When Is It Time To Let Go?

I get asked this question a lot. Women find themselves in friendships where suddenly they’re doing all the work, and they want to know if, and when, it’s time to give up.

My answer is always the same: It’s different for everyone. I don’t feel comfortable telling one friend to give up on another, and while I have an “I’ll initiate plans 3 times and then I’m done doing all the work” rule for brand new friends, there’s no such easy formula for old pals. Someone who’s been in your life a long time has earned more consideration, and sometimes it’s easier to keep making the phone call or sending the invite than it is to say goodbye.

I have (who hasn’t?) found myself in this pickle before, and it’s really a “you know when it’s time” situation.  Generally, I don’t mind being the one to reach out. I try hard not to keep track of how often I’ve called versus how often she has, since sometimes I will be the one touching base over and over, and other times I’m swamped and am only lucky enough to catch up with pals because they contact me.

But, I’m human. I notice if I have been contacting a friend over and over and she has suddenly stopped responding, or has avoided making plans. And, bottom line, it’s hurtful. That’s why we consider giving up, right? Not because we don’t like the person anymore, or because there is some specific rule about how much work one person should do in a relationship. Because every time we contact a friend and don’t hear back, or we get an evasive non-committal answer, our feelings get hurt. We feel like our friend doesn’t care about us–at least not as much as we care about them. We feel that our friendship is not a priority.

But the question, always, is “when?” When is it time to give up? And people ask me this because they are torn–they want to keep up a relationship, but they don’t want to get hurt. They don’t want to be heartless (and we know ending friendships causes lots of guilt) but they don’t want to be a sucker, either. And I think, ultimately, they want a clear cut answer, because they’re conflicted.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the magic solution. It’s too big a responsibility for me to tell someone else when to break up with a friend. It’s not my call to make.

So I’m wondering: When you’ve let a friendship go, what has been the final straw? How did you know it was time?


Filed under The Search

44 responses to “When Is It Time To Let Go?

  1. Sheila

    When her husband made a pass at me, insinuated to her we had something going on, and she blamed me. I realized that was a no win situation. Fast forward many years…they are divorced.

  2. Janelle

    Wow, a constant struggle of mine.

    I get that I’m not the life-of-the-party friend, but you’re not going to find a more caring, supportive, non-judgemental friend than me, but I don’t have many friends who contact me to do something. It’s almost always me initiating a friend, family or couple’s date. When we do get together, there seems to be no issue. We have a blast and then I’m fine again. When it’s time to get together again, it’s me doing the contacting…again. It’s a cycle I get frustrated about, but continue it over and over.

    Perhaps I’m getting too down on myself. Perhaps my friends are used to me setting things up and like it that way! I think my friends appreciate me for who I am(?), It would just be nice to be the invitee every once in a while.

    I guess the final straw for me would be after initiating the date then not having a good time. By then I will have realized the friendship has lost it’s mojo and it’s not meant to be.

    (Hey, I just learned something about myself in what I just posted. Thanks!)

  3. Reblogged this on Sista, You've Been On My Mind and commented:
    Sometimes, you have to say goodbye

  4. Jill

    Or when does the lack of reply by one’s real friends signal some sort of life overload or illness at the other end of the non-answering phone or non-reply invite?

    Sometimes it is a measure of the friendship, to want to reach out that bit extra, despite what feels like a rebuff or distancing…

  5. I don’t know that I’ve ever initiated a bottom-line breakup, and, like you, I don’t keep track of how often I initiate and how often she does, but if it becomes painfully obvious that I’m always the one doing the initiating, then I might just take a break, and give her a few months before I consider the friendship to have run its course.

  6. Vicky

    I have a few friends like that. I usually end up doing the planning and organizing. I ask for suggestions and get back an “Oh, it doesn’t matter.” or “Whatever you want to do is fine.”.

    On the one hand, it’s nice that they’re so easy going but on the flip side doing all the planning can feel like (1) a lot of work (I don’t like being someone’s social coordinator all the time) and (2) they didn’t care enough to think of things that I would like to do. But then I feel bad for looking at it that way.

  7. shrinkingjustine

    You know, I use the word friend so sparingly because I am looking for that lasting girl friend connection. I too moved to a new city and don’t have what I have with my childhood friends that are back in ny, here in atlanta. I miss it! I find that I am always the one trying to make plans with people here…eventually I give up!

