How to End it with a Friend

It's not me man, it's you.

Ask A Woman: Breaking up with a bro.

You're hovering a bit there bucko.

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Hi Beth,

A couple years ago I graduated from college and ventured into the adult world only to discover that most of my friends had quickly dispersed and moved on with their lives. This left me with only a few ‘friends’ which I’ve learned to cherish deeply. Unfortunately, I’ve realized that I no longer wish to be friends with one them. So how can I end the friendship? Is it best to always make excuses and slowly fade away? I think that’s a better method than saying flat out “I think it’s best that we should no longer speak” as this guy seems a bit emotionally unstable. I’m afraid of what he’ll do to himself to put it bluntly.

Sincerely,

Trapped

 

Hi Trapped,

Eesh, this is tough. This is going to be one of those situations where I’m going to give you some things to think about that I hope will help you figure out how to act, instead of absolutely recommending a single course of action.

How you break it off with your friend could depend on why you don’t want to be his friend anymore. Is his instability part of your reason for wanting to distance yourself? If this dude gets plowed every time you go out with him and becomes morose or belligerent and then sleeps on your couch until 1pm the next day, well, that’s a behavior you can address. “It’s my opinion that you have a drinking problem/are depressed because I haven’t seen you sober/functional since we lived in the dorms, and I don’t want to hang out with you until you get some help.” If you simply no longer enjoy his company, that’s harder to address with a conversation. “So, dude, like, I just don’t have fun with you anymore.” See what I mean?

In many ways, breaking up with friends is more complicated than breaking up with romantic partners. In the latter scenario, we figure out we have different values or nothing in common. We decide we can’t stand that person’s family. Those little annoying habits we noticed in the beginning turn into deal breakers when we have to deal with them for months at a time. So break-ups are, well, not expected, but more understandable, perhaps, because romantic relationships take so much more commitment and energy that to stay in them, they have to be pretty good.

Friendship…it can be difficult to figure out.

Now think about your friendships—if you can imagine female versions of your friends, do. Would you want to date any of them? Probably not. We put up with crap from our friends we wouldn’t necessarily do with our partners. We deal with sloppy habits, thoughtless behavior, and irresponsibility (if I have any friends reading right now, of course, I’m not talking about you, silly) simply because friends are less of a fixture in most of our lives than our partners. So if you break up with a friend…he’s gotta be a real pain in the ass.

Normally passive behavior is not a great solution to a problem…but in this case, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to let the friendship fade away. Friendships aren’t always permanent, they ebb and flow, and often, end. It can be hard to hold onto friendships from our teens and early twenties (and even beyond) because we change so much during this period of time. It’s unreasonable to expect that what we valued in a friend at the age of 21 is the same at the age of 26 or 32. And holding onto friendships that no longer satisfy us, just for the sake of holding onto them is a mistake.

As far as your last line “I’m afraid what he’ll do to himself,” well, that’s a whole separate issue, and a very serious one. If you really feel that he is at risk for self-harm, simply as a compassionate human being, you should address that. You are not responsible for his mental health or “fixing” him, but I do think telling him that you are concerned for his well-being is the right thing to do. Where he takes it from there…that’s up to him.

-Beth

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