It's not me, it's you??
June 4, 2007 10:25 PM   Subscribe

Friendshipfilter: How do I end it?

I have this non-romantic friend that I considered to be pretty close. We have been friends for years. The last couple of years have been tough for our friendship. We're no longer living in the same area and communicate via email and phone.

The last year and a half, I find myself frequently apologizing (profusely) or explaining myself to her. Why? Usually because she misunderstood something I said/did. It seems like she's making mountains out of molehills but maybe I'm doing something that is easily misunderstood?? Here is an example: We were having a conversation on the phone (I only have a cell phone) and had a bad connection. The call got dropped and while I called her back immediately, she refused to answer that call and any other calls from me for weeks. During this time, she composed a long email to me tell me how awful I am for hanging up on her and cc'ed it to a couple of mutual friends.

I understand that maybe there is something going on for her to react so strongly and frequently, but I'm getting nothing by probing her for answers. I've just been trying to be here for her for the last year and a half. But she's consistently become more volatile and somewhat emotionally unstable. And I don't know what to do. I know this seems so selfish, but I don't think I want to be friends anymore. I don't feel strong enough emotionally to be her friend.

How do I tell her? I'm afraid of her. I'd ideally like to do this in person. Is that a bad idea? Seems better than an email.

Am I wrong? I'm a bad friend, aren't I? I just want us all to be happier. Seems like not talking makes it so. Thanks for your help.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You can't help everyone -- if it is detrimental to your own existence, you should not continue this friendship without a very good reason. Such as terrorists holding your puppy hostage and threatening to kick it if you break off contact, or something. I didn't see a reason of this magnitude in your post.

I don't know if you have to have a big "breakup" in person though. Is it possible to just let this so-called friendship (lambasting you over email to mutual friends is not characteristic of a real friendship) wither and die by reducing contact gradually and staying out of touch?

If you feel you need an immediate break, I wouldn't make this about her at all. Say you are going through a tough period and will need lots of alone time. Hell, say your doctor or therapist recommended it.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:45 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

The next time your call drops, don't try to call back. Don't try to call her at all. She'll try to confront you about it, try to confront your friends about it. Ignore her; anyone who can't see the immature bs she's doing for what it is isn't worth your time.

I had a friend who was pulling the same passive-aggressive or just outright aggressive crap yours is. On numerous occasions I had to make apologies for her behavior to my family or other friends. It turned out she had a severe mental illness and it really wasn't my fault she kept stepping all over me.

We're not friends anymore. I don't like how it ended, but I truthfully never want to see her again. I feel sad that this mental illness took over her life but I had to do what was best for me, and my life really is better without her influence.

It's your right to cut off friends who aren't being friendly, and to do so before things get out of hand. Yeah, you'll probably feel guilty but it's so much less stress.
posted by crinklebat at 11:00 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

i'm a big believer in the idea that some friendships have an expiration date and it sounds like yours has definitely passed it's date.

based on the example she gave, she is pulling some completely unreasonable passive-aggressive stuff on you. i mean, cc-ing your friends? sheez. nobody needs that kind of drama in their lives.

you can either just drop her without notice and be done with it, or, if you feel the need for some sort of closure, you can send her a note (handwritten or electronically) explaining your feelings, that you have tried to be supportive and understanding but that you no longer feel that you are able to give her what she needs by way of a friendship, and that it seems to be causing her more distress than not and you do not want to cause her any more unhappiness. based on her past behaviour, it sounds like she would probably feel the need to respond defensively to this, but if she does, just drop it and don't respond back. say your thing and move on.
posted by violetk at 11:16 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

The first thing you mentioned was "non-romantic". Has it always been that way? Does she feel the same? Does she want to take it to the next level and you don't? Judging by your cell-phone account, there's a lot more story you're not telling here. What made her think you were hanging up on her? Unless she's genuinely disturbed, there must be a reason for that, no? A stab in the dark is that she has strong feelings for you and they're not being reciprocated (that's not necessarily wrong either way, just the impression I get).
posted by zardoz at 11:37 PM on June 4, 2007

Do you really need to tell her? I once had a good friend like that, who seemed to be eternally mad at me about something, so I eventually just quit trying to fix it, and we haven’t talked since. I sometimes wish there had been more closure than that, but realistically, I can’t imagine how anything I could have said would have changed anything, either with her, or with how I look back on the situation now.