  8. movingonmyown

    It’s taken me a lot of time (and heartbreak) to find friends that truly value me and I truly value. I have been either been the friend doing all the planning/inviting, or I was the friend always left out of things. It was depressing (more than I could ever type here). I don’t take crap from people. I haven’t had many long relationships and once it causes more pain than joy, I try for a little longer, talk to them about it (or try to), and if that doesn’t work, cut them loose. There are WAY too many people out in the world to let one (or even a few) of them take you down. Now it’s about equal with my two best friends. We give and take and I love them to death. I couldn’t be happier that I’m choosy with friends. I may be lonely at times, but I’d rather take more time to be with myself and love/get to know myself than spending that time feeling worthless around others.

  9. To be painfully honest with myself and the rest of the Internet, I’ve only actually made that decision once, and it was barely mine to make then. For the most part, it’s been someone else letting me go. But three years ago, when one of my friends decided to take a stand against my best friend (details not necessary), I chose a side. I had to. And to go back on it didn’t feel right. Not when there had been a string of almost I’m Done moments before that.

  10. With six sisters you would think I was overloaded with friends. But as life would have it families are not necessary friends. So when they don’t call or return calls, I am reminded again they are just my sisters…so I move on (I don’t live by them) but I love them dearly and have no animosity toward them.

    So my friends are all acquaintances since being a true friend requires more commitment than most people want to put out. Our lives are so bombarded with busy work that friends seem to get in the way. So when I have a moment, I call my acquaintances and have a blast catching up on the past “year”, especially since I moved away from them. There are no strings attached for them to call me back—ever. Just whenever they feel like and we catch up again. Or I call them. You know if you are intruding on your acquaints if they have a hard time conversing with you. Remember to ask them questions since this is not “all about you phone call”.

    “Hi Suzie, Blah, Blah …Nice talking to you, Bye..Call me sometime…”

    Ya, right, not in a million years. So treat your acquaints nice and they might become real friends. They will want to talk to you and there still is no pressure.

    Please don’t be a “needy” friend. They drain all the energy out of you and then you are not worth diddly-squat to your family. But please be friendly to all those around you…always. A friend is on the other side of that door. Just knock. Avon calling!

    High exceptions is setting yourself up for disappointment. People will fail your exceptions since they really don’t know what they are. After many unanswered calls, I finally hear from her.

    “You should have called me, I was so sad and I needed your strong shoulders to cry on.” Where were you all week?…I could have died….blah blah…..”

    I expected her to be at my beckon call. That is not a true friend. Now if I just left a message and wished for a call back but no demands, she would have called me back.

    These may not be close friendships, but you are having a non-committal friendship with no pressure. She is not obligated to respond to every invite, be at every birthday party, always host the girls nite out because her husband works nights.

    If you need a confidant, pick one and stick to her like glue for personal stuff…otherwise it is gossip. She may not pick you for her confidant if her needs are different than yours. Don’t expect her to share her clean or dirty laundry because you did. Again expectations. Don’t have them. Let your friends and acquaints be free to be. No stings attached.

    Life is to short to worry about the burden of being a good friend and always having to call her. Give her a break. It could be you….to someone’s expectation.

  11. Guess I didn’t answer the question…cuz I have a whole different solution to the problem…Don’t make it a problem with those expectations…if she feels obligated ..than she is not a true friend. Let friendship take over naturally and the stress will be off both of us. Some always say “no”; others always say “yes” to social gatherings and the such. The “no’s” don’t want friends or even acquaints. The “yes” need the social outlet. That is what life is all about. Enjoy it! Don’t stress over the small stuff.

  12. I let it go when my friend told us (our gals gang) that she was happier without us in her life…..till this moment dropped on us, we were trying our best to be in touch with her through social media, texting, calling etc..but when this statement was thrown on us I knew that its better to let it go coz You Cant Force Your Friendship on anyone 🙂

    • Wow. That reminds me of a former friend who once told all the women at her bridal shower, basically, “It’s been nice knowing you, but now that I’m going to have a husband, I won’t be needing you.” That made it easy to end the friendship. When someone puts it so bluntly, there are no feelings of guilt when you stop pursuing the friendship.

