A Practical Guide To Breaking Up With Friends

Breaking up is hard to do

Ending friendships is not a part of our cultural narrative. If the covers of tabloids have taught us anything, it’s that ending a relationship is a really big deal. “SPLITSVILLE!” they scream. “IT’S OVER!” “WHAT REALLY WENT WRONG!” But friendships? Well, the phrase is “BFFs 4-Ever” not “BFFs 4 A Period of Time Until One of Us Turns Into a Total Bitch.” You rarely hear about a woman cutting her hair and hitting the gym, looking for a rebound, or losing herself in a pint of ice cream after a friendship ends. But… why is that? I may not have sex with my friends, but I’d like to think that any of their departures from my life would warrant as least as much analysis, emotional anguish, and angry hours in the gym as the douche canoes I’ve cried over in the past always got.

As I mentioned earlier this month, I think friendships are extremely important and don’t get nearly the attention they deserve. And if talking about making friends is rare, talking about ending friendships is even rarer still. I broke up with a friend last year and it was an extremely painful experience, made worse by the fact that I didn’t know how a friend breakup worked. I didn’t even know if that was what I was supposed to call it. (De-friending is already taken…chum dumping, perhaps?) Here is what I wish someone had told me about friend breakups.

1. Remember that a friendship is a relationship, and sometimes relationships end. While my friend breakup was pretty painful, the months leading up to it were even worse. I had thoughts about breaking up from time to time, but I always shook them off and dismissed the pain we were causing each other because I felt like it wasn’t that big of a deal if I stayed in a friendship that was essentially over. I would never let myself stay in a romantic relationship that was causing me so much stress, but for some reason, I stayed in a friendship that was. Unlike romantic relationships, which I talked about with my friends in great detail, I don’t really chat about my friendships with other friends. As a result, I didn’t get the, “Uh, so this doesn’t sound healthy,” response that I really needed to hear. But ultimately, I think I stuck it out because there was no sense of urgency. With romantic relationships, I’d always had a sense of, “I don’t want to waste my time on someone when I could be out there looking for something better.” But because we can have so many friends, I’d never considered that I could be wasting my time on a friendship.

But I’m wasting my time whenever I choose to stay in a situation that hurts me, whether it’s a romantic relationship or a job I hate. By acting like it was okay to settle on a friendship, I actually wasn’t giving enough credit to friendships. A friendship can be an extremely powerful relationship and to act like friends don’t have the power to hurt us so deeply that we have to walk away cheapens the relationship. I didn’t realize until after the fact that it was because this friendship was so important to me was exactly why it was okay—and necessary—to end it.

2. Break up with a friend like you’d break up with anyone else. Some people will suggest you can end a friendship by not talking to the friend anymore and just doing a fade-out. This, frankly, is some bullshit. Fade-outs are what I expect from the guys I met on Match.com and dated for a month. Our closest friends deserve better. I’m not saying you have to sit down every friend from whom you grew apart and list off the things about her you don’t like. But being short with someone, cutting her off, or just doing something like, say, not asking her to be a bridesmaid because you don’t like how she treats you—without telling her why you didn’t ask her to be your bridesmaid—is immature and hurtful. So be decent.

The night I broke up with my friend, I sent her an email. (I knew this was an okay thing to do in the context of our relationship, but everyone is different, so use your own judgment regarding how you communicate your message.) I struggled for what to say, but, ultimately, said what was true: I need to break up with our friendship. I kept it brief, knowing that to get into too much detail would likely do more harm than good, and because I suspected (correctly, it turns out) that we both knew exactly why this needed to happen. But had she not known, and had she asked me, I would have been honest. I would want someone to be honest with me, after all. I want to be a good friend so if I’m not doing a good job of it, I’d like someone to tell me what I need to work on. Nicely, of course.

3. Let yourself grieve. What made the whole experience even harder was the fact that I didn’t know how to express my hurt in terms that those around me would understand. Had I broke up with a boyfriend, I would have had no problem reaching for the ice cream/French fries/tequila. But instead I spent the night after my friend breakup feeling embarrassed about how sad I was. It was actually a feeling I knew well, back from my dating days, when I struggled with the fact that we only seem to give credit to Official Relationships per the Ministry of Facebook.

Before I met Eric, I did a lot of dating and a lot of “Is this dating?” I “hung out.” I was kinda into a guy who was kinda into me. These often felt like relationships because they taught me important lessons about, well, relating, and brought real disappointment when they ended. But they were still hard to talk about once they were over. I could never say, “I’m sad that I broke up with my boyfriend,” because, well, he wasn’t my boyfriend, so what right did I have to be sad? Whenever a relationship like this ended, I’d think, This went on for a while! This was something! I want credit for what we had and sympathy for this pain I’m feeling! I’d feel so sad, but also ashamed of being so upset over a guy who wasn’t officially anything to me. I never really knew how sad I was “supposed” to be or “allowed” to be, so I was too embarrassed to talk about how I felt, or to admit that getting over it was going to take time and effort. Grieving, like breakups, was for people in real relationships.

But with my friend breakup, it hit me: a “real” relationship is any relationship that involves relating, Facebook’s approval be damned. I put on my comfy clothes, snuggled on the couch with my dogs, and told my other friends the next day I was sad because I was going through a breakup. They responded with the same kind of love and support that they would have if I had broken up with a guy. Despite the fact that this isn’t something a lot of people talk about, I suspect it’s something that most people get as soon as you give it a name.

Like any breakup, I still missed her and struggled to remember why, exactly, I had done this. I only wanted to think about the good times. Eventually I got over it. Even after I did, I still thought about her a lot and wished for the best for her in every aspect of her life.

4. Know that there is such as being “just friends” after a friend breakup. One of the hardest parts about breaking up with a friend was that sense of “Where do we go from here? We can’t really be ‘just friends’…” But now I know that in some cases you can, actually, go from being best friends to “just friends.” My friend and I did exactly that. It didn’t happen overnight—we both needed time apart to work on the things about ourselves that were getting in the way of our friendship, and we broke up knowing that this might be it—but after several months of no contact, we found our way back to each other. Our friendship is different now, but it’s still a friendship. We send each other epically-long emails containing updates and details on the things we can talk about that we just can’t talk to anyone else about. It’s the best parts of our old friendship and none of the bad parts. Sometimes I wish we could take it further, that we could talk all the time like we used to, but I’d rather not push it and risk what we do have. Being “just friends” won’t always be an option, but it doesn’t hurt to put the idea out there if you can envision, say, an open shift in how much time you spend together or how much you confide in each other being a good solution for both of you.

Sending that email was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I wrote it with tears streaming down my face; then I hit send and fled from the computer. But after I did it—and, of course, had the urge to call my friend, because that’s what we did whenever we were upset—I knew it was the right thing to do. The whole experience was one of the clearest “WELCOME TO ADULTHOOD!” moments I’ve had in my twenties. I also knew that I never could have done it without the good parts of our friendship, the parts that made me grow up and become the woman I am today.

Photo: Gabriel Harber

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  • Leila

    This! I have to run to a meeting. But I just wanted to say that by far the worst breakup I’ve gone through is with my college best friend. It has been close to 10 years now and I still think about her. The end was a knock out drag out fight where I realized that she basically was trying to fade me out of her life. And I felt so betrayed because of the time I had invested in her (and was still investing in her). She didn’t want the friendship portion of relationship but still wanted the me doing things for her portion of the relationship. But I agree that this a part of life that we just don’t discuss acurately. Thank you!

  • Elemjay

    I think one of the reasons why friendship breakups can be so painful is that – rightly or wrongly – it’s pretty much par for the course for dating/ sexual relationships to break up/ fall apart/ get all messy. For example, as a woman, it would not be unexpected for my boyfriend to do bad things (getting dumped/ two timing etc). But we never expect that our friends will be unkind/ unfair/ mean. The cognitive dissonance of “my friend is being mean – but they are my friend and thus never mean” is pretty powerful.

    • Rachel

      This is SUCH a true point. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but you are so right!

    • meg

      This is so interesting to me. There have been other conversations both in the comments and on Twitter about this over the month, and I find it fascinating that there are, I think, profoundly different ways (models maybe) to look at friendship.

      I have never had anything approaching a BFF (at least as an adult), and I work on more a long-time-loyal-community model. Lots of people in my life. No one who gets ALL MY QUIRKS AND ME TOTALLY AMEN, different people I can confide in different things about, etc. And lots of *long* time friends, which means lots of people I’ve had good times and hard times with, and sometimes I have lots in common with and sometimes I have nothing in common with.

      Hence, in short, I totally expect friends to be unkind/ unfair/ mean, and for it to totally suck, and for us to usually pull through it in one way or another. From all the conversations this month, I think this doesn’t hold in what I’d call generally the more “BFF model.” (Not that one is better than the other. The BFF model actually sounds awesome, if not something that I’ve ever had.)

      • I definitely used to operate under the more “BFF” model of friendship and had some very serious breakups that hurt me a lot and left me feeling pretty lost and lonely. After that, I’ve definitely transitioned into the “large, loyal community” model and find myself much for fulfilled and a lot less lonely. We know everyone’s strengths and weaknesses and who we can rely on in a particular moment or who will understand what we’re going through the best or offer the best advice/kick in the pants/sympathy/sense of humor. Sometimes I find myself wishing there was someone who provided all of these things in one package, but I think in practice, I feel more whole with a community of cheerleaders. Sort of like how I don’t expect my husband to fulfill ALL THE EMOTIONAL NEEDS.

        • meg

          I think you wrote out my personal experience more articulately than I could. This is me, exactly. Painful breakups, new model, more fulfilled, sometimes still longing for one magic person, but not really thinking it’s the most realistic (for me). EVERYTHING. THIS.

