Breaking up with a friend is hard to do!
December 18, 2007 8:22 AM   Subscribe

How do I break up with an old friend?

Someone who I used to consider a best friend has shown their true colors as the years have gone by and they aren't pretty. I've known this person since I was 11 and I'm 25 now, but I feel as if this person has remained an immature kid. This person is very negative and judgmental and has a social circle full of people who aren't very nice. They used to be nice to me, but now the relationship has evolved into being all about them. It's been a one way friendship for a long time and the way this person talks crap about everyone makes me not trust her.

I tried to have a serious discussion with them about how we've grown apart, but they just cried and wouldn't listen. They are very defensive and self-centered. I tried to distance myself by avoiding them and not calling or emailing anymore, but they keep contacting me as if nothing has changed. They are not getting the hint because they are very needy and can't stomach the idea of rejection. It saddens me.

Is it better to keep pushing them away(even though it's not been too successful so far) or confront them? And if I should confront them, how should I do so?
posted by missjamielynn to Human Relations (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Having a discussion with someone isn't going to change their personality or state of mind, so if you truly intend to break off all contact, just stop calling them. It's ugly and it's not easy but all of us have had to do it at some point, as you are partially defined by the people you surround yourself with. Unfortunately, you do grow out of certain friendships and you have to leave those people behind. There's no good way to do it.
posted by fusinski at 8:27 AM on December 18, 2007

I went through this exact same thing. I grew up in a small suburb, and went to middle school and high school with largely the same people. When i had many of the realizations that you had, it was about the time I went away for school. That helped with the distancing portion of the situation. I know that's not plausible, but it works very well.

It's not that i had any ill-will towards these people, they just made me feel bad when i hung out with them, so i didn't hang out with them anymore. I went so far as to tell a few of them who i thought could actually handle news like that to them. A couple of them actually understood why i never wanted to hang out with that group. Nowadays, one other guy from that group kind of jumped ship for all the same reasons i we're good friends again, and kick it on a regular basis.

Just be diligent about not answering your phone, or emails. They will keep calling you. it's been several years since i stopped hanging out with my previous little high school clan, and they STILL call me every once in a while. I don't really ever answer the phone when it's them...and when i do, i just simply tell them i'm not going out, and i can't talk long.

It will work, just give it some time. They might have their feelings hurt a little bit, but that's just part of life.
posted by furnace.heart at 8:33 AM on December 18, 2007

Maybe you should explain the way you feel in a letter. That way you could say what you need to say without them stopping you by crying and not listening. You could also couch it in the gentlest possible terms. If they can't accept that then there isn't much hope for anything more. You might even want to give it to them in person so it doesn't seem like a cowardly break-up attempt, but ask them to read it all the way through before responding to you.
posted by Reverend John at 8:37 AM on December 18, 2007

I would leave the door open a little bit. People change.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:37 AM on December 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

What you're experiencing (the change in friendship, not the clinginess) is not uncommon at your age- some people choose to grow up, some try to pretend like they're still in high school.

You're doing the right thing (minus the confrontation, those things never end well), you just need to stick to it. It may take them a while, but sooner or later they'll start equating "I have other plans" with "I'm just not interested". There's a certain co-dependency at work in your relationship with this group, IMO, and the only way to deal with it is to put a stake in the ground and not budge.
posted by mkultra at 8:38 AM on December 18, 2007

but they keep contacting me as if nothing has changed

If what an old friend is doing to me is any indication, that does not in any way force you to answer the phone, have a conversation or go out. Whenever they call, just tell them you're busy, you'll call them back, then don't.

Believe me, they'll get the idea after a while. This works even if you insist that you really, really would like to get together, but not just now, maybe later. Lather, rinse, repeat, and you have one less friend.
posted by splice at 8:39 AM on December 18, 2007

14 years is a long time. Don't be too final, you will probably want this person in your life down the line. Childhood friends are very special.

Try and stay busy to put some space between the two of you. You are both growing and changing and shouldn't stifle each other at this point. I wouldn't recommend confronting them, just quietly move on and then you won't have anything to feel bad about should you renew your friendship in the future.
posted by MiffyCLB at 8:39 AM on December 18, 2007

If you've tried talking to them and it didn't work, then a confrontation won't accomplish anything either. (Believe me, I've tried.) Writing a letter, as suggested above, probably won't persuade them to see things your way either. I would suggest not answering your phone if they call, not answering their emails, and be friendly, detached, and non-committal if you do happen to speak to them. Eventually they'll drift away.

Good luck.
posted by bassjump at 8:48 AM on December 18, 2007

I'll nth just letting things go quiet. A letter/email/whatever is just going to give them something specific to be defensive about. They'll try to find fault with specific things you've mentioned in your chosen form of contact and try to prove that you're "wrong" about whatever reasons you gave. Just stop talking to them. If you can't stomach telling them you'll call them back and then not doing so, get Caller ID if you don't have it and just don't answer their calls.