And no, you’re not a bad person or anything like that…there’s no sense in investing any more of your time and emotional energy on someone who treats you like crap.
posted by gueneverey at 12:04 AM on June 5, 2007

I don't feel strong enough emotionally to be her friend.

I can relate to that. I also had a friend that used to be kind of like a burden of sorts. Always overthinking things and very needy, too. Eventually I realized I wasn't getting anything out of the friendship and just stopped doing any favors and listening endlessly to this person's problems. As it turns out, it wasn't really that hard to distance myself. I think you'll find it's a really easy thing to do, to stop being a friend when the good things flow only from your end.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 12:07 AM on June 5, 2007

I'm going to go ahead and second zardoz on this one. Don't rule out the possibility that this girl is a passive-agressive type, in conjunction with having unrequited feelings for you. That exact situation happened to me about two months ago, with similar reponses. Think back to this phone conversation. What was it about before your phone dropped the call?

It's really not all that selfish to not want to be friends. She's really not worth your time and energy if she's pulling that sort of shit. Either slowly phase her out (easier, but leaves you open for her shit in the future), or cut it off directly. Give her a call/write her a (snail-mail, it's classier) letter. Say that what you're getting out of this relationship is totally not worth the shit she's pulling, and you don't want to be friends anymore. She'll probably call you childish, or try and pull some equally inane stunt. Entirely ignore it. Don't even talk to mutual friends about it, unless you can be positive that they wont tell her anything about the conversation (you want her to feel ENTIRELY cut off from you). She might even beg for your forgiveness, prostrated, swearing she can change. She can't. Don't fall for it. (The situation I alluded to that happened about two months ago actualy came to a head a year before. It was much better for a long while, but she slowly settled back into her old ways, until it came to a head again two months ago (and I learned of the mitigating 'romantic' factors))
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 12:08 AM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yea, i'm going with crazy.

I had something happen that is a lot like this in that I was the only one contributing to the friendship and my calls were frequently unreturned and eventually I just stopped calling her all together. She still has never tried to call me or email me and the only information that we hear about each other is through our mothers who just happen to be best friends.

So, if you really don't see her as a friend anymore, and now she has just become a person who you used to know (much like an old classmate) then stop calling and if she does try to contact you, be curt. There's no reason to cause yourself any stress over something like this.
posted by Derek at 12:44 AM on June 5, 2007

This happened to me with a girl I had been friends with for over a decade. I realized that the 'friendship' had become kinda empty when my mom had been evicted from her apartment and moved in with me and all my friend cared about when we talked was how drunk she was going to get or which guy to date. We did have a huge fight about two and a half years ago, so that was sorta the last straw. It's easy to distance yourself when they say they can't be friends anymore.

I think you just need to stop calling. And when she calls make the conversations short - find an excuse to get off the phone. Or don't answer and call her back when you know you're going to get the voicemail. Eventually it will just fade away. I wouldn't tell your mutual friends that you're trying to ditch her... just make it sound like you've been busy or preoccupied. I did this when I needed to get away from my old friend for a while. It was good for about six months, but then I picked up the friendship again. doh!

Unless you have a huge fight with this person where you're clearing the air, I don't think there's a need to tell her that you've decided to end the friendship. It sounds like that would be more drama than it's worth to you.
posted by youngergirl44 at 2:10 AM on June 5, 2007

Stop calling her. Stop taking her calls. If she sends email, delete it, do not read it.

Compose a letter, telling her why you're tired of her shit, listing all the reasons why. Either memorize it or keep the letter handy. When she drops by wondering where you are, either give her the letter or repeat it verbally.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:47 AM on June 5, 2007

The reality is that some friendships are just not worth the emotional investment it takes to maintain them. You don't say who usually initiates contact but scale it down from your side until it ceases altogether. Just let the relationship wither on the vine and you'll both be happier.
posted by Umhlangan at 4:38 AM on June 5, 2007 [4 favorites]

Whither.Aaargh. Coffee.
posted by Umhlangan at 4:57 AM on June 5, 2007

Yeah, don't get sucked into the 'drama' thing by sending her a long list of reasons why she sucks (or you suck, or both). Just let it drop as gently and completely as you can.