        • meg

          Also, with a large loyal community, if one of your friends is being mean, you pretty much invariably have other people you can reality check with, “Hey, is L being really weird to me?” “Oh yeah. Not just you. I’ve totally noticed her being AWFUL.” “Thank you, I thought maybe I was making it up.” And who can tide you over, till L pulls it together, comes to you and says, “Hey, I’m sorry. I was being awful to you because of X” and you work it out. (Real story ;)

          • Lindsey

            This is such a great description of my friendships as well! I always thought I was odd for not having a BFF in my life, but this helps me realize that it’s okay and that it can be just as fulfilling.

          • And with a large, loyal community, your friends are more likely to be pardoned for any weird/less than stellar behavior, which I think is super important. People are complicated and flawed, and sometimes a person has a terrible day/week/month and they end up taking that out on the people around them. Maybe they don’t mean to act poorly, but it happens.

            So with the BFF model it looks more like your friend is being intentionally shitty to you, when they’re probably just caught up in their problems and don’t see that it’s hurting you. But with a broader friend/community group, there’s more room to gauge someone’s actions because you have other perspectives to draw from. So with that there’s more chance of forgiveness and less chance of misunderstanding/alienation.

          • meg

            Smart, Lucy.

            Or a shitty year. Or two. Have had friends have shitty years, and then pull out of it. Which I mean, god bless. Who hasn’t had a shitty year?

          • Copper

            I hereby officially subscribe to the LLC friendship model.

            It still hurts when someone emails you and says they think maybe you’re not friends anymore… but yeah, being able to fall back on other people or check whether she’s being nutso is invaluable.

          • How do you deal with everyone in a Large Loyal Community turning on someone? This is sort of been what’s happening to me. There is one friend, from our college years, that most of us have agreed to cut out of our lives to some extent or the other. A few have been really upfront about it, a few (including me) have been doing more of a fade out (made easier by the fact that we all live in different states). And while if this were just one BFF I would be totally fine with cutting him out, knowing that this is happening to him with everyone makes me just feel…guilty? I know my guilt shouldn’t trump disrespectful behavior on his part, but still, it’s rough to think about.

          • @Jaya – I’ve been in similar situations, though the cutting-out agreement was usually implicit. That is a squirmy-feeling situation you describe, but I think the gut-check would be: Am I doing what *I* need to do about *my* friendship with this person? (as opposed to what others in the group have decided) If the answer is yes, then move on. If it’s not the right move for you, or you’d rather handle the situation differently, do it. The peace of mind for following your own gut is worth potential group ripples.

      • Kristen

        Meg, you mentioned something like this in the comments earlier this week and its really been resonating with me. Because I too feel like “No one who gets ALL MY QUIRKS AND ME TOTALLY AMEN” as well – even with my husband. And maybe that’s got more to do with me and less to do with others.

        You also mentioned something like not feeling like maybe you were cut out to be BFF’s with someone and that really hit home too. Maybe I struggle the way I do, because I can’t trust easily.

        Anyways, all this to say that there are so many different facets to this conversation and I’m just so glad there’s a place to go to where I can have them. Thanks!

        • meg

          You know. While sometimes I’m bummed about this mythical friendship unicorn that I don’t have, mostly I’m happy that I don’t have all my eggs in one basket. Someone’s a dick to me? Well, I have other people to talk to about it, and lots of other people to confide in while we’re working it out. And studies consistently show that the more people we have to confide in, and strong relationship connections we have, the healthier we are. Which makes sense to me.

          But still, that myth (for me) of the perfect best friend, is so compelling.

          Also funny, David gets me on most levels, but I kind of love that we each have levels that we don’t totally get each other on, because that’s what allows space for some of our closest friendships. David does have a best friend (though in the long loyal model, they’ve been best friends for closing in on 30 years). And I’m so glad there are ways that they get each other that I’m not a part of. It allows for this other really strong relationship in BOTH our lives. Because he’s not my best friend (which makes it much easier for me when he does something absurd or dumb), but he is a pillar in our family life. He’s always there. He’d do about anything for us that he could. My incomplete compatibility with David is what makes that possible, may it ever be so AMEN.

      • Angry Feminist Bitch

        As someone who is not invested in the hetero/marriage “BFF” model, I wonder how married women such as yourself (irrespective of sexuality) feel about choosing the BFF model of sexual/property/household/parenting relationships, but eschewing it in platonic ones. This is weird to me.

        To me, my “BFF” types of relationships, with other women, are far more loyal and secure than any relationship could ever be with a man, based on sex or property sharing or whatever. Why not have a “BFF” relationship with a friend, rather than a lover, I guess is my question?

        You say you don’t have any experience with the “BFF” model, but I’d argue that you do: you just chose to have it with a single man.

        • Kristen

          I think its about how you connect with people. I connect with and am closest to the person I have sex with. That’s just my makeup. I think others (like yourself) find that familial or same sex friendships to be the way you connect closely with someone.

          When I tried to have the same connection with female friends when younger, I found they could not fulfill the needs I had and I was always wanting something more. My theory? That sex truly allows me to connect better so I’ve had better relationships with men than women. Just one woman’s take on your question.

          • Marisa-Andrea

            This isn’t true for me at all, that is, sex doesn’t facilitate the deepest connection. I tend to have deeper connections with other women but my marriage is the relationship in which I feel the safest. I feel like I have more emotional space in my relationship with my husband, perhaps because he isn’t my BFF (like Meg, I haven’t had a BFF as an adult) that allows me to be totally vulnerable in a way I wouldn’t necessarily with my friends. Different relationships in my life fulfill different needs I guess.

        • meg

          Oooo! This thread is getting interesting! Such interesting questions!

          I’m curious what other people have to say about this, because my angle on it is so peculiar. David was once one of the closest things I have to a platonic BFF (though he in no way met my every need, please, he’s a guy, there are some things about me he will never get). We ended up in a romantic partnership, and I in no way consider him my BFF at this point, I consider him my life partner. I actually wouldn’t say our relationship is based on sex (or property sharing, I wish, we don’t own property), but on choosing to be life partners: sharing the responsibilities that entails. I feel really lucky to have found one of the most stable relationships in my life in something that also happens to be a life partnership, but I don’t think that’s universal.

          I was going to say that the difference between a life partnership and a BFF is that you’ve committed to each other in a very specific way. But, I have life long friends that I feel similarly life-long committed to. But unlike a BFF, they don’t get me totally, or meet my every friendship need, so there are lots of them. But then again, my life partner doesn’t meet my every need either, which is why friends are so important.

          SOMEONE ELSE PLAY! My answer was so specific.

          • Name withheld to protect the guilty

            I’ll play! Magical, mythical, BFF-unicorn is one of the most fulfilling, amazing, fantastic experiences of womanhood. When it goes bad, it goes baddddddd. Worse than any male breakup I’ve ever had (spent my 20s dating around and gaining life experiences). I’ve had a friend fadeout pretty recently after 6 years of friendship (knew each other in several states and relationships). Faded over guess what else? A boy (hers). I’m too judgy and want my friends to choose life partners who are settled, successful and the same age. She dropped her whole life to move for young, artistic, poor boy. Tension (fake smiles) over the last drink we shared before she left. She’s planning wedding with him now (eff facebook) and I think about her all the time but I can’t ever forget passive-aggressive, snide comments made my way in the last 6 months of friendship. Thank you so much for this post and bringing up this incredible subject that we do not have room to discuss culturally because we;re encourage only to work on relationships with men, not our friends. And women have friendships so differently than the men folk do.

          • JC

            This might be the same thing that others have said, but I wonder if it all has to do with cultural pressure. The dominant attitude toward hetero husbands is that they don’t understand women in general, they spend a lot of time in “man world” and are kind of oblivious to a lot. Not that this is necessarily true, but people kind of expect husbands to not quite meet all of their wife’s needs.

            On the other hand, BFFs are supposed to an All The Time Anything confidant. Again, not that this is necessarily true, but I think people almost put more pressure on a BFF to fill All The Roles than they do a husband (except for sex, unless they happen to be the same person), making it harder to find or maintain that BFF relationship.

            I also think that the sort of awkward way in which romantic relationships get defined, a la “will you be my girlfriend,” helps people to generally be more confident in their romantic relationship, and more bold with that person. Maybe it’s just me, but I get super nervous that I want more out of a friendship than the other person, and try to play it cool, which usually ends up with hurt feelings on one or both sides about the level of communication or commitment. Maybe we should start having the “Will you be my BFF?” conversation more often!

          • Samantha

            I may be a bit late to the game here but I also really like this question.
            My BFF (although I’m not sure I don’t have a hybrid of the two models going) has been my friend literally for life- 27 years. I actually learned to talk with her. We are (apparently) a hoot to watch communicate according to our life partners bc we never finish thoughts and can totally exclude everyone and anyone around us we get so absorbed …. Like Meg says she’s my friend and a pillar of my husbands and my family, he doesn’t always get her or us but he likes that she exists.
            She and I lived together for YEARS before I moved in with my now husband, like on and off since I was 15. She was the BEST partner I’ve ever had. We were fantastic partners on housework, finances, socializing together and separately … When things get tough in my marriage I long to be back living with BFF … It was so easy, we agreed and worked as a team, no one fought about being in charge … But I kind of like my sex life, and the complexity that this other element of my marriage brings to living and creating a family. We have to negotiate and discuss and plan. This adds a level of security in a way I never had with BFF.
            I don’t know if I’ve articulated it well … But I get the share your life with one person and have sex with someone else model. It worked really well for me for a number of years.

          • I always feel slightly off in conversations like this because, well, my fiance is my best friend, or at least on that “top tier” everyone is talking about. I’ve known him for 12 years now, and he is my oldest, constant friend.

            On top of that, I’d say my “top tier” friend group is about half men and half women, and many on all tiers are mutual friends we’ve grown up with together, both as a couple and while we were single.

