When you think of the word “breakup” you may imagine teary eyes and pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Or perhaps a broken heart and sad Taylor Swift music comes to mind while you try to convince yourself that there are always more fish in the sea.
What we don’t often think of is a breakup of a different kind: one with a friend. Let’s discuss how to identify what type of friendship situation you are in and how to go about a breakup, if necessary, with the standards of good etiquette in mind.
Identify The Situation
Generally, there are three cases of friendship breakups: a friendship that ends slowly and organically (The Natural Fade), a friendship that becomes detrimental (The Toxic Friendship), and a friendship that no longer serves value for both parties (The Necessary End). If you are uncertain about a friendship, make an effort to be in tune with how you feel, both when you are with him or her and when you are apart. Through observation you can better understand and examine the situation.
The Natural Fade
For the first case, you naturally grow apart from a friend as communication slows and you both move on. That is a common course of life and is a way that we all grow and change. Try asking yourself questions like: Are we transitioning into a new phase of life (such as graduating college or moving)? Has our common denominator (working in the same office or going to the same school) changed? If yes to these and similar questions, you are likely in The Natural Fade.
If you are uncertain about a friendship, make an effort to be in tune with how you feel, both when you are with him or her and when you are apart.
The Toxic Friendship
Another scenario is when you are in a toxic friendship and it can make sense to stop talking, cut your losses, and focus on people who build you up and who improve your life. This exists when someone mistreats you and a relationship becomes a source of negativity or pain in your life. Examine your responses to questions like: Do you feel bad about yourself after spending time with this friend (because he or she makes negative comments or criticizes you without merit)? Is there anxiety or stress associated with being around this friend? When this is the case, you may very well be in The Toxic Friendship.
The Necessary End
The third situation is when you have realized there are areas of a friendship that no longer create value and you would prefer to move forward without this relationship being a significant part of your life.
For example, perhaps this friend only seems to have fun with you when you are out on the nightlife scene (and despite initiating time together in other activities that feed your soul and develop your relationship, he or she does not put in the effort). Or maybe there is an element of selfishness that, while not malicious, leaves you wanting in the relationship. Ask yourself: Are there fundamental differences in your values (like not agreeing on issues that are important to you)? Are you putting in far more effort or is there a lack of reciprocity in the relationship? While we must be certain to not be unduly critical or have unfair expectations, if there are areas of the friendship that cause you true and justified discomfort, then you are in The Necessary End.
While we must be certain to not be unduly critical or have unfair expectations, if there are areas of the friendship that cause you true and justified discomfort, then you are in The Necessary End.
How To Breakup
If you have been a careful observer, asked yourself the above questions, and determined that you no longer want to continue a friendship, here is how to facilitate the breakup while maintaining proper etiquette and regard for your friend.
The Natural Fade
For the first case you can let the relationship slowly close on its own. As you are both transitioning in your lives you do not need to have a breakup conversation or make any specific mention if you can feel a natural progression taking place. Honor what the relationship once was by keeping up a certain level of correspondence if it feels right (through periodic texts or interactions on social media), but otherwise you can gently move on.
The Toxic Friendship
If you find yourself in a detrimental friendship, then it is best to breakup quickly and completely, and focus on the positive and uplifting people in your life. When it comes to separating from this friend, you must be the judge of how best to let them know that you don’t wish to continue the friendship. Whether it’s in person or over the telephone, be sure to compose your thoughts ahead of time so you do not get frazzled. Clearly and concisely explain that the relationship is not healthy for either of you and that it would be best to stop seeing each other.
Remember the feelings you assessed when asking yourself the questions above and incorporate those into your explanation. While they may attempt to draw you back in, refrain from re-engaging in the cycle. Instead, turn to other friendships for support and validation, and give your heart time to heal from the negativity of this unkind friend.
The Necessary End
Arguably the most tricky of the three, the Necessary End requires having a conversation to let your friend know that you do not want to continue the relationship. It can be uncomfortable but needed. Depending on the length and depth of the friendship, you can use your discretion as to the content of the conversation, but there are clear standards of etiquette to keep in mind.
– It is important to treat the other person respectfully and refrain from having the conversation over text. This is a cowardly and immature way to communicate when you are dealing with a sensitive topic like this. Meet in person or have a phone call.
– If you are looking to completely sever ties, don’t lead the other person on with “I’m really busy now” or a statement along those lines. You can say something like, “I’ve been thinking about our friendship, and while I have enjoyed spending time together, I’ve realized that we have different *insert life priorities/beliefs here* so I think it would be better if we went our separate ways.”
– Be certain to be kind and not lay blame. As the Emily Post Institute (the experts on all things etiquette) says, “Neither party will benefit from a rehash of their faults.”
Moving on is tough, but life is always in flux. When you carefully consider your friendships, determine which add value to your life, and act with kindness in all circumstances, you will be best serving yourself and those around you.
Have you had a friend-breakup experience? What have you done when you’ve found yourself in one of these situations?
Images via Marlena Steiner