I've had one or two of exactly these kind of platonic pass/agress friendships with women in the past and they've generally only improved by me dropping them. I'd second the idea that there's definitely the possibility of a one-way attraction which is secretly stoking the fires of resentment.

But quite possibly not as some chicks (and guys) seem to be capable of doing this with a perfectly ordinary relationship.
posted by sweet mister at 5:30 AM on June 5, 2007

Anyone who won't talk to you for any length of time following a dropped call - much less weeks - is fucking insane and should be avoided at all costs.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:23 AM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Why not just ignore her till she leaves you alone? Don't answer her calls, and reply to voicemails she leaves via email. Don't reply to emails for weeks at a time. You can scale things back to the point she doesn't bother with you.

My brother does this another way. He'll call said friend who he is trying to drop up and say, "Hey, can you stop calling me so much." That works for him too.
posted by chunking express at 6:30 AM on June 5, 2007

I'm inclined to think that, from your description at first (a non-romantic friend you considered to be close) means that there was probably some tension a Mulder and Scully kind of way. Honestly if that's the case, this is as others mentioned a bit of a passive agressive fall-out from that. Although, honestly...if you really don't want to feel selfish about breaking it off, don't be the one to burn your bridges with her, just toughen up, take the high road, and keep yourself moving.

If you were a close friend there's no reason whatsoever to be the one to end it.. However I do think you should back down quite a bit on the apologizing, even communication all together when she acts out like this, and take the higher road with a healthy attitude. If she complains be calm, light hearted, and straight to the point about it (for example, that email about the cell phone only needs a simple "umm, my phone died, sheesh! :P" response to her and everyone she CC'd), don't overreact or play into the drama, and keep yourself busy with other things too so you're mind is not preoccupied with the sillyness of it all.

I think one way to do this is to have a mentality that you could still always be a friend, but will not play along with things that would undermine it. It's possible that if she had stronger feelings for you at one time, the very fact that you're taking the bait by apologizing is helping her with a "he annoys me" justification that she's trying to build against you. (basically its getting someone to fit into a stereotype to supply a low guilt reason for breaking away.)

So really, don't take it seriously and just give it time, either the friendship will fizzle out on its own or whatever's bothering her will work itself out and she'll be ok again...with the friendship now being long distance and straining, make the neccessary mental adjustments and tone the emotion and seriousness of it down a bit so it doesn't feel like your in a downward spiral. (keep your humour and carefree attitude about you, stay busy, don't take her seriously, and the issue becomes moot.).
posted by samsara at 6:30 AM on June 5, 2007

Just walk away.

You don't have to make a big production about it, or offer any explanation. Just don't call or email her anymore.

Its fine if she contacts you, but maintain your distance even if you answer the phone or respond to the email. Make it clear to her that you're not interested in further maintaining the relationship.

Who knows? Maybe in time she'll grow up and you'll get back to being friends again, but until then, write her off.
posted by wfrgms at 6:46 AM on June 5, 2007

The issue is how to end it. Start treating her like a regular person. Don't coddle or accommodate the crap. Be polite and courteous, but when she gets dramatic, don't engage. Return/answer few of her calls and emails. Crazy people tend to go away when you stop participating in the craziness. on preview, what samsara and wfrgms said.
posted by theora55 at 6:47 AM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

You were right earlier, Umhlangan, it's "wither on the vine" and "horse's withers" but "whither goest thou" (="where are you going").

I had a friend like this. She used to take me to task for every perceived failure on my part to be the perfect friend. We would have these long, tense conversations where she would outline what was acceptable and what wasn't. Then we'd go ahead with the friendship until something else I did irritated her. Then she'd send an irate letter where she accused me of being an unfeeling bitch and not caring about anyone but myself.

She sent one of these letters during my otherwise lovely visit from my long-distance-then-boyfriend, in which she accused me (among other things) of turning down a movie invitation with her so I could stay home and have sex with him. (True, but I had been very polite about it, and anyway, does a friend ALWAYS have to accept another friend's invitations?) There were also incoherent, paranoid things about how I had never truly liked her and how I was always giving her gifts that were trying to tell her something (such as giving her a novel purely because the main character had some negative characteristic that I supposedly thought this friend had too).