            So many of these comments seem to pit men against women. I’ve always felt like the odd one for never particularly craving “girl time.” I of course love love love hanging out with my girl friends, but it always left a strange taste in my mouth when it came with the explicit “no boys allowed” tag. My friends are my friends, and if I can’t be open with them, regardless of their sex, then what’s the point?

            I don’t know, is that an insane thing to think? I’ve just never personally experienced this massive divide between male friends and female friends.

          • Shark

            I’m hesitant to point this out, since I think it was meant humorously, but I realized it’s worth doing. Your comment “because please, he’s a guy, there are some things about me he will never get” frustrates me as a feminist reader of your site. Totally agree that there are some things that anyone, even your partner, will “never get” about you, because you’re who you are — but it shouldn’t be because “he’s a guy”. Especially not since I’ve seen so many posts on this site discussing how people are different, relationships are different, and that it does a disservice to genders to use reductive stereotypes (which, incidentally, is one of the things I like best about APW).

        • Maddie

          This is a really interesting question. I know it wasn’t posed to me, but I want to answer as well. I have both a husband and have/had/something akin to a BFF. I put my eggs in both baskets (you’re my people, I used to say). The problem is…when my husband and I are having a hard time, there are systems in place that give me the support and structure to try and fix it. There’s a script, I guess. But when my BFF is being a dick, I feel totally off script. Am I allowed to bring it up? Do I have any right? How do we fix this? I mean, they don’t exactly make couples counseling for best friends. So while I don’t have an answer for your question exactly, I think there is something at play culturally that makes it easier to have a spousal relationship, because society has more at stake in keeping it together.

          That said, I’m a BFF kind of person. Always have been. I mate for life, be it romantically or platonically, and it’s been both extremely rewarding and incredibly painful at times.

          • Maddie

            Adding: I feel incredibly imbalanced when my partnership isn’t rounded out with a few very close friendships. When my best friend has been more distant, the person who heard about it most was my husband. I need my PEOPLE, not my person. I just usually have a few extra extra special people who matter the most.

            Part of the reason for this, I think, is because it’s not always easy for me to trust people. So when I can, I’m all in. And I’ve often made Michael second banana to a best friend. Because I consider them on equal ground.

          • The social scripts that you mentioned have been a recurring theme I’ve seen here all month. We have scripts for dating/romantice partnerships, but we don’t have scripts for courting new friends or breaking up with new friends. For good or ill, there is plenty of advice in the world on how romantic relationships should/shouldn’t work. That doesn’t exist for friendships, so we can’t even have basic “Omg, Cosmo is SO WRONG about that” conversation starters.

        • I’m not sure I have a really helpful reply, but I think your question really comes down to the question of definition. And that thought is probably tied directly to my education (where we were constantly defining the same things in every class before we could get into the meat of the subject.)

          It’s really difficult to describe a relationship. After all, look at the years of discussions here on APW, and we obviously all have varying definitions of what “marriage” means. The reason I’m not sure I can chime in with a real answer is that I don’t really grasp what you mean by BFF or where you draw the distinction between BFF/life partner/lover. It seems from Meg’s response that you and she define BFF in different ways.

          In terms of the friendship models that Meg mentioned, I think I have a third model, or maybe just a hybridization of the two, which I’ll call the “Tier Model.” I have three women (including one cousin) who fall in my BFF Tier. I can go to these women for anything under the sun. However, given that multiple people are in that tier, I naturally gravitate to specific people for specific convos (ex: some people I talk about my sex life with, some people I don’t. I *could* talk about sex with others in the BFF tier, if my first choice was unavailable, but generally person A suits that conversation better). The same is true for my next tier of very close friends: I connect with them all deeply, but naturally confide in them for different things. I know everyone in that tier is available for the same level of conversation, but given personalities and life experiences, some are better suited for some topics.

          My partner fulfills some of the same roles as my friends do- confidante for many things, good company for going out, etc- but if I stick with the tier/circle analogy, he’s more in a Venn Diagram position. (and in the 3-D model in my head, on a perpendicular plane to the friendship tiers. so, maybe not a perfect circle). I can talk to him about anything, but he’s not always the best person for a particular topic. If my first choice conversation partner isn’t available, though, I know I can go to him. He also has extra roles/responsibilities that my best friends don’t (kind of like Maddie’s post about living with her BFF and her husband). Plus, my BFFs have some roles and responsibilities HE can’t fill (period talk, dancing, collegiate bonding, personal history items which pre-date our relationship).

          • meg

            1) I want the tier model that sounds perfect.

            2) This is a perfect description of my spousal relationship, “I can talk to him about anything, but he’s not always the best person for a particular topic. If my first choice conversation partner isn’t available, though, I know I can go to him. He also has extra roles/responsibilities that my best friends don’t (kind of like Maddie’s post about living with her BFF and her husband). Plus, my BFFs have some roles and responsibilities HE can’t fill (period talk, dancing, collegiate bonding, personal history items which pre-date our relationship).”

            Well, except the last bit. We’ve known each other so long…

          • Meg, you might already HAVE the tier model- I mean, it could just be a matter of organizing the same concept in a different way.

            Also, one of the things that makes me feel like not-quite-an-adult yet is that I’ve only known my “oldest” friend for 12 years. I don’t know what it’s like yet to be friends for decades.

          • Rachel

            I totally operate in this tier model! It’s even more pronounced for me because none of my friends are really friends with each other. (Not because they can’t be, but because I know them all from different places and we’re all spread out geographically.) So I might separately talk to three of my close friends and my fiance about the same thing that’s on my mind and have totally different convos…or I’ll only talk to one of them about it. It totally depends! But I sort of love having that diversity in my friendships because it makes ME a better person…more well-rounded, informed, etc. And interestingly enough, I’m realizing as I write this that all my closest friends are the exact same way.

            I am also starting to realize that the singular BFF model makes me feel sort of overwhelmed. I really like my alone time and honestly, don’t like feeling like someone’s everything. When a friend and I start to get too close, I tend to panic in that totally-stereotypical-scared-of-commitment way. It’s not that I don’t want super-close friendships…but I guess with friends I’m more comfortable being one of several best friends, rather than their #1.

          • Angry Feminist Bitch

            This is a brilliant response, Sarah! I really enjoyed it. I like the tiered/diagrammed model, too – maybe our brains work in a similar way. :)

        • KC

          I think the “marriage” relationship is different from the “BFF” relationship (which is also different from the “loyal employee of company X” relationship which is also different from the “I keep in touch with my family and am there for them” relationship, which can both be swapped for other models, like freelancing/job hopping/part-time at multiple locations and with… various models of interactions with blood relatives). There are many things where you can either be exclusive or non-exclusive, and many things where you can be loyal or non-loyal (loyal to a group of friends, disloyal to your spouse, these are not the same axis although expectations often put them close together).

          With marriage, you’re entering a contract wherein there’s legal stuff, a ton of explicit stuff including exclusivity in certain matters unless otherwise stated, and a ton of implicit stuff (and I argue that the more of the implicit stuff you can get out into the open so you both agree on it or know where you disagree, the better, but that’s a different topic).

          With BFFs, you’re entering a state which socially implies a certain degree of exclusivity/limitedness, a certain degree of certain kinds of sharing, and a certain degree of emergency assistance of various kinds. No legal stuff; no sexual exclusivity; no expectations of mutual financial or location decisions. The social expectations for what is shared/unshared in marriage vs. what’s shared/unshared in BFF sort of relationships are actually surprisingly different, except for Major Life Event News. BFFs are presumed to have the same peripheral interests (taste in movies, interests, willingness to eat ice cream together); spouses are not generally assumed to have the same peripheral interests, but ideally will have the same fundamental priorities/values (money vs. time, where you see the two of you in the future, what constitutes “success). There’s some bleed-over, of course (as there is with company commitment – if the company’s “values” diverge hideously from yours, you may be looking elsewhere), but generally things are prioritized differently.

          I guess, I can have a colander, a spatula, and a frying pan, and they’re all kitchen utensils, but what they do is different?

          • I love the tier model – it’s primarily how I operate with my friends. I have one friend who works with my husband, but she is my go-to-friend for everything but relationship stuff because she works with my husband. My BFF from college is the go-to for most other things, because she has seen me at my best and worst. I also have the friends who talk with me about religion and other things.

            I think each friend we/I have serves a specific purpose. I would feel weird having one friend that knew everything, but I also love that when my grandmother passed away I could reach out to more than one person if I chose, or only one person if that’s what I needed.

            I don’t think all of my friends get all of my quirks. I can be, IRL, very awkward at times. I also have to work hard to overcome imposter syndrome. My husband is the person who gets all of my quirks and gets that when I’m grumpy for no reason, I just need to be grumpy. He also gets that companionable silence is often necessary, and that I have a very large love for cats and most other animals (no spiders k?).

            It is hard, too, when you have just one BFF, because you are limiting yourself and it can be weird when you go to someone not that BFF with big news, or questions, or when you need to vent. Having a small community of women and men who I consider to be BFF-like or call BFFs helps with that a lot because they know they all hear the big news, but I don’t feel guilty if I call J before E because that’s how it is today, or it’s who I texted last.

            As a writer, I tend to overthink things when discussing with friends and elsewhere, which leads to me not being as clear as I could or should be. Most of my friends get that, as does my husband, but finding other friends who understand the shyness, overthinking, quirk qualities that make me, me is often difficult, hence my tiered friends.

          • Angry Feminist Bitch

            This is a great summation, too.

            I’d like to see a whole post elaborating on the explicit vs. implicit expectations of friendships vis a vis marriage/partnerships.

