Why is a friendship breakup worse than a slow-fade?
April 17, 2021 6:44 AM   Subscribe

I've seen many MeFi comments criticizing an explicit friendship breakup. They say it's better to slow-fade. I agree with that approach for acquaintances and distant friends. However, for closer friends, I've found it confusing to be on the receiving end of a slow-fade. It takes months to figure out whether the friend is genuinely busy or is slow-fading. It feels drawn-out and painful. In other arenas of life (dating, work), we value clear communication and closure. Why not for friendship?

I've seen many MeFi answers saying things like, "I'd never be friends with the type of person to do a friendship breakup." or "If someone is willing to do a friendship breakup, you're better off without them in your life."

I'm in my 40s. Over the decades, there have been a few close friendships that ended. I've found it more cathartic to have clear communication. Examples:

I was close friends with "A" in high school and for years afterwards. In our mid-20s, A started dating a significant other who didn't like me. This caused friction. A told me that we needed to cool our friendship for a while, to give A chance to focus on her relationship. I honored this request. After 6 months, A told me that her SO still didn't like me, and she was choosing her relationship over our friendship. We expressed mutual appreciation for the years of friendship that we shared, talked about our sadness that our friendship was ending, and wished each other luck. I found it helpful to have this conversation. It allowed me to begin processing my grief over the lost friendship and focus my energy on making new friendships.

I was friends with "B" for many years. Then B started being "too busy" to hang out. This happened over and over, for a year. I eventually figured she was slow-fading me, and I stopped contacting B. I felt confused and hurt. Several years later, I ran into B. B revealed that she'd been depressed during the year of rejecting my messages, and she also felt hurt when I gave up on reaching out to her. We've restarted our friendship to some degree, but it's much harder after years of silence and hurt on both sides.

I had a friend "C". One day, C started slow-fading me. It was very obvious that she was slow-fading me. I decided to be explicit, and I asked her on two occasions, "Did I do something that bothered you?" She ignored my question both times. We stopped talking for several years. One day, I ran into C again at an event. She was warm and friendly and started a long heartfelt conversation with me. She has initiated subsequent heartfelt conversations. I remain confused about what happened, and wish C had been clear about why she slow-faded me and why she later changed her mind.

I had a friend "D". We were best friends as kids. In our 20s, we grew in separate directions and wanted different things from friendship. This resulted in increasing arguments and feeling unsupported by each other. One day, we ran into each other and had a long conversation about our conflicting needs. She wanted to be a free spirit and not be tied down by obligations toward others. I wanted to remember each other's important occasions and frequently do little things to help each other. We expressed understanding for each other's mindset. We acknowledged that our differences mean that a friendship isn't going to work any more. We parted respectfully and have never spoken again since.

When I look back on my friendships that ended, I feel closure and peace around the friendships where we explicitly had a friendship breakup conversation. Those conversations allowed us to honor the years that we shared together, and wish each other well.

When I think about the slow fades, I feel confused and hurt. I have various theories around what went wrong, but I'm not sure. I feel resentment.

Friendships that last for 5, 10, 20 years can feel more significant than dating. When it comes to dating, we would consider it bad form to slow-fade or ghost someone we've been dating non-exclusively for 6 months. Even if the dating was non-exclusive, we still consider it respectful to have a conversation marking the end. That makes sense to me. But then I don't understand why people advise against a friendship breakup conversation for a 10-year or 20-year friendship. Why is that?
posted by sandwich to Human Relations (63 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
One reason to slow fade is that behavior/qualities you are expecting in a friend may change over time. Obviously not true in the case of abusive behavior, but there are a host of other reasons friendships fade that might reverse later. I had a friend I slow faded on about 10 years ago because I felt she wasn’t supportive enough and that was really upsetting to me at the time. I definitely felt “wronged” and had some valid reasons for that. However I knew her well enough to know that a confrontation was not going to go well.

We stayed in casual touch and my needs are different now; I still see her as a friend, recognize that she and I are not a perfect friend match and value having her in my life. For me, “slow fade” can represent “cooling off” and some space may change things down the road.
posted by rogerroger at 7:04 AM on April 17, 2021 [12 favorites]

I was friends with "B" for many years. Then B started being "too busy" to hang out. This happened over and over, for a year. I eventually figured she was slow-fading me, and I stopped contacting B. I felt confused and hurt. Several years later, I ran into B. B revealed that she'd been depressed during the year of rejecting my messages, and she also felt hurt when I gave up on reaching out to her.

B wasn't "slow-fading" you. They were depressed. They weren't depressed at you or depressed to you.

Do you have conversations at the beginnings of your friendships, defining the relationship? If so, it probably makes sense to have a redefining conversation at the end. But most people don't have such initial defining conversations for friendships; nothing has been defined, therefore it's a bit presumptuous to assume there should be a clear redefinition. That is the distinction that folks here seem to generally make. (You'll notice different advice given to posters who have just started a romantic relationship but haven't gotten to a defining the relationship step, for example, than is given to posters asking about romantic relationships that have had that mutually defined step.)
posted by eviemath at 7:07 AM on April 17, 2021 [11 favorites]

A slow fade is less abrupt, gives you more time to adjust, and is less likely to result in a big exhausting argument. Breaking up a friendship isn’t a mutual decision and telling someone to their face “I don’t respect you anymore or share your values” can be very hurtful. Yes, you feel confused. But maybe you would have felt WORSE if your friend had been honest with you. There’s no real way to know.

IMO the best of both worlds is a slow fade with a gentle excuse such as “really busy.”
posted by stockpuppet at 7:31 AM on April 17, 2021 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: To clarify, I am aware that B was not an actual slow fade. I included B to show how the prevalence of slow fades causes confusion and misunderstandings.

On several occasions, I went through months or a year of wondering "Is she slow fading me or actually busy? Should I reach out again? If she is depressed, I want to be there for her. If she is slow fading me, I want to get the hint and not bug her. Which one is it? Did I do something that bothered her? If so, what was it?"

By comparison, the explicit friendship breakups were so much less confusing and more respectful. If A or D came back and wanted to resume the friendship, I would be more open to it than C who slow-faded but is now mysteriously trying to reactivate it years later.

The other explanations are helpful. Thanks everyone!
posted by sandwich at 7:33 AM on April 17, 2021 [5 favorites]

People are less introspective than you think. People mostly shy away from conflict in personal relationships. People don't always know why they are doing what they are doing and friendships, especially adult friendships, exist in a world with many competing pressures that can take over one's life. Plus, like your depressed friend, it's not always about you. Which doesn't mean that it doesn't hurt.

I have a long-time distant friend who has some destructive behaviors. They aren't about me but they made friendship with that person a bit of a roller-coaster. Long ago, I distanced myself from them. They went on a social media tear a few years ago about anxiety and how it manifests and there was a gist from them that sounds a bit like your friend. Basically, their anxiety often makes them a bad friend but the rest of us should just understand this and not abandon them. Which on the one hand, I totally get. I get that desire. But also, if this person is depressed or anxious and withdrawing, it can hurt me, too. Because I don't know that and also, it hurts to have every overture rejected. It's damaging. I think it's fair, with your depressed friend, that you can say how that period of time was also difficult for you. You could even come up with a way to talk about it in the future so that 1) they can tell you that they are feeling low and having difficulty* and 2) they can come back and repair with you with compassion. If you're not in the dark, you can also be supportive and this can set you all up for mutual support when you need it. If they have come back to you and you're talking about this, this is a good time to create a richer relationship. It's not too late.