I would leave the door open a little bit. People change.

While I'm not as optimistic, the fade to silence does have the added benefit of not being such a drastic break that it's impossible for them to reconcile if they really do see the error of their ways. Even if you aren't answering their calls or responding to their emails, if they really still want to have a relationship with you, they'll find a way to demonstrate how they've changed.
posted by Nelsormensch at 9:03 AM on December 18, 2007

I think everyone has been through this. I cut a very precious friendship because the friend was a substance abuser and would not accept help, but constantly and dangerously disrupted events. It was horrible to cut her off, because she desperately needed help and I felt worried and guilty for years. I basically stopped inviting her anywhere, accepting invitations, or going places I knew she would be. If she called or I ran into her I was friendly and even affectionate, but I drew the line and did not cross it.

Years later I ran into her on the street. She had pulled herself to gether, had a child and a job she loved, and is now my neighbor. Because I maintained my friendly feelings without offering my time there were actually no hard feelings from that period of her life that I could detect. I wonder if she really knew she had been "cut off" or only figured we had drifted apart.

It's sad that this friendship could not be maintained, but few friendships can. I've been close, now at the age of almost 52, to probably, literally hundreds of people. I can count on one hand the non-family members who have remained intimate friends for more than 10 years. I don't think anyone needs to maintain every friendship for decades, even precious ones. Memories are sweet, too. People change, people move, people drift apart. Don't burn any bridges, but create the relationship you need, and retain your affection for the person she was and may become again.

Good luck.
posted by nax at 9:03 AM on December 18, 2007 [6 favorites]

You confronted her already so don't bother repeating yourself. You've stopped calling her, but you also have to not answer her calls or emails no matter what she says. She may try to draw you into an argument with odd accusations, just ignore it. No answer. Delete the email. Delete the voicemail. Don't call back.
posted by StarForce5 at 10:09 AM on December 18, 2007

If I were the person you were going to leave in the dust, I would appreciate something -- some sort of gesture or even a partial explanation would be better than nothing. I've had lots of people just disappear on me, leaving me feeling like a major loser with no way to figure out what I did wrong, or how to improve myself for next time.

This person may not appreciate the life advice at the moment you give it, but they will later on. At least give them something they can learn from.
posted by frosty_hut at 10:21 AM on December 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

I disagree with the people who advocating simply fading away. That's what you do to the creepy guy on the bus stop who initially seemed OK but now won't stop asking you personal questions. If you've been friends with this person for this long, they deserve an explanation for the withdrawal no matter how they're acting. I think there's a middle ground between "a serious discussion" and "confrontation." In the former, you're looking for understanding from her about her behavior, which you tried for and didn't get. In the latter, you're acting in an antagonistic fashion.

What you want is a direct conversation in which you tell her you don't want to be in contact with her because X, Y, and Z behaviors make you feel angry (or depressed, or anxious). Don't argue the specifics, don't argue fault. "Being around you isn't in my best interest right now because it makes me feel [whatever]." Keep repeating this if she gets defensive. She can't dispute YOUR feelings, right? But she'll try, so steel yourself for a blowout. Then hang up, and don't answer any further communication from her.
posted by desjardins at 10:43 AM on December 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'm going to take the other person's side here. Why do you think you need to enumerate why you think you've grown apart? I just had this happen to me with someone I've known for 20 years, with him accusing me of being an asshole, numb, jerk, the whole 9 yards. This went on for two hours until I just got up and walked out of the bar (yes, this was in public). My friend seems to have a problem with me being in transition and not falling into their accustomed role for me. It's frustrating when your friends don't allow change. Note that I'm not saying you should automatically be OK with the change or how this person is treating you and other people, but the change does need to be accounted for.

My point is that maybe the problem is your approach. If you can't do anything about your approach making this person defensive, then you aren't being someone they can trust and open up to. Plain and simple. So just drift apart as someone above said, because it's not their fault for growing up/out or changing and all we have is one-side of the story of a very polarized situation.
posted by rhizome at 10:45 AM on December 18, 2007

A lot of times, we maintain friendships out of habit or momentum. The reasons you were friends with this person at age 11 might have had more to do with your school or class, not to mention the small number of available options an 11 year old has.

You're now much older, with a much wider world of friends, and if you don't enjoy being with this person anymore, there's no reason to do so. The reasons don't matter so much.
posted by rokusan at 10:52 AM on December 18, 2007

Just withdraw. If the person is spiteful, any declaration of ending the friendship will result in animosity, backchat, and unpleasantness. And, if you just detach yourself, you have the option of going back.
posted by theora55 at 11:19 AM on December 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

you don't need to break up. just stop hanging out with them. don't issue or accept invitations. move on with your life. if they ask you why, feel free to explain in a nice way that you feel like you've grown apart.
posted by thinkingwoman at 11:56 AM on December 18, 2007

Don't be an asshole by leading them on. (Oh, gee, I would LOVE to hang out with you, but you see, I can't...) Really. DON'T BE THAT ASSHOLE.

