Shedding Unwanted Baggage

I’ve been wondering a lot about friend breakups lately. Studies show that ending things with a friend is more guilt-ridden for women than is dumping a lover. But what if you have to? Then what? Is there ever a good way to end a friendship?

When I initially wrote about friend breakups, I mentioned that studies show women are more likely to “slink away”—just stop calling or returning calls—then to actually have a direct ending-the-friendship talk. There was much debate in the comments of that post about which was the “right way” to handle things. Because while slinking away might be the easier (or, copout) approach, it’s more hurtful and confusing for the gal on the receiving end.

But all this talk seems to apply only to old friends. What do you do when you realize that things with a potential BFF just aren’t going to work out? That while the initial signs said this could be the beginning of  a beautiful friendship, closer examination reveals you’re not compatible? Of course, you could still be friends—not everyone has to be a best friend forever—but what if you don’t even want that? What if your schedule’s so full that you’d like to focus your time on friendships you want to nurture rather than waste precious evenings on people you don’t particularly like?

Being pretty deep into my search now, I’ve certainly met people with whom I didn’t immediately click. So far when that’s happened, it seems both parties have agreed. I may not have followed up, but neither did she. However, I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of the new friend slink away. I met one girl who was absolutely great. I really thought we hit it off. I followed up and eventually scheduled a second outing. It was more fun than the first! And then I followed up again. And again. And one final time. Three emails, no response. I can take a hint. In fact, I caught on after the second unreturned email, really, but at that point I figured I’d give it the old college try and round it out at three.

Since this was a new friendship, it would’ve been premature for this potential BFF to actually give me a breakup speech. I prefer her unresponsive method. I’m not really interested in hearing her say “I don’t think you’re friend material” or “I’m too busy for new friendships.” Perhaps she found this blog and decided she wanted nothing to do with its author. I really have no idea. And I’m ok with that. I’m not as offended as I probably should be. I have other potential BFFs who return my calls or—gasp!—even call me.

It’s times like these when I realize that though I may be looking for a different type of soul mate, what I’m doing here is dating. It’s tricky business. Sometimes you realize things just aren’t going to work out, and not because the other party did anything particularly wrong. Certain thorny issues are universal to all relationships: How serious must we be to warrant a Breakup Talk? At what point can I still pull off the slink away without seeming like a jerk? Theoretically, we’re only allowed one lover at a time. We can have as many friends as we want. So breaking up seems almost unnecessary, but when the eager beaver potential BFF emails three times, what do you do?

No, seriously, what do you do?


Filed under The Search

17 responses to “Shedding Unwanted Baggage

  1. Hmmm, I don’t think a break up talk is really necessary unless you’ve been friends for a long time (as you mentioned). I think it’s rude to not return 3 emails, but a short reply about being ‘busy’ and maybe getting together ‘sometime’ is probably enough to get the hint, without radio silence. That’s a tough one, there’s no easy answer. Just like dating, someone is left wondering??


  2. In this case, I think the fade-out is definitely the way to go. That conversation can really only happen if you’ve been close friends for a while… otherwise, the awkward is just overwhelming.

    • I agree, I think. But that can be really tough….I feel like an ass just ignoring phone calls and texts from a new friend, but I guess it’s that or just suck it up and see her every now and then?

  3. Rachel, you must have read my mind. I’ve recently experienced the exact same scenario. I befriended this new girl and we hung out a few times in the last few months and then suddenly I noticed her calls became less frequent and when I called I always got her answering machine. I thought she was a great go to girl and was disappointed that she decided, unilaterally, to disappear. Like you, I can certainly take a hint, but I am still left wondering what I did (and I don’t think I did anything), contemplating different scenarios of why the friendship has ended. I had a conversation with my husband about it and he seems to think there may be other things going on at home and that it may have nothing to do with me. That could be true, but I won’t ever know. I’ve decided to focus my energies on other friendships, but will wonder what didn’t work with this particular friend.

    • I agree with your husband. Sure, sometimes she’s just not that into you, but other times she may just be too swamped to invest time or energy into a new friendship. It can be hard enough to tend to the already existing ones. As you say, focus your energies on the other friends, right? But yes, it’s always so curious….

  4. There was an episode of CBC’s Definitely Not The Opera just this weekend that was about just this! (It’s probably on their podcast now too)

    There really isn’t any friend breakup protocol, and like you said, because we can have as many friends as we like the “It’s not you, I’m just not in a place in my life where I can have….friends… like you…” talk doesn’t really translate like it does in romantic relationships!

    I think the slow fade is appropriate in pretty much all situations, unless someone has done something egregious giving them a talking to seems to be more for the people cutting ties than for the benefit of the friend they’re stepping away from.

  5. Lisa Z

    Sometimes stuff happens, and let’s face it, if it the pursuit is not a romantic one, that stuff gets in the way and anything else, at least for me, takes a back seat. For example, I was so busy at work for the last 5 months, my grandma died during this time, there are sister conference calls every few days with what to do with my ill aunt, etc. My new Chicago friend gets precendence, and I don’t return my NYC BFF’s phone calls in a timely manner. Sometimes during stress, I don’t feel like repeating the stories again, although, I know, ultimately, that’s what friends are for, to be there for you. The closer you get to someone, the more you CAN be close with them, and perhaps that can be stressful too, because you NEED them, and that is not easy to admit for everyone (me).

    Thanks always for a forum for my ramblings!

