease away. People change and friendships die natural deaths without a lot of drama all the time.
posted by Stuka at 6:03 PM on February 21 [2 favorites]

But if you need the permission of internet strangers to end a failing friendship, you can have that too. You don't owe anyone your time or support. You can decide to just step back if it's stopped working for you.
posted by emjaybee at 6:10 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]

I agree with the advice above. Your friend sounds like they might also be going through some tough emotional stuff, as many of us are In These Times, but you certainly don't have to subject yourself to negativity and harsh behaviour.

There's certainly no obligation to stay friends with someone who is making you feel bad, but if this person has a lot of redeeming qualities, it might be worth taking a step back without completely cutting ties. You can ask for the conversation to shift away from certain topics, and/or just be less available and focus on other activities and connections.

In general, I've found that a lot of my adult friendships have ebbed and flowed over the years, and I've usually been glad that I have held onto the connections in some form even if aren't close for a period of time, or even (so far) forever.
posted by rpfields at 6:35 PM on February 21 [3 favorites]

I agree with Stuka - since it sounds like you do value aspects of the friendship, you should at least mention this to your friend first. It doesn't have to be dramatic. Next time she is going on about grad school stress or romantic rejection, you can use some variation of shadygrove's script. To soften it, you might phrase it as a need you have - blame pandemic stress on your need to keep things positive if it helps you. If she reacts badly, then yeah, slow fade. But I have noticed that COIVD/isolation is making a lot of people a little more self-centered these days - it's possible your friend isn't entirely aware of the extent to which she's talking about these topics.
posted by coffeecat at 6:56 PM on February 21 [2 favorites]

Are you 100% decided that you are done with this, or just going in that direction? Because you sound at least somewhat conflicted about it, so I'd say to let the friendship drift, if you can, maybe just not be in contact as much and see if that helps any. It's easier to tolerate a bitching/cranky/unhappy friend when you're only hearing it oh, a few times a month rather than daily. If it's possible, decrease how much time you spend listening to their complaints. (But if they call you daily for hours to complain...yeah, difficulty level gets worse.)

I have one friend who kinda irritates me at times (and I'm sure it's mutual, that friend would probably say about me at least some of what you said about yours), but I'm not at the point where I want to quit yet, either. There's good moments and bad moments, but I reserve the right to ...whatever... if I hit my limit, or mine hits theirs on me. Also said friend is going through some bad shit right now.

That said, I think here you have a harder difficulty level if friend has (had?) romantic feelings for you and desperately wants a relationship and that search is not going well. ...and it's probably pretty clear why nobody is chomping at the bit to be with them as a couple. Friendships where one person really wants to bone and the other doesn't tend to not go well anyway, especially if trying to find someone, anyone, isn't going well. (Under non-pandemic circumstances, I would be all "yellow flag at least" about getting rid of a roommate for dating, but....pandemic, safety, etc.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:10 PM on February 21 [2 favorites]

I agree with those who have said if something is on your mind, try to bring it up. I disagree a bit with the idea that all or most adult friendships are less valuable and more superficial than other sorts of relationships - this thought admittedly doesn't have too much to do with your ask, except tangentially - but I kinda think we as a society would do better to value friendship a little more highly, and risk a little more vulnerability and earnestness for the more significant friendships than "a slow fade" suggests. Only you know how significant this friendship is.. but ..yeah. Just a thought/counterpoint from the middle of the night about friendship, generally - the thought that is behind my "try to bring it up." I hope whatever way it all goes that it gets better for you both !
posted by elgee at 9:33 PM on February 21 [2 favorites]

Are you sure your friend wasn't upset about the roommate potentially exposing both of them to covid by meeting new people?

Can you let the friendship rest for a bit and see how you feel in a few months or after your friend's major stressors are dealt with?
posted by LoonyLovegood at 11:41 PM on February 21 [5 favorites]

Sometimes, you just have to keep a ledger on what you've been putting up with vs. what you're getting out of the friendship.

Have a friend for decades. Knew him since the uni days (which is like almost 3 decades ago) kept in touch for all these years. The problem is he's bad at finance and he's ALWAYS hitting me up for money. He kept saying he'll pay me back, but he owes me several grand (2.5G) , and despite knowing I lost my job STILL asks me for money from time to time apparently forgot I have no money to lend him. After telling him no several times in a row, he only calls me once every two months, usually just to chat for a few minutes about our common interests.

So just back off a bit, and see if it's something you really miss, or is it mostly nostalgia.
posted by kschang at 11:52 PM on February 21 [1 favorite]

To address the part of your question about coping with the loss of a negative friend:

I think it's inevitable to grieve the end of relationships, even if those relationships were unhealthy. I believe it's pretty common to love people, and hold them in your heart, while knowing you cannot have a good, healthy relationship with them.

Two things have really helped me with this. First, I am able to give my time, attention, and energy to people with whom I have healthy relationships. My particular "negative friend" was very needy, and I wasn't able to see how much I'd been giving to her (and not giving to others in my life) until the relationship ended. Second, I try to remind myself in all of my relationships that every relationship ends eventually, even if it lasts until one person dies. It's natural. That's the cost of loving people. I think it's worth it. Sometimes you drift away, sometimes you say goodbye. How and whether and when you end a relationship is up to you.

This stuff is hard, and I am sending you lots of good thoughts.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 6:56 AM on February 22 [2 favorites]

Agree with most comments above - no need for anything dramatic. As I've grown older and watched friendships go through ebbs and flows and my life has gotten more complex I've decided to do as much emotional energy conservation as possible and have found that that has worked really well for me. Generally, I put into the relationship what the other person puts in. If that person is going through something, they might not be able to be a really good friend right then. If that is the theme of the friendship, though, it is absolutely ok to take a big step back and have the friendship transition into a more casual one. You don't owe anyone anything, and good friendships are not forced. You might find that the relationship evolves again in the future, and then you'll decide to readjust. This is a normal part of learning how to set up healthy boundaries which allow you to love your friends but also have really good self care into place. You need your energy for your own life challenges, especially now during this super weird spell the world is going through with COVID.

That said, I have had to cut off a few people over time. It was sad and painful and required a lot of grieving on my end. In all cases, nothing dramatic needed to happen. Just kind of gradually distanced. In a few cases I have had to explicitly say I needed more space but tried to be as kind about it as possible and not accuse anyone of anything.

I've found that good friendships can survive needed breaks. Sometimes it just takes a little distance and time for stuff to blow over.

And if you do end up losing the friendship, know that this can happen and is a normal part of life, albeit a really sad one. In that case, please give yourself permission to grieve and process. I think sometimes people think when one loses a friendship it's not really comparable to death of a loved one or a breakup, but the truth is that someone who was important to you is no longer in your life, and that is hard and sad and painful. So, should that transpire, it's important to take the time to process it and to be really good to yourself, as you would in the case of any other important loss. Best wishes.
posted by dubhemerak3000 at 10:45 AM on February 22 [2 favorites]

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