*My spouse and I call this "brain weasels" which I think we got from MeFi. Basically it's shorthand for: "I'm not doing great, but I don't need anything right now, this will probably pass but I'm just having a hard time, please don't take it personally, I'll let you know if I need help and/or when this passes."
posted by amanda at 7:35 AM on April 17, 2021 [17 favorites]

You don’t really know what C was doing either, you’re assuming. It sounds like you really can’t tolerate any ambiguity in these relationships and assume a deliberate snubbing if the relationship changes, even if the person doesn’t mean it. I’m not saying that’s a bad way of experiencing the world but it is not universal. In fact the descriptions you gave of times when you and a friend got together to convene a council so that your friend could formally tell you to go away forever gave me the heebie-jeebies. I would HATE THAT. I would rather never be sure than be explicitly told “fuck off out of my life forever, I don’t value you anymore and never will again.” Again not saying you ought to hate that. But not everyone feels the same about these things!
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:38 AM on April 17, 2021 [25 favorites]

One advantage to the slow fade instead of a breakup is that it leaves room for readjustments of the friendship over time. It's like a train going from Best Friends at one end to the final stop of Not Friends At All. But there are possible stops along the way that might be better to hang out in for a while -- casual friend, once in a while friend, deep but not active friend -- before maybe getting back on to travel again in either direction. Making a declaration that it is over doesn't allow for the nuance that some friendships require to live on over time. And for me, friendships are nourishing because they DON'T require the meta-maintenance of romantic relationships, they are natural and go with the flow.
posted by Tim Bucktooth at 7:39 AM on April 17, 2021 [46 favorites]

The failure mode of a friendship that peters out is "acquaintance." It's good to have a wide circle of acquaintances. It's socially healthy. If you orchestrate a formal friend breakup and cut off all ties, then instead of a large field in which many casual relationships are free to breathe, you have a big ass field full of land mines. It makes it harder to go through life when you burn bridges.
posted by phunniemee at 7:40 AM on April 17, 2021 [78 favorites]

At least in my experience, it is common for friendships to go through cycles of being closer or more distant. Sometimes the distance continues into a slow fade to zero, but sometimes it is just that one or both people have a lot going on, or maybe it is a friendship that relies on physical proximity, or whatever.

So if you have a big breakup talk and end things, you cut off the possibility that things will start shifting towards more closeness, or maybe just settle into a less-close but still friends situation.

That doesn't mean it is never a good idea to make a clean break, but those situations are a bit exceptional.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:58 AM on April 17, 2021 [9 favorites]

I agree with you, sandwich. The whole "slow fade" / "ghosting" thing is really people being afraid of other people's reactions. We might need to be more confident that we can handle reactions, but it's worth it.

Sometimes, other people are a little emotionally dangerous, but it's WAAAAY less often than it would seem from the level of avoidance. And the costs of this kind of avoidance are underestimated.

Good human relationships, and even being kind in a basic way, require courage. Please, people, advocate and facilitate courage rather than avoidance, except in a very few special cases.
posted by amtho at 8:02 AM on April 17, 2021 [6 favorites]

I think it's a whopping "depends on situation" with regards to the slow fade. Slow fades may be used more if you know the friend is likely to blow up at you over an honest and open conversation, and/or if the friendship is already dying anyway. Open and honest conversations can only be had with SOME people, in my experience. Some others...you really can't without kabooms going off, and the drama ain't worth it. But I agree with you that the nice, quiet, polite resolvings that it's over sound better than complete hellish ambiguity.

I have plenty of conflicting feelings on this shit. I had one friend blow up on me and quit the friendship (short version: her SO is a compulsive liar and started telling her lies about me, apparently) and while that's not great, at least I freaking knew it was over and why. Whereas I had a great friend group and then somehow they all quietly cut me out of their lives and I cannot for the life of me figure out what I did to make them all do it. I really, really can't think of what the hell I did at all, I'll always wonder, and I can't ask. Not sure they'd even tell me if I did and i no longer run into them anywhere anyway. (I strongly suspect the one of that group that I wasn't as close to decided she hated me for some reason and the rest went along with it, but it's a total guess really.) So that sucked.

Right now I think I am going to do a "slow fade" on my crush, who I am ostensibly friends with, to get over the whole thing. Why? Because due to pandemic it's not like we are going to be in each other's lives without deliberately taking action to see each other or contact each other, and take a wild guess who was doing the work there. I thought, "If I never text him again, will he even notice?" and I'm pretty sure the answer is no. Hence, slow fade. It's not a great thing to do, but at this point things are just weird and awkward and I don't think I could spit out having a conversation with him on this whole thing anyway. I've desperately wanted to talk to him for months about how I'm feeling, but I just feel like I can't and he probably can't and he'd probably rather I just not bother him any more with this uncomfortableness.

I have no idea how the heck one handles the "you were slow faded because someone was depressed" situations, especially since that now goes on all the time in pandemic. Those really hurt because as far as you can tell from your POV, the person just dumped you quietly, and from their POV they're all "I still love you, I just can't with you, for years." How the hell am I supposed to know if they still want me to try or not if they keep ignoring me? Because if you keep ignoring me, I'm going to assume that's "Take the hint, Jen, bug off and leave me alone" and I will eventually do that. If you don't respond to my invites, I won't keep inviting you. I do give one of my friends credit during pandemic for actually TELLING ME she feels like this so I know what's going on, instead of being stuck in silent limbo hell. We're both "all clear" now so I am hoping this situation improves if we can get together...which is theoretically today but I'm not gonna get my hopes up until it actually happens.

I have NO CLUE with the "C's" of the world who want you gone, won't say why, and then occasionally act like everything is normal again. The fuck? I can't figure those people out and god knows they won't say. (I'll note that the girl above who seems to hate me has fallen into this category at times?)

(Oh hey, more responses came in while I was writing!)

" If she is depressed, I want to be there for her. If she is slow fading me, I want to get the hint and not bug her. Which one is it? Did I do something that bothered her? If so, what was it?"

YEAH, THIS EXACTLY. In our culture, if someone stops responding to you and ghosting, it means THEY DON'T LIKE YOU NO MORE and your role is to TAKE THE HINT AND GO AWAY. There is no way I can know that you still secretly love me, you just want me to....what, exactly?!?! Pretend I'm fine with you disappearing for years, I guess? I wanted to "be there" for the crush, but was he letting me in to do that? Hm, nope. Do they ever let you in for that? Apparently not.

"Basically, their anxiety often makes them a bad friend but the rest of us should just understand this and not abandon them. Which on the one hand, I totally get. I get that desire. But also, if this person is depressed or anxious and withdrawing, it can hurt me, too. Because I don't know that and also, it hurts to have every overture rejected."

THIS. THIS THIS THIS. If you're going to be depressed and disappear, you should expect that others will assume that you want them gone, OR ELSE YOU NEED TO TELL THEM WHAT IS GOING ON. If you absolutely can't, then this is what's going to happen!

"It sounds like you really can’t tolerate any ambiguity in these relationships and assume a deliberate snubbing if the relationship changes, even if the person doesn’t mean it. I’m not saying that’s a bad way of experiencing the world but it is not universal. "

How the heck is anyone supposed to know the difference between "I'm too depressed to talk to you" vs "I'm sick of you, take the hint and go away?" if you can't spit out the former? Stopping speaking to someone is how we passively dump someone without pain on our end. It's all over the place. It's how most dating ends and why not friends too?
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:04 AM on April 17, 2021 [11 favorites]

I guess I just don’t take it personally if someone communicates with me less than they previously did, because I don’t keep score or assume I’m owed a certain never-varying level of communication.

If I’m too depressed to feed and bathe myself I’m too depressed to delicately manage other people’s emotions, you know?
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:20 AM on April 17, 2021 [31 favorites]

I strongly agree with everything showbiz Liz says.

The OP mentions dating and work as arenas where clear communication is valued. Dating and friendship are different things. I don't think it is fair to place the kind of emotional weight on a friendship as I would on a romantic relationship. Being in a romantic relationship, like a job, is something that is dependent on a contract. You need to spell out the rules before, e.g. whether you're exclusive etc.

One of the things I value about friendships is that they don't need to be defined in the way a romantic relationship often needs to be defined. Friendships also don't need to have a 'goal'. There are various different degrees of friendship and they are all valid - the ride-or-die, the coffee-every-couple-of-months, and multiple points on either end of that scale and in between.

