Stability matters when it comes to the quality of our friendships. The best friendships are those that stand the test of time and are characterized by security and comfort, instead of conflict or turbulence.
But the reality is, not all friendships will last.
Unlike romantic relationships where it’s typically pretty clear, the same cannot be said for friendships. Here are some tips that might make navigating this friendship challenge a little easier.
Ghosting is the ultimate form of rejection. But distancing is something very different and can be a good place to start when thinking about ending a friendship. Not calling or texting as often, or finding ways to gradually withdraw your effort, energy, and involvement, can give both of you a chance to get used to the change in your friendship without making it overwhelmingly personal or uncomfortable. It’s also a way to let your friendship run its course organically.
Change the terms
Sometimes, a small change in the terms of your relationship can help you keep your friendship while establishing some boundaries and protecting yourself. Deciding to see your friend in a group setting but not one-on-one, only doing certain activities together or speaking about certain topics, or moving your friendship to more of an “online” format can preserve some of the healthy aspects of your relationship while creating a distance that works for both of you.
When it comes to ending romantic relationships, we expect people to be upfront and direct. We want clarity. We want closure. This isn’t necessarily true for friendships. At least not always. And yet sometimes, the most straightforward option is the one that brings us the most clarity and comfort.
Instead of making it personal or blaming your friend, focus on the reasons why the dynamic of your friendship just isn’t working anymore. Rather than saying “You aren’t trustworthy,” highlight that trust and reliability are important to you and that, right now, you’re not ready to start re-establishing that trust. The message ends up being the same, but one of these is significantly easier to stomach and makes it more likely you’ll end your friendship on better terms.
It can also help to be clear on what you actually mean when you say you want to distance yourself or end your friendship. It’s not always obvious what these things actually mean or look like in real life or practical terms. Do you want to cut off all communication? Are you open to communicating through text messages and social media? Or are you happy to keep in touch and just don’t want to get together as often? Whatever your version or vision is of your friendship break-up, make sure you are clear, both with yourself and your friend, to avoid miscommunications or misunderstandings.
Leave it open
Just like you might never have expected to grow apart, you might be surprised at your desire to reconnect. That’s why it can help to keep your options open, either by being direct (e.g., explicitly sharing that you never know what the future holds) or by staying connected (e.g., on social media) and checking in with each other from time to time on meaningful occasions, like birthdays, anniversaries, or big life events. Of course, you don’t want to give someone false hope. But there’s usually no harm done by leaving the door open for a future relationship, as long and both of you understand the current status of your friendship.