Letting them down easy
While the passive approach worked, ultimately (slowly, the friend started to behave less like an intimate and more like a casual acquaintance), Zarr felt guilty about sentencing her ex-friend to a painful round of selfdoubt.
“She went to friends of ours and asked: ‘Do you know what’s going on? Is Marni upset with me?’ ” Zarr recalled. “The friends just said: ‘Oh no, she’s just really busy.’ I was. Anyone can be busy. But when you really want to have people around, you make time for them, even if it’s a few minutes.”
The passive approach works with friendships in which the bonds are tenuous, said Jeff Newelt, a social media consultant in Manhattan. In his line of work, he considers it his job to make friends, but a couple of years ago, decided he needed to prune the overgrowth.
His solution was to divide his social base into two categories: “linear” friends (lasting relationships based on a deep connection) and “nonlinear” (situational friends based only on shared past experience, like an old job). “I had some work friends where we used to go out after work, to blow off steam, for the sake of bonding as a team or because someone was my superior,” Newelt, 40, recalled.
“After I left, these people still pursued my friendship. I did not hate them. I liked them. So I dropped them. Not harshly, because I like them; I did not want to hurt feelings. I just said I had other plans when they asked me to hang out, each time, time and time again, repeatedly, and they got the point. There was no conversation, no gnashing and wailing.”
But not all friends (or ex-friends) will go easily. By the time she was in her mid-30s, Carolyn Miller, an office manager in Norwalk, Connecticut, found herself unwilling to put up with an old friend’s domineering ways, so eventually she sent her an e-mail listing her grievances and asking for space. The friend called her and begged her to reconsider. Miller stood her ground.
A few weeks later, when Miller’s grandfather died, the friend sent her a letter, and not long after that, an invitation to her wedding. When Miller sent back the enclosed card declining the invitation, the friend called her and asked why.
During that call, Miller knew it was time to administer the friendship equivalent of the lethal injection.
“I wish you love, joy, peace and happiness, but this friendship is over,” Miller recalled saying. “I said goodbye and hung the phone up. I met another friend for drinks that night and honestly, I was sad. I divorced a friend.” – IHT TO avoid backbiting and lingering bad feelings, many relationship experts recommend the same sort of direct approach that one would employ in a romantic breakup.
To get around nagging questions, an honest letter, or even an e-mail, is the minimum (forget texting; that’s just cruel). A heartfelt face-to-face talk is better, said Erika Holiday, a clinical psychologist in Encino, California, who has discussed relationship issues on television shows like Dr Phil.
“Schedule a time where you can sit down with them,” Dr Holiday said. “It’s not about putting the other person down, but telling them: ‘You don’t fit into my life, you’re not on the same path as me.” A trial separation can soften the blow. “You might also want to suggest a cooling-off, or a revisiting your friendship in X number of weeks or months,” said Dr Yager, the friendship coach. “Your former friend will probably put more time and energy into the other friendships that are working and will forget about contacting you in time.”
Such a direct approach ultimately may be effective, but it still engenders the same pain and awkwardness as an actual breakup, said Erika Johnson, a blogger who lives outside Boston. A couple of years ago, she found herself running a cost-benefit analysis of a friendship from her early 20s that was starting to grind her down.
Every new choice she made in her life – whether it was to return to graduate school or move to the suburbs – was greeted with dismissive scorn by the friend.
Johnson decided to end the relationship with a telephone call.
“My main point was that life is very short and fleeting, and I value my happiness enough to eradicate the negative energy,” Johnson recalled. For months, the ex-friend continued to try to contact her. Johnson felt terrible, especially as mutual friends would tell her about the pain she had caused the woman.
Eventually, however, the reports from the mutual friends started to change in tenor. The old friend had been doing a lot of soul-searching after the breakup, they said. The mutual pain might have been worth it, Johnson concluded – to the point where she might consider another attempt at friendship with her.
Which raises this question: is a friendship ever really over?
More than a decade before social networking websites introduced “defriending” into the vernacular, Scott Laing, a strength and conditioning coach in Toronto, attempted it in real life. He had enjoyed going to bars and pool halls with a certain friend when he was in his 20s, but now thought he and the man were growing apart.
As an endgame tactic, Laing, now 46, seized on an extended trip to Europe as an opportunity to put both physical and emotional distance between the two of them. He sent a couple of postcards over the course of three months, then nothing. It was over, he thought.
Last spring, however, he was surprised to find that the friend was reaching out, for the first time in 15 years.
He friended him on Facebook. — IHT