Especially as people age and hit different phases of life, a friendship may take on numerous different shapes. I can't count the number of people whom I used to be close to, but we drifted apart because I got busy or they had a kid or I moved away or they started dating. Doesn't mean I hate them, it just means our friendship looks different. It also leaves a space available for the friendship to become close again should the opportunity strike. And this too has happened to me. There are very few people I no longer speak to, even though I do have many friends I used to be close to but am not so close to anymore. But I've had the opportunity to reconnect with old friends thanks to changes in our lives that have made that possible (moving closer, kids getting older etc).

I find the forgiving, flexible, changeable nature of friendships to be one of the most beautiful things about them as long as you go with the flow and don't take it too personally. People have stuff going on in their lives, you know? If someone is depressed or busy or their internet stopped working or their mother's in town and for whatever reason they can't get in touch with me - that's their thing. It doesn't have anything to do with me. That's the beauty of friendship.

I think if I were to start to introduce the kind of contractual obligations that come with work and dating into a friendship I would introduce a degree of tension that doesn't, in my view, need to be there.

A friendship 'break-up' feels like a line drawn under the relationship, with no allowances made for nuance or for the possibility of reconnecting in the future. It's the kind of thing that can be healthy in the context of romantic relationships but takes away the flexibility that, to me at least, makes friendships so rewarding.
posted by unicorn chaser at 8:25 AM on April 17, 2021 [23 favorites]

I've really only had cause to end one former friendship, full-stop, after several years of escalating issues with their behaviour and the way they treated me and other people (and at least two prior conversations where I brought these up as problems I had and they promised to work on it). Being conflict-averse by nature (and because the person in question could be extremely emotionally volatile and even got violent on a couple of occasions) I tried for a while to think of a way I could just drift out of their life. But because they were formerly a close friend and quite intertwined in my social scene and peer group, there wasn't any way around it. So I called them and had the most difficult hour-long conversation of my life to date, but at the end of it there was no doubt of where I stood, I'd made my feelings very clear and ultimately I feel like it was the right call in that particular situation.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:35 AM on April 17, 2021

I think saying that OP expects someone else to "delicately manage" her own feelings for her is a cruel and uncharitable read of the situation.

I agree with amanda - people are less introspective than you think. Most people really don't ponder these types of social interactions. I do, it might be some autism-adjacent meta processing to help me understand, who knows. But, I've found, most people just kind of act on their feelings and don't try to mitigate them or understand them. Friend D felt like you were cramping her style, so she acted in a way that meant she didn't feel like that anymore.

I can't really answer your actual question, why people like a slow fade rather than an explicit break. I think both are useful in certain instances.
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:35 AM on April 17, 2021 [9 favorites]

I think there are times when the slow fade is best and other times when a friendship break-up is best. The few times I've initiated a break-up with a friend it's been direct and a little painful but also a relief: I'm always positive and respectful, saying it's really because we grew apart but not because they did anything wrong nor did I. (And I think this is true!!) However, I can imagine it was perhaps more painful for those on the receiving end. There have been some simple check-ins over the years after, like sometimes we keep following each other on social media and other times not, and it's fine because we both wish the best for each other. So for me it wasn't a line in the sand in terms of no contact but rather a conscientious choice to stop hanging out, sharing deep things or having any sort of regular communication.

Bottom line: a friendship break-up doesn't have to be some high-drama, mean-spirited argument where there's no going back. It depends on the dynamic and what both people want!
posted by smorgasbord at 8:39 AM on April 17, 2021

This is probably one of those cultural splits like Ask vs Guess.

For me, friendship is not a specific status with some kind of formal process for declaring or removing it and some specific set of obligations for maintaining it. My friends and I enjoy each other's company when we're in each other's company. That's all there is to it. That's all there needs to be to it.

For me, friendship is not defined by obligation, mutual or otherwise; not defined by emotional support, mutual or otherwise; not defined by economic support, mutual or otherwise. Friendship is not any kind of contract and it rests on mutual high regard, not on promises made. What I give my friends, and what they give me, is given freely with no implied obligation to reciprocate. We give to each other because we want to, each of us understands this, and nobody is keeping score.

Sometimes I disappoint my friends and sometimes I delight them. Sometimes my friends disappoint me and sometimes they delight me. People are a package deal. We are how we are.

From this perspective, the idea of a formal friendship breakup makes zero sense. Same with making up Just So stories about why we might not have caught up with each other for some while. I have friends I've gone years without speaking to, and then whenever we do eventually catch up it's fine.

Whenever I become aware of people trying to manage their friendships on a more transactional basis than this, it's no surprise to me at all when they end up with various kinds of heartbreak and letdown as a consequence. My friends and I tend not to play those games in the first place. Not worth the drama.

For what it's worth, I've been formally friend-dumped exactly once in my life and it was a most unpleasant experience. It was essentially a clash of values; we found ourselves increasingly opposed on the merits of multi-level marketing, quack medicine and Israel's colonialism in Palestine to an extent that left us not actually enjoying each other's company much any more.

I don't think either of us derived any comfort from the dumping that we couldn't have got with less drama just by ceasing to seek each other out.
posted by flabdablet at 9:05 AM on April 17, 2021 [30 favorites]

I'm also going to say that whether a slow fade or an explicit break is "better" depends on a lot of factors but isn't a "always this" or "always that" decision, but also that closure is something you give to/find for yourself, not something I owe you.

I think a lot of the advice around not having a "friend breakup" conversation is really more about the fact that the question-asker seem to be trying punish/hurt the friend or force a confrontation or convince them to renew the relationship. To be honest, I would not really want to have a lengthy conversation about ending a friendship where it is clear that things have petered out/not compatible/whatever (e.g., Friend D) especially since it is actually pretty rare IME for both parties to feel the same way at the same time.

Not the point of your question, but I'm curious as to why you are having long, heartfelt conversations with C, who is someone you are still hurt by and also seem uncomfortable with directly asking why they stopped speaking to you. Why were you okay with asking her directly about her lack of communication, but now that you are communicating you are hesitant?
posted by sm1tten at 9:08 AM on April 17, 2021 [5 favorites]

Perhaps some of the disagreement is differing ideas of what a "friendship breakup" is? When I hear that term, I imagine one friend sitting the other one down and saying, "I don't want to be friends anymore." Which, I guess if you had some specific agreement about being friends and what exactly that entails at the beginning, would maybe make sense, but otherwise feels very overwrought, dramatic, and self-important to me. One could do the friend break-up without excuses ("I'm just not feeling it anymore"), but I don't get the impression that would meet your desire for closure, OP. So then the person doing the friend break-up is just telling you all the things they dislike about you, unasked-for and out of the blue? That is not kind. (Unless the friend has done something specific and really shitty, like the well out of his teens dude I used to be friends with who started dating a 17-y.o., which, while legal in the local jurisdiction, was very much not in any way ethical, and was tied in with neglecting his own teenage child. That's perhaps an extreme example but is the sort of thing I think of when I think of good reasons for a clear and explicit friend break-up.)

On the other hand, if you notice that your relationship with a friend has been changing, having a conversation to ask about that, eg. "Hey, it feels like you've been pulling away from me, and I'd like for us to stay a bit closer. Is there something I've done that I haven't realized, and can make amends for?" is a very reasonable type of communication to have with someone you care about and have some history with. There's a significant difference between the two examples: the first is unilateral and not a conversation. The second is an open-ended friendship check-in, and focused on the needs of the other friend rather than the one initiating the conversation. Those are crucial differences. One thing I would suggest, OP, is that perhaps you should reconsider expecting your friends to initiate such a conversation when they are feeling less engaged in a friendship. One could just as well ask, why didn't you, as a caring friend who valued the friendship, initiate such a check-in conversation in the cases of B and C that you described? I can think of lots of perfectly fine and valid reasons why not - not at all trying to say that you were a bad friend in those situations! Just that there is a reciprocity to consider here, that it sounds like you maybe haven't been thinking of.
posted by eviemath at 9:26 AM on April 17, 2021 [9 favorites]

So, all of this is about what helps YOU find closure and catharsis and naturally it's understandable to be frustrated that these people, who supposedly care about you, do not want to find out what you need and do that thing for you.

