It’s been a year since I gave up on one of my former best friends. We met in our first semester at college and were best friends ever since. We went everywhere together and told each other everything. Even when we moved on to different colleges, we still spoke to each other everyday. But things soon began to change. I became the friend she only talked to when she needed to complain about something. And once she got a boyfriend, I just didn’t hear from her at all. Even when I needed to talk to her, she didn’t take my calls and barely returned them. I was hurt, so I took some space. Some advise I’m sharing today comes from Irene S. Levine, PhD, freelance writer and author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Break Up With Your Best Friend.
“If problems are chronic and keep recurring despite your best efforts, it’s probably prudent to at least take a break (I call it a friendship sabbatical) from the relationship,” Levine says. She suggests holding off on the blaming and instead focus on expressing your desire to spend some time apart. Just like “lovers need a holiday,” so do friends. Levin says it’s a myth to think friendships are perfect all the time without their natural ups and downs. At the same time, like any relationship, they are also not guaranteed to last forever. In fact, Levine explains that most friendships don’t, “because people change over time and it’s very rare that two friends, even very good ones, will change in the same direction.”
A few years later, she had an issue that almost prevented her from graduating. I did my best to help, but there was so much she wasn’t telling me. I couldn’t figure out why, but once she went back to school, I didn’t hear from her any more. Even when I was in a neighbouring city to her last year for a week, she made no attempt to see me. It was then that I realised I was the only one in the friendship. After that I stopped making any attempts to communicate. She reached out to wish me a happy birthday but it’s been radio silence since.
I used this example of a friendship gone wrong, but I have other friends who also ghosted me and there’s so much I wish I could say to them.
I’m not stupid. I know people change. I’m not the same person I was when we met. But our friendship was based on mutual sharing, support and constant communication. I couldn’t go a single day without talking to you. Then, slowly, you stopped calling and texting. I didn’t want to read too much into it, we were in college and busy. But college ended and you still stayed away. You started keeping things from me but somehow expected me to know what’s going on in your life.
Reciprocation is key
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been there for you. No really, I can’t tell you because I haven’t been counting. But there have been many times you’ve come to me for help, you dumped your problems on me, only to dump me when your “problem” decided to love you again. I gave you advice, resources and did everything I could to see you healthy. But birthdays have come and gone and you haven’t called. I’ve ended meaningful relationships and really needed support but you weren’t there. I buried my step dad but you probably assumed I’d be fine with it. You probably don’t even know that I changed jobs, or got that certification I always wanted. But it’s fine.
You Don’t Actually Owe Me Anything
In the end, you don’t owe me an apology, an explanation or anything. Your absence helped me to make new friends and I’m sure it’s because you’ve already replaced me. I used to feel like I was owed a conversation about why you didn’t want to be my friend anymore. I used to feel like I needed to know if it was something I did or didn’t do that pushed you away. I used to think that knowing any of this would make me a better friend. But it won’t. No matter how you feel, I’m beyond the point of caring about it. So why the open letter? Sometimes it just helps when things are official, and this is the closure that I needed.
For some of you reading this, you may be thinking about one or a few friends. So how do you know if you’re just hitting a rough spot in your friendship or you’re growing apart?
Here are four signs it is time to say goodbye:
If you are experiencing consistent un-resolvable arguments, misunderstandings and disappointments.
If you feel tense, anxious or uncomfortable in her presence.
If a friendship is destructive and hurting your self-esteem.
If your biggest problem is you can’t find time to spend together. Levine says, “It may suggest that one or both people don’t consider the friendship a priority in their lives any more.”
So if it is time, how do you say goodbye?
Ghosting your friend is a really awful thing to do, because not only is it hurtful, it leaves room for them to thing you’re actually still friends. There are many ways to end a friendship and I want to make it absolutely clear that ignoring the other person is NOT the way to do it. It may be tempting to bust out your iPhone and send a WhatsApp. Without the intensity of an in-person meeting, technology makes the process a whole lot easier. But is it a major faux pas to end a friendship that way?
Not necessarily. Levine says that it may be acceptable to end a long-distance friendship through technological means. And even an email might do. It’s all in the way you do it.
“Sometimes a text can give someone time to think and react to the bad news. Just because you’ve mulled over the breakup and made a decision doesn’t mean that the other person is psychologically prepared to react. A text can give them time.” Just be careful to keep your emotions in check when typing. Since your friend won’t be able to see your empathetic face or your caring eyes, be cognisant of the words you choose and how it may be interpreted by its receiver.
No matter how you do it, remember the person you’re ending with was a friend at one point of your life. Stifle the urge to blame, be defensive or attack. Instead, take responsibility for your part in the relationship. If you’re having trouble deciding what to say, Levine suggests writing out a script and practising it aloud.
Above all she says, “Ending a friendship is never easy. The closer the friendship, the harder it is to acknowledge it’s over.” But sometimes breaking up with a friend could be the best thing you ever did for yourself. “It leaves you more space and time for healthier and more satisfying relationships.” She also reminds us about the gift of the friendship itself. “We take something away from each friendship, hopefully, that will empower us to be a better friend and make better choices in the future.”