When Is it Time To Let a Friendship Go?

Most of the time, this blog is about  new friends. How to meet them, nurture them, keep them. It’s important stuff.

Equally important though? How to let friends go.

Yesterday a new pal told me that she and an old BFF have been growing apart. They live next door to each other, so they have every opportunity to hang out like they once did, and yet they’re continually drifting.

“Instead of trying harder and reaching out more, I’ve been pursuing other interests,” she told me.

This is an option that almost never occurs to me.

I’ve made no secret on this blog of how hard it is for me when people are upset with me. I’m sure this is some deep-seeded issue with which some therapist could have a field day. (This is not an invitation…) In that same vein, it’s hard for me to just let a friendship go. I forget that sometimes a relationship can grow apart naturally, and that that’s ok.

The friend in question is younger than me, and most definitely at a place in her life where people grow apart. Instead of holding on to the past, she made a healthy decision. She decided to pursue the new activities and people in her life that make her happy.

So my question is, how do you know when it’s time to let a friendship go?

It’s one thing if one person moves and the distance makes it harder to connect. But if you live next door? Is there an amicable way to separate and move on?

I’m not  sure that it’s possible to grow apart but still maintain a friendly relationship.When friends drift (aside from the moving far away scenario stated above) there’s usually one party feeling left behind. Whether the catalyst for the separation (yes, I’m using dating language again. That’s all there is) is kids, a new job, a new beau, or just old-fashioned outgrowing each other, someone’s going to feel the sting.

Although, now that I think about it, that might be girl-specific. Guys don’t seem to mind it. Whenever I hear about two men having a falling out, I try to grill Matt for specifics. Who dumped who? Was he sad? Hurt? Is he trying to woo his BFF back?

And then my husband looks at me like I have three heads. “No he didn’t try to win him back,” he say. “They’re guys.”

Oh, yeah.

Many things to cover: 1) When is it time to let a friendship go? 2) Can a friendship ever separate amicably? 3) Do girls have a harder time with fading friendships than guys do?

26 Comments

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26 responses to “When Is it Time To Let a Friendship Go?

  1. Ana

    I don’t know that I’ve ever consciously “let a friendship go”—from what you wrote, it seems like you are referring to “breaking up” with a friend. But the original anecdote you posted sounds more like a gradual “drifting away”, which I’ve certainly done many times. I think if you grow and change as a person (or worse, you realize as you get to know her better that you really don’t like her that much!) i.e. if the qualities that made you friends in the first place are no longer there, then why hold on to the relationship indefinitely? Sometimes its not even a conscious decision—you just find yourself NOT calling the person or making plans with them, until eventually you don’t know what’s going on in each others’ lives and you move on.

    While this can sometimes be mutual, its often one-sided—i.e. one party continues to value the friendship and strives to maintain it. Being on the receiving end of the brush-off is tough. Frankly, it hurts my feelings when someone I consider a friend no longer has time for me. I try to rationalize WHY they are moving on, and in honesty it often has more to do with life circumstances than with me. But I also have my pride, and I generally don’t go to great lengths to “woo her back”, though I try to remain friendly (again, some of that is pride and not wanting to let on that my feelings were hurt—wow do I need therapy???)

  2. Rosanna

    Rachel- it’s like you are reading my mind. I had a conversation about this topic last night with a good friend of mine. Soon I will have to attend events where individuals who I used to be close friends with will also be in attendance (wedding festivities of a mutual friend). The conversation related to how I would act towards these individuals who I consciously ‘let the friendship go’ (as you put it). For me, I decided to let the friendship go after constant attempts to keep in contact after distance separated us and communication became fewer and farther between. I was by no means perfect but like Ana said, being on the receiving end of the brush off is tough. When you feel you put in effort but don’t get much in return it hurts. Would I rather dwell on feeling sad or put my energy towards other friendships or interests that make life happier? I think if someone can honestly say to themselves this friendship is not making me happy then that should be the time when to let the friendship go. In the words of Barney Stinson, “When I get sad I stop being sad and be awesome instead.”