        • Angry Feminist Bitch

          Thanks, all. This HAS been fascinating. I wish our culture and laws could take into account all the different ways people partner, form relationships and families and communities, and support one another. Then I wouldn’t have to be a bitch anymore. :)

          FWIW, I cohabitate with a dude, don’t want to marry, don’t really “believe” in marriage, and do not consider said dude by “BFF.”

          • Have you written a post before? I think you have a fairly unique situation going on there– or at least, a perspective we don’t often hear. I’d love to read more about it :-)

          • Angry Feminist Bitch

            Sarah E,

            I’ve been meaning to write a post for a long time. I love this site even though I am broadly anti-marriage. I do think there could be room here for a marriage-critical perspective, since this amazing group of writers and commenters are working on expanding our definition of the institution, democratizing it, making it explicitly feminist.

            I am also “privileged” insofar as I have little pressure to marry; my parents don’t care, but are still alive to make medical decisions in the case of my incapacity; my partner and I have no assets or property or children; etc. Weirdly, we’re “privileged” to be broke. But I am hyper critical of the marriage industrial complex, and personally wish more people in my position would eschew marriage for political reasons. I think it’s a flawed model on every level. And yet I cohabitate in a monoagamous, heterosexual relationship. I just don’t believe my personal lifestyle choice should be enshrined in law, or legitimized by the state, church, or my community.

            At least until we get universal healthcare.


          • See, that is SO interesting. Not only because I haven’t heard those opinions IRL before (the only close approx. is two friends who won’t get married until equal rights are established), but because it forces me to consider the institution more deeply myself. I know I have strong, deep-rooted, values-based reasons for liking/wanting marriage, but I don’t always spend the time fully articulating that. Hearing perspectives like yours helps challenge mine and further develop mine.

    • Sarah

      You’re so right! That’s the problem. Everyone has so much sympathy for you when you break up with a boyfriend/girlfriend becaus it has to happen sometimes. But friends never HAVE TO break up (is the perception). Of course, we know they do, but it’s almost more painful, at least in the long term. Don’t you find the emotional distancing, the betrayal, the slow realization that you just can’t be together anymore is so much more painful when it’s a friend? Gahhhh! Also, the break-up can be more chronic than accute. It can drag on for years!

      That being said, I think that in adulthood it’s really difficult to find people who really GET you and when you do (and they are supportive and friendship-worthy) you shouldn’t let them go. You should find a way to have a relationship with them that works, because unlike marriages, you can allow yourself some drifting and distance from friends and still maintain the relationship. It might just have to change. You can redraw the boundaries.

      But yeah, friend break-ups SUCK.

  • Megan

    Thank you for this month’s topic and this article. I’ve always been pretty good with handling romantic relationships, but for some reason, friendships boggle my mind.

  • Just another Megan

    I’ve never had a clear “friend break-up” the way I’ve had (many!) dude break-ups, but you’re absolutely right: it would have been much less crazy-inducing for me if we’d had a real, adult conversation about why the relationship needed to end.

    One of my great regrets was “fading out” a close friend from high school and college. Though our long friendship had its ups and downs, the straw that broke the camel’s back was just her overwhelming inability to be happy for me when life finally took a turn for the better. I realized the friendship was no longer healthy and we were making each other act petty/be miserable, but we should have talked about it. We went from daily phone conversations, texts, emails and more for years to literally . . . nothing. Like a switch was flipped.

    It’s been four years and, as I’m planning my wedding, I’ve been thinking about her a lot. The last time we were close, we were planning her big day . . . which ultimately didn’t happen. Things didn’t recover that well after the end of her engagement, and I wonder if I was there for her enough. Just typing all this out has made me realize maybe I wasn’t supportive the way she might have needed me to be . . . sigh.

    Friendships. You know, I was really worried seeing Friendship Month on APW was going to make me feel lonely and isolated, having few very close friends, but it’s actually been really cathartic. I’m so thankful that others are putting themselves out there and sharing so many honest, heartfelt posts and comments about what friendship has really meant to them. I didn’t know others were struggling, too. I know we all say “I thought I was the only one,” but honestly . . . I thought I was the only one. Thank you.

    • Kristen

      This comment is one of the best things I’ve read during friendship month. So thank YOU for being brave and willing to share.

    • “[T]he straw that broke the camel’s back was just her overwhelming inability to be happy for me when life finally took a turn for the better.”

      This rang so many bells for me. About eight years ago I had a breakup with an extremely close friend under very similar circumstances. We met in high school and both went through some rough times during and after college. She was my rock when things were bad, and I hope I was hers. But when good things started happening for me she didn’t want to hear about them. Every conversation between us became about her life, her problems, her never-changing but ever-growing list of complaints about her life. If something bad happened to me, she’d say it wasn’t as bad as what she’d had to deal with; when something nice happened, she’d make a snarky comment about my good fortune and I’d feel guilty. I started to dread talking to her and I could tell she often struggled to talk to me.

      Eventually our friendship sort of mutually faded out. Or maybe I’m being overly generous to myself, maybe I’m the one who let it fade. I’m not sure. But I still wonder what might have happened if I’d actually had the courage to tell her why I thought our friendship wasn’t working any more. It’s a relief to know that others have had similar experiences.

      • This is exactly what happened with my high school best friend. In college, I actually took the approach of trying to tell her how her constant negativity was affecting me. She FREAKED OUT. (s sign that she wasn’t the most emotionally stable person). I relented (mainly due to pressure from mutual friends), and I was forced to endure years of emotionally exhausting day-long visits, until our friendship *finally* faded out. Honestly, sometimes a confrontation on friendship can work, but sometimes they backfire.

  • SarahRose

    The thing about friend breakups that I find so scary is that I think you really have to be sure. Because while a romantic breakup typically means, “You’re not exactly right for me as a life partner, so I need to move on so I can look for others,” a friend breakup for me means something closer to, “You are bad for me and I need you out of my life.” And that is for me a much more personal rejection, more hurtful and harder to go back on.

    My best friend from high school broke up with me right at the end, in favor of her sister. I saw it coming. But then a few months later, after a little too much quality time with family and said sister, she sent me a message along the lines of “I don’t know what I was thinking, you really are my best friend and always will be,” but for me the damage was done, my trust in our unconditional loyalty to each other was shattered.

    (Incidentally, she proceeded to break up with me AGAIN when we took a trip together the following year. The rebound was even quicker there: the next morning she said that she hadn’t meant it.)

    I think the (legitimate) reason many of us resort to fade-outs is that a friend breakup is so definitive. Because in my experience, even if the breaker-upper wants to take it back later, to try to rebuild things…it’s gone.

    • KC

      I’d also note that if someone is a repeated relationship-breaker (like, goes through periods of time where they cut from 12 friends down to 1 friend for really lousy reasons [when you know a bunch of the friends involved, and they are really nice people, one might be a misunderstanding or something you can’t see, but 7 is less likely?]), even if they never break up with me, I’m going to be a bit more on edge with them, because I don’t know when I’ll be targeted as the horrible-person-of-the-week and dumped for saying something that they take entirely out of context. (this also works for gossip: if you tell me stuff or attempt to tell me trash about *every other person you know* but reassure me that you wouldn’t talk trash about me… the degree to which that is reassuring is rather limited.)

      So, absolutely, get people who need to be out of your life out of your life. But be sane and reasonable. Although I feel like this is perhaps counterproductive, since the super-drama-llamas wouldn’t take this as applying to them (at least, it has been my experience that super-drama-llamas take for granted that the problem is with the Entire Rest Of World), and maybe some people who really *do* need to get out of some situations would start second-guessing themselves. But I feel like it’s still important to look closely at your own behavior before exploding things? Oh, help.

      • Super-drama-llama is a fantastic term. Consider it co-opted.

    • Anon

      This exactly. As much as I agree with the articles sentiment of open honest communication between friends, and the ability to talk more openly about all kinds of relationships ending in general. I think it is important to note that there is a really big difference between intentionally ending a relationship with a friend vs. a lover. I would be hesitant to send that email knowing there was still a possibility for something else as described later in the article. That is just me though, not criticizing how the author handled herself, sound like it worked well for her particular situation.

    • “The thing about friend breakups that I find so scary is that I think you really have to be sure. Because while a romantic breakup typically means, “You’re not exactly right for me as a life partner, so I need to move on so I can look for others,” a friend breakup for me means something closer to, “You are bad for me and I need you out of my life.” And that is for me a much more personal rejection, more hurtful and harder to go back on. ”

      Yes so much to this. Which is I think why clear-cut friendship break ups are less common than the slow fade for many people. Especially when it’s just a matter of life drift and not having anything to relate about right now – does that really always need to be a clear cut breakup?

    • Tamar

      Yes yes yes. Absolutely. I couldn’t quite articulate my feelings about friend break-ups, but you hit the nail on the head. Leaving a romantic partnership is nearly always awful and heart-breaking, but for the healthiest of relationships, it’s just saying, “Hey, we don’t make a good team, regardless of our individual assets. I don’t necessarily want to cut you out of my life, I just want for each of us to be able to pursue a more compatible relationship.” And the door isn’t slammed on ever seeing each other again in another dynamic.

      With a friend break-up, it feels like you’re saying, “I don’t want to see you anymore.” It feels like a personal affront and, like you said, SarahRose, it’s so definitive.

      It is really great that this dialogue is opening up, and I feel like I’m really benefiting from hearing this discussed in a different light. I’ve definitely stuck it out in some friendships that, were they romantic relationships, would have been over quickly and surely, rather than being drawn out and uncomfortable.