But in your actual question, you're wondering why the boilerplate advice isn't geared toward that. And that's because your ideal friend breakup situation sounds like a fucking nightmare to a lot of people! God, it's awful enough to have to exist in a place where romantic breakup conversations are hanging over our heads all the time, now I gotta worry that if I don't call everyone I've ever known exactly enough, they need me to explicitly lay out the reasons and have a whole meeting where we decide whether we need to split up our mixtapes from high school? NOPE.

It may just be that there's a divide in how people approach friendships, as flabdablet outlines above. I don't really consider that my friends owe me all that much in life, even my very close friends. I expect that they won't steal my job or my partner? I guess? Or at least not while I'm using them, lol.

It could also just be a difference in personality types. Some people cannot abide interpersonal gray area and some people can. Some people achieve closure internally and others through ritual. It's interesting that you wanted all of these people to Break Up with you, where from their perspectives it seems like they never wanted to Stop Being Your Friend, they just wanted to Be Your Friend On a Different Schedule.

But I'm gonna go out on a limb and suggest that Metafilter, which is a community albeit a public one, selects highly for introverted, self-contained, conflict-averse folks who generally speaking, give others a wide berth. People have pointed out that MeFi's approach to family and relationships is also somewhat slanted in a particular, rather insular/individualistic direction (chosen family over birth, DTMFA). In a different community you would see different advice about friendships and relationships.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:36 AM on April 17, 2021 [32 favorites]

(Despite my comments above, and probably to We put our faith in Blast Hardchees' point, I am, myself, someone who prefers less ambiguity in interpersonal relationships. It is quite okay, I think, to regularly tell your friends "I'm not great with ambiguity, so if there's ever anything I've done or any circumstances that make you feel like pulling away or fading our friendship, please let me know!" Then if a long-term friend who generally respects your expressed needs does seem to do a fade, you can have a higher degree of confidence that it's a situation like B rather than an intentional fade-out.)
posted by eviemath at 9:48 AM on April 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'll put it this way: I have some friends who may disappear for a few months and then circle back, and that's fine. I've known them long enough and trust that they will probably do that. As long as they circle back sometime. But if it's been a year or worse since we had contact, things definitely erode. Long term ambiguity, or having reasons to not trust that this person is still your friend going on their behavior, definitely sucks. I can understand the desire entirely to want to just have it out with someone and know for sure, especially when you have lost trust in the relationship that it's going to last, based on the other's behavior.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:55 AM on April 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

There are a lot more potential "relationship extinction events," to quote Dan Savage, in traditional romantic entanglements because of the whole sex part. You and your friends can have other friends without "cheating," for instance. Usually a friendship doesn't have an explicit contract with rules that, if they're broken, end the friendship. And a friendship has fewer responsibilities because people don't typically have a single friend that they rely on for all support.

I've only explicitly cut ties with one person, and it's because she pretty much demanded it, first by becoming unbearable with rules recitative more appropriate for a dating situation, with nearly the same amount of day-consuming, cortisol-jacking "let's talk about our relationship and the many ways you have sinned" yack you get in a dying romance. Then to really seal it, she gratuitously insulted my mother. She was just done and not aware of that, so she blew it up, basically. Otherwise we'd still be friends just like with all my other friendships that have ceased to be active. With all of them, either they were mere acquaintanceships that I wouldn't resume or they haven't really ended. We've grown apart, sure, but we could grow back together again at any point.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:56 AM on April 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

Right, and to springboard off eviemath's comment, I think the advice you'd get here if you said, "friend of mine isn't calling anymore, always breaks plans, can I / how do I ask what is up and tell them this is hurtful" is very different from what you'd get if you asked whether to slow fade vs breakup because friend wasn't calling anymore. People here are generally very in favor of expressing needs and feeling allowed to have your needs met. I just don't think most of us consider friendships to be things that are either "On" or "Off" and in need of official declarations thereof.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:59 AM on April 17, 2021 [6 favorites]

Bottom line: People who would react well to to an explicit friend breakup are likely to be people you wouldn't want to break up with in the first place.

With one exception, whenever I've chosen to stop being friends with someone, I had already brought up the issues I was having with them, usually more than once. If they had reacted to my concerns by listening and validating my feelings, then we'd likely still be some level of friends. But by the time I actually let go of friendships it's become clear there is no point in trying to share my reasons for "breaking up" with them.

The one exception where I explicitly said "I don't want to be friends with you anymore" was my best friend from High School, whom I dumped when we were 33. The last time I saw her, she complained about how she didn't know why another friend had stopped talking to her. I decided to notify her of her problematic behavior on my way out. There was no point. She just turned around and bitched about things that had happened as far back as middle school, and reacted sarcastically to the good memories I had of her. I needn't have bothered spending time crafting an informative, honest, respectful letter to her because she got nothing out of it.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 10:04 AM on April 17, 2021 [7 favorites]

Maybe it's a function of having lots of long-distance friends, so it's not like we're always trying to make plans? Or maybe I've just gotten lucky and none of my friends have turned into real shitbricks, so there's no reason to really write anyone off, but like...

I just...don't actually need to know whether someone is my friend at any given moment? Maybe they aren't right now but they will be again in a while. Maybe they are but this is what the friendship looks like right now. Maybe they're not my friend anymore! Fair cop. Either way it's...fine?
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:11 AM on April 17, 2021 [11 favorites]

For me, friends will come and go. Like partners. It doesn’t have to do with me. Their presence in my life is a gift while it happens and I expect a revolving door of new experiences with both new and old friends. I’m Confident and happy alone and ghosting is just someone moving out of the way for awhile (or maybe ever).

The people that want to be around me will be here. I’m confident that there will always be at least a few of those. The people I want to be around I’ll reach out to. Sometimes I go a long time between reachouts due to circumstances but I almost am always transparent when someone asks where I’ve been?

In some ways, Relationships are only as complicated as people make them I guess.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 10:17 AM on April 17, 2021 [6 favorites]

tl;dr: most people kinda suck at endings -- all types of endings
posted by dancing leaves at 10:31 AM on April 17, 2021

Best answer: I'm agree with the OP that often slow-fades can be far crueler than some clear communication. How clear though depends on the level of closeness.

The classic "Oh sorry, I'm really busy these days" works for the sort of friend you previously would see a couple times per month. I don't really consider that a slow-fade though, in that one person has clearly (if indirectly) made it clear they cannot spend the regular amount of time with the other person.

But "sorry, I'm really busy" doesn't work for a very close friend who've you've previously prioritized seeing even when you're really busy. That happened to me once and it was extremely confusing and hurtful. Had they just been more direct it would have saved me a lot of grief and handwringing. I didn't need them to manage my emotions, but I needed to know what the reality was so I could actually emotionally process it. Instead, was stuck in limbo rotating between "I should give them the benefit of the doubt, we're so close, they wouldn't lie to me" and "They've ended our friendship" for a long time.

In short, slow fade or white lies don't work in my experience with friendships that are about as intimate as a romantic relationship. For more casual friendships, they can work, but generally benefit by being accompanied with a white lie.
posted by coffeecat at 10:40 AM on April 17, 2021 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: This has been very eye-opening. Thanks everyone for your answers.

There's a cultural angle that I had missed. I come from a non-western ethnicity that long ago had the concept of blood-brothers and blood-sisters. One commenter above asked rhetorically "Do you have conversations at the beginnings of your friendships, defining the relationship?" Historically in my culture, a small number of best-friendships would indeed have a conversation (and ceremony) to mark the transition. Even though that ceremony is no longer performed, there is still a higher level of expectation for close friends. (The higher expectations don't apply to acquaintances, just to close friends.)

It was interesting hearing people say that they expect nothing from their friends, and that anything above zero expectations feels transactional and emotionally heavy.

