Advice · Friendship

Ending a Long-Term Friendship

I’m struggling with how to end a long term close friendship without being a jerk. We had been best friends for more than a decade, unfortunately it isn’t becoming clear that our political/social justice beliefs are incompatible. Is it better to address the breakup head on? Or to try to do some type of fade away?

I could write an entire post on how to decide if and when you should end a friendship. But this isn’t that post, since you’ve already made up your mind about this friendship. You’ve gotten through that step, so let’s talk about the best way to do this thing.

I’ve been ghosted on before, by someone I thought was a close friend. We were roommates for two years, and stayed in touch after she moved to another state. She even visited me when I lived overseas. She was invited to my wedding, but couldn’t fly out because of work (maybe that was a sign). We talked when she got engaged, and then poof. Gone. I left her a couple of messages, and even sent her a wedding present, but at this point I’ve not heard from her in four years and I don’t have a clue why.

That experience was rough, and it’s part of the reason why I’m going to suggest that addressing the breakup head on is the only way to end a long-term friendship.

You have a history. You’ve shared memories. And while you don’t owe anyone your friendship, it’s a bit of a jerk move to disappear on someone you’ve been close to for many, many years. Where is that line, exactly? Who knows, but I’d say that “more than a decade” is definitely past it.

I also think clearly and deliberately ending a friendship is important because your friend should know that she can have whatever beliefs that she wants but that doesn’t mean that anyone has to support her with their friendship. Without an actual break-up conversation, she (I’m going to go with ‘she’, only because in my case it was a ‘she’) might assume the ‘we just grew apart’ narrative, and I don’t think that’s helpful to her in the long run. If her opposing beliefs are just as important to her as yours are to you, then that’s a choice you both are making, and she should know that you are respecting that choice by removing yourself from the relationship.

Of course, this may be messy. I don’t think you should drag it out, but you should be prepared for a few different outcomes.

Does She Live Nearby?

If she is someone you see on a regular basis, get used to the idea that you’re going to run into each other. You’re an adult (I’m assuming), and I think it’s important to try to remain civil. Say hello or acknowledge her presence at gatherings, but don’t feel like you need to engage in any small talk with her.

Do You Have Mutual Friends?

You can tell your mutual friends what’s going on, but I suggest keeping it fairly high level, because it’s not super cool to run around saying “Susie and I aren’t friends anymore because she’s a _____.”

Of course, don’t lie – be straightforward and say that you’ve found that you just don’t have some fundamental beliefs in common, and life is too short for that. If they probe, it’s your call how much more you want to share. Just keep in mind that some might think you’ve been harsh, and this may create a cascading affect across mutual relationships. You should be prepared for that. People don’t like the boat rocked, and often get weirded out when people draw and enforce boundaries.

They also may think you’re being judgmental. And you know what? You are! And that’s okay. I think some things should be judged. That doesn’t mean you run around punching people who you don’t agree with (unless they are Nazis – always punch Nazis), but I think it definitely means that you don’t spend valuable emotional labor with people who fundamentally disagree with the things you stand for and who have not expressed any interest in changing their views.

How do I do it?

You could get together for coffee, or you could call her. I suggest going with an email instead for a couple of reasons. One, you can work out what you’re going to say in the kindest but also most straightforward way. In your case, this friendship is ending because of incompatible beliefs. You can be honest about how important your values are to you, and how you want to share your life with people who also share those values. There’s really no way to say that without the other person feeling slighted, but that’s reality. It’s going to suck.

The other reason I suggest email is because it allows the other person to gather their thoughts in response. Sure, she may send off a totally shitty email, calling you names and wishing you ill. But at least she will have made that choice on her own, as opposed to giving in to emotions if she is faced with a phone call or in-person meeting.

If you’ve decided on an in-person or a phone encounter, be sure to have a quick out. Be clear that you need to go but wanted to talk. Then say what you’ve prepared, allow for some back and forth, but hold your ground and then leave as soon as possible.

(Again, this assumes there isn’t hope for this friendship, so you shouldn’t give your friend the idea that this can be worked out. Be firm but kind.)

Should I fully cut the cord?

Yes. Immediately unfriend and block this person on all forms of social media. Not because she’s going to go after you (although she might), but because if you have friends in common, this will prevent you from just popping up in her timeline when a mutual friend likes your post. You don’t want to be a jerk here, and while she may view this action negatively, in reality you’re doing something thoughtful while also removing her from your life.

Any suggestions on what to say?

Um, of course. Below is a sample email; if you do it in person or over the phone you’ll want to be less stuff but I still recommend at least making some notes so you don’t get sidetracked or say things you didn’t plan to say.

Dear Lucy:

It’s become clear over the last year that I need to move on from our friendship. I really value the time we’ve spent together, including those years traveling through Europe playing soccer. But over these last few months, I have recognized that our values are just too different to make this a positive relationship for either of us. I am dedicated to living my life according to [some specific values that matter deeply to you], and I don’t see that these are as important to you, or that you view them with the same level of urgency as I do.

My goal in this is not to hurt you, but I of course understand if you feel upset or betrayed by my decision. I just ask that you respect it. If you respond to this message I will read it, but I will not write back.

[If, in a few years, you find that your values have changed and you would like to explore building a new friendship, I would be open to that.]

I wish you and your family the best. Thank you for the friendship you’ve given me all these years.

Isn’t that, like, ridiculously dramatic?

I mean, kind of. But considering how much stock we put in a romantic relationship ending after a few months, I think we owe our serious friendships at least a similar measure of respect. Close friendships, especially ones with a long history, are valuable. These people know us – or knew us – really well, and carry some memories with them that maybe no one else shares.

Let’s honor those friendships with a proper good-bye.

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