The Hard Facts: Pulling The Slink Away

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.


“A Recipe for Passively Ending a Friendship
3 months distanced Gchat
5 unanswered texts
2 poorly responded-to e-mails
1 awkward but not unpleasant dinner
1 postdinner drinking session, bowed out from because of “stomach feeling weird”
3 more months icy Gchat, culminating in …
1 Gchat block and/or Facebook unfriend.” (“The One-Page Magazine”; New York Times Magazine 1/22/2012)

I get that this is a joke. But it’s not, really. This recipe is, indeed, the formula plenty of people use to slowly slink away from a friendship.

According to research on friendship breakups, the “slink-away” is the most common escape  plan. It’s a cop-out, and passive aggressive, but it relieves the difficult “it’s not you it’s me (but really it’s you)” conversation. Basically, women are more likely to slowly withdraw from a friend, without ever addressing the separation directly, than they are to deliver a big breakup speech.

I’m guessing that social media has made it much harder to pull off a successful slink away than it was back in the days of, you know, telephone calls. If this recipe were written in the 1990s, it would say “1 awkward but not unpleasant dinner + 1 postdinner drinking session, bowed out from because of ‘stomach feeling weird’ = one friend breakup.” But these days, your friends could have 10 different ways to contact you. Email, phone, Facebook, Gchat, Facetime, LinkedIn, FourSquare… The list goes on.

If you’re trying to slink away from a determined friend (again, not encouraging, just saying), she could track you down via any of those methods. It’s not enough to avoid phone calls anymore. You have to hide gchats, ignore emails, delete texts. You’ve got to be pretty determined yourself.

The good news, I guess, is that the increased difficulty of the slink-away has probably cut down on how much we use it. You might find it so hard to slink away from a friend that you end up sticking with the relationship through a down time, only to come out the other end in a better place. Or maybe it’s so frustrating that you finally decide to just tell said friend you’re breaking up. Which is, of course, the mature option, if not the easiest one.

What do you think of this recipe for a BFF breakup? Funny-haha, or funny-true? And do you think social media makes it harder to slink away from a friendship?

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “The Hard Facts: Pulling The Slink Away

  1. Megan

    Social media may make it harder, but I also think it makes it more obvious to the person being slinked away from – like, “Hmmm, so it’s probably not that her email’s down and her phone is out of service if she’s also acting weird over IM and not responding to my FB posts.” Not sure if that’s better or worse…

  2. It’s hard for me to tell the difference between a friend who wants to end our friendship and a friend who’s just really bad about responding to e-mails/text/Facebook messages etc. I have several friends who are just terrible about responding to messages (actually my husband does this with his own friends, but he’s getting better), but even if they’ve seemingly ignored my messages for months I’ll suddenly get a message from them saying, “OMG I’ve been so busy but I want to see you! Can we do lunch?”

    On the other hand, I made a friend a few months ago at church and it seemed like we’d finally made a good couple friend with her and her husband–we had them over for dinner and they came to a party at our place–but then we invited them to another party and they started being really evasive when I asked them a few times if they were coming. They can’t exactly “slink away” because I see them every week at church, but I can’t tell if I should just stop trying to pursue a friendship outside of church or if I’m completely misinterpreting things!

    I understand the appeal of letting a friendship go passively, but it can make things REALLY confusing!

  3. This is such a tough call because I like to believe if someone isn’t working out in your life at the moment, people can change for the better down the road. While fading away can be cowardly, this is the road I choose because in the past officially breaking a friendship off only made things worse, especially if the friend is (or has become) unstable and it can lead to horrible things like harassment.

    What I prefer to do is compartmentalize. I have two amazing friends that I feel comfortable enough to call or email anytime and see very often. Then there are others that I also adore and see a few times a year, but don’t call as much. Then there are those I see maybe once or twice a year. But then there are those who are limited to running into at events because maybe they drink too much, but you still like them; or maybe they are amusing but could only be taken in doses.

    • I have read a few good stuff here. Certainly worth binomarkokg for revisiting. I wonder how much effort you put to create such a fantastic informative site.

  4. I was re-evaluating a friendship once after having been hurt by the lack of support from a friend during a particularly difficult time in my life. I tried to be up-front with her and told her that I needed some time to re-evaluate our friendship as I had been very hurt by her. I then ignored two phone calls she made to me that same week. A week later, I got a note in the mail from her that said if we weren’t going to be friends any more, she wanted a gift back that she had given me months earlier. Ouch!

  5. I agree with Jessica and Seakist, it is difficult to know when someone is just busy or whether they are trying to ‘slink’ but I wish people would just let you know where you stand. Having said that I now shy away from being outright honest as that is just too awkward making. I hate confrontation. I guess if you cannot be honest or talk through any difficulties or misunderstandings (sometimes the lack of contact can be their lack of confidence that you acutally want to know THEM) then they are more ‘aquaintances’ than BFF’s. Oh, it is so difficult to gauge. It is sometimes just easier to do things by yourself! Humans eh?!

    • Great insights, Indialeigh. I did a lot of things by myself until my later years when I met real quality friends. I never felt uncomfortable going alone to bookstores, restaurants, museums and even concerts!