Your answers help me see both perspectives. I see how some people (like me) want more commitment in a friendship, while others find that a heavy obligation. It reminds me of how some people in a romantic relationship want to get married because it feels comforting, while others find overt labels to be confining and prefer to keep things fluid with no expectations.
posted by sandwich at 12:51 PM on April 17, 2021 [13 favorites]

I also think it matters whether one person is still reaching out a lot or even explicitly asking if there’s a problem like in some of your examples. Friendships can certainly fade in and out organically like others have described, but repeatedly leaving someone hanging on every contact and ignoring them when they ask if there’s a problem does seem a bit cowardly and mean to me unless the person is really hard to deal with, especially if you were fairly close before.
posted by Gravel at 1:04 PM on April 17, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: the C situation is what slow fades were made for. Here is a made-up story to explain what happened. If this isn't your C, it's somebody's:

--suppose C talked to you gradually less and less because, for whatever private reasons or stresses, she started getting more and more annoyed or frustrated with you and didn't want to be around you anymore. Why not just 'break up'? Because she used to like you! She remembers liking you, she wants that feeling to come back, but you can't call it back just by wanting and she doesn't want to fake it or jerk you around with the promise of maybe taking you back one day. So instead of making a formal announcement that had the potential to hurt you terribly and sever the friendship permanently, she just drifted away. After some time apart, the aggravation subsided and the affection returned, and now she likes you better than ever. thank god I didn't just tell my friend to fuck off when I was in such a shitty mood that time, she says to herself. No fights, no scenes, I dealt with my own stuff in my own time, and we're still friends. It all worked out.

The A situation: maybe you are being carefully neutral in recounting it for an audience, but wow. if I was ditched so that an ex-friend could "focus" on a different person, because that ex-friend was self-confessedly incapable of having both a boyfriend and a friend, I would either not believe them or not respect them. I think you are maybe too forgiving of insults, which is what that was, and too unforgiving of social ambiguities designed to cushion everyone's feelings from a hard blow (as with C). yeah, it's good that A just told you the truth, but her truth was terrible. It is wonderful that you found peace and closure and aren't apparently angry, but I don't think that is the usual reaction.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:05 PM on April 17, 2021 [14 favorites]

At least some of us have lost friendships because we did not get on with someone's SO. It happens. Note my example above. SO's will win out over friends EVERY TIME, in my experience. (Saying flat out "I think your fiance is making up shit, I don't get why he's trying to break up my relationship since he set us up, and oh, btw, he came on to me behind your back" would not have gone well.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:57 PM on April 17, 2021

I see how some people (like me) want more commitment in a friendship, while others find that a heavy obligation.

I think there's also a cultural and practical angle regarding commitment that hasn't really been touched on - in a romantic relationship the general assumption is that the couple will eventually want to live together, and combine their finances to some degree, and possibly buy property together, and have children together. In the US these all (generally) require some level of long term planning and preparation, in addition to biological considerations of fertility and health (even people planning on adopting probably don't want to be chasing after a toddler 24/7 when they're 70, and lots of folks feel it's important to have children while their own parents are alive, if possible.)

So lots of heavily-US based advice (on Ask Me & elsewhere) will tend to default to "clean definite explicit ending" to romantic relationships, because there's basically a time limit for getting stuff done, and a clean break means both parties can move on to the next relationship. But friendships don't have those expectations and needs, mostly - it's not so important to me if my best pal of 20 years is bad with money, I'm not gonna buy a house with him.

IOW, it's maybe not so much that people are against making a clean explicit ending to a friendship (although clearly some are) as much as that LOTS of folks are very definitely in favor of explicitly ending romantic relationships.
posted by soundguy99 at 2:29 PM on April 17, 2021 [7 favorites]

I agree with that approach for acquaintances and distant friends. However, for closer friends, I've found it confusing to be on the receiving end of a slow-fade.

I hate to say this, but sometimes two people don’t have the same perspective on whether something is a close friendship or an acquaintance. Sometimes I’ve realized in retrospect that what I’ve perceived as a slow fade on my end was actually a signal that the other person never saw me as a close friend, and I’ve probably been on the other side of that dynamic too.
posted by capricorn at 2:35 PM on April 17, 2021 [4 favorites]

They're your friendships. Arrange however you like (this may or may not keep the friend).

Fade is seen as more progressive or likely to return good sentiment in the long run (practically progressive and even spiritually mature for some).

However, every once in a while, some people can just be told to beat it. (Always avoid if you can)

All of this is completely dependent on the bonding/attachment and social/communication styles of others.

All relative.
posted by firstdaffodils at 2:45 PM on April 17, 2021

Best answer: Oh, dang, sandwich... your check-in post made me remember my first best dearest friend whom I lost when we moved. I loved her and she loved me and we lost one another because we were only eight and couldn't keep it going long distance and then she married and her name changed and I can't find her now and it still hurts lo these pushing forty years later. So I think maybe my first answer was a tad glib.
posted by Don Pepino at 2:46 PM on April 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

On top of the whole "Metafilter skews a certain way" point, another factor is that people on the internet often don't follow their own advice and/or give guidance from a perspective that isn't going to be reflective of the circumstance that the advice would apply to.
posted by sm1tten at 3:00 PM on April 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

I expect that they won't steal my job or my partner? I guess?

I have a good friend who used to be my partner; she dumped me for another of my good friends. It was my first intimate partnership and it was hard to watch them falling in love and it was hard being dumped and it took me many moons to get over the grief of losing that partnership, but I can honestly tell you that at no time during or since have I experienced resentment of either of those people, and at no time have I experienced any desire to remove them from my life. What happened happened, and it was shitty and wrenching and complicated for all of us, but they're both great people and all of us are still good friends, though we don't see each other as often as we'd like because all three of us now live hundreds of kilometres away from each other.

It seems to me that a deliberate and principled refusal to try to own and/or control other people is pretty much the entire key to being an autonomous adult; and really, the only thing I have in common with all of my friends is that all of them would agree with that.
posted by flabdablet at 3:05 PM on April 17, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: It was interesting hearing people say that they expect nothing from their friends, and that anything above zero expectations feels transactional and emotionally heavy.

FWIW I find this to be a level of privilege I can't relate to because race-related caste is a reality here in North America. These are also the kinds of people I need to cut from my life because invariably I cannot afford. The kind who never want to be caught in a position to acknowledge that slowly over time they tend to take more than they give. For some people who are so privileged and spoiled, they simply "don't notice" (i.e. "not-see") the disparities piling up. Also IME this can be a setup to be taken advantage of, wherein they knowingly ask more of you than you can afford to give (and then just-as-knowingly rescind friendship privileges when the exchange goes wrong because they made you their tainted goods now).

Toss in my two cents that your expectations for clear communication are within reason.
posted by human ecologist at 6:35 PM on April 17, 2021 [7 favorites]

The people who I have explicitly removed from my life have been, uniformly, people who needed to be explicitly removed from my life - often, far more forcibly (and much sooner!) than I ultimately removed them.

I have... absolutely no use for anyone who would suggest that I should not do such a thing, that I am somehow wrong or selfish??? for doing so??? and would probably remove THAT person from my life fairly quickly because how dare they (or anyone!) suggest that I do less than prioritize my own needs, wants, and emotional/spiritual health.

Ghosting, IMO, is for people who lack the courage to make those choices for themselves.

I understand that others do not share my perspective, but I also really don't care; I've learned to put my own self first, and make no apologies for that whatsoever, and the end result of this has been a much happier, healthier and all-around satisfactory life.
posted by WaywardPlane at 7:37 PM on April 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

I think there's also a difference not noted here between a slow fade and like, the silent treatment. If someone doesn't really want to hang out with another person any more, they don't have to, and they can start refusing invitations or cancelling plans until they are happy with the current level or until their feelings change. Maybe now you only see each other in crowds. If the person on the receiving end of the slow fade feels similarly, if they aren't wanting to hang out all the time any more either, or if they find it easy to accept, great! Problem solved, you found a new equilibrium. So that's why people respond to "my friend doesn't text me back enough, should we break up?" with "sounds like you can effectively break up by just matching her texting frequency, why have a fight?"

