Blogversation 2012: What’s your experience with ending friendships?

Throughout this year, several bloggers will engage in a conversation here and on their blogs — asking questions of each other and responding. Others are absolutely welcome to join the conversation, as well. Learn more about the ladies of Blogversation 2012.

Since it’s a commonly accepted goal in our culture to find a mate for a monogamous marriage, most people understand that when you’re dating you’re auditioning potential partners and if he or she isn’t “the one,” you’ll eventually break up.

With the goal of choosing a single partner, you need to make a decision.

But with friends, it seems there’s no similar social expectation of evaluating and moving on. Facebook has shown us it’s possible to have thousands of friends, bounded only by our interest in their Farmville requests and pictures of their children.

Because there’s no expectation of friendship monogamy, it seems in some ways like a deeper rejection to end a friendship. I’m capable of having lots of friends, but I choose not to have you among them.

So what if you realize you have friends you would not choose as friends today?

In a recent article headlined It’s Not Me, It’s You, Alex Williams wrote for the New York Times:

Thanks to Facebook, the concept of “defriending” has become part of the online culture. With a click of a mouse, you can remove someone from your friends roster and never again see an annoying status update or another vacation photo from a person you want out of your life.

Not so in the real world. Even though research shows that it is natural, and perhaps inevitable, for people to prune the weeds from their social groups as they move through adulthood, those who actually attempt to defriend in real life find that it often plays out like a divorce in miniature — a tangle of awkward exchanges, made-up excuses, hurt feelings and lingering ill will.

I count a couple of friendships among my life’s most painful break ups, and I think it’s because we didn’t have a socially agreed upon way to be grown up and say “this isn’t working for me any more.”

We also didn’t have a good way to explain to mutual friends what had happened, so they were left trying to figure out how to navigate invitations to social events and what it meant to them.

In recent years, I have worked to draw smart, creative, inspirational people closer to me. I’ve also tried to reduce the time I spend with negative people, to make more time for the positive ones.

I want to come away from social events energized and uplifted, having learned something or having laughed hard. This is not to say I’m against supporting friends going through life’s challenges, but there’s a difference between a basically positive person having a rough patch at work and someone who always finds something to grouse about.

Since we’re pretty busy people, it’s reasonably easy to pick and choose our social outings. We’re honestly too busy to do everything, and we really value having downtime at home.

But sometimes when I demure on an invitation, I feel this awkward lack of social conventions about ending friendships — does the person on the other end wonder whether I’m really too busy or if I just don’t want to hang out with them? If we were more open with one another when we’ve outgrown a friendship, I wouldn’t have to worry about whether I’m sending mixed signals.

Similarly, when I reach out repeatedly to someone I like, I anxiously wonder if it’s me, not their calendar, that’s driving them to decline plans. Should I just stop trying? Without clear communication, it’s hard to know.

Related, when I’ve had a couple of friendships that hit bumpy patches, communication has been essential in maintaining the friendship — sometimes making it better than ever, because it speaks to valuing the other person enough to fix what’s broken.

Maybe that makes friendship more like dating than I thought. You’re thinking about a break up but first you have a talk about your concerns, and then evaluate whether the problem feels better or worse before you figure out what’s next.

What’s your experience with ending friendships? Have you ended a friendship, and did it go well? Have you had someone end a friendship with you?


Categories: home and family, lifestyle

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9 replies

  1. One of the best weeks I had last year was the week of my birthday. Every day, I spent time with a different friend. I loved it. I was on a high the whole time. My women friends mean everything to me. My day goes better if I get to talk to a girlfriend, or better yet, see a friend in person. My energy level goes way up and I feel hopeful and ready to take on interesting challenges and projects.

    I have had struggles in this department, as well. Recently, a friend and I ran into a very rough spot in our relationship. The cool thing is that a third friend who knows both of us stepped in to give us a hand. She got us together and asked each of us these questions: “What do you like/appreciate about X (the other person)? What has gotten hard?” I can’t tell you what a help it was to have that third person step in – someone who knew and liked both of us and believed in our capacity to work through where we got snagged. This process kept us from
    staying jammed in the corners we had each stomped off to, where we were mad as hell but also scared to go back in each others’ direction.

    I noticed a couple of interesting things about doing this “relationship session.” First, the difficulties we were having with each other seemed linked to struggles we had had a long time ago in our own lives. There was a place where we were pinning those old struggles on each other.

    There was something else I noticed in the process of working out the difficulties in this friendship: When I get close enough to a female friend, there’s enough safety so that the frozen veneer of “niceness” that I’ve been conditioned as a female to wear 24/7 has a chance to melt away enough that I can show what things are really like for me. And sometimes it ain’t pretty.