      • K

        Having just gone through a friend breakup (at least I’m pretty sure? It was a fade-out and so subtle that I’m not even 100% sure if I did it or she did), it feels like a more personal rejection. It definitely occurred due to two things 1) we moved in together and 2) I met my fiance. I have guesses on what started her awful actions (more verbal than anything to me), but what’s important was that we did just drift. I stopped asking her how she doing as it always came back with a something like “doesn’t matter you’re not here” response and she stopped all contact, even the snide comments. It hurts because I really worked hard for us to stay friends, even pushed myself to ask if she was annoyed that I was seriously dating or whether she just wanted us to spend more time together, and her response was always that everything was fine. I eventually ran out of ideas for how to deal with such passive-aggression and let it end. We haven’t talked in two months, and I still wonder if I should reach out to her, but don’t know how to talk honestly to someone who doesn’t seem to want to talk honestly. :/

  • Kristen

    This reminded me of a series of friend breakups I had 3 years ago. Because I was breaking up with a group of friends, I wrote each one a letter explaining I needed to do this for myself, thanking them for their place in my life and wishing them all the best. I wrote them with generosity as my main theme and I can not tell you how cathartic and helpful that was. Although I still harbor some faint anger at these people and am not sorry I had to let them go, it makes me feel better that I ended it classy instead of with the less mature screaming fight or bitter email war that had reflected earlier friendship break ups. In making sure I was as generous and grateful as I could be, I felt like I paid homage to the relationships I’d had with each.

    Thank you Rachel for a much needed description and discussion about friendship breakups. You’re right, when you break up with a friend its ok to be sad and want sympathy.

    I also wanted to just touch on something Rachel said, about not discussing friendships with other friends. This is something I’ve started doing recently, and its been super helpful. Because like any relationship problem, having support and a different perspective has been enormously helpful. My husband especially gives me lots of great advice about friendship problems but so do my other friends.

  • This post = so very spot on.

    I can’t tell you how embarrassed and confused I was that the most painful part of my divorce wasn’t the divorce, but the subsequent breakups I endured with previously very close friends. My ex-husband and I had a distinct moment in which our relationship was terminated. If I’d has a similar, defined breakup experience with some of my friends, it would have made the process so much easier (or at least removed some of the awkward passive-aggressive dance that dragged on for far too long).

    So thank you Rachel for writing this and bringing the issue to the forefront. We need to discuss this more if we, as a society, are going to start parsing out these murky bits of our non-romantic relationships.

  • Lily

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I recently had to break up with a guy friend who was getting too flirty and would brush me off when I talked about my husband. it was a terrible friendship, one of those ones that is really exciting in the moment and then you get home and feel sick to your stomach.

    I thought a lot about the slow fade out, but ended up (with immense support from other friends) sending a really clear, concise and kind email. He responded in kinda with an understanding email agreeing to the friend break up, and it was so much easier than it could have been. I am/was extremely sad, but it could have been so much worse! Its so comforting to hear about this from someone else.

    Also, just want to say, the slow fade out has been used on me, and its NOT subtle and its extremely hurtful. When a friend edged me out, I was confused, hurt and extremely angry. It may feel like the kind way because its less direct, but its really obvious to the other person what is going on. And its leaves a false hope of repair. With a clear breakup, you can repair and rebuild because you are open about where you stand, but with the fade out, there is little hope of regaining trust.

  • Andrea

    What about a break-up that goes unspoken? I had a close friend whose career/education took her out of my locality. When she was in the same city we would talk regularly and hang out and plan vacations, etc. When she moved away it became hard to keep up with her – I would leave messages without that return call – and after a certain point I just got tired of making the effort without any response. I questioned whether I missed something – did I do something wrong? Why wouldn’t she try to reach out and find out what is going on in my life? I just couldn’t understand it. And in the course of all of this lack of response I met my now husband. Things moved pretty quickly and we got engaged about 8 months in. I couldn’t reach her to tell her and talk about all the excitement of this relationship. I sent out the mass text announcing my engagement to the group of girls who she was a part of and got no response. No phone call. I was really disappointed and thought well that’s it. It was tough too because my BFF now lives in another state as well my two sisters and mother and so here I was super excited to be engaged and my girlfriend support was not physically in front of me to go look at dresses and shoes and such. It really put me in a weird place. Just recently this friend’s grandmother passed away who she was really close with and it was a bit sudden due to cancer. I only know this because of her status updates on Facebook of all places. I reached out to her one more time by writing a pretty long email expressing my condolences and support and again asking about our friendship. It has been 2 months and no response. I’ve decided that there is point where you make the effort and sometimes it will just need to stop. Although it hurts that I’ve not been able to resolve the friendship between her and I – life has to go on. Friends sometimes serve a purpose for maybe a frame of your life and others will always be there.

    • Kristen

      I’m guilty of just this sort of passive friendship break up and I’ve also been on the receiving end as well. All I can say is it sucks, its super immature in my mind, and I’m just too old for people who act like this. If a friend pulls away like this, you bet your bottom dollar I call them out on it and if they don’t respond, I tell them goodbye, forever.

      It’s not easy to say the tough things to each other, but we still have to do it. Because of this, I try super hard to always be honest and kind with the people in my life. No one should ever be left wondering what they did to make you stop talking to them.

    • anon

      I have a friend who fades out for months at a time – but then fades back in again, just when I’ve almost written her off. It is very confusing and has got to a point where I just invest as much in her as I used to. She has been through a lot of tough times, but won’t share with me, even though she calls herself my best friend (I haven’t considered her that for years now). It is a very odd situation, as when she fades back in, she acts as if we just spoke a week ago…

      • anon (again)

        I tried to edit this and it didn’t work for some reason – I meant to write “It is very confusing and has got to a point where I just *can’t* invest as much in her as I used to.”

      • Anon in MD

        My relationship with my college roommate has been in a fade out for awhile. I think we talk less now that I live 7 minutes away than I did when I lived an hour or more away. Last time she talked she commented to her 6 year old how she doesn’t get to see me much even though I live so close. Yet she never does anything about it and I am tired of being the only one to invest energy and emotions in the relationship. I’m not excluding her from my life, but I am just tired of setting myself up to be let down by her. I’ve decided to invite her to group things, but not “just us” stuff anymore. Then if she waits until the last minute to RSVP or cancel, I’m not up a creek without a paddle.

  • honeypie

    I agree with all of this. I’m a fade out friend, because the person I thought was my friend betrayed me and yet I still have to be somewhat around her because of my SO(nothing related to him at all). We are all in a group of friends, and she always asks him why I’m not around or talk to her anymore like I used to, and he always says to ask me but she never does. So there is something to be said for her not asking me what’s wrong as well. I feel as if she really cared that much, she could speak to me directly. If someone stopped speaking to me, I would at least try to see what I might have done to facilitate that. She won’t though, because self-awareness is not her strong suit.

    When I see her I’m polite, but that friendship we had( or I thought we had) has been damaged and I don’t trust her and can’t look at her the same. Part of why I don’t say anything is because of my SO and his continued relationship with her and her husband. I don’t want him to be caught in the middle of it, but I guess he already is, with her asking where I am all the time. If she ever asks me I will tell her, but I try to not be around her unless necessary. Sigh.

    • Anon

      Just saying, that sounds cruel. I’m sure you have your reasons for approaching it this way, but have you considered being the one to address the situation with her instead of waiting to be asked? After all they are your feelings about the relationship, I am assuming from your description that she thinks the friendship is fine on her end. Just a thought from an Internet stranger ;)

      • honeypie

        I hear what you’re saying and I appreciate it. I admit it does sound cruel because I’m being vague about what she did. This isn’t a scenario where she flakes on dinner one too many times or I call and she never calls back or we just grow apart. Without going into too much detail, she put me in a situation where I could have potentially lost my current lifestyle and had to start over from scratch (read: Bernie Madoff where you think your hard-earned money is going one place and it ends up elsewhere, not exactly that, but similar). She and her husband put me in that situation, did not tell me to my face about what they did and told everyone in our circle when I was the only one it affected directly.

        I found out and waited to see if they would tell me. They didn’t. I waited to see if they would correct the situation and they eventually did but they still didn’t tell me. I would ask if anything new was happening and she said nothing. All I got was the superficial and vapid about shopping and parties. To this day nothing has been said and I’m sure she makes it look like she’s the victim because I’m avoiding her but if she thought about when I started to avoid her and when she betrayed me she could figure it out, to the day even. I would have respected her if she had told me what she’d done and how she was going to fix it and kept me updated on her progress. But she didn’t. Now I don’t trust her as far as I can throw her. So yeah. I’m not a mean person, I’m loyal to a fault but when you cross me, I’m done.

        • Anon

          I totally respect that. It’s hard to deal with someone directly when they refuse to meet you on a level playing field. Best of luck to you.

  • this is my biggest barrier in *making* friends – not so much how do you break up with your bff…but just how do you break off a friend “fling” that isn’t working out (maybe some of you have some dating experience to draw from – i’ve always been a one-night-stand/serious relationship person romantically, so i don’t really have a concept of this “dating” thing)?

    i’ve recently realized that i have no interest in or time for people who are not supportive of my core values, which led to a lot of lost friendships. now i’m kind of interested in making new friends, but core values are not something you find out about someone right off the bat, and i’m afraid of bothering with getting to know someone and then finding out we don’t really mesh in super important ways…and then what the hell do you do? it’s not the same as “you’re unhealthy for me to have in my life,” which is hard to say but super valid – it’s more like “you’re awesome, but you’re not for me” which feels way harder to actually say to a friend (maybe because of this that rachel said: “because we can have so many friends, I’d never considered that I could be wasting my time on a friendship”).

    • js

      Something that fascinates me, and is certainly perpetuated in the wedding world, is the idea that all your friends HAVE to be BFF’s. I watch my husband keep in occasional touch with his best guy friends, grab a beer with an acquaintance and schmooze with his coworkers, and I am beginning to think this is key. Different friends, different levels, which fulfill different and important roles. I marvel at how I, as a woman, need so much maintenance from my friends and set impossibly high standards that no one can ever reach. All I want is someone to call when I wanna grab a margarita and bitch about my sex life. You don’t need to have known me since kindergarten for that. I think it’s admirable if you manage to stay friends with someone your whole life, but not necessary.