But if you are really upset by something you should also be able to talk to your friend about it. "Hey, I miss you and you don't seem to be getting back to me. Is something going on? Do you want me to stop bothering you?" / "Hey, I'm having a really hard time right now and need someone to be there for me. Can you help me?" / "Hey I spent all day at the dog park waiting for you, you need to TELL me when you can't make it to our plans!" And that conversation is totally still available, to ask them to do something different or tell them you're distressed and worried about them. The "slow fade / drift away" method didn't work and now the conversation has to happen, ok.
posted by Lady Li at 12:04 AM on April 18, 2021 [5 favorites]

I have... absolutely no use for anyone who would suggest that I should not do such a thing

Explicitly requesting cessation of contact with somebody whose company you no longer wish to keep, for whatever reason, is of course perfectly fine.

Ghosting, IMO, is for people who lack the courage to make those choices for themselves.

Simply ceasing to be in contact with somebody whose company you no longer wish to keep, for whatever reason, is perfectly fine as well; there are people with whom the icy blast of an explicit Go Away would cause far more trouble than it prevents.
posted by flabdablet at 1:30 AM on April 18, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I love this question, thanks for posting it, OP!

I think there are many factors.

1. Something I’ve noticed on AskMeFi and Reddit is a fairly commonly held idea that most adults don’t really have close friends. They maybe have situational work friends or a large circle of acquaintances but not emotionally close and deep friendships. This has not been how my own life has played out.

I have at least five very close friends that I talk to very often. I don’t have kids, but many of them do. We love and celebrate the shit out of each other. My life would be much poorer without them. But someone who doesn’t share that perspective is probably not going to go out of their way to have a “state of the union” conversation about a friendship. And my experience outside of my own life is that it’s not a common perspective.

2. Many people are non-confrontational to an extent that they would rather let a friendship drift and fade out than have any kind of awkward conversation at all, even one that leads to clarity and growth. It’s too emotionally fraught for them in a relationship that (see point #1) there’s a high chance they weren’t that invested in anyway. This is fine if that’s what works for them but it’s not the way I am.

3. The idea of life “stages” also affects how we approach friendships. For some people, close friends are something you have in your teens and 20s but less so in your 30s because that’s the “married with kids and a house” phase where you don’t have time for friends anymore. This is also confusing to me because I’m not friends with a “stage”, I’m friends with a person. Priorities and availability shift and have to be accommodated, but I love that friend as much as I ever did!

4. I generally think slow fading is cruel, especially in cases where one person completely changes a friendship’s dynamic (ie: you used to talk daily and now you never hear from them and they’ve become dismissive of you/your choices/your feelings) and then just expects the other person to adjust to the new normal. However, there have been times where I’ve known friends were facing a serious illness/death in the family/poor mental health/other major life upheaval and I knew to hold space for them and go to others in the meantime if I needed help with things or emotional support. In these situations, the love and respect was still there but we just weren’t as close of friends.

I think friendship break-ups can be useful in situations where you don’t feel respected or valued anymore and want a clean end to help yourself heal and move on. I genuinely believe this can be a valid form of self-care and a way of asserting boundaries.

Like with anything, I think these things are about finding “your” people and letting go of others with whom you’re less compatible.
posted by oywiththepoodles at 9:20 AM on April 18, 2021 [5 favorites]

A fade makes especial sense to me when there is not a matching level of commitment to the relationship. I've done "fades" that amounted to texting/calling less and finding out I was the only one doing any upkeep on the relationship.

I've helped myself out of a lot of anxiety by seeing FRIENDS as eternal, but friendSHIPS as having a lifespan - in other words, the love I have in my heart for someone will always remain, but we may not see each other anymore due to distance/time/circumstances. It's a little semantic trick, but a non-active friendship is far from a not-friend in my book.
posted by Otter_Handler at 9:31 AM on April 18, 2021 [6 favorites]

FWIW I find this to be a level of privilege I can't relate to because race-related caste is a reality here in North America. These are also the kinds of people I need to cut from my life because invariably I cannot afford. The kind who never want to be caught in a position to acknowledge that slowly over time they tend to take more than they give. For some people who are so privileged and spoiled, they simply "don't notice" (i.e. "not-see") the disparities piling up. Also IME this can be a setup to be taken advantage of, wherein they knowingly ask more of you than you can afford to give (and then just-as-knowingly rescind friendship privileges when the exchange goes wrong because they made you their tainted goods now).

This seems to illustrate the different approaches to friendship pretty well honestly. I can't imagine placing SO VERY MUCH upon a friendship. The only things I ever do with even my very best friends are eat lunch, get coffee, or have drinks. Maybe see a concert or a movie. The very notion of giving and taking beyond "you have paid this round of drinks and I'll get the next"...that's for family only.

I can't pretend to understand how race-based caste makes friendships different, and fully concede that maybe my style of friendship is somehow only for white people, but yes I can definitely say that the sheer level of emotion/abandonment/betrayal in a friendship that many here feel is utterly foreign to me.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:32 AM on April 18, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I have a lot of thoughts about this and may weigh in again later when they’re more composed in my head, but one thing I haven’t seen mentioned here is that I generally don’t have to “remove people from my life” because I only add people slowly, and if they’re going to be boundary-violating or otherwise harmful to me, they generally don’t get to be close (though it’s normal to be mislead now and then by narcissists or other people who seem better for you than they turn out to be—no blame/shame for that!). In my experience, the people who most frequently need friend break ups and people-removing conversations move more quickly toward intensity than some others. Having not worried about boundary-disrespect going in, they then have to hurriedly try to (re)establish boundaries on their way out.
If the only harm the person has done me is to want to be less close than they once did, that’s not sufficient reason for me to want to close the door against them, unless it’s abrupt and unexpected, in which case I do expect an explanation.
posted by Edna Million at 9:43 AM on April 18, 2021 [8 favorites]

I'm frankly horrified by some responses in this thread, where people seem to take friendship so lightly. My experiences have been ultra different. I value my real friends highly and would not be blasé if they stopped being friends.

I've cared for a real friend when he was terminally ill, spending months in a different state.

I've been deeply thankful to learn another friend would put me up indefinitely if I needed a place to stay. I could hear in his voice he was serious, and I felt deeply cared for and not alone. He had somewhat misinterpreted how bad things were for me at that moment, but I'm glad he did because otherwise I wouldn't have had that glimpse into how solid our friendship was.

I will be going to a wedding of a good friend of almost 30 years in October. There's no replacement for a friend you've known that long and have seen each other through so many changes.

I had another friend I went out of my way to support, including showing up for loud/busy events that were pretty stressful for me as an introvert. I do that kind of thing for people I care about, whether friend or boyfriend or family. I ended up getting my heart broken a couple of years later by how very, very much he was NOT there for me when I needed a friend at an awful job.

If you're like "whatevs" when you lose a friend, I really question whether that person was a real friend at all.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 11:57 AM on April 18, 2021 [8 favorites]

Hm. I’m thinking back on two friends who did the ‘ghost’ thing that still bother me to this day. I’m not “whatevs” about the friendship but I also will not pursue closure unless we become friends again. That can look like “whatevs” even though I’m still bummed out about them. Both are cases where I think there was a precipitating event but both of these people, if so, chose to make that a thing for them as opposed to talking it out or letting it go. And both just began declining overtures until I was all, “you know, I guess we just aren’t friends anymore.” It IS affecting but there’s nothing I feel I can do about it especially since if we became friends again, I’d want to touch on it but then let it go.
posted by amanda at 12:40 PM on April 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm kind of shocked that folks can think you CANNOT have deep, meaningful, "I'd drop anything for your emergency" friendships without having (what i read as) the rigidity of your relationships with A,B,C and D.

As someone with deep, meaningful, wide-ranging, and numerous fulfilling relationships, these are the questions that spring to my mind:

Relationship A: why can't this relationship/friendship be calibrated without the s/o? Do you HAVE to hang out with both of them? Are you unable to text and connect through social media? What does your friend's S/O have to do with you anyway?

Relationship B: This was an illness - where were you? Did you ask if they were feeling okay or needed mental health help? Were you repeatedly asking to "hang out" and spend energy on you? or were you expressing genuine concern? I have friends with chronic illness that I go months without seeing - but I check in and say "Hey, I haven't seen you online in a while, are you okay? Are you up for a walk/zoom chat?"