  13. Sometimes letting go..takes months especially when one no longer sees a good friend often. When this happens, one hopes there are other good positive friendships to keep in a person’s life. When to let go:

    *when person intrudes too much into one’s life and wants to control a person’s path/life destiny when the person is already mentally and physically healthy

    *whenever you meet the friend, you tend to view the person in an overly critical manner and cannot enjoy a good, fun time with person without this interfering your judgement of person. Free-flowing, hapy spirit of long term friendships cannot be evaluating nor judging another person.

  14. *and when a person continually lets you down, does not keep even simple promises (ie. meet-up times/places, payback of small money loan, is not truthful).

  15. Usually when the negative outweighs the positive and I find myself unhappy whenever I am around them.

  16. I have a friend I have been nothing but disappointed in for 12 years. She agreed to her daughter being a flower girl in my wedding and I even had her kid on my wedding website for about 10 months. Then, without letting me know, she apparently wasn’t coming to the wedding. She never sent in her RSVP card and two days before the wedding I asked her how she was getting here and she said she thought I knew she wasn’t coming. Bad bad friend. She said she wasn’t coming because she didn’t have the money, and then her best friend told me she had just spend $1,000 on hair extensions. When I brought it up to her she just deleted me and everyone I know who she knows off of facebook. After that one bad thing after another. It is hard because we have been friends for so long, but I might say that an old friend is not necessarily a good friend.

  17. It once happened to me with an old roommate. We used to be friends too. After we all moved out of that place, we hung out less and less. A few months later, we met at a mutual friend’s party, and we had a cold, formal conversation that told me our friendship was over. Both of us were okay with it. My point is that sometimes the ‘letting go’ is not even a conscious act.

  18. What a GREAT question! I think you hit the nail on the head that it usually starts with one person not getting back to the other, and things kind of fizzling out. Definitely a hurtful experience, but when the friendship becomes lopsided like that, it’s usually time to let go. Or at least let go of making an effort and investing your heart and soul into it.

  19. Juliette

    I think it is can be pretty simple, once you stop enjoying the time you spend together…if giving her call, is stressing you out- then I think it is a vibe that you are picking up from her- we have all issued an invite, already knowing the answer would be no….at that point, just put the friendship on the back burner, stop giving it emotional energy…my mother-in-law told me something wehen I first married 20years ago…Nothing is personal..I now TOTALLY agree…

  20. I find that when a persons actions or comments actually effect my mental health, it’s time to at least consider how beneficial it is to maintain a friendship. I moved from Ohio to New york City two years ago, since my move I’ve met many people with alternative motives, unfortunately you have to learn how to “weed out” negative and destructive people. It’s a difficult decision to make for longer term friends, and in general I give people a break because life is just hard for everyone. This is absolutely a decision every individual must make independently, and it will differ case by case, but sometimes goodbye is the best thing to say.

  21. You don’t “give up”. Lives are busy, I’m guilty myself of realizing I had forgotten to get back to a friend two weeks after I was suppose to. I didn’t do it intentionally. And it’s not because I don’t care about them anymore. My head has a hundred things running around at once, there are priorities and sometimes life is just too busy to allow me time for me let alone another person! I find my TRUE friends understand this. Work is hectic, kids get sick, repairs need to be made on a car or the house… I’d much rather sit back and drink a glass of wine with my friends, but life can weigh us down so there is no time left. Eventually there is, and you bounce right back where you left off. Don’t be angry at them. Think of them, drop an email from time to time, rare occasion I can get time for a phone chat at the same time as a friend, cherish those times 🙂

  22. When time is for it, you can just feel it.
    It was not that my bestfriend and I said “We are not bestfriends any longer” but we just grown up in different ways, and suddenly we were not best friends anymore.. We still talk together but not everyday and all that like the old times.

    //Nanna H.

    http://www.blogbyhau.com (fashion, DIY, training/fitness, quotes and everyday blog)

  23. barbara joy

    Reblogged this on Both Sides Now and commented:
    I think as I age and because of my background with my narcissistic mother I now value quality over quantity. I’d rather haver fewer friends that are “free of toxins” than the bucket full that comes with baggage.