    With that comes the idea of amicably separating. I would love to be all rainbows and butterflies but in most cases I would say friendships can’t end on too good of terms. (If you know ideas of how this could happen please let me know!… it would have helped last year when I ended some friendships). I think for women its more difficult because we share so much with that respective friend that coming to the realization that we no longer are close is hard to swallow.

  3. TC

    I’ve been thinking about this for a while so I’m glad you posted the topic. I guess you have to sum up the pros and cons and think about what are you getting out of the friendship. Not to sound all Janet Jackson in “What Have You Done For Me Lately”, but there does come a time when one looks at her expectations and wonders: ” Am I getting what I expected out of this friendship?” Overall, it’s time to let a friendship go when it hurts you more than anything else.

    I have local friends that are married, engaged, in coupledom, married with a recent kid, etc. I get that one’s priorities change when she becomes involved and I even appreciate it more when my friend becomes married and now has a kid to tote around. However, it is still hard going from bi-weekly brunches-to once a month brunches-to let’s hang when we both have a moment. In all the previous scenarios, I am almost always the initiator. I felt as if I were hounding my friends to hang out and no one likes to feel that way. Friendships are really sensitive because friends choose one another for that seemingly mystified connection or just having a lot of things in common. Thus when I am constantly calling to hang out and the friend in question is not reciprocating I feel as if the friendship is turning into a bust. The connection that once was…isn’t so mcuh.

    Actually, I don’t have much single gal pals in my area. Most of my single gal pals are out of town and even some married friends (some with children others without). A friend pointed out to me that I penalize my friends who are local. That I expect my friends who are closer to have the time to hang out whereas my friends away that are MIA I chalk it up to them being just busy with life.

    I’m single, but not a big kid person. So my friend whom recently had her baby hasn’t seen much of me. Mostly because I been stressing over other things, but a little because I rather not put myself in uncomfortable situations. Baby to me = uncomfortable. Also my friends with boyfriends/husbands, I still contact them but somehow I always feel as if I’m interrupting/intruding. So now, I don’t reach out to my local friends as much as I used to. And for whatever reason, they no longer reach out to me much either. It’s not the fade away tactic, but I recognize that our friendships aren’t as close as they once were in the past.

    I think a friendship can end amicably if both parties are honest about their feelings about the friendship. Separating from a friendship is like a romantic break up. Obviously, one person wants out while the other person may have wanted to stay being friends. After the initial hurt, I think it could end okay.

    In my opinion, girls do have a harder time at the fading friendships. I think we mostly internalize everything and may perhaps blame ourselves for the fade away. We may think about how our actions might have contributed to a friend’s fade away bit. I think that guys don’t internalize. They figure that it’s the friend’s loss. Do they hurt less? Probably not.

  4. Suzannah

    Oh I think this post could have been multiple posts, so many aspects of endings to a friendships.
    When I hear of 30 year marriages, I am so impressed because I recognize the commitment and work of staying close, emotionally present. So that being said, I think friendships have been romantised, so the length represents the value..but friendships are not marriages…
    So my take on this topic, if you live close, and have to keep on yourself to stay in touch, then probably it is time consider the kindest& most respectful way to less the commitment….Golly, that is a hard thing to do….

  5. San

    I am so glad you brought this up, Rachel.
    I have a really hard time letting friendships go and I usually go to great length to keep up with people, even if it’s only sporadically throughout the year.
    Some people appreciate that (and say so), others completely ignore my attempts to reach out.

    I just recently had to let a friendship go, because the person (that I had known for 1,5 years) turned out to be not the friend that I had hoped she’d be. But instead of me dumping her (which would have been the right thing to do, because she let me down), I was trying to mend things, while she just completely blew me off… which I had a hard time to accept. It just didn’t feel right that she’d be the one to get the satisfaction of not just letting me down, but also blaming me for the whole situation.

    I am over it now, but it took me weeks, if not months, to accept that this was not a friendship worth pursuing anymore.

    Why are girls (aka me!) like this?