      • I agree with you- a variety of friends in different levels of closeness is a good thing.

        I also see where Lady Brett is coming from, though. I made friends with a co-worker at a part-time job. We got along well, as we were both well-read and could have interesting conversations. He got to be friends with my partner, too, since they could bond over movies, comics, and books. But the better I got to know this guy, the more clear it became that we have some different core values. I love his fiance, though, and got to bear witness to their relationship growing. She and I share a lot of core values. We’re attending their wedding this fall, but when we hang out together, sometimes it’s pretty cool, and sometimes it’s a little uncomfortable.

        I remind myself that they don’t have to be our BFFs to have a fun evening together. I wonder if I psyche myself into being overly judgmental (thinking it’s going to be weird makes me look for awkward moments).

      • i think the gender differences in friendship styles are fascinating (also, calling differences gendered makes me nervous). i have a decidedly “masculine” style of friendship that tends to be way too low-key, low-input to maintain friendships with women (or at least with women who aren’t overbearing – in the best way – and pulling more than their share of the friendship load, to be honest). but in my experience, that same wonderful, comfortable low-keyness that defined most of my guy friendships virtually guarantees that we lose touch when we lose proximity. on the other hand, that is sort of expected and understood, so there’s none of the hard feelings about being pushed out (or someone having failed their end) that seem so common when women’s relationships fade.

        • Kristen

          “i think the gender differences in friendship styles are fascinating (also, calling differences gendered makes me nervous)”

          More and more, I think what we call “gendered” differences could actually be emotional differences. Your description of low-key, low-input style that you term “masculine” could also be called, “emotionally univested”.

          I don’t know if I’m making any sense here, and I don’t mean to downplay gender roles that obviously exist, but I think some descriptions of female and masculine are actually talking about the emotional investment of said parties. Since ladies were thought to “care more” or get all worked up or whatever and men were expected to be stoic and unemotional, they became gendered instead of what they really are – emotional. That’s my theory of the moment, based solely on my own intuition and love of creating scientific theories everyone else thinks are ridiculous. :)

      • Breck

        I think friendship amongst guys is a completely different animal. I would say that my boyfriend and I both have a solid number of different friends at different levels (I probably have a more varied group, actually), but on the whole his require a lot less maintenance. He can go months at a time without talking to and years without seeing his closest friends, and he’s still planning on having them in our wedding.

        Maybe without the BFFs 4 Lyfe/gossip and puns over Cosmos narrative, men don’t put as much pressure on themselves and their friends to live up to some made up ideal, so they just act however seems genuine?

        • That may be true, but I know my partner, while a low-key person, is majorly loyal and majorly invested in his good friends. Part of this may be because they have a well-established method of communication online, thanks to multiple programs/games/sites that allow them to chat. Sometimes people are out of touch for a while thanks to life circumstances, but even having moved half a country away, he and his best buds definitely keep up with each other on a regular basis.

          • Breck

            Things are obviously different for different people, I was just trying to get across how blown away I was when my boyfriend mentioned he hadn’t seen his best friend, who moved across the country, in three years. And they hadn’t talked in 6 months. And neither of them thought anything of it. It definitely made me think a little harder about how and why he handles his friendships that way vs. the way I do.

          • You’re right- I think how people handle friendships comes down to personalities, but how friendships are socially scripted is more gendered (which then can affect how we handle them). Women get more pressure to be absolute-total-support-systems, so I think we get shafted in having the words/narratives for other experiences and other levels of friendship.

          • Breck

            You said it exactly!

        • I am so jealous of my fiance/male friends/father for their ability to pick up with friends after a year of not speaking. No one’s feelings are hurt that you haven’t called – they all understand that once friendships become long distance it can be hard to constantly keep it up, and that your energy goes to the people that you see on a regular basis. It took me years to accept that my girl friendships required more maintenance, that I only had so much time and energy to spend keeping up with people in other places, and that meant that I would “fade-out” friends unintentionally.

    • CoffeeCup

      Blargh. I’m going through this right now. There’s a girl I’ve been hanging out with a little and she’s cool and all, but there are some fundamental values differences that make it really uncomfortable for me to spend too much time with her. And because of that, I can’t integrate her into my existing friend group, so every time I spend time with her, I feel like it’s a missed opportunity to see other friends or my partner. And, of course, I work with her, which is adding another layer to everything.

      This is why I don’t befriend coworkers.

    • “but core values are not something you find out about someone right off the bat, and i’m afraid of bothering with getting to know someone and then finding out we don’t really mesh in super important ways…and then what the hell do you do?”

      Oh man, this kind of thing can be hard. I still meet most of my friends through other friends, which helps, but I had a “woah! really?” moment about someone’s core values a few years ago. It was the girlfriend of a HS friend of a friend. The two of them had moved from out of state, and were now sharing a house with my friend. I’d hung out with her a few times and we’d really clicked. Yay! New person to be friends with!

      Then, a few weeks in, she made a super-casual anti-Semitic remark in conversation. Not even like a failed joke or some attempt to be edgy. She straight up said, “I don’t like Jews,” which left me flabbergasted when I realized she wasn’t kidding. Um…no. Nope. No. Commence instant fade. Fortunately, they have since moved back to their old state, so fewer awkward social moments. But damn, I totally didn’t see that coming, and it was so weird. Talk about disconnect on core values.

      • Tamar

        Holy. Cow. Last night, I was sitting around with a group of friends and somehow the conversation turned to “situations where it’s not acceptable to say ‘but that’s my opinion, and even if you disagree, you should respect it,’ ” and the first example that rolled off someone’s tongue was, “I don’t like Jewish people, but that’s my opinion and you need to respect that.” And of course, we all laughed, because- hilarious extreme case, right? Nobody thinks like that (outside of clinically insane racist nut jobs), right? I can’t believe you met/ were in danger of becoming friends with someone who does!! Good bullet dodging!

        • Seriously! I actually waited a beat or two for the punchline. I mean…who says that?

  • THIS POST. For serious.

    I’ve been going through a lot of changes over the past couple of years (which I guess is totally normal when you’re in your twenties…) but it’s shaken up a lot of my friendships. I’m closer now with people that I wasn’t close with 2 years ago, and I “broke up” with my best friend from high school a few years ago. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, and sometimes, I still get sad about it. This really hit home, though, “I would never let myself stay in a romantic relationship that was causing me so much stress, but for some reason, I stayed in a friendship that was.” I think you were absolutely spot-on with the thought that a relationship is a relationship; friend or romantic, and they should be treated similarly with respect to how they affect our lives.

    I’ve also kind of been on the other side of “friend dumping”. I chose to be honest with one of my best friends about how I thought her fiance wasn’t treating her very well, and she effectively stopped talking to me and unceremoniously “fired” me from being a bridesmaid. I wasn’t offended by the un-bridemaiding, but what hurt was that she wouldn’t return my calls, and essentially just stopped talking to me, especially when I gave her lots of opportunities to tell me if I hurt her feelings etc. I still feel really sad about how it all went down, even though I don’t think that I did anything particularly wrong. Any ideas on how to “get over” a friendship that’s broken and possibly gone?

    • js

      I now realize how messed up my best friend is/was since our break up. She has never been good at being alone and when she got divorced, spiraled totally out of control, met a guy and was married less than a year later. Her choice, but when I said something while they were dating about how this guy lied to her from the beginning, that was the beginning of the end for us. Obviously, she wants different things from her relationships. I think the thing that helps me, though I’m not exactly over it, is realizing all the positive things I learned from her and also that she never was a real friend to me. Also, it helped to think about ways that I could’ve been a better friend. Now, I know what my friendship “values” are, from myself and others.

  • Ann

    One thing about the fade out: sometimes people disappear for extended periods of time that have nothing to do with your friendship.
    One of my dearest friends has struggled with depression over the last four years. Since we now live on opposite sides of the country, I don’t see her except for when we’re both back in our hometown. There were months and months when all of my calls, emails, letters, etc, would go unanswered. But I kept on trying and every so often, I’d get a response. At my wedding a month ago, she hugged me with the biggest possible hug as she told me how much it meant to her that I didn’t let her fade out. She’s lost almost all of her high school and college friends, except the couple of us who were damn persistent.
    Years and years ago, I stopped responding to my friends when I was severely depressed. And one close friend FOUGHT HARD to keep our friendship alive despite my attempt to fade out (because I didn’t want anyone to care about me).
    I’ve only ended two close friendships in my life–both over email. Other close friendships have naturally drifted apart, but remain at the level where when I *do* see those people, we have a blast.
    These experiences have taught me that if you want a friendship to end, you should be clear about it. Because sometimes a “fade out” is actually a sign of someone who still loves you but is in a bad space.
    Since there are many types of fading out, I generally don’t assume that someone who’s not responding to me wants to end our friendship. Depending on the length of the friendship, I will still try and get in touch for a year or more after they stop responding. I would really hope that someone who genuinely wants to end our friendship would speak up in that case!

    • Not Sarah

      I think the part I dislike the most about the fade out or people just not being around/busy is that I can’t tell which it is! I’m currently unsure if I actually lost a friend when I broke up with my ex and I can’t tell if she’s just busy or if she’s actually fading me out. I’m trying to not think about it anymore.

    • meg

      Totally. Lots of my friends have faded out for life reasons, and then later we just picked right back up where we started.

      Though. To be honest, I can’t remember a time where I consciously did a fade out. Sometimes I just grow apart from people, which is just the natural fade out.