  24. I don’t really break up with a friend. Instead, I lessen the effort at reaching out. If they still care but are only busy, my friends find a way to reach back out to me and schedule an afternoon together. If they still don’t reach out, then I give them my final test:

    I invite them to my birthday dinner, which I do so every year. All my friends make an effort to go, but if it’s unavoidable, at least they respond. If someone doesn’t even bother responding, that’s when I consider the friendship over.

  25. Unfortunately I went had to question myself over the last year and a half with two people I considered very good friends. One was very taken by her boyfriend, who is notoriously posessive, and continued to lie and turn our friends against each other. I eventually stopped talking to her, and somehow felt guilty for it. The other friend, it was completely a one sided friendship in which I put in all the effort. This post is so true; when it comes to ending a friendship, you’ll know when it’s time.

  26. Naomi Rose

    I am struggling with this a lot with one person I have known for twenty years and for a while she was my closest friend. In the last few years I have realized that I am very angry with her about some things and also dread the idea of having a conversation with her. Both of us have kept intermittent email/written contact but even that drives me nuts as her emails are all about her and her family and it is as though she shows no interest in my news – by this I mean she doesn’t give the impression she has read/received my cards. I am not sure why I am still bothering but I miss her friendship and her family. If i’m honest i am also a bit afraid of how she will react if I ever see her again in the future – we share mutual friends. Reading this back I don’t see many signs of a good friendship here.

  27. Beth

    This is something with which I have always struggled. With one friend, the killing blow was when she didn’t include me in her wedding. At all. I could have dealt with not being a bridesmaid, but when I went to the wedding and saw that that a couple of people she had confessed she didn’t feel very close to were handing out programs, I was devastated. I mustered the courage to ask her about it later, and she gave an evasive answer. Ironically, though we don’t talk much anymore, we do still see each other once every year or so when she comes to town to visit her in-laws. And she was once a person I considered one of my closest friends…

    • So weird – recently had the EXACT same experience. Mind you she did ask me to read some obscure Indian blessing which I promptly declined (not me at all – cant possibly read out something that I dont believe in!).

      And she also asked if my daughter could be her flower girl – as apparently that is the same as being a bridesmaid! Ha!

      I was OK’ish with all this, but the final straw was her treatment of me on her wedding day. We turned up early as per her request. She greeted us then left us to it…after getting my husband to run errands for her (of course!). She then left us waiting for over an hour downstairs while she & her bridesmaids were upstairs doing their thing. When I went to check on her to see how much longer she might be she rudely told me to go away (stating she wanted to be “with their girls”) so she could carry on with having a meltdown over a wedding day that had taken 8 years to come to fruition, then in the next breath, asked if I could do her favour & get my husband to video the ceremony. I was devastated & ropeable…long story short….I emailed her outlining the times I felt she was rude & disrespectful. She replied with a non reply so that was that. Felt good to say how I felt as she was not a girl that was used to being told she sucked as friend (needs to be liked)!!!

  28. I have a few friends that it seems every few years we have to give each other space…this too may go on for a few years,but we find our ways back to each other. I think we need time to grow.

  29. So weird I am reading this blog – after reading Liz Pryor’s book “What did I do wrong” I got a bit of an epitome & now I discover a blog that has been covering this topic all along (re your 2010 post on break-ups).

    I wrote about this in a recent post as it is something I have been thinking about a lot lately.

    I think that, like with anything in life, there are some real deal breakers when it comes to friendships – such as communication & effort always being one-sided & rudeness, lack of respect for your time, views, values & person.

    Yes ending friendships can come with guilt – something I have definitely experienced. A few years ago I ended a 10 year friendship with a toxic person whom I should really have broken up with years ago. The catalyst was her coming to me with another problem a couple of months after I had given birth to our first child & after only contacting me 3 weeks earlier to tell me her good news that she was pregnant (despite asking me how I was getting on as a new mother seemed to have just slipped her mind!)

    Unfortunately it was an awful problem – breast cancer, but one that I just could not and did not want to deal with. I was tired of her toxicity and selfishness. Sadly 4 years later she died, leaving behind a 4 year old child that. But that is life. Honestly you just cant let misguided guilt stop you from removing people who are not what Rev Ed Bacon calls “balcony people”. Sure I felt guilty when I first cut her off, but I got over it & hearing about her death just made me sad – sad for the friendship we could have had but never did have and sad that a wee girl was left without her Mum.

