The Relationship Judge – When is it time to break up with a friend?

Today’s Friday Relationship Judge entry poses a very tough question that I’m sure others have experienced or will at some point in their life.  What to do about a friendship which used to be fun, supportive and loving, but for one particular reason or just because of the direction life takes people, it is no longer beneficial to one or both participants?

The Facts: “Joyce” from Alberta (happy to post our first entry from a Canadian!) wrote in to tell us her story.  She is 31 years old and has been close friends with Christine since college.  The two of them used to be extremely close.  While they had a nice circle of mutual friends from college, they were known as each other’s best friend, talked on the phone incessantly and spent at least 1-2 days a week hanging out together even after they were married.  Joyce has always known that Christine had a selfish side to her, but despite some small personality quirks that had caused some arguments between them in the past, Joyce was always one to forgive and forget.  Joyce had a baby almost 2 years ago and returned part time to work.   Joyce also joined a mommy yoga class and made a new group of friends through that.  Joyce’s time has become much more limited but she continously tried to make an effort to see Christine and continued to invite her over to hang out.  Over the past year, Christine has grown more distant.  She always rejected Joyce’s invitations to hang out, saying she was “exhausted” or “too busy.”  The phone calls stopped unless Joyce did the calling and if she got Christine on the phone, they chatted for a couple of minutes before Christine would make up an excuse to get off the phone.  Joyce has been extremely stressed by this situation, but could not even get Christine to commit to a 10 minute phone conversation to ask her what was wrong. About 6 months ago, Christine called out of the blue and asked to meet for a drink.  Joyce managed to get a baby sitter, leave work early and met up with Christine.   It was an awful evening.  Christine spent about 45 minutes telling Joyce that she had changed.  That she wasn’t the friend that she used to be. That she was selfish and didn’t have time to be a true friend anymore.  Joyce was shocked, horrified and extremely saddened to hear these words come out of her best friend’s mouth.  She managed to tell Christine that she was sorry, that yes, she had changed – she was a mom now, and had limited time on her hands, but that didn’t mean she devalued their friendship.  Over the last few months, Joyce has tried to to make more of an effort to see Christine, but she has found it much more difficult to balance a baby, a husband and her job – let alone make an effort to see someone who doesn’t seem to understand her situation.  She feels she already had made an effort to keep their friendship going despite the life-changing experience of mommyhood and doesn’t think that a friendship should have to be this difficult.

The Question:  Should Joyce “break up” with Christine?  If not, how can their friendship be repaired?  Joyce is particularly saddened that this is one of her oldest friends and feels it would be a loss despite all that has transpired.  If Joyce does decide to part ways with Christine, what is the best way to do so?  Have another conversation or is there a less stressful way?

The Relationship Judge Says: Ok, wait. To me, the answer is obvious.  Christine is no friend nor does she seem to add any value to your life except if you enjoy being aggravated.  The only people who deserve your friendship are the ones who appreciate it.  Don’t waste your precious, limited, constantly shrinking time with people who don’t.  I should put that in a fortune cookie.  Seriously, it’s an important lesson, but one which is often only learned with time, tears and stress.  Being that Christine is no longer your friend, the more difficult question becomes – do you need to formally “end” this friendship?  If you’re already not speaking regularly, this may be easier than you think.  A formal friendship break-up speech may not be needed.  Life is crazy busy and it is natural that the 30 people you spoke to on the phone every night in high school and the 100 best friends you had in college will not be a part of your life by the time your married and have kids.  It’s normal.  It’s what happens.  If you do want to have a “sit-down” with her, first figure out what you want out of it.  Best case scenario, if you explained your side of it and you get an apology out of her – is this really someone you want to continue spending time with going forward?  Will she have your best interests at heart? Can you trust her?  What are you getting out of this friendship?  If you have to think really hard about this, it is not a friendship worth salvaging.  Yes, it’s nice to stay close with old friends.  But it’s even better to have great friends who you love spending time with when you’re most exhausted, most stressed and need someone to vent to.  I don’t think Christine is this person.  I’d implement the phase-out.  Particularly since your last conversation was not successful.  Stop calling.  Stop texting.  Stop e-mailing.  And please stop trying to make plans.  If she comes to her senses and realizes the damage she’s done, you will hear from her.  Otherwise, I’d declare yourself on a Christine holiday for the immediate future, starting now.  It’s not worth the stress otherwise!

She may, by the way, be going through some other stuff that you just don’t know about – like wanting to have a baby and not being able to or trouble in her marriage. Either way, this is not an excuse to treat her closest friend like dirt and lash out at her. Strong friendships, like any good relationship, should not be that difficult to maintain.   If you have to work too hard at it, it’s probably not the right fit.

Your Turn: What do you guys think?  Have you had a friend who was no good to you?  How did you deal with it?  Did you have a formal break up or did you just stop contacting them and vice versa?