After crying for a day, I realized that a) she was nuts, and b) she was actively trying to turn me loose. She never wanted to see me again, said the letter. Her paranoia (thinking back) had led her to cut off contact with many friends in the past, for what I had considered insufficient reasons. Now she was doing it to me. So I let her. I was mad, but I never contacted her again and I'm much happier for it.

Ten years later I can even remember nice things about her and smile. She made the best cornish-game-hen-and-rice dinners ever. I wonder if she has any friends left to enjoy them.
posted by gillyflower at 6:52 AM on June 5, 2007

I've seen this happen a few times, and each time (as you guessed) the offending friend/partner had some seriously problems in their life that they were powerless to change and nobody directly involved was of any they resorted to taking out their rage & hurt on someone close to them, for whatever reason, sometimes knowing it but often not. Perhaps it was simply that as other parts of their life they thought were secure were falling apart, they reacted by pushing extra hard at other parts (ie you) to see if they'll break too.

Whatever, I'm no shrink. In each case the offended person (you) chose to stop contacting them, and took on the posture of a complaints-handling customer service rep when they called/wrote ("I see what you're saying, I understand how it might seem this way from your POV, here's how it is from mine, how do we solve this?") and set clear boundaries ("I'll listen and be supportive and try to help, but I won't be your punching bag and if you treat me like one I'm hanging up and breaking off contact until you stop.")

In two cases the offending person said "Fine!" and withdrew to mess up their life a little more, then sorted themselves out a bit and returned with a cursory apology and started acting like a normal friend again. In others, they never returned. None of the offended parties felt guilty at all.

Set the boundaries and stick to them, especially after they've apologized and started being nice again. They'll either fix their problems with you, or resent you for enforcing the "don't take it out on me" boundary and leave on their own.

(Alternately, if you're past that point, just stop taking and returning calls/emails. They'll raise a stink that'll burn itself out in due course.)
posted by Martin E. at 7:15 AM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think samsara's really, really right on: If she complains be calm, light hearted, and straight to the point about it (for example, that email about the cell phone only needs a simple "umm, my phone died, sheesh! :P" response to her and everyone she CC'd), don't overreact or play into the drama, and keep yourself busy with other things too so you're mind is not preoccupied with the sillyness of it all.

The main problem with all the suggestions for a direct, blunt confrontation (send her a hand-written letter, etc) is that these techniques would validate her melodramatic approach, in a sense. I'll assume that you're totally in the right here, that everything you're doing is as simple and innocent as a dropped call, and that she's the one doing all the dramatizing. If you reflect this fact in a calm, unflappable way when you interact with her, then it gives her a chance to doubt her past flip-outs, to realize that she's maybe being a bit of a spaz and needs to chill, without having to suffer the humiliation of admitting that to anyone's face.

Even if you still decide you can't continue to be her friend, that this bout of craziness has poisoned your view of her, it seems worthwhile to reach that sort of denouement rather than ending it with a "you're crazy, leave me alone" confrontation. You know, in case you run into her through mutual friends or whatever. It might not work, she might be so far down the rabbit hole that she won't let you off the hook unless you tell her directly to fuck off, but it seems worth trying at least.
posted by rkent at 7:16 AM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Your friend is Centrifuge Girl. A dropped call is a dropped call unless the whole world revolves around you and then it becomes a situation of drama that requires a long email (with copies to your friends yet!) that details your transgressions.

Do not write, call or email this person. Don't respond to any calls, letters or emails. Drop her cold and cut her dead.

Friendship is a give and take thing and with her, she's never going to give you anything but grief.
posted by jaimystery at 7:17 AM on June 5, 2007

It is difficult to have completely altruistic relationships based wholly on the goodness of one's heart. You need to be getting some kind of fulfillment out of a friendship. Usually, this is in the form of shared intimacy, good times, fond memories, and the ever-popular "Dude, I need a ride to the airport" or the somewhat less-frequent "Dude, I'm in jail". But some people find satisfaction in being the emotional prop to a needy friend with issues. If you can be that kind of person who is able to deal with a lot of erratic and quasi-rational behavior because you think you're doing some degree of good and you find enjoyment in that, then stick with this person. Otherwise, cease all contact without explanation and stop validating the constructed drama of her life.

