Make a list of all the people you would consider a friend. How many of them do you really like? Be brutally honest. How many of them cheer you up when you feel blue, make you laugh, love you, care about you, and support you when things go wrong? The truth is, most people secretly dislike a good number of their friends. Others simply drift apart. As people age, they also find they are looking for different things: the friend who seemed so cool and hip at college may now be a tedious, money-obsessed bore who never reads and whose conversation consists of nothing but boasting.
And yet few ever admit to these feelings. It is often said that life is too short to waste your time with people you dislike. In fact, life is increasingly too long! Of course, it might be said that there is no need to break with someone, that you can still make new friends while retaining old ones. But the truth is, most do not have time for both. Just as a bad romantic relationship needs to end if you are to find a deeper, more fulfilling love, so bad friendships need to end if you are to find a more enriching, satisfying one.
1) Decide whom you wish to defriend. The first step is to decide whom you wish to let go. Make a list of everyone you would consider a friend, as opposed to a mere acquaintance, neighbor, or work colleague. Now ask yourself this simple question: when I have been for a coffee, or spent an evening, with John, or Sue, or Kate, do I come away feeling better or worse?
2) Prepare the ground. Obviously, you do not want a nasty, bitter ending to the relationship. So do your best to prepare them for what is coming. Don’t be all smiles and hugs one day, then the next tell them you do not wish to see them anymore. If you have decided to end the friendship, you might begin by pulling them up on those annoying habits; perhaps they talk over you, don’t let you finish, or simply don’t listen. Whatever the issue, you might mention it in conversation. You could also try seeing less of them for a few weeks before the big break.
3) Consider the future. In some ways, ending a friendship can be even more unpleasant than ending a romantic relationship. It is accepted that marriages and relationships often fail, but, somehow, friendships are expected either to endure or simply fade away. The idea of breaking up with a friend seems a little unusual and may consequently cause great bitterness. So consider how likely it is that your paths will cross again in the future. If the friend is someone you knew in college, but who now lives in a different city, that’s fine. But what if she lives just a block away and often catches the same train to work? Or what if his mother lives across the street?
4) End it by email or by letter. This may seem a little cowardly, but on the whole, it is cleaner, safer, and less damaging. A face-to-face breakup could turn nasty. An email also allows you to express precisely what you want to express. No matter how many times you rehearse what you wish to say, you will probably find that when confronted by the person, nerves, or anger, will get the best of you. When you do write your email, use the “sandwich technique”, opening with something positive about them, or about your time as friends, following with the reasons you no longer wish to see them, and then ending with praise.
5) Allow them to have their say. If you do decide to end the friendship face-to-face, you must allow the other person to respond. And hear them out. Never interrupt, and try to keep your temper in check. Negative emotions feed off of other negative emotions, and before you know it you may find yourself red-faced and screaming. If you end things by email or letter, and your friend replies, read their response, and then send a second message. But make the second message gentle, vague, and, above all, short.
6) Don’t give them ammunition. Some people can turn very nasty when rejected. You have struck a blow to their ego and self-esteem and some will never forgive you. So do all you can to prevent bitterness. Say and do nothing they can use against you. Many people twist and distort what was said (which is another reason to end things in writing, keeping a copy of the letter or email for yourself). Even if you have good cause, avoid accusing them of anything. If possible, do not criticise them either. The best reasons are always vague. Make out you simply haven’t the time to keep in touch, or that you feel you no longer have anything in common, and that it is as much your fault as theirs.
Ending a friendship seems a rather sad, depressing thing. It shouldn’t be. In fact, you may find it tremendously liberating and uplifting. Rather than an ending, see it as a beginning, as an opportunity to bring new, more joyful, interesting, kind-hearted, loving people into your life.