  6. Pam

    I have certainly “let friendships go” this way.
    For me, the “catalysts” were normal things — I have kids, my friend has chosen to never have children (going so far, lately, to professing she “hates” children) which means that in order for us to do things together I have to find “kidless” time in addition to “free” time (I’m a single mother who works a 50-60 hour week); I am in a relationship which is going well, my friend has chosen to remain single; I maintain my own home, my friend lives with her parents (she’s in her 40s). Since finding time, space and energy to get together has historically been hard, and has become more difficult with the addition of the kids’ activities and school requirements from September to June, I find that we are certainly “drifting”.
    I am sure that my friend feels annoyed that I am not devoting as much time to trying to get together with her (finding a babysitter or time when I don’t have the kids, activities, the boyfriend, housework AND money) I am finding myself less inclined to jump the hurdles to keep the contact, and she doesn’t like my lifestyle (kids, relationships, family centric activities) and the liklihood that I am going to eventually LIVE with the boyfriend (adding 2 “step-daughters” to my household) means that I will just have that much LESS “kid free” time.
    I guess for me, I would prefer to have someone who could understand that I sometimes have other responsibilities and different priorities and wouldn’t be so negative about things I find important such as having children and a family, forging a relationship, marriage/partnership and keeping a home. While I have tried to meet her half way, I just don’t have the time sometimes to have her over for meals (requiring me to provide the food, cook the meal, clean up afterwards AND provide entertainment) or go out (find time without kids, pay a babysitter, pay for meals)…
    Sometimes life just pulls you apart, you know?

  7. Lindsay

    I drifted from a friend/co-worker over the last year, and finally had to end our friendship this summer. I realized that she wasn’t the friend she was when we first met – I noticed she began being mean to me (making snide comments at work, challenging me in front of others, etc.). I went out of my way to help her with something this past summer, and just before I was to help her, she let me down by falling through on a promise. She refused to apologize to me and to the others who were relying on her promise – I think she has a real problem dealing with guilt. For me, that was the final straw in a series of let-downs. So after many months of drifting apart, I ended things. I did it as nicely as I could, but she was hurt, and still is. We have a cordial relationship at work, but that’s it. And honestly, I feel bad about hurting her feelings, but my life is SO much better without her in it. I’m happy with the way things turned out.

  8. Kate

    I think a gravitational pull exists between best friends. Conversation is almost effortless, arranging get-togethers is painless, etc. When my best friend from high school and I are both in town, finding time for a quick glass of wine and a gab sesh is easy. My other “best friends”? For some reason, we need the precision and timing of an air traffic controller to get a lunch on the books. When this happens and time together leaves you feeling unfulfilled, it might be time to let go. My husband often reminds me that some people are only supposed to be in your life for a period of time. I think he’s right. And, letting go doesn’t have to be forever either.

    • Suzannah

      Kate, I love that letting go doesn’t have to be forever….Rachel compares friendships to romantic relationships, and the best part of friendships that is lacking in romantic relationships is they can come/ go and return again, like the seasons….and how much you enjoy the return has a lot to do with your attitude.
      Great point, easy to forget….made me feel better about a few things.

      • Kate

        Sometimes we go through phases when we don’t have much in common with the person, or we’re ready to make new friends and move on from that time in our lives. Then life syncs us up again or old beefs just aren’t important anymore. I’ve had several friendships come full circle and it’s always a joy when it happens.

  9. Lorrie Paige

    Rachel, I had to laugh when I read the response from your husband.

    Whenever I ask my boyfriend questions about friendship-or specifically, about his relationship with his friends–he usually looks at me in frustration and answers me to the effect of guys just don’t talk deeply and so analytically about friendships. Why are you asking such questions?

    Hahaha! But then there are times when he’s good for conversation about this wonderful subject.

  10. Jess

    Friendships definitely do drift, and sometimes it’s hard to let them go. I have a friend who lives in my apartment complex. She is in her early 30′s, married with a beautiful little girl.

    Before her daughter was born, we would hangout almost every weekend, go shopping together, or just hangout at her place. Her husband was working in retail at the time, so he would also work until 9:00 pm or so on the weekends.

