Dr Perpetua Neo

How To Break Up With A Friend As Painlessly As Possible

We’ve all had Schrodinger’s Friendships— we’re not sure whether the friendship is really dead or alive, until we bother confronting it head-on. We have formulae for breaking up with romantic partners, but nothing for friendships. And yet, the hard truth is, we break up with friends all the time. Sometimes, we’ve outgrown them and no longer walk in the same direction in life; at others, we realise we’ve been conned by a facade; otherwise, it becomes increasingly evident that the relationship is toxic or ambivalent. Here’s how you can stop resuscitating a Do Not Resuscitate type of friendship.

1. Strengthen your resolve

As humans, we are great at adapting rather than evolving. We accept more and more of the unacceptable, and our boundaries become systematically eroded. And, we can always find a reason to justify why we should keep our friendships— after all, no relationship is 100% bad— especially if you are empathetic and/or a people pleaser. In this case, imagine yourself auditing your friend’s friendship, in order to be as objective as possible. Does the balance tilt in this person’s favour? Does the friendship preoccupy you way beyond the time you spend together, and exhaust you?

2. Decide what kind of ending it needs

There are friends whom we’ve unfortunately outgrown. Perhaps you’re at different places in your life, and you’re both unable to accept or live with the fact that the gulf is big. There is little or no hatred about this friendship; possibly regret and sadness. In this sense, give the friendship the dignity it deserves. Tell your friend your honest thoughts— that you feel you’re done with it, and thank them for the good times you’ve spent together.

There is, however, the other type of friend whom you know will create needless drama, and gaslight you into feeling guilty. They are the type of “friends” who make people wince and say “I’m not your fucking boyfriend/girlfriend”, because they expect you to coddle their emotions or hold you hostage via passive aggression or lofty ideals that they attack you with. In this case, a quiet ghosting may work best.

3. Do it as kindly as possible

Just because said person is toxic or difficult doesn’t mean you need to say nasty things to attack them, in order to justify your exit. Always ask yourself, “How can I say something in a way that is true and kind?”. That way, you feel more at ease with yourself when you’ve officially ended the friendship. There is no need to stoop to unkindness.

4. Accept that it will suck

Anger. Anxiety. Guilt. We label them as ‘negative emotions’. Except they’re a part of being human. You will feel a cocktail of emotions, and the complexity may be overwhelming. You may feel like a bad person for discarding your friend, and question if that makes you no different from a narcissist. Or you may feel like an ingrate, or absolutely childish for being angry with yourself. Sit with your emotions, allow them to exist. Know that everything will pass.

5. No contact

You may be tempted to reach out to them to ask how they are doing, or to reply them. Or, worse still, a toxic friend may show up at your doorstep and cry buckets of tears. You do not have to engage. When something is over, you have permission to give yourself the energetic and physical space.

6. Mourn

All endings and losses are tough. There’s no such thing as simply being rational about it. Allow yourself time to mourn. This is a time in which you must take especially good care of yourself. Someday, things will be alright again. It’ll never be the same, and that’s a good thing.

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