Instead, practice the phrases "no, thanks" and "I'm just not that into ____ lately." Would I like to go to a concert? No, thanks. Would I like to go to the mall? I'm just not into hanging out that much lately, sorry.

You shouldn't be confrontational or needlessly harsh (you telling someone what a bad person they are really isn't going to convince them to change), but at least be gently honest so they can get the point sooner that you really do not want to hang out with them (rather than ending up calling you about a million times thinking they're being a great friend by trying to help you get some fun into your obviously busy life, only to realize later on that you were brushing them off).
posted by anaelith at 12:02 PM on December 18, 2007

Confronting them is pointless. You tried. You also have the problem that - in my opinion - people get into a certain rhythm with friends that's very hard to change. She's gotten used to taking advantage of you and shifting that is going to be amazingly hard, if not impossible. I ended a friendship for a similar reason - someone who was never there for me, only accepted living by her own schedule, etc etc. In the end I just stopped taking her calls, but it came after a row over the matter and we had mutual acquaintances who I gather made it clear to her I'd washed my hands of her.

Are you really just Done with her entirely or at all on the fence? If you're on the fence and think she's someone who used to be better or actually has potential then why not just start declining invitations to group activities? You don't have to volunteer the reasons but can, if asked outright, say "I just don't feel like they treat me well and am not interested in being around them." Instead arrange for one-on-one time with her, if possible, or if she's not interested in finding time for just the two of you then perhaps she's not all that into your friendship either.
posted by phearlez at 12:46 PM on December 18, 2007

I appreciate what nax is saying, but it's one thing when a friend is self-destructive and difficult to watch and deal with as they destroy themselves. When the friend is destructive toward you I don't think it ever becomes easy to let them in your life again.

I had a friend like missjamielynn, right down to the inappropriate crying, and I don't feel that there will ever be a time where I could just run into her and feel anything good about her. She was also an incessant and cruel gossiper, and I didn't trust her for that reason as well. Turns out? Not trusting her was right, she talked shit about me constantly.

I didn't handle it well because we were housemates; I just started looking for a new place to live after she cried for the 3rd or 4th time I slept over a boyfriend's house.
posted by birdie birdington at 3:36 PM on December 18, 2007

I like the phrase I think I just need some time to sort through things. Please just leave me be for a bit. This is one of those times when there really isn't anything to talk about. Talking will only make it worse.

I had the same thing happen. I befriended a so-called nice guy and his nasty group of high school friends. They would show up for my birthday and talk about themselves. They always owed me money. They always owed me favours. They back-stabbed each other and probably me. They made fun of my background, my family. They made me so angry I would avoid them, only to get sucked in again. Then one day I got so angry I acted like a total lunatic to cut the strings. Actually,it was a few times. It was like leaving my body. I still regret I that I just didn't leave them with dignity. It took years to get over the shame of screaming like a total asshole and resentment towards them for driving me to it. But God, it was great to be free of them.

Make getting rid of them you Christmas gift to yourself. And your new year's resolution. Good luck and good riddance.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 3:41 PM on December 18, 2007

This scenario describes many of my previous relationships. A small high school means everybody knows each other down to the last ridiculous detail...and then college comes and everybody changes.

People grow distant over time for any number of reasons, and when you're not in constant contact our relationships tend to "fade." I don't really see how this is creepy; when you have a life to lead sometimes others can't play an active role. I definitely know, from experience, that trying to hang onto your memories and still pursuing these people is an active waste of your time.

Personally, I would just find other things to do, and other people to do them with. When the changed-friend wants to socialize, I'd say I have other things to do--no lying, no beating around the bush, just the truth. Usually they get the hint after a while; I reserve "telling them about it" for when they bring it up. There's no use in lying through your teeth, but I would only tell them when they really want to know--it seems that this arrogant person may never even reach that stage.

I really think it boils down to your conscience, as some people need to have things fessed up to be guilt-free. Again, personally, when I'm with those I care about then I don't really feel the need to worry about someone that I once had a good time with. I cherish those memories, and will not forget them, but sometimes people change and you can't change 'em back.
posted by BenzeneChile at 9:17 AM on December 19, 2007

Your friend probably likes you because you're not like her other so called friends. She probably hasnt grown up because she's still stuck in that social circle of immature people. If you ditch her now she's doomed to that existence. You ought to examine the reasons why she wants to be your friend. Needy and self-centered people are very insecure. insecurity is partially a matter of inner confidence. You're in a position to help her with that but you have to be more in control. Unless you've evidence to the contrary she probably wont bitch about you. like begets like. You dont have to pretend to like or socialise with her so called friends. If she's having a moan its better to be constructive than sympathetic.

the 3rd option is give her attention when you're prepared to and ignore her the rest of the time. get caller id so you can not answer her calls when its not convenient. the person you once liked better is in there somewhere.
posted by browolf at 9:42 AM on December 25, 2007

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