    Once her daughter was born and her husband started to work a 8 am to 4 pm job, I never saw her. She barely texts me and when I text her, she sometimes doesn’t write back. She attributes it to being a mother and just being real busy. I understand that, but I am also not on the same page as her. I am in my late 20′s, have a boyfriend and no children yet. I feel that our friendship has drifted.

    I have spoken to another friend, Mary about it, who also has a friend with children. She told me that she speaks and sees her often (she lives about 40 min away from my friend). My friend Mary will visit Kimberly (her friend with children) about 2x a month. Mary attributes my drifting friendship to not having a close bond to begin with.

    In my opinion, I don’t think it has to do with a close bond. People change and move on no matter what the close bond is. I have spoken to my boyfriend about this, and he doesn’t understand. He tells me that men have different friendships than women. If they move apart, they move apart. He has had this happen with friends in the past and he doesn’t let it bother him. I guess everyone is different. I haven’t asked any of my male friends about this, but I am curious to see if men and women’s friendships affect them differently and why? Does gender play a role in emotions when it comes to friendships?

    • Joe

      I think it depends on the personality. I am a man who is trying to reconcile feelings of guilt for not inviting certain old friends to my upcoming wedding. I tend to be a people pleaser, and want to do what is going to cause the least amount of drama for everyone. What has complicated this is that I now have to also consider the feelings of my fiancee toward these people (which isn’t overly positive), and the fact that if I want to have the small, intimate wedding that’s important to me, I’ll have to make some difficult decisions.

      When I really dig deeply into it, it’s not even that I actually want these people at my wedding. It’s that I don’t want to be seen as the bad guy for making the decision not to invite them. I play out dramatic scenarios in my head of offending them or hurting their feelings. But I’ve gotten to a point with these people where I don’t really see us playing a significant role in each other’s lives down the road. So, in that sense, why try to prolong a potential friendship by including them in the most important day of my life?

      I appreciate Kate’s post with the reminder that people come and go in your life for specific reasons, and that letting go doesn’t have to be forever. To allowing life to take it’s course~

  11. An older wiser woman told me: “You have to accept that certain people will walk in to your life. They were meant to be there at that moment. But sometimes these people will walk out. And that is ok. You have to accept this.”
    I am one of those girls who really tries to cultivate friendships that are not temporary but enduring. Others however are not geared the same way. I’ve made a promise to myself that in 2011 I am only going to invest in friendships where people care about me as much as I care about them. Letting go isn’t a bad thing. It gives you time to invest in those that really matter.

  12. What to do when this happens with a family member? Growing up I was extremely close to one of my first cousins who was my age. Once we became adults, we drifted apart. Plain and simple, I just didn’t like the person she had become and she made me feel exhausted and bad about myself when we were together. She’s angry with me now and family gatherings are awkward for everyone because she and her husband won’t talk to me.

  13. Dee

    This topic has been on my mind lately. I have a friend who always seems to be embroiled in some kind of drama and I can’t point this out to her. She’s so deeply in denial. I just think if she didn’t have all the drama, something to fight against all the time, she’d fall apart. I’m just tired of commiserating with her on things that are the result of poor choices she makes over and over. I don’t see the benefit of continuing the relationsip.

    • liz

      I am in a similar situation. I met this guy who was having a really hard time, financially, emotionally, physically and I felt sorry for him. As time has gone on and I have listened to his seemingly endless horrible life events, it has become clear to me that he thrives on the drama. The woe is me attitude is so draining and then you wonder why your wife left and your friends don’t call anymore. It is exhausting and i am trying to fade away as well. You can’t ever point out that maybe you might want to try a new way of looking at life because he will blow up and say I don’t understand. I understand one thing to be true, doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result is insanity. This one sided friendship is going nowhere.

  14. Nace

    From a male’s situation.

    1. I decided to let go of my best friend just recently. A few things led to this and at first I was blaming myself. I thought that I wasn’t making enough time to catch up and hang out. We stopped hanging out which led me to believe that he had moved on. This hurt me quite a lot so I decided to move interstate. Rash, I know, but there were other factors for this decision but it certainly was a step back from fixing things. Over time (3 years) I realized something. It wasn’t him that was moving on with life. It was me. I had moved jobs, crossed state borders, met new friends, and gained new interests. He too gained new interests but the conversations with him were always the same and in all honesty I just wasn’t intersted. We just grew apart.

