Let­ting them down easy

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING -

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

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