      • Yes, I think that quality is better than quantity. Not settling for ok.ish, much like you wouldn’t for a career or life partner, is key. Trouble can be that as a society we not not really taught the difference between unconditional love and support, which we are ‘told’ is the best practice and being a doormat. Being bold enough to call bad behaviour or behaviour one finds hurtful or unnacceptable, I have found is not really encouraged. On the other hand the ‘walking on eggshells’ society also can mean that we can’t just call it (name and shame a behavour), let it go and get on with it. sometimes it can be like ‘one strike and you’re out’. Where is the balance? I wish there were guidelines, perhaps the list on this blog post isn’t so crazy… I guess we need to assess everything on a case by case basis. Choose wisely in the first place and stay verbal in our communications I suppose is the answer. Not always easy (for me) to do.

        • Wow, Indialeigh, you are a girl after my own heart! Years ago an acquaintance said to me, “You expect a lot from people. But then again, you give a lot.”

          Life is short and there is nothing wrong with having very high standards.

  6. I’m totally friend-crushing on you, Rachel, and no, we haven’t met. I was just talking to a friend (a lifer!) last night about friendship breakups and my new attitude towards it. Due to a combination of reading your book and approaching my 30s, I’ve come to the realization that if they aren’t that into me, I’ll be okay. How ever I or they decide to stop being friends, I have promised myself to not waste my energies in analyzing all the whys (there will undoubtedly be loads of reasons & explanations!). Instead I’m going to channel my energies into meeting and developing potential BFFs. Much better for my soul!

  7. Hi, Rachel!
    For some reason your email contact isn’t working for me so I’m contacting you this way. I’d love to read/promote your book via my review blog and our local Algonquin Patch.com. If I can catch you reading around here I can take photos, interview you (if you have time) and submit that to Triblocal.com.

    You can email me at: lisaguidarini@yahoo.com
    All best,
    Lisa Guidarini

    Reference Librarian/Adult Program Coordinator/Social Media, Algonquin Area Public Library District

    Adult Fiction Reviewer, Booklist

    Professional Media/Nonfiction/Literature Reviewer, Library Journal

    Book Reviewer/Author Events, Patch.com and Triblocal (Chicago)

    Book Reviewer, BookBrowse.com

    National Book Critics Circle

    http://bluestalking.typepad.com

  8. Paige

    What about when you don’t want to break up but it seems that it’s the only option? When any communication seems forced or that there just isn’t enough common ground between you two to keep going? One of my closest BFFs (went to high school and college together) and I have really gone down 2 different paths since graduation. I moved abroad and she went to NYC. I was/am very hurt that she never came to visit and from there a rift seemed to grow. It was natural but I felt like the effort to keep in touch started to fade. I miss the good old days, and I am hoping that maybe in the near future things will be rosy again, but for now I am at a loss. Almost feel like it’s best just to cut all ties and wish each other the best. Thoughts/advice?

    • Rose

      I tend to think its best to not “shut the door” on a friendship, unless there is something truly “wrong” with it (like a toxic relationship, betrayal, etc). I would suggest keeping the “friendship door” open, but not spend energy on the relationship. Like, maybe text her happy birthday and occasionally touch base on facebook.

      So if your life paths cross again later in life, you might find more value in the friendship again and be glad you didn’t actually “break up. Just my thoughts.

      • Paige

        That is definitely how I have felt for the past 2 years … I’m not the type of person to actively seek conflict or rupture, but it is also hard when you consistently feel let down or just plain old sad. I will probably save my energy to protect myself, but keep the door open and hope that the universe puts our paths closer together in the near future. Thanks!

  9. Lori

    In the past year I’ve been both the slinker and the slinkee. I don’t know if there is there is a happy medium in ending a friendship. Social media certainly doesn’t help the process – for the slinker it’s awkward knowing that your former friend can keep tabs on what you’re doing. For the slinkee it’s tempting to check in on your friend to see if her life is going better without your friendship…

  10. I have the opposite problem. I move a lot (school, job, following the hubby), like every five years, and I’ve noticed that there is a 20% slinking rate amongst my friends whenever I do. Despite my extra effort to keep in touch (I call, I write, I email, I send cards), they slowly back away (cue fog machine).

    But as I don’t change much as a person, I’ve recognized the reason for the slinking is not me, per se, but an issue they have. I understand but it still hurts…. especially because when you move somewhere new, you need your friends more than ever.

    Anyway, what’s ended up happening several times is that years later my HUSBAND will come home and tell me that he got a Facebook message (I’m not on facebook) or an email from MY former friends inquiring about how I’m doing. For some darn reason they never contact me. It irritates the hell out of me. My husband says I should be on Facebook but I suspect that even if I were, they’d just be snooping into my life without participating in it.

    • That’s exactly why I don’t like Face Book, Natasha. People ARE there to snoop. So many people friend-ed me, I wrote them lovely emails, commented on how beautiful their children were, asked how they were doing and sincerely meant it, only to have them not answer. The only excuse I can give them is maybe they type with just one finger?

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