Relationship C: Whatever happened is irrelevant. C wasn't interested in hanging out with you for awhile. It could have nothing to do with you (and likely doesn't). Enjoy your friendship for what it is.

Relationship D: Sounds like you are asking for more than D can give. D wants something without the obligation of help. True friendships aren't built on obligation, but upon mutual love and respect. Rather than forced to define, reify or quantify the kindness of friendship, your friend would (I think rightfully) rather do than TALK about friendship.

Which brings me to a phrase that helps me in both romantic relationships and friendships: You are what you Do. You aren't what you "discuss" or even your best "intentions" as a friend. You are what you DO. By that definition, my friends are those who DO in a meaningful way: they check in, they might remember my birthday, they are supportive and generally happy to share time with me, they call me in times of need because they feel like they can rely upon me. Likewise, my track record shows that I'm consistent, honest, funny, generous and always happy to be of service.

Perhaps if you stop thinking of relationships as a linear thing - with a beginning and an end - and instead think of yourself as the sun, with your friends and family orbiting in and out over the course of your life. YOU are the unchanging centre and their relative closeness won't change you or your value as a friend.

It reminds me of this great quote by Andrea Dworkin:

“Does the sun ask itself, "Am I good? Am I worthwhile? Is there enough of me?" No, it burns and it shines. Does the sun ask itself, "What does the moon think of me? How does Mars feel about me today?" No it burns, it shines. Does the sun ask itself, "Am I as big as other suns in other galaxies?" No, it burns, it shines.”

Be you: burn and shine and you will draw the people to you through your actions as a friend, not through conversations.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 4:01 PM on April 18, 2021 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: > The only things I ever do with even my very best friends are eat lunch, get coffee, or have drinks. ... The very notion of giving and taking beyond "you have paid this round of drinks and I'll get the next" -- that's for family only. ... I can't pretend to understand how race-based caste makes friendships different, and fully concede that maybe my style of friendship is somehow only for white people

Here are a few examples:

- Immigrants may have no family members in this country. Thus, they need to rely on friends to help with things that a relative would normally do, e.g. pick them up from the hospital, serve as a witness for court procedures, fetch medicine if they are too ill to get up.

- The USA has unfair policing and racial profiling. Last week, a Black man was pulled over (and killed) for having an air freshener in his car. Sandra Bland was put in jail for not using her turn signal. Generations ago, white people stole the money generated by the work of their slaves. Nowadays, many white people inherited wealth from their slaveowner ancestors, but Black people did not. Hence, when Black people are unfairly jailed (for things white people get away with), they may not have family members who can give them bail or help them. Hence they may need help from their friends.

- People who face police brutality may need to rely on their local community since they cannot safely call the police. Thus, they need friends who can help them out of dangerous situations.

posted by sandwich at 5:00 PM on April 18, 2021 [8 favorites]

This is probably one of those cultural splits like Ask vs Guess.

For me, friendship is not a specific status with some kind of formal process for declaring or removing it and some specific set of obligations for maintaining it. My friends and I enjoy each other's company when we're in each other's company. That's all there is to it. That's all there needs to be to it.

There's a dichotomy here between "friend break-up" and "ghosting" that is a false one and is worth exploring. "ghosting" as a deliberate tactic is very different from natural changes in friendship intensity over time because it is deliberate. It's essentially a concept imported from the world of electronic communication mediated dating (i.e. romantic relationships) and in that context is quite a cowardly thing to do because the intention to permanently and completely sever something has been formed but not communicated.

Even the most complex of poly relationships doesn't cover the kind of spectrum that friendship does and still comes with ideas of exclusivity. In mainstream American society (and tbh in almost all other societies) you are either in or not in a romantic relationship with someone and there is an often fraught liminal zone (the length of which varies with age and culture) where you kind of are and kind of aren't with the expectation that this can only ever be transitional and relatively short.

In that context, you need a way to permanently move the relationship from one stable binary state to another. Ghosting is not actually an alternative to that, it's just a cowardly unilateral way of doing it.

I have never "ghosted" or "slow faded" someone but there's definitely friends that have gone from "talk to them almost every day" to "big group of us meets for dinner a few times a year" and I think that's pretty different because neither of us is using slow fading as a tactic when what we really want is to terminate the whole thing.

I wonder though whether to some extent this cultural split is at least partially a gendered one? I know it's far from universal but it seems much more common in the UK/NL/US cultures which I'm most familiar for men to have relatively diffuse and undefined friendships (in the context of which a friendship breakup would be ridiculous) and for women to have a more closely knit group of best friends. I know there's been some sociological work done on that.

I think it's really important to distinguish between:

-Situational changes in friendship intensity
-Mental health related issues (i.e. depression & social anxiety are really common)
-A deliberate "slow fade" as a tactic used by someone who wants to permanently end a friendship but is too cowardly to come out and say this
posted by atrazine at 4:19 AM on April 19, 2021 [5 favorites]

I agree, but I literally do not have any way to know the difference between depression silence and the slow fade. Especially if the depressed one cannot say what is going on.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:04 AM on April 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

OK yup, sounds like my friendship style is definitely a white people/folks living in the nation of their birth thing then. I don't know if Metafilter skews super white in addition to rather wealthy and so forth, but it seems likely. So that's probably another thing causing you to get friendship advice that you don't find applicable, honestly.

If you're like "whatevs" when you lose a friend, I really question whether that person was a real friend at all.

I mean, maybe they're not! It is entirely possible that I have no actual friends and merely several acquaintances of many decades.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:21 AM on April 19, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Queer people, disabled people, and other people from communities frequently lacking in family support would recognize some of these forms of deeper friendship ties, I think - found family goes deep in several such communities, in my experience. Coming from a couple of those communities I can say that I would not take either a slow fade or a clear friendship breakup lightly, and cannot say that I think either one or the other is always the right move in my friendships. I'd have to assess the circumstances of that particular relationship and the person involved as well as my own needs, and figure out what to prioritize. But I would put a high priority on the other person's feeling as well as my own and try to do it in the way that seemed respectful of them if at all possible, despite my highly conflict-avoidant ways.

Unless it's a friend breakup because the person turned out to be abusive, hideously homophobic, etc., in which case I'd do what was needed to protect myself and others first and foremost, and the other person's terribleness would do a lot to alleviate my feelings about how to handle the friend-breakup. But I am slow to let people in to my trusted circles of friends, so it's exceedingly rare that anyone gets that close to me and then turns out to be one of those particularly insupportable kinds of terrible.
posted by Stacey at 8:37 AM on April 19, 2021 [6 favorites]

I am one of those people who put a lot of emotional (and intellectual/physical) energy into friendships for a lot of the identity/cultural reasons outlined here, but also just because friendships are really important to me. However, I don't really believe in formal friend break-ups either, and in reading through these responses, I realized that it's because I don't really think friendships need to end. I think one of the things that's helped me maintain a wide variety of friendships as an adult is a gradual acceptance that friendships really do ebb and flow over the years.

I guess I have pulled a slow fade several times in my life, but it's never (at least not consciously) been a way to end the friendship. It's usually been as a result of realizing that this person and I are not really syncing up in the right way. Maybe it's something relatively innocuous, like we just want to spend our time in different ways, which makes it hard to have a good time together, or maybe it's something more pernicious like they tend to get in a lot of passive-aggressive undermining jabs. I've actually been in situations of both of those extremes and then wound up re-establishing the friendship later (in the latter case, the friend in question has grown up enough to scale back those jabs that were the result of untreated anxiety, and I grew up enough to jokingly point it out when she does say things like that instead of just quietly stewing).