  6. Lilu

    Thanks for the article Rachel- and all the helpful comments- in my initial message I didn’t specify the time length of my friendship, we been friends for 10yrs, she was my maid of honor at my weeding 5yrs ago, we were roommates when I was single, we used to double date together and so much history between us… but I feel like I grow out of all that messy life she has now, the dates the boyfriends the calling drunk at 1am to fight with the boyfriend then calling me at 3am to talk about it, then the fact that she is really unconsidered and selfish, I mean she wasn’t that bad before but a few yrs ago she broke up with a boyfriend (they were on and off for about 6yrs) and after months of therapy -me being the therapist- and going back and forth for more than 8 moths then finally she realized that was the BEST decision she made! she also realized she need it to play the field a bit more and now 3yrs after I’m against the ropes, I can’t take it anymore, I feel drained and unappreciated and like a jerk for wanting to leave her and I have no idea what to say to her without hurting her but every time she calls which is at least 5 times a day I don’t want to answer, and by the way I did try taking time apart and thinking that might help but it didn’t, my husband thinks I should do what is right for me and if I really feel this stressed out I should just move on but it doesn’t seem fair just to move on without looking back but looking back is what hasn’t let me move on so again, I have no idea what or how to do it.

  7. Eva

    Ugh, this is such a tough topic. So uncomfortable to break up with friends – probably even more uncomfortable than breaking up with a guy. I’m afraid I’m guilty of the cop-out, the not returning phone calls and just letting the relationship die a slow, painful death. I hate conflict and that usually shows itself in my inability to be direct with negative news.

    But – I’ll echo Lenore and some of the other commenters here. I think if the relationship is relatively young, it’s easier and better to just let it fade away than to have “the talk” about why it didn’t work. Maybe this is a symptom of our nonchalant society. But ultimately, I doubt there is anything either party did wrong. It’s rarely a serious “problem” with the friendship, just that things don’t click.

    Thanks for this food-for-thought, Rachel.

  8. silsila

    I tend to err toward the side of She’s-Just-Not-That-Into-You to a fault. I guess I’m so wary of being dumped or slinked away that at the slightest sign of it, I slink myself away. She’s not responding to my emails or texts, she must not like me, I’ll step away quietly. Or, I’m the only one between us who makes plans, so maybe she’s just not that into me and I’ll stop making plans, anxiously waiting for her to, and she doesn’t and then the friendship withers and dies. Until one day weeks down the line, I finally hear from her. But I’ve moved on.
    Should I really be trying harder or is it better to assume she’s not that into me?

    I think it’s a scar from childhood when I kept hanging on to a group of girls who finally had to tell me to stop hanging out with them, I just was not cool. It was devastating and looking back, I saw all the signs of how I was excluded so maybe I feel a bit gunshy about it now when I see small signs. The upside to that sad story is I immediately found new friends who actually enjoyed my company! Ha, enough schoolyard meangirl moments for now.

  9. No offense to this potential BFF … I’m sure you did have a great couple outings, but I find it absolutely rude and disrespectful to just ignore emails. Fine, you don’t want to flat out say there’s not a good match? I get that. But, there are other ways to let a person down gently. To reset their expectations. Maybe your life is too full. Maybe work is insane. Maybe a family emergency came up that is going to take your focus away for some time. There are a host of reasons that have very little to do with the person emailing … the least you can do is tell them something. That’s how I’d handle it – I wouldn’t just disappear.

    • Emily

      I agree! It seems so incredibly disrespectful to not respond to communications, especially multiple communications in a row! It’s cowardly. Gently ending a new friendship shows much more strength of character than slinking away does. And it’s also kinder to the one being slinked away from. As Nilsa said – you don’t have to tell a person you don’t like them, just gently indicate that there’s have a lot going on and now’s not a great time to get together. Simple, polite, and respectful.

  10. Christina

    I think the slink away tactic is best. I have done the friendship break up talk thing and it’s too easy for both sides to get defensive and emotional.

    Also I think the slink away tactic is best especially if the friendship was formed in the workplace, or if you share mutual friends with your ex bff.

    Whatever way you do it… whether it’s by slinking away or having a talk… it’s very, very awkward because in most cases it is never a mutual thing… there’s always one person who wants the friendship to continue and other who wants out.


  11. I don’t think I could do the whole ‘not responding to emails’ approach. The guilt would just eat me up… I just can’t stand when people are unresponsive.

    So if I found myself at the point where i needed to end a friendship early on, I’d probably say something about how life has gotten a little busy right now so I don’t have the free time to get together. But I would hopefully word it in a kind, non-hurtful way.

  12. I’ve been down this road before and it was PAINFUL. Actually in some ways I’m in it now. But that’s for another discussion. I had a great girlfriend years ago, we were very close, almost like sisters. But she was toxic and after years I had a lightbulb moment (yes I’m quoting Oprah all over the place here) and realized I didn’t like who I was with her. It was so hard, and I’m a bit embarassed to admit that I did the slink-away thing. I had to given this person’s personality. So I guess the point is, it’s individual, not just to the person, but also to the particular relationship.

  13. Lee

    I really wish more people could have “the talk”, because if I were on the receiving end of it I would like to know why it didn’t click for the other party, and maybe find out how to be a better friend next time. I don’t think most people see it this way, though, and the emotions and defensiveness would get in the way. Lack of communication causes SO many problems in life, and it’s a shame that more people can’t be open. I’ve done the slink away, and I usually end up feeling guilty for a while afterward. I’ve also initiated “the talk”, and most don’t go well.

  14. april

    I’ve been on both sides of this–the friend who wants to leave and the friend who gets left behind. Tough subject but it’s good to hear different sides of what should be done!

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