    But friendships like these are the easier ones to let go. What I find difficult is the ones who indicate they still want to be friends yet never make any damn effort. It is hard to work out if they really want to dump you (cos you might still enjoy their company as you share a lot of things in common/values/humour etc) or are just honestly that busy. In my view no one is ever too busy to prioritise people that matter – the same people no doubt find plenty of time to spend with a new boyfriend etc – yet, I still find it hard to dump these kinds of friends.

  30. Reblogged this on Waterrains21's Blog and commented:
    This is something I am struggling with right now.. Long term friendships seem to be slipping away..

  31. I have a rule with friends old pals. There comes a time in your life where you have to assess how people came to be in your life and if they should stay. They either (a) drain you/make you feel obligated or (b) leave you feeling rejuvenated and refreshed and free. The rule is, if you really have to question how they make you feel, start the process of moving on and replacing them with more uplifting people. Just do it. It’s like throwing away fruit with mold on it – it was good once, but has expired. You can still be there for them, but your needs can be filled by better friends. They honestly won’t even notice (because draining people only focus on themselves), and if they do, they will come to respect you more and realize that they have to step it up to get back in your life (you will not be their first friend who moved on for the same reason). Then, they will either choose to be a better friend, which you can welcome, or not choose to (more likely), but either way, it’s a win for you because you have already taken care of yourself! Took me YEARS to learn this, but now I wouldn’t live any other way.

    • Completely agree – particularly love “They honestly won’t even notice (because draining people only focus on themselves)”!!! So very true.

      I think most women take years (if ever) to learn this. Guys seem to have this one in the bag – I have never met a man who would tolerate BS from a friend. They tend to call their mates on thing then either move forward with them or move on without them.

  32. When it feels like work and the joy is gone, it’s time to let go.

  33. Reblogged this on Random Enough 🙂 and commented:
    Sometimes, people get too busy that they wouldn’t have the time.
    It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re forgotten. It all depends on the kind of relationship you have and how you value each other. Time is essential to growth, both when you’re together and when you’re apart. 🙂

  34. Anonymous

    when you come away feeling trodden, low, down, attacked, used as a punch bag for their ‘problems’…Friends should ‘lift’ each other, prop each other through hard times,not drag them down too. Enjoy your friends successes. If you feel yourself or feel resentment/ jealousy from, then ditch! Not always as clear cut but you as a friend and your friends should be about support, acceptance, honesty (but not cruel or spiteful type), laughs, love, caring, unconditional, without jealousy too, and two way! Sharing. And accepting too when cannot always be with for whatever reason…when you can pick up after a .long time from seeing a friend like you were never apart too and not feel you have to make excuses for that and it just flows and it is what it is…acceptance. True acceptance. OK I’ll stop, am rambling…:-).

    • Naomi Rose

      This is a lovely description of good friendship. The friend I was talking about in my earlier comment is like the first sentence here and has been for a long time. It has taken me a long while to see this clearly but I know what to do now.

  35. peersncareers

    I have let a few friends go recently and the ‘when’ is very personal. For me, it was a realization that the relationship was not ‘healthy’…emotionally healthy for me. When I see consistent patterns of taking and not really giving that leaves me feeling used and when I confront them on some behaviors and they do not take my feelings that I have expressed into consideration, basically showing a lack of empathy. And lastly, when you go through good times, okay times, bad times, ugly times they are there for you…in the good times, they are happy with you (not envious), through the okay times (they like being with you and don’t try to see what they can get out of you), bad times (are supportive) and ugly times (lend a hand). xoxo

  36. Anon

    I can relate to so many of these comments! I let go of a number of good girlfriends in college who were disrespectful and difficult, much to my regret later. I wish they had stayed in my life even in a small way. Since the college years (I am now in mid-30s) I enjoy my friendships so much more because I am a better friend and I am better at choosing my friends. I hate friendship divorce. When I notice a friend is more of a taker or is disrespectful, I immediately pull back and don’t initiate much, but still keep in touch because everyone has value. I may comment about a negative behavior I have observed. Some people who I didn’t like have surprised me over time. I also think we need to shift our perspective and expectations. Not everyone is going to be nice to us for the rest of our life. Sometimes, certain situations bring out aspects of friends we don’t like. Or, someone may be difficult to make plans with because the person is trying to distance from us. We aren’t perfect either!

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