Sarah and I had been friends for over 15 years. We consulted one another about cutting carbs and remodel projects that took too long and how to get our husbands to stop or start doing whatever we thought they should. We gossiped about neighbors, in-laws, politicians. We speculated who was drinking more and more, who had gotten a facelift, who was done being married.

We threw birthday parties for one another and mopped up messes on one another’s kitchen counters. We danced to music we loved at beach parties as the summer sun turned towards fall. We traveled together. We shored each other up through death and illness and circumstances that scared us. We talked nearly every day.

And then slowly, things unraveled. I got frustrated listening to the same dramas over and over. Nothing was changing, at least that I could see. Staying connected felt more and more like something I should do rather than something I wanted to do. I wanted to step away from this friendship. So, I stopped calling. I felt like a bad boyfriend.

How do you end a friendship that you have outgrown? That’s the sticky part. It’s a little like breaking up with someone. Usually, one person is more ready to leave the relationship behind than the other. Rarely is it synchronized and tidy. It can even be super messy. And that’s why you avoid it.

Why Friendships End

The pandemic clarified things for many of us. We stepped off the treadmill of doing things without thinking or pausing to ask ourselves if those were the things we really wanted to be doing. We were forced to stop going out for drinks, for coffee, to the movies, to yoga. And in that pause, we sifted and sorted what mattered most. When the backdrop included the possibility of illness and death, our choices mattered even more.  

So now that the world is “opening up” again, we may find our clarity tested. If you tell the truth, there were people you didn’t miss during the 18-month hiatus from social engagement. Friends that you are no longer wanting to be connected to. But how do you end the relationship gracefully?

I’m a big fan of journaling to sort myself out. As an introvert, when something isn’t working for me, I have to write for a bit to see what it is that really doesn’t work. I dig deep for my own truth. Why do I want to end it?

In her article, “The Downside of Friendship,” Dr. Robin Moreman offers some common reasons why you might choose to end a friendship:

  • Circumstances: Your lives have changed (no longer working together, going to the same school, etc.).
  • Distance: You’ve grown apart in terms of interests or commitments.
  • Lying: Your friend is deceitful.
  • Negativity: Your friend spends more time cutting you down than building you up.
  • Obligation: The person has become an obligatory friend who you no longer enjoy.
  • Rivalry: The person is actually a frenemy (a friendly rival).
  • Toxicity: The friend has become a toxic person in your life.
  • Values: Your values have become opposed in some way.

There are three ways to end a friendship: you can intentionally let it dwindle away, you can put it on pause, or you can have a brave conversation to end things. You will be the one to decide which route you want to take based on your own communication skill level, courage and commitment to the friendship. Let’s take a look at each of them:

Intentional dwindling

This is where you let the friendship drift away. You don’t call back right away. You respond to texts days or weeks later. You don’t invite your friend to do things with you. You fall out of communication. It’s what I have done with Sarah. Phone calls and texts become fewer and further between. We don’t send or receive invitations to important events. The friendship withers from lack of care and attention.

Pausing

You decide to take a break for a while, knowing that you may find yourself circling back as life changes and circumstances open. I had a dear friend in high school who drifted away through our mid-thirties and forties. We were busy with life — kids and jobs and marriages. We kept sending holiday cards filled with friendly greetings, but we weren’t connected. Now, in our late 50s and early 60s, we have found our way back to friendship. Life is slower, we can take a breath. We have things in common again. It’s lovely.

Brave Conversation

This is the one that requires the most courage and clarity. You invite your friend for a coffee and have the hard conversation, eyeball to eyeball, sharing what you’re feeling and experiencing and that you would like to end the friendship. Or that you’ve outgrown it.

The reason this requires courage is that you have no idea how your friend will receive this news. And it might get quite uncomfortable. But the brave conversation can also be clarifying, illuminating something you didn’t know or understand about events that have happened. Ultimately, a brave conversation, done well, can leave you in appreciation for one another and the season of friendship you enjoyed. You release one another to the next season.

“As we gain a stronger sense of self, what used to matter no longer does, and we’re bound to outgrow certain friendships,” New York City psychotherapist Florence Falk explains. “Once you’re aware of that, without being cruel or feeling guilt-ridden, you can begin to let go of relationships that no longer nourish your most authentic self.”

No matter what route you take, know that you have a right to choose the people who surround you in your life. You deserve life-giving conversations and connections. If you have friends who have become more stress and strain than sunshine, it might be time to end the friendship.

Author(s)

  • Dede Henley

    CEO

    Henley Leadership Group

    I founded Henley Leadership Group 22 years ago to help leaders and organizations create more equitable and productive workplaces and ignite the nascent leadership potential of employees at all levels. Through individual coaching and programs designed to generate positive business results, Henley Leadership Group has served thousands of corporate leaders in a variety of industries, including healthcare, technology, energy and finance. Away from work, I live with my husband, and try not to meddle too much in the lives of my half-dozen kids.