    • SarahSnow

      I think life reasons and mental illness reasons are two totally different things though. I have been on both sides of each, and I feel like the life business fade has a much shorter time limit, like at most a month. Now, I may only have time/ability for like, two fb pokes in six weeks, but at least there’s something there. Mental illness related, I would keep trying for at least a year, and even if it was longer, no harm no foul. I have a College friend with borderline/bipolar and I check in with her maybe every two weeks, get a response maybe every six, and see her maybe a few times a year. But she is definitely still one of my best friends and frankly I would rather she be working to get in a better place than worrying about chatting to me.

  • Marta

    There is nothing worse than a fade out. My best friend of something like 14 years met a new partner and decided it was time to fade me out. It was one of the most hurtful things I have gone through and it took me probably a year to get over. I would have definitely appreciated a “formal breakup” and would still have respected that person after the fact.

    • Breck

      I’m so sorry you went through that, and I completely agree that I’d much rather have a break up than a fade out. My boyfriend is going through a fade out right now (I think–it’s hard to tell because he and his friends can go forever without talking), and it’s sort of enraging to watch from the outside. I want to shake this friend and tell him to buck up and break up with my boyfriend like a grown up*, but instead I just hug my guy and remind him about all the other great friends he has.

      *Weirdest sentence I’ve ever typed.

      • Tamar

        Been there, too, Breck! I’ve had to watch my fiance be dismissed and stood up by his “best friend since middle school,” and it’s really frustrating and terrible. We made the decision to not have bridesmaids/groomsmen at our wedding, and for me, a major motivation was knowing that he would feel obligated to ask this guy to be his best man, even though he’s just been a crappy friend for the last few years.

        I want to grab this guy by the collar and say, “Hey! You’ve got an excellent person here wanting to be your friend and putting it on the line, and you don’t deserve it!! Either get it together or get out of his life!”

  • js

    I SO wanted to TALK about this and felt so stupid for needing to. My best friend and I “broke up” years ago now and I am still not over it. I feel so silly, but I thought she was my family. I liked her better than my family and now she’s gone. My husband is surrounded by friends he’s had forever and I am jealous because the person who I thought knew me best just dumped me. Our lives were so intertwined that I lost other friends in the process. It also hurts that she was the one who ended it, though I thought about it many times, just like its ten times worse if the dude breaks up with you. Though it’s not the only reason, it also sucks that the major reason we’re not friends is over guys. I question what my friendship and it’s end says about my judgement. Because she was like a sister to me, my daughter was also caught in the crossfire. I think the worst part is not having closure, not getting to have my say. No one around me seems to understand, having never gone through something like this before. It does only seem like a matter of time, when you consider how much kids, work, etc., affect our ability to be good friends. It’s immature of me, but I feel so much better knowing I’m not alone.

    • Blimunda

      You’re definitely not alone. I almost don’t remember guy’s breakups, but a couple important friends breakups? Still hurt, after many years.

    • You are not alone at all. I recently had a best friend break up with me, and it hurts so much. We were like sisters, and she’s just gone. Granted, the relationship wasn’t healthy, but that only makes it hurt a little bit less.

  • Jessica B

    The worst friend breakup I ever had was a couple years ago. This toxic woman who had been in my life since High School was just making every wrong decision possible (regardless of good advice given) and then would go on telling everyone what a victim she was (that ‘it’s never my fault! person). She would call me at ridiculous hours, never ask me about my life, and never remember what I had told her if I did manage to get a word in about me. She once yelled at me for being out of state and therefore not able to hang out with her.

    It all culminated in her canceling plans with me at the moment I was expecting her to show up (for the 5th time). I basically just said “This isn’t working, maybe we shouldn’t plan things anymore,” and she flipped out. Then I was a huge villain in her life and she was just so confused about why I wouldn’t like her–everyone likes her! To make matters worse she and my mom were really close, so she was constantly asking my mom why I wasn’t there for her (A pretty direct quote, btw). It all finally ended one night when she called me like, 4 times at 1am crying because of a medical condition, which then moved to “none of my other friends see me the way you see me, I’ve asked them.” I never heard from her again after that.

    • K

      Just went through a VERY similar experience. On facebook her only posts were always themed around what someone else had done to her, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I was the villain of the month. When that happened due to my dating someone and not being around “enough”, even though I constantly invited her out was always told “can’t make it”, and then she never tried to make plans with me, she never had the nerve to just be open about it with me. I tried to discuss the animosity between us, but she would always claim we were fine to my face and then trash me “anonymously” an hour or so later on facebook. Still hurts me to lose a friend (b/c that’s how I am), but I know that it was also not a healthy relationship to have in my life.

  • grace b

    My best friend and I had a huge falling out last year that I really thought had ended our friendship for good.

    We have been friends since the 7th grade and our lives have both taken pretty different paths–I went to a four year school, moved away after college, etc. She has been in and out of community college, working odd jobs, and dated a horrible guy (everyone in her family and social circle agreed with this) for four years.

    She came to visit me last year when I was living in California. She brought about $50 for her week-long trip. I never got over that. I couldn’t believe that she expected to just mooch off me and my boyfriend! Her stay culminated in a huge blowout fight that we had where we both realized that a) I had been blocking her out of the friendship for a few months and that b) she just still didn’t have her shit together. She flew home with the both of us still very upset after a huge shouting match and some very bitter exchanges. We didn’t talk again for almost 2 months and until this past June, we hadn’t seen each other in person for over a year.

    Our hang out time last month was very different than any other hang out we’ve ever had it was kinda crazy. But it was GOOD. I no longer feel emotionally invested and responsible for her life (something I struggled with all through high school and college) so I could hear about how things were (still) going badly and be supportive but not try to fix it. The day we spent together high lighted a lot of the ways in which we are different (which were always there to be honest) but we were still able to have fun and enjoy each other’s company. We still talk and text regularly and sometimes I’m nostalgic for the old days when we spent tons of time together but I also know that we both are doing what is right for us.

    I guess I just wrote that novel to say that you can have a friendship that goes through change and comes out on the other side still okay. I have all different kinds of friendships these days and they all access a different part of my personality and I feel pretty okay with that.

    Rachel, thanks for writing so open and honestly about your friend breakup. I can tell it really resonates on this site!


    The friend breakup is HARD. And so totally not expected or talked about in our cultural narrative AT ALL. I feel like all of my tough friend break-ups in the last few years have been because of irreconcilable differences, but the break was of the fade out variety, which seems like the worst way to go. There’s no closure on that, and some of those friends don’t even realize the relationship ended or that they did anything wrong.

    I think the big thing for me is that I used to be much more of a doormat, and I used to be concerned with everyone else’s feelings to the detriment of my own. And the people in question really bristled when I started to assert myself more, which put our huge differences in values in starker contrast, and I reverted to just not rocking the boat, while trying to protect myself from people who are toxic.

    This post and the comments are making me reconsider the really passive stance I’ve taken toward these former friends.

    • I had this experience too. I had a series of friendships end in my early 20s. I think the transition from people pleaser/doormat to taking care of your own needs can be a difficult one to make. It’s hard to realize the real foundation of your friendship was actually their dependency on you.

      For me, most of this seemed to correspond with moving in with my soon-to-be husband. Dating him, made me see what a healthy relationship should look like, and there were simply several friendships that did not make the cut.

      • Moving in with my now-husband was huge for realizing which friendships were good for me and which weren’t, and the times he met the less-healthy friends were also huge. (One of them drunkenly told him he was an idiot and didn’t deserve me because he left college to go to film school and was therefore not as smart as anyone in our group of friends, then proceeded to tell him as consolation he was probably good at things related to our “comic-y company.” Another only spoke to him through me, constantly referenced inside jokes or experiences that excluded him, and pointedly ignored him when I wasn’t around.)

  • Oh man, I can relate to this post so hard.

    In college, a group of 5 women started to form around getting together for coffee and conversation once a week. It didn’t set out to be a thing, but it became one, as we became really tightly knit. Other people gave us a nickname (“The Pentagaron of Doom” loosely based on “the Pentavirate” from So I Married an Axe Murderer) and it turned out that some in our college social circle were jealous of/threatened by our friendship.

    Then one of the girls, influenced by some of the haters, started doing this weird slow fade. It was painful. Eventually, tired of her acting like I wasn’t even there, I confronted her and had a throw-down breakup. Fast forward three years and she has started dating my best guy friend..practically my brother. We ran into each other at another college friend’s wedding and made a bit of peace. Fast forward another year or so, and the guy I had been dating dumped me HARD, and best guy friend and former-best friend helped me pick up the pieces. Fast forward to now…I’m the godmother of one of their kids (they got married) and she will be my officiant next summer. She and I are super close again, and we laugh and roll our eyes about how stupid we were in our 20s.

    Friendships can break up hard, and sometimes you find yourself getting back together.

    • Of the other women in “the Pentagaron” one of them was my roommate for a year post-college and I am still fairly good friends with, despite the fact that she lives several states away. One is a FB friend (also several states away) who isn’t on FB much. I know bits and pieces of her life, but were aren’t close. And one (also a college roommate) did the slow fade on me, straight up told two of the others that she was done with them, and is still possibly in touch with the last. It’s interesting how this rolls out, and I find it funny that the one I am closest two was the one that I had the painful breakup with. :)

  • RVS

    Having always been the clear communication breakup type in my relationships, I feel really guilty about one friend I broke up with by fading to black – but looking back on it, I’m still not sure what I could or should have done differently. This ex friend of mine has some real mental health issues, and when a mutual friend decided to end her friendship with him through a conversation where she told him frankly about everything he was doing that bothered her, he flew into a screaming, cursing rage, that was quite scary to witness, and then into a deep depression, hating himself for the loss of the friendship, so bad that I feared he might hurt himself. Judging how poorly this friendship breakup had gone, I decided to fade to black with this person. I still wonder if it was the right choice. I know from mutual friends he was hurt by my silence, but he was more hurt by the conversation break up. How do you have a friendship breakup with someone who may not be stable enough to have these kinds of honest, difficult conversations?

