Breaking Up With a Friend

By Marianne Mancusi Beach,

After years of experience, I’ve got breaking up with guys down to a science. (A once useful skill which, now that I’m happily married, I hope I’ll never have to use again!) But breaking up with friends? That’s a lot tougher to do.

“In a relationship you’re expected to choose one partner and if it’s not working out, then you move on to the next person,” says Piper Weiss, a senior features editor for Yahoo! Shine who has a close-knit but ever-expanding group of female friends.. “With friends, there’s no pre-prescribed amount you can have.”

And that leaves you in danger, she says, of coming off like a jerk–even if you have a really good reason for wanting to sever ties. “If you’re breaking up with a true and special friend, they have to do something so clear-cut and offensive to you that you physically can’t be near them. If it’s just a clinger, they require some slow, plotted shaking off so their feelings don’t get too hurt.”

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For the casual clinger, Weiss suggests treating the situation like you would a guy you only went on a few dates with. “I’m all for the ‘so busy this month, maybe next month’ line,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be a big thing.” Even easier if it’s an online acquaintance you’re trying to shake. You can block them or just ignore their Facebook posts. Eventually most people will take the hint.

Acquaintances in your same social group may be a bit trickier–as you’re going to end up running into them often in the future. “They might want to be closer to you and you just tolerate them. They’re fine until they start talking behind your back or manipulating their way into your friend circle by creating drama.”

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Weiss suggests first trying to ignore them. But if they demand attention, pull them aside and lay it on the line: “You’re rubbing me the wrong way. Sorry if I sound like a jerk, but I’m just letting you know I really need a little distance from you.” Hopefully they’ll back off a bit, but be prepared for a few chilly weeks ahead.

As for the long-term friend, well, come on, you owe them an honest conversation at the very least, even if you end up pulling out the “It’s not you, it’s me” card. But before you schedule that talk, Weiss says, you’d better make sure you know what you want. “Confrontations with friends can escalate quickly and things can be said that you regret.”

Of course, some people find it easier to break up by email, listing all the reasons they feel the friendship is not working out. But this is pretty one-sided–you get to express your feelings without opening up a real dialogue. “That’s the kind of thing that shuts the iron door,” Weiss warns. “So you better be sure you’re truly over that friend.”

In the end, maybe you don’t need to go as far as officially breaking up with a friend as you would a lover, but rather let nature take its course. “I believe you can just have distance from friends or let them fade,” Weiss says. “But an out-and-out blacklist is only really deserving if they are sleeping with your spouse or slowly poisoning you with arsenic or something.”


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