If YOU have a problem for The Relationship Judge, please email me at staceyb@officestace.com with the subject line “The Relationship Judge.”  Instructions for what to submit can be found here.

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Comments

  1. Meagan Alder says:

    Relationships are like farts, if you have to force it, its probably crap.

    I heard that a while ago and it has stuck with me, mostly because its true and second because its funny. I have had the unfortunate pleasure of having a few friendship break ups. Mostly due to growing apart but it is always hard. I had the same best friend from the time I was about 5 until I was 23. In High school we spent pretty much every weekend together and talked on the phone for hours. But once I was going to college and working I just didnt have the time and she couldn’t understand. We had a pretty major fight and things ended not so good. I still think of her and want the best for her but our lives just weren’t alined anymore and it became to hard.

    My advice is to stop the calling and the planning and just let it take its course. If that means you never talk again then that’s what it is. And if it means that one day she calls to see how you are and you guys can rekindle the friendship then that’s great too. But life is to short to worry about friendships, you have enough on your plate!

  2. I am writing this before I read Stacey’s reply.
    What may have happened is that you , Joyce, have a fuller life.
    It may simply be that Christine envies your life, and seeing you, and having contact with you only saddens her.
    She may wish to have what you have.
    If someone is jealous of you, it is better to stay away from these people.
    I guess what may apply in this situation, is that, I believe it is better to marry when you are older, as you both will change less, and I suppose the same can be said for friendships.
    Perhaps Christine’s life will improve, but I would look forward.
    I am sure with all you do, you probably have a lot of friends, doing similar things.

  3. Hi Stacey,

    This is really hard.
    Yes, I had a friend who turned into my biggest nightmare. My mother scolded me, saying I might be her only friend in the world and not to abandon her. But the relationship became extremely destructive to my self-worth.
    Trying not to contact her didn’t work. She began harrassing me by calling at all hours at work, to the point where I was getting into trouble for it!
    Finally I told her one evening (over the phone) that although I loved her, it was no longer a healthy relationship for me and that I wouldn’t be contacting her in the future. She tried to defend herself but I mentioned specific actions that weren’t acceptable. I was sorry, but she should stop contacting me. I tried to say goodbye but she wouldn’t hang up. Then I warned her that I was going to hang up with a last goodbye. Then, *click*.
    Although I felt somewhat guilty, this last conversation gave her closure. It was such a relief to be out of that *crazy* environment. She no longer harrassed me.
    I still wish her the best—from a distance.

  4. I always find these questions so interesting. As women we are typically trying to be fair and work things out. Even early developmental psych studies demonstrate that groups of young females will always work to find equitable ways to resolve disagreements (until we get to tween stage of course!). It’s the most normal thing for women to stay in relationships past their prime….Stop the madness!

    As humans we grow, we change, life circumstances alter, sometimes we grow together and sometimes we don’t. There is nothing wrong with ending a relationship that no longer meets any need for you N-O-T-H-I-N-G! So free yourself from this tie that binds and invest in those people who lift you up and make you feel appreciated, supported and valued. As Stacy said life is too short to spend one more moment fretting over Christine.

  5. Honestly, it sounds like Christine broke the friendship off a long time ago. Especially if she was difficult to reach and communicate with and then her last conversation was so harsh, it sounds like she’s not really interested in the friendship anymore as it is.

    I’ve been there done that w/ a life long friend…it’s rough. Unfortunately, I agree w/ some other commenters that maybe she’s just jealous of Joyce’s life. That’s what happened to my friend. I say let her go quietly, but also…if she truly is sorry some day and wants to make things right, don’t be too harsh. Work to forgive, even if you can’t forget. It’s rough losing a really good friend…and like Stacey said we go through stages. It’s possibly Christine will regret the way she’s been acting some day and do her best to make it right. Consider the fact that we’ve all been there on some level. Yes, we have all, for one reason or another, been the ‘bad’ friend at some point, even if we had a good reason. So yes…let the friendship go for now, but be open to reconciliation in the future…just don’t force what’s not natural right now.

  6. I love reading your posts Stacey because I feel like your advice is spot-on, and exactly what I would say to a friend (in fact I have had conversations like this before with friends asking for advice on what to do in their other friendships).

    What I love best about my good/old friends, is that even though our lives are not what they used to be when we were in college, and we don’t get to spend as much time together, or talk as much, when we DO, it is so easy and fun, and we laugh a lot, and talk non stop and enjoy each others company. These are the kind of old friends worth hanging onto!

  7. Wow. All of your feedback has been really helpful and it helps knowing (and getting advice from) people who have been in this situation before. It’s going to be hard, but I agree that this friendship has been lacking for a while. I need to move on. It’s true that I’ve long since been appreciated and who has time to work so hard on something like a friendship. Thank you so much to everyone!

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