I often look at these situations in terms of the flow of emotional energy, a kind of friendship feng shui, if you will. If over the long run there's a disproportionate net outflow of energy from you to her, then you should re-evaluate what's going on.
posted by Midnight Creeper at 8:19 AM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

I am very like your friend, I think. Whenever anyone moves away and circumstances change to the point I can no longer talk to them easily, I feel personally hurt and abandoned and have trouble continuing the relationship.

Right now I have a good friend living in Austria whom I have neglected, shamefully, to the point the friendship probably cannot recover without forbearance on his part of the kind which would inspire the Vatican to start collecting a few relics in advance of the inevitable, and another friend on an extended bicycle trip in India who is going down the same road.

I'm not proud of this, it isn't pretty, and recognizing it has not helped me stem it so far.

In the case of your friend, who shows no signs of awareness (if all this is even the case, of course) all you have to do is stop responding and she will be gone in short order.

But you have to be willing to live with the fact that she will unfairly blame you for the rest of her life. She has to, or it's too weird.
posted by jamjam at 9:58 AM on June 5, 2007

Nthing the suggestions to just drop the friendship without the big dramatic breakup. Will it make her feel better to hear why you don't like her anymore? Will it make you feel better to hear all the reasons why she thinks its your fault? Just don't take her calls or answer her emails. If she confronts you, say that you've been busy. Don't let her become a martyr.

Also, you might try googling 'borderline personality disorder'. Since you've known her for years, you'll know when you read the symptoms if it matches her or not, but twisting a dropped call into 'you hung up on me' is something a borderline would do.
posted by happyturtle at 10:31 AM on June 5, 2007

We've been through this before... there is no one way people with borderline personality disorder act. Please don't shoehorn them into a box, and please don't assume every crazy-acting person you come across is BPD.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:52 AM on June 5, 2007

there is no one way people with borderline personality disorder act. Please don't shoehorn them into a box, and please don't assume every crazy-acting person you come across is BPD.

Yes, it would be wrong or at least hasty to presume from an AskMe post that the person in question has borderline personality disorder (or narcissistic personality disorder, or any other specific ailment).

That said, this sort of passive-agressive, emotionally manipulative and abusive behavior is typical of people with BPD (and other disorders). As such, it would probably be beneficial to read up at regarding being on the receiving end of these types of behaviors and strategies to deal with them. Whether the offending friend has BPD, NPD, something else or is just being a schmuck the behavior has the same effect and the coping strategies are just as valid. Specifically recognize that this type of behavior is not rational or right, your own emotional health needs to come first (if for no other reason than that it is essential before you can help someone else), figure out your boundaries, set them, and enforce them.
posted by Martin E. at 3:44 PM on June 5, 2007

A bit off-topic, but it's interesting that you used "It's not me, it's you" on this question, because I've been pondering the kinda Seinfeldian fact that, while we have a whole lexicon for breaking up with a partner, there really doesn't seem to be a similar way of breaking up a friendship.

My own situation is a friendship that used to have commonalities, but has lived past its use-by date by at least a couple of years. In spite of me only answering or returning one in every ten calls, or responding to one in fifty invitations, this girl refuses to get any kind of hint, and continues to persist. It's long past time that I sat her down & gave a spiel about us having moved on to different directions in life, how she's a great person but just not right for me, how we should see other people, how I'm just not ready for friendship right now...

Anyway, those who can't do, teach. Since she's no longer in your physical circles, perhaps let communication drop to a bare minimum, as others have suggested, and if that fails, perhaps do what I haven't been able to, and try some kind of breakup talk about how you've moved on, etc.

One thing not clear in your question, though. Are you a guy? Or a bi/lesbian? You might say that she is - or was - a nonromantic friend, but are you sure she doesn't see you in a different light?
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:32 PM on June 5, 2007

In my experience, the accurate response to "i just want everyone to ..." is "you cant control anyone's response to anything except for your own" It sounds like what you're really asking is "i dont really like this behavior, but instead of addressing it internally, I'm going to put the focus on making it my responsibility to change the entire planet, therefore making it an impossibility that it could ever involve change on my part."

Physician, heal thyself! :)
posted by softlord at 5:16 AM on June 6, 2007

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