3 Signs It's Time To Stop Being Friends With Someone
Letting go can seem like a failure. But here's why it may be the best thing you can do.
A few weeks ago, I had a chance to catch up in person with a friend from out of town. During our long lunch, she confided in me about an issue with a friend of hers. Almost teary, she admitted that the friend made her feel bad whenever they were together, monopolizing the conversation and not seeming to care about what was up in anyone’s life but her own. It was someone I didn’t know at all, and I think that is why she felt safe telling me about her frustrations.
“So why do you have to hang out with her?” I questioned. “If spending time with her doesn’t make you happy, why do it?”
Her reply was, “But we have known each other for so long.”
We have all heard the chant, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.” Old friendships are special. It can be hard to let go when you are friends with someone for a long time. You may feel obligated to keep up the relationship even if no longer works.
But like not all wines get better with age, neither do all friendships.
Why it’s hard to let go
Alyson Nerenberg, a licensed clinical psychologist and author of the book No Perfect Love: Shattering the Illusion of Flawless Relationships, says, “Our needs in a friendship change as we get older because we change. As teenagers, our peers are everything. But as we get older, family becomes more important, and we become pickier about the people we choose to spend our limited free time with. We have fewer friendships, but the connections are deeper.
“Some friendships continue to evolve and grow over time. But other times, a friendship doesn’t work as well as it once did and yet it is hard to end it,” Nerenberg says. “When you have known someone for so long, you develop a loyalty to the friendship. Letting it go can feel like a failure, as if there is something wrong with you. So, you may overlook unhealthy behavior and patterns that have developed over time.”
But the pandemic has caused many people to “clean house” when it comes to friendship in the past few years. Spending in-person time together became difficult, and it made us appreciate what friends we missed and which we did not.
“Being forced to stop and take stock made us realize that we didn’t want to put effort into a friendship that wasn’t bringing us joy,” says Nerenberg.
Red-flag friendship warnings
Unsure of whether to continue a friendship? Here are three warning signs to guide you:
Friendship is exhausting: If you look on the calendar and see you have plans with a friend, it should make you smile. If you are unexcited or dreading it, that’s a red flag. “Some friendships are just too much drama,” says Nerenberg. “Of course, if a friend is going through a hard time, you want to be supportive. But if every conversation is always negative or they make the focus solely about them, that isn’t a healthy friendship.”
Friendship that hinders your growth: You aren’t the same person you were in your 20s or 30s, and a longtime friend should recognize and appreciate the person you have become. “You want to have the same moral compass as a friend,” explains Nerenberg. “If you find yourself being a worse, not better version of yourself when you are together, or pulled back into behaviors that no longer reflect who you are, it may be time to take a step back from the friendship.”
Friendship lacks trust: When a friend betrays you, it can be difficult to reestablish trust. While it’s important to be forgiving, if you feel like you need to keep a friend at arm’s length to protect yourself from getting hurt, your arm will get awfully tired. It might be better to end the friendship.
How to say goodbye
Ending a friendship is a big step. Before you do it, consider whether there may be other options. Nerenberg suggests having an honest conversation. “Explain what is no longer working for you,” she says. “Don’t place blame on the friend. Instead of saying, ‘You should have done this,’ say ‘I need something different,’ and then be specific about what you want to change in the relationship.”
If ultimately it is better for you not to continue the friendship, communicate your decision. “I am not a fan of ghosting and keeping someone guessing about what is going on,” says Nerenberg. “A longtime friendship deserves closure. Be kind but firm. Take responsibility and acknowledge your role in the breakdown of the friendship. Let your friend know you appreciate your shared history and the benefits the friendship brought both of you.”
The reality is that some friendships aren’t meant to last forever. That doesn’t mean that the bond wasn’t real or worthwhile. It may have been wonderful for a long time, but its “season or reason” has passed. “We don’t expect every romantic relationship to last a lifetime, but that doesn’t mean we don’t look back on it fondly,” Nerenberg says. “It just wasn’t meant to be a forever partnership, and that can also be true for a friendship.”