    When women are having a hard time in their friendships, everyone around them should stop and figure out how to give them a hand. These friendships are like gold – valuable, weighty – and should be treated as such.

    • Eleanor, I *love* your response — because once you get real with a friend, there’s a real possibility you might encounter conflict, and then you have to figure out what to do next.

      There’s obviously a lesson in here about valuing the relationship enough to communicate and work through those rough patches, but even more so, I love your call to arms to help our mutual friends who might be on the outs.

      How did your mutual friend approach you? I can imagine it being potentially delicate to say “It looks like your friendship with X is in trouble,” unless both of you had expressly discussed a disagreement you’d had so she could easily offer, “Do you want me to talk to her?”

  2. Yes Colleen this is tricky. I have def seen a shift in relationships as I develop and grow. And initially I really “took it on” feeling guilty about spending less time with certain people. But then I began to realize that to spend time with those that were not really compatible any more wasn’t doing anyone any good – and it also opened up time to spend it with new friends who did share the same or similar values. That’s what I think its all about…our values shift over time. And when they do the people will probably shift too. I have also experienced being on the receiving side of a friend “breaking up” with me. At first it was very painful…but from a distance I can see that it was best for me too…we were moving in different directions. I probably would of let it die a natural death but who knows how long that would have taken. Instead this friend ripped us apart like you do a band-aid on an open wound – fast and all at once. I grieved for quite some time but within months I could see that was really for the best. But that’s birth isn’t it, bloody, messy and if your lucky quick.

  3. Lara, my experience seems to be the same: it appears that the women in my family are very connected to each other but never seem to call or get together with anyone else. However, I’m the opposite of this. I have to work to stay connected to my family and friendships crop up around me like weeds (and I mean that in a good way). And like Colleen mentioned, sometimes you need to prune.

    It’s just a matter of time. Seriously, there’s not enough time in the day to keep in contact with all the friends I have. Some friends get that I’m busy. Some friends think I’m an asshole. Truth is, I’m both. The friends who think I’m an ass are usually my more challenging friends. They push, they become needy. I withdraw. Whenever I’ve want to end a friendship, I let my non-confrontational side run free. And I run away. I hope that by turning down invites and being slow to respond to messages, they’ll get the point. I hope they’ll also see that our dynamic is difficult (even unhealthy). I am working to become more direct in my communication but when it comes to dumping friends, I don’t know what sort of language to use. Perhaps I should borrow a page from my romantic relationship breakup playbook. “We don’t bring out the best in each other.”

    • Me, too — I told Lara I can’t remember many long-term friendships my mom had, so I never really saw what it looked like to make friends a priority in social planning and such, or how friendships might ebb and flow or go through rough patches.

      My mom was very social, but sort of like Maria describes, it looked to me like a lot of friendly acquaintances, not close friends.

  4. There was a significant relationship in my life years ago that ended angrily. I felt like I was being forced to choose between this friend and the man I would eventually marry. The friendship was long-lived and close; the emotion of the ending was proof of its history and power. I really like Colleen’s analogy of some friendships ending being a lot like mini-divorces.

    Maybe clean breaks are purposely painful and hurtful so that you never, ever want to go there again.

    Maybe it’s a sign that I am getting older, but I don’t have lots of intense friendships these days; a lot of acquaintances, yes, but close friendships, no. Maybe it’s because I am so emotionally wrapped up in my immediate family. Truth be told, I am not one to open my heart easily.

    The friends with whom I am most close are those I see only a few times a year; a couple I don’t see for years at a time because we live in different time zones. When we do see each other, though, it’s as if no time has passed and we pick right up where we left off. These are people who will always be there for me, who will take me in if I need a place to go, no questions asked.

    These are friendships you don’t end.

  5. Recently, I’ve been keenly aware of the lack of strong female friendships among my immediate family members. My mom, my sisters-in-law, my aunts, even my maternal grandmother (who I didn’t know personally, but recently learned a lot about). So few of them had/have good, strong girlfriends — in fact, ZERO if you don’t count family. Which, I know we often can be family AND friends both, but non-familial relationships are important too.

    When I looked around, it almost seemed to me like a curse: That if you don’t learn how to have strong female friendships from the women around you, you repeat the same mistakes of blocking people out, or only seeking out male companionship, or whatever. In my case it’s been easy to hold friends at bay and not want to get too close — or to break up with friends too easily over stupid crap. I am working to change that, and forgive myself for past mistakes.


  1. Blogversation 2012: Some highlights so far « Newvine Growing — exploring evolution, revolution and living life intentionally
  2. Blogversation 2012: Wrapping up a year of online conversation « Newvine Growing — exploring evolution, revolution and living life intentionally

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