The last 12 years of my life involved me finishing secondary school, completing a pair of degrees, and migrating between two countries. What I remember most about that time, however, is how I had to end friendships I thought would last forever.
As we become more self-aware, we remove people from our lives who no longer suit our needs or match our current identities. In fact, Stanford University psychology professor Lauren L. Carstensen refers to this behaviour in her socioemotional selective theory, and states there are distinct periods in the process.
According to Carstensen’s research, the number of our acquaintances decline after the age of 17 years. Then, we form an increased number of new connections in our thirties before severing many of those bonds in our forties.
Simply, choosing to let go is a normal facet of maturity. Conversely, how we choose to end friendships has implications for us and our former companions, especially in long-running relationships.
I’ve experienced both the awkward tension of releasing friends as well as being the person ejected from someone’s life. It’s not a pleasant feeling in either case but it can been done gently enough to avoid animosity.
1. Know when it’s time to end friendships.
Before you remove a friend from your life, particularly someone with whom you’ve shared a deep, personal connection, you need to be certain. That involves observing several of the signs Terry Torro and I discussed in the “Build a Friend Workshop” episode of the Trini Trent Radio podcast.
Namely, pay attention to how you feel when you’re with the person, whom I shall henceforth refer to as Kevin. If you feel mentally drained after spending time with Kevin, that’s a sign the connection is taking too much energy to maintain. Moreover, feeling anxious about future get togethers is another important clue.
Healthy friendships uplift us. Thus, write a list of the all the ways in which Kevin makes your happy versus how he bothers you. This visual representation will help you decide whether to end the friendship.
2. Establish boundaries.
You’ve decided you want to end your friendship with Kevin. However, instead of just deleting his number and blocking him on social media, Jan Yager, author of When Friendship Hurts, encourages us to try a separation period.
Tell Kevin you want to take a break from the current pace of your friendship because you need to work on personal issues. By changing the dynamic from chatting on the phone every night to once a week, for example, you will get him accustomed to you not being a mainstay in his life.
Soon, according to Yager’s theory, Kevin will fill your gaps in communication by making new friends. Hence, you will be preparing Kevin for the impending breakup as decide how best to make it happen in the least painful way.
3. Let the connection fade.
One way to end your friendship with Kevin is to let it gradually fade away. You’ve already established a distance from him and hopefully, he has gotten accustomed to not having you around. Now, your next step is to make communication even more sporadic with what Alex Lickerman calls passive rejection.
Decline opportunities to meet up with Kevin, and avoid responding to his messages unless they truly require your attention. Furthermore, when you do chat, share less details of your private life with him.
Unfortunately, as psychologist Andrea Bonoir states, this approach to ending friendships only works when both people have begun to naturally detach. Indeed, if Kevin is still invested in your bond and you grow increasingly distant, he might feel confused and even outraged.
Moreover, passive rejection can also result in problems for you as it means you won’t have final closure with Kevin. Therefore, you won’t get the chance to tell him why you chose to let him go.