    2. Before I decided to end things I was frustrated at his obliviousness if there is such a word! I admit I was trying desperately to just spend some time with him like old times. I was his best man at his wedding which had to mean something so I didn’t give up. But at every attempt he would brush me aside – as if his computer games were much more important than to spend time with a friend that flew in from interstate and made time for him.. I was hurt. And angry. But I still blamed myself. Maybe I did something unforgivable? I let that anger build up and let the reasoning go. This was the only way for me to continue with my life. I stopped replying to texts. I don’t tell him when I’m in the state. I even unfriended mutual friends (who were also dear to me even before I met him) just so I don’t get any feeds that tell me what he’s been up to. I don’t know how he’s feeling about any of this or if he’s realized what I’ve done yet – or if he really gives a sh*t. All I know is I feel hurt even though it was my decision and a part of me wants him to know it.

    3. This reminds me of how things ended with a girlfriend I had. Our relationship was going strong the first 2 years but by the third things became unstable. I wanted to hang out with my friends more than her. I started liking things that she didn’t. I was unhappy being around her even though she had a heart so big and only wanted to share it with me. She would get so excited just to be with me with a smile waiting for me everytime she answered the door. It’s things like these you remember why you love certain people after your relationship with them has ended and when I ended it she told me, “I hope one day someone makes you feel the way I do [pain, and anger]“. Who would have thought that it would be my best friend that would do it? The real irony was it was he who introduced my ex to her future boyfriend a month later. The rat lol.

    My situation is probably common among guys but rarely mentioned out in the open even to their partners. I actually find it hard to have a DNM with my partner about this and I always skimp out on details. But I often tell her that I miss my friends and that I am still coming to terms with losing them, especially my best friend. I thought that one day he would be my best man at my wedding. I don’t think anyone else that I know now could fill that role and I find myself denying others of that chance.

  15. Y.G.

    This is also coming from a male poster.

    I agree with the poster above that guys go through similar things but as with typical male culture, we don’t vocalize it as much. Call it pride or whatever but we just don’t like to expose our vulnerabilities, especially in front of girls. I suppose that’s why girls think we don’t internalize it as much and that it doesn’t bother us as much. I can assure you it does.

    It is my opinion that guys are much lonelier in general than girls are. Although friendship between girls can be difficult to maintain and are just as impervious to life changes, I think guys have an even harder time maintaining friends in this modern society.

    Guys are naturally competitive against each other. When a guy friend who once was in a similar life situation gets involved with a girl or gets that big promotion in his career or whatever major change comes along, that rapport is gone. I’m not saying this always happens. There are guy friendships that are pretty much strong but I’d say in 9 out of 10 cases, guys will drift apart. Once they drift apart, pride gets in the way of recovering the friendship.

    Also, I believe in modern day society, men are more effeminate than they were in the past. There’s less of that macho culture where married men make sure to get together regularly for drinks and guys night out. Most guys I know are content to just spend their time with their wives/girlfriends and hardly do any of that guys night out stuff. They are “whipped” so to speak.

    I think it’s normal and healthy for hitched men to regularly hang out with their guy friends. I can’t see how spending all your time with the girlfriend/wife being healthy and good for your mental state. But for a lot of guys I know, all their care about is their career and their wife/girlfriend. That’s their entire life. And when they have kids, it gets even worse.

    I can’t explain why guys are such “wimps” these days. All I know is that although I am single now, if I do get attached someday, I’m going to do my best to make time for my guy friends. I think despite all this gender equality stuff, women still want men to be men and one of the major things about men are seeking that male bond with other men.