I have also been taken aback in the past at the standard MeFi line that it's not fair to expect anything of friends. It definitely comes from a very heteronormative, Western, middle-class-and-up approach to relationships, which assumes that one's primary relationships will be with one's nuclear family and/or partner, and that friendships are a sort of nice-to-have add-on. I think it's good to have close, important friendships, and I think it's valuable to be able to let those people know what you need and to have honest conversations if needs aren't being met. But for me, that just doesn't translate into feeling the need to end friendships, either formally or through a slow fade.
posted by lunasol at 1:57 PM on April 19, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I find this thread so thoughtful and interesting; thank you for asking your question. I'm intrigued by the idea of there being a split between ask and guess culture here since in most respects I'd say I'm an asker but with friends I suppose I'm more of a guesser. I am pretty anxious and I do care about my friendships a lot in general, but I find the concept of having an explicit friend breakup conversation to be way more excruciatingly anxiety-inducing than a ghosting situation, regardless of which side I'm on. In case it's helpful, here is my experience:

As ghostee: When I was friend broken up with in my youth and completely devastated, pressing the person for answers only made the situation worse. So I try not to push people to have those kinds of conversations when they ghost me. This generally works out, either I get over it or people come back after they've dealt with whatever made them not want to talk to me.

As ghoster: I admit to a tendency to ghosting people myself. It's not a nice aspect of my personality and I'm not saying I recommend it but in case you want to know where a ghoster might be coming from:
-Someone's said or done something I truly think is terrible and so they're just kind of dead to me, I don't want to talk to them anymore, but I don't want to confront them about it since they'll just flip out and rules lawyer or gaslight me about it.
-I gradually become persistently stressed out or annoyed by someone I used to be close friends with and I don't wanna deal with it anymore. These totally aren't bad people, I am the bad person here, talking to them has just become like nails on a chalkboard for me. I don't see how it helps anyone to tell them this, I don't want to see them, I don't want to tell them they're doing things that drive me nuts that are not wrong and that they can't reasonably change, I don't want to have to listen to those screechy nails anymore. I feel persistently guilty about these situations but I can't make myself want to see these people when I just. don't. want. to.
posted by ferret branca at 2:23 PM on April 19, 2021 [6 favorites]

I prefer slow fades to formally ending friendships *because* I strongly value relationships and friendships, not because I take them too lightly.

Like, okay, why might you want to formally end a friendship forever? Probably because they're abusive or toxic. It's the same as any other relationship: you only cut people out of your life forever and ever if they are dangerous. You feel you can't risk having contact with them. So far, so good.

But otherwise, in every other case, why on earth would you cut friends out of your life entirely when all you desire is a downshift? Friendships don't operate like a romantic breakup where cultural norms allow you to easily leave the door open to remaining cordial acquaintances or even friends... in our culture, when you formally and explicitly downshift a relationship with a friend, you actually eject them from your life forever. Explicitly telling a close friend you have realized you wish to be peripheral buddies from now on, in most cases, is a slightly indirect way to blow up the friendship for good. (In contrast, an explicit conversation about needing more space temporarily is usually better received precisely because it's not a formal, permanent downward re-evaluation of the friendship.)

Our current cultural norm, therefore, is that friendships are allowed to simply be. If a downshift is needed, it is unspoken and organically allowed to happen. In cases where people feel they need a lot more distance, they slow fade and become cordial acquaintances who never interact unless you happen to run into each other. Confrontation is avoided because this particular sort of confrontation is the kind that blows up friendships for good. And people who value relationships, people who don't take friendships lightly, people who respect connection... these are the people who will wisely avoid blowing up friendships for no reason.

Yes, it can hurt, because losing connections with close people always hurts. But those hurt feelings can be dealt with, with understanding and practice and help. And like phunniemee said above, it's healthier to allow yourself to have a wide field of cordial acquaintances rather than demand that every close friend should either stick with closeness forever or formally tender their resignation from your life.
posted by MiraK at 8:02 AM on April 20, 2021 [6 favorites]

I prefer slow fades to formally ending friendships *because* I strongly value relationships and friendships, not because I take them too lightly.

This whole comment really describes my feelings on this issue and why I was a bit perplexed by the initial question. Why cut someone out of your life forever just because you’re not best friends anymore? Over the years I have had some long-lasting friendships that varied widely in level of contact and intensity, and if I’d taken a term of low contact as The End of the Relationship I would not have my three closest friends today. One of them just drove a 20 hour round trip to collect me and drive me home after my dad died. But previously we’ve gone months or a year without talking. We just both feel like that’s a thing that happens sometimes, and it doesn’t mean you don’t care about the other person.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:41 AM on April 21, 2021 [9 favorites]

Well, I can't speak for everyone, but connections can die if they are not fueled periodically. Sometimes people do stop caring if you don't talk to them for a year or two. Absence makes the heart go yonder. We have to go no contact after a breakup specifically to learn to stop caring for a person. Silence can and does kill friendships. I do not trust that someone will still be my friend after years of nothing, because I only had one ever put in effort to return. I need someone to at least resurface a few times a year. If they disappear for whatever reason for a year, or surface once and then are gone again, it doesn't seem to work out.

I had a friend move to England. Haven't heard from her in several years now. She didn't write back when I reached out. I will probably never in my life go to England. She might make it to where I live again someday if the pandemic ever ends, but at this point obviously she has moved on with her very different life and we don't have anything left for a friendship basis now, I guess. It would be work she would have to put in, and I guess I am not worth it and/or she moved on. That is life.

But if you want to keep a friend, you do at least need to put a little effort in periodically for that.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:35 AM on April 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've really been enjoying this thread!

Just to add a comment on the subject of going low-contact in a friendship - and it goes without saying, I can only speak for myself!

I'm an immigrant to a Western country and most of my closest friends are the same. We are each other's 'family' in this country and we help each other through house moves, illnesses, bereavements etc - we are very close and to us at least, that closeness also means giving each other a TON of space when it's needed without demanding an explanation or apology for silence.

When I had a bereavement, I actually stopped talking with many of my friends for a long time: not because I hated them of course, but because I just didn't have time or emotional energy. I had an estate to sort out, a house to clear etc and none of my closest friends lived close enough to actually help me.

And in their turn, my friends have gone into extended periods of silence when they had stuff of their own to process. We don't demand explanations for periods of silence. We kind of take it for granted that if one of us needs some space that's fine and we'll wait for that person to be ready to speak or hang out again.

To us, giving each other the space to be silent and not do 'friendship maintenance'/'check ins' is what defines being close. It's the same behaviour on the surface as a 'slow fade' but means the exact opposite!
posted by unicorn chaser at 9:45 AM on April 21, 2021 [9 favorites]

It's obviously quite reasonable to no longer expect someone to remain a "friend" despite years of silence, especially if that word implies a similar degree of intimacy as before. But keeping a friend was never an option anyway. The choice presented here is

1. an explicit breakup (i.e. cutting someone out of your life forever, so that if you ran into them at the airport you might at best smile at each other stiffly, would never dream of contacting them in any way)


2. fading (ending up as a casual acquaintance whom you might joyfully greet if you ran into them at the airport though not actually switch your seat on the plane to sit next to them, and you would include them in a mass email when you're raising money for a cause).

IMO there's no need for the former outside of cases when the person is abusive.
posted by MiraK at 12:38 PM on April 21, 2021

Best answer: A conversation for ending a close friendship, as opposed to acquaintances, would be the norm among the people I know. I've not actually seen slow fades happen that often in the wild; I'm distinguishing here from falling out of contact, which feels different - that's typically a life change such as moving or changing job followed by having less and less to say to each other. It feels quite different from having attempts at contact deflected or unanswered. The preference for fading on metafilter is one reason I'd hesitate to bring a friendship question here; it is just a mismatch of expectations.

I'm entering middle age and I've only ever been ghosted by a close friend once. It was hurtful, the hurt just happened without him being in the room, so I'm not sure I buy that a conversation is more cruel, although I'm sure he genuinely believed he was doing the best thing.

I don't think the difference between preferences is an Ask/Guess difference, I think it's about different understandings of 1) what "closeness" means in a friendship, and 2) what types of actions are reversible. If you see a slow fade as reversible then it has clear advantages, but that isn't obviously true to me, and I suspect where people prefer a conversation it's because they don't believe a slow fade does preserve any additional flexibility.
posted by Ballad of Peckham Rye at 2:25 AM on April 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

« Older Inspirational science media similar to Sagan...   |   My dog and baby rabbit. Help. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.