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Do You Know How to Dump a Friend?


As survivors of Girl Scouts and summer camp, college-age girls know that BFFs aren’t always forever. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make consciously distancing yourself from a friend any less awkward. When you decide an actor in the movie of your life should be downgraded to a minor role, it can be difficult for everyone involved. Many of us will put off breaking up with a friend because we don’t want to hurt their feelings, but we should not invest our energy into relationships that aren’t healthy.  Here are some steps that can facilitate parting ways with a former friend.

Assess why you want to dissolve the friendship.

There are as many reasons for ending a friendship as there are for starting one. Think about how you feel when you are around this person. Do you feel pressured to pursue unhealthy behaviors? Do they put you down? Do they annoy you? Assess clearly why you no longer want this person in your life and be firm in your decision. What about their behavior is bothering you?

If you are dumping a friend because they are flakey, the easiest solution is to gradually cut them out of your life. If she never makes time for you then she probably won’t notice that you are not making time for her either.  Over the years I have had a couple of girl friends who never pick up their phone or constantly up bail on our plans. Even though they always apologized, it still really hurt. In both cases I ended up gradually distancing myself from these unhealthy relationships, and it was for the best. Being constantly rejected by a friend can take a serious emotional toll. People who don’t value your time do not value you; leave them out of your life.

If you have decided that you want to dump a friend because you don’t want to partake in their lifestyle, then you need to make yourself very clear. You need to set clear boundaries. Can you still be study buddies? Are you still going to go out with them once in a while? When talking to them, you can follow a neutral-sounding script like “I am trying to pursue new things in my life and I don’t see how this activity fits in anymore”.

If the person has committed some unforgivable transgression you also need to speak up.  You need to clearly explain that whatever they did was unacceptable and you cannot pretend that it did not happen. You need to tell them that this was not okay and the friendships can no longer move on: “Karen, I will never forgive you for laughing at me that time I got diarrhea at Barnes & Nobles and for telling everyone about it and also for repeating it just now.  I do not think I can ever be close to you again”.

It might be tempting to give someone the silent treatment, but remember that everything that seems self-evident to you is not always equally obvious to others. The other person might not even know that they hurt your feelings!  If someone’s behavior is really bothering you and they are more than a casual acquaintance, you should carefully but surely speak up.

Is it something that can be fixed?

Is your friend constantly doing something that hurts your feelings? If you believe that she values your friendship enough to make a change, then you should definitely say something. Be careful not to spring something up suddenly. Text or call your friend inviting them for a coffee, tell them that you want to talk. If you think they want to be in your life enough to change their behavior, you should give them the opportunity to do so.

Would you get something out of a confrontation?

I strongly believe that you should not confront someone for the mere satisfaction of calling them out. If you are no longer interested in pursuing a relationship with this person, a confrontation might not be the best way to start. Think carefully about what you want to get out of a confrontation, if it is nothing tangible, then skip it. Examples of tangible outcomes can range from “Lisa, I would feel more valued if we spent more time together” to “Jane, please stop talking about me to other people”.  If the only thing you have to say is “Casey, you are a terrible, selfish excuse for a person”, keep your mouth shut and move on.  If you are going to confront someone, do it in person, in a neutral setting like a coffee shop and set strict time boundaries (“I have a seminar in 35 minutes”). Say what you need to say, listen to the other person and be respectful.  Make sure to hold your ground. If the situation is getting unnecessarily aggressive say, “I feel like this conversation is getting very heated. I do not want to hurt your feelings; I just want to explain why I think we should spend less time together”.

Post-Breakup Tips

Keep in mind that you might accidentally lose more than one friend. If you have a few friends in common, be prepared to drift away from them too.

No matter what, do not talk behind the exfriend’s back, not even to people that do not know them. This is generally unclassy behavior. It is one thing to ask someone for advice on a difficult situation, it is entirely another to just bash someone.

Stop calling your exfriend (and your ex-boyfriend, for that matter). You are sending mixed messages.

When encountering an ex-friend in the future stick to small talk. Set clear topic boundaries and don’t cross them.

It can be tempting to tell the person you will still be there for them if they need you, but do not say this if it is not true. If you would seriously hesitate before coming to their aid at some nameless hour, do not try to comfort them by saying you will still be their emergency contact.

In the future, when pursuing new friendships and relationships, remember that caring is an active verb. Caring about someone is more than caring about whether or not something bad has happened to them. You need friends who will reciprocate your love and support.

[Lead image swissmacky/Shutterstock]

I am a radio journalist.