  16. letitgo

    Our friendship grew to be more than just friends. She was my confidante, in bad and good times. I am where I am now thanks to her neverending support too. Our friendship has survived tests and obstacles. We have kept our bond despite our distance, time, finding similarities instead of diffences, etc. Unfortunately the real test has shatterred the friendship, and looks like this time there is no way to mend it back. When your best buddy suddenly became a stranger because of the love that she is pursuing. When she breaks a family to be with an irresponsible man, when an act of crime doesn’t bother her conscience, when nothing else matter anymore and the worst, when she sees me as the enemy for fighting to get her back :-( It hurts to see the buddy you loved most being manipulated and exploited. But because she doesn’t want to lose him, her only focus is him and is totally blinded now. I cannot reach her at all. The last year has drained me. I need strength for myself. I need to focus on me now. I cannot pull her out when she jumps into the drain again. I am very sad. It feels like you are losing a part of you. This time I have to be strong. She cannot pull me down with her. I am moving on without her.

  17. Pingback: When Is it Time To Let a Friendship Go? | BEAUTIFUL FLOWER

  18. Ellaaaaaa

    Well I’ve kinda experienced this and have had to let go of a friendship. My best friend that I was really close with, moved to another school, not because her family moved but because she wanted to. And well now were not best friends anymore she stopped replying to my texts and got herself some new friends and a bf. And I reliased that I was trying so hard with a friendship that was already over. So some times you just have to let g and give yourself a chance to be happy again and stop living in the past.

    Because friends come and go, big deal it happens all the time.

  19. FarAway27

    know I’m very late with this response, but I’m glad somebody put this post up. I’ve been friends with this person every since middle school through high school. Now that we do attend college at the same campus, I’ve been trying to grow and change as a person, meaning I wanna leave high school and the past behind. In high school, I was a big gossip girl, like take for instance my friends would be all in my relationship and honestly that would be the main reason they would end due to my big mouth. Then in past relationships, whenever we would have an argument, I’d get my friends involved in it or tell them all about it.

    BACKSTORY:
    me and my boyfriend have been together for over a year now and were growing closer and closer. When we met the first time(we met on Facebook lol don’t judge) it was an instant connection we had for each other. We came across each other when we were going through horrible situations, I lost my mother, and he and his mother got evicted from their house. We stopped dating for a while, but eventually we got back together. My friend from middle school been there for me, but at the same time she wanna throw it in my face, and she gets mad that I don’t talk about my relationship with her, in fact I don’t talk about my relationship with anybody anymore, I learned that a relationship is between two people, not three or four.

    PRESENT TIME: I am now trying to get more in contact with myself, me and my boyfriend are still together of course, I been trying to get more involved in things more, at one point, texting was taking over my life, so was YouTube, And Facebook. People know that me and my boyfriend are together, but we don’t put our business out like that. If we have fallouts, we work them out ourselves, not get other people involved. My best friend(supposedly), doesnt like that at all. She told me that I’m changing and she liked the old me better, and that’s he say its like a live a double life when it comes to guys, but weird, cause I never slept with nobody. In truth, I’m really trying to get outta that high school phase. Nowadays, I’m focused more on school, and spend time with my boyfriend soon to be husband. While my friend is just posting stuff about me on Facebook and talking about me behind my back. My boyfriend was the only one who stuck by me through my whole tragedy, and no family. Am I in the right or am I in the wrong? She claims that she changing too, but taking people with her. I believe that if you take people with you, you don’t learn anything. Please let me know what I’m doing wrong. I also gave my life to Christ and I do notice changes.

  20. RK

    I knew my best friend since kindergarten. We had occasional falling outs in high school days, but we had a pretty cool dynamic going on for a long time. Then he went to college and I went off to war. Shit happened and we don’t talk now.

  21. Anonymous

    Im also going through a hard time of an ending friendship the reason I say ending is cause im not sure whats goin on unless its just me holding on to a friendship on my own and shes already made up her mind that she decided to shut me out her life in all honesty it hurts its one of the worst pains anybody can have this friend was like my sister I always there for her dont get me wrong she was there for me but you actually had to be there or know her situation to understand why my connection with her was so strong forget that it still is until this day im a kind hearted person im the type that when you befriend me its one of the best decisions you could ever make lol im just a good person thats all im sayin and a better friend and everytime I think im ready to let go and move on I fall right back in the same place she has so many personal issues everybody has issues we helped each other with ours and I just miss our friends

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