How to break up with a friend

A DIY guide.

I’m the first to admit that being an adult is hard work. I’m anxious all the time, I’ve got a bunch of new responsibilities to tackle, and my friendships have begun to shake and rattle like a packet of half-empty Pringles. 

I can take solace in the fact that at 24, this is probably pretty normal. Friends from high school have filtered away, uni mates are still hanging on by a thread, and work (and play) mates are bustling through at rapid speeds. It’s not like it used to be, when making friends meant complimenting someone on their Power Rangers pencil case and sharing half of a Vegemite and cheese sandwich at playlunch. Now, friendship means texting “let’s get drinks soon, okayyyyy?” an inordinate number of times before someone finally pulls the trigger and picks a date and time. 

But what if those friendships you’ve made over the years have turned a little sour? Maybe you feel you’ve moved apart as people, or maybe you just don’t feel as excited about seeing them anymore; like it’s become a chore to see them. Maybe the balance is off and you feel like they don’t reciprocate your effort, like you always give but get nothing in return. We’ve all been there. And it’s pretty hard to accept the fact that it’s time to call it quits. 

File this one away for future reference: breaking up with a friend is never easy, but here’s a few ways to pull the plug. 

First, identify why 

Toxic friendships come in numerous shapes and forms. But at the end of the day, if this person isn’t making you feel good about yourself, then that should be reason enough to warrant a break up. Think about it: if this relationship was a romantic one and you were experiencing the same disrespect, you’d know what to do. But friendships are tricky, aren’t they? They’re less formal than romantic relationships but somehow so much more intense. So if you find yourself in a toxic friendship, it’s hard to recognise it for what it is: bad juju. 

So what’s toxic about your relationship? Are they always talking about themselves but never asking about you? Do they make you feel bad about yourself? Do you fight a lot? Do you feel you have to act differently around them? Do the negative interactions outweigh the positive ones? Really think about it. 

Then, decide which way you want to do it

There’s two different ways to divorce a friend: a quiet fade away or a direct conversation. Confrontation isn’t easy, and it’s not something you just wake up ready to do. As a result, most people feel it’s so much easier to slowly back away, even though most long-term friendships deserve a proper send-off. 

Route A: Ghosting

This route really only works if both of you are in on it. Meaning you can let the friendship slowly fade away only if you and your friend both feel like a distance has grown between the two of you and the lack of investment in the friendship is mutual. The key to ghosting is to distance yourself, respectfully. Stop liking their photos, politely decline invitations, cut back on how often you text and call them (if you do connect, skip the D&Ms and keep conversations light) and start spending your time the way you want to spend it. Your friend will do the same and eventually you’ll become less involved in each other’s lives. 

Of course, this is a pretty ideal break up. But not all friendships will end this way, especially if your friend doesn’t really understand what you’re doing. This calls for something a little more direct.

Route B: The direct approach

Pick a place and hash it out with them. This is by far the most terrifying way to do it, but it’s also the healthiest. Do a little prep and figure out what you’re going to say beforehand. Find the words and maybe even write them down if you need to. 

Above all else, be honest: none of this “I’m just *so* busy right now” kinda crap. Verbalise what’s bugging you, but make sure you don’t turn it into a personal attack. Be respectful and mature about it. You want to make this about you and your needs, not about what they’re lacking. Try something along the lines of “I feel I need some space” rather than “you’re draining my life!!!” 

Also, set some boundaries: if you never want to talk again, tell them you won’t be in touch after this and you’d like it if they wouldn’t reach out to you either.

A lengthy convo might lead to reconciliation, or it might lead to a confirmation of why you wanted to break up in the first place. But no matter how angry or passive aggressive the conversation may get, respect your friend’s feelings. Be considerate and compassionate but never catty. They’re human, after all.

And when it’s over, give yourself some much-needed TLC. As in, tender, love and care. But also some TLC the band. You’re going to need a little ‘Waterfalls’ to get you though this tsunami. 

Illustration by Twylamae who knows a good friendship when she sees one.

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