    • I know that feeling. I have a former friend that has some mental health problems- most notably, clinical depression. We had some messy issues in college, and since then I’ve distanced myself from him. I saw him once over the holidays last year, as a very casual catch-up breakfast (and thankfully threatening snow gave me an excuse to leave when I needed to.)

      I feel kind of bad that he doesn’t have close friends when he’s in a spot to need some, but I know from the past that being friends with him takes way more energy than I have to give. He gets jealous of other friendships and doesn’t understand social cues that would otherwise avert major fights. Even the mutual friend who introduced us no longer keeps in touch, though they live in the same town and were much closer friends in high school and college.

      I don’t think I could ever have a break-up conversation with this person, as telling him what’s wrong with our friendship would likely end up putting him in a more depressed state and require some really painful literal explanations of social behavior expectations.

      • RVS

        Thanks, Sarah E, you put it so well. Sometimes it’s really nice just knowing someone else out there has been through the same awkward situation

    • There has to be a middle ground between fade to black and telling someone frankly about all the ways that they bother you. I can see that one never going down well.

      • RVS

        Hear hear!

      • there is a huge difference between not speaking to someone anymore and not expending your effort on them anymore. think no longer returning calls vs. no longer taking a break at work to answer calls – or never want to see you again vs. we can hang, but only when i’m not busy. i guess it’s basically “downgrading” your friendship…

        • I agree- though in my personal experience, as I related upthread, it’s been more like “not seeking conversation, but responding when contacted” vs. “refusing to speak with”

          • Anon in MD

            That’s my current POV with my college roommate. For most of our relationship, I’ve done the suggesting and planning. Sometimes she shows up, and other times she waits until the last minute to get back to me, just to tell me that her mom or her sister-in-law (about whom she’s complained in the past) have made plans for the exact same time, even though my invite came first.

            I just became tired of being “good enough” when something better hasn’t come along. So I only invite her to group stuff anymore and I’m not going out of my way to do things with just her and her husband & son (I like them all & get along with them all, as does my husband). So I just don’t seek contact anymore – I live 7 minutes away, so it isn’t hard for her to find me.

    • Kristen

      I’ve been waiting to comment on this particular piece of the discussion because I struggle with anxiety and depression and having a fight with me, especially a younger me, could have been quite to dramatic endeavor. While I’m the last person to preach coldness, I think its important to remind ourselves that it isn’t our job to protect everyone from themselves. If you’ve got a volatile friend and need to say something tough, I don’t think the answer is to just not say it.

      Say it kindly and make it about you. Which it is. One way to look at it is, you don’t want to stop being friends with someone because THEY are terrible, you want to stop being friends because it doesn’t make YOU happy to be around them. I think you can be honest with anyone about what you need and what you don’t need and its difficult for anyone to logically get upset with you. Because you’re taking care of yourself, its not about them.

      On another note, I’ve had dramatic folks in my life who’ve threatened to harm themselves due to being upset or to try and get me to do something for them. As someone who has truly and honestly felt suicidal thoughts, this kind of drama, disgusts me. I call it out as emotional manipulation (which it is) and my theory is that no one who is actually suicidal, is going around crying and screaming about it. It’s a very private, dark issue and you don’t use it as a negotiation tactic.

      • SarahSnow

        Due to the nature of my work, I deal with suicide threats often. I do think many people who threaten self harm in retaliation are manipulative and not in danger of following through (ie this is one of the most common tactics of abusive partners). However, people who are highly impulsive are at higher risk of attempting suicide after a threat and may choose a more lethal (ie successful) method. And, most people who do attempt suicide have openly referred to/discussed it with others. So…it can’t always be dismissed. Usually a very straightforward ‘it sounds like you’re talking about killing yourself. Is that the case? If yes, I am going to cal (x hotline/police).

        • Kristen

          Yes, thank you for giving the appropriate response to such threats. Obviously one shouldn’t just ignore this kind of talk, no matter how unlikely it seems.

    • Blimunda

      Something similar happened to me. We were not best friends (there was a big age gap) but she relied on me on a difficult time that had a big impact on her life. I was happy to listen to her and offer my shoulder, but slowly began to realize that she was dismissing all the people in her life, taking personally even little opinion differences, and she was not willing to search for help or for a solution, but only to complain about her problems.
      We often met casually because of her (former) job, and were happy to catch up, but she would never call or invite me to her new place as she said she would.
      I don’t dislike her, but after seeing her behaviour at a mutual friend’s wedding, I decided to let it fade to black. I feel sorry because she needs some good help, but I can’t give it to her, and that doesn’t justify being rude or ignoring other people’s feelings.

  • Moe

    I’ve handled friend break-ups with all the maturity and sensitivity of a junior high girl. I had to learn many of the things mentioned here the hard way. Life doesn’t prepare for you things like this the way it does when romantic relationships end.

    About 10 years ago I had a friend dump me when she didn’t agree with a major life decision I made. She took it personally and we parted ways. I thought about her often and the few times I tried to reach out to her I was completely rejected. Ultimately I moved on but would sometimes ask mutual friends or her younger sister how she was doing and I’ve always wished her well. She was a big part of my younger years.

    I recently crossed paths with her at a graduation and I didn’t say hello because I assumed she still did not want to talk to me. I was completely shocked that she went out of her way to say hello, ask me how I was doing and she recalled old times with a happy face. We are in completely different places now and we won’t be friends again but I felt as though I had been released from the burden of her being angry with me. It was liberating and the resolution I thought I would never have.

    • meg

      “I’ve handled friend break-ups with all the maturity and sensitivity of a junior high girl.”

      And then I snarfed water all over the keyboard. THANKS MOE.

      • Moe

        HA!! Not one of my proudest moments, but it’s true!

  • Oof, I’ve been doing the “fade out” and while it’s working, I think, I feel pretty shitty about it. This friend and I were close in college but we always had different politics and values. It was one of those college friendships that was sort of based on a mutual love of getting drunk, cooking, and watching cartoons, but once we moved away from each other I realized that 1. I didn’t feel the need to contact him that much and 2. a lot of his views were actively offensive to me.

    This sort of culminated when he came to visit, and he and my fiance (then boyfriend) got into a screaming match at a bar over some political/racial discussion. The friend treated it the next day like it was no big deal (he’s the type that likes to debate) but from my point of view it was just too much. He lives in Texas, I’ve blocked a lot of things on social media, and now that I’m getting married I worry he’ll expect an invitation. We’ll see where this goes.

  • Anony for now

    This is such a hard topic for me…I have a friend, a best friend, who has become toxic to me and I see no breakup in sight. She is the crazy, high-drama, outgoing optimist to my cautious, non-confrontational, introvert realist. She is the plastic-surgery-to-make-boobs-bigger to my plastic-surgery-to-make-boobs-smaller. She is the taker, I am the giver. We used to have the perfect balance of friendship soulmates.

    Over the past few years, her life has gotten steadily worse, and mine has gotten steadily better. We are now in completely opposite places in life. I can’t talk to her about my successes and joys because it will simply make her feel worse about where her own life is. I can’t talk to her on bad days because my problems are ridiculously pale in comparison to hers. As things get worse for her, her plans for the future become more and more absurd and unrealistic, and any attempt to gently steer her to a more realistic place is met with tears and anger and facebook drama. I get so very little out of our relationship anymore. Hanging out with her is a chore as I listen to her babble on and on, and complain about mistakes she’s made that I had tried to reason her out of.

    I would love to break up with her in a sensible and adult way, but unfortunately, I am the only friend she has left. All of her other friends (even her “other best friend,” who I adored) have slowly dropped her to avoid being sucked into her black hole. She writes me love letters of devotion about how I am the only one she can count on besides her significant other and mom. She feels me slipping away and buys me gifts that fill me with guilt.

    I guess I’m not really typing this for feedback or help, but it feels good to get it out. I love the safeness of this community. Friendship month has been wonderful and I have gotten so very much out of it.

  • GREAT post! I broke up with a friend last year and found myself morning like I had broken up with my long-term boyfriend (my husband still doesn’t get it). It’s always good to know that I am not the only one. I also hope that one day I will “just be friends” with this girl. In the end, my friend break-up taught me how to break-up and I agree that I see the break-up as a pivotal moment in my twenties.

  • MaY

    I think I’m going to accidentally start some sort of flamewar. Hope not, here goes:

    I’m in the weird (maybe cruel?) position of planning a friend-fade once my wedding is over. Is that awful? I have this friend who is the loveliest person, but she brings out the absolute worst in me. I’m basically a useless and lazy person around her.

    Many years ago, I went through a nasty breakup (during the midst of a cross-country move! for him! ugh!) and had several family members die – all around the same time. This friend generously allowed me to crash at her place and just “keep it together.” She didn’t ask anything of me in return and I can’t tell you how immensely grateful I am for that time and space. However, as time did go on, I wasn’t really able to move on. And she never gave me that kick that I needed to move on (not that I was ever expecting it from her, she’d done so much). But I just had to go or else I was going to wallow and be a selfish never-ending black hole of want/need for another 6 months (after having already done so on her couch for the previous 6 months). So I gave myself a little tough love and moved away. Six years on and I’m better now (mostly, lol).

    We don’t have much in common anymore, other than just appreciating each other for our shared history. And although we’ve kept in touch here and there, every time that we see each other now we seem to resume our previous roles. She’s the caretaker, and I become some kind of impotent lump. It’s not who I want to be.

    She’s invited to my wedding. I wanted to honor her for being such a huge part of my life and helping me through so much, but once the day is over I kind of just want to let “nature take its course” and let the friendship continue to fade. I don’t want to be hurtful to her, especially since I think this really is a case of “it’s me–not-you.”

    But I don’t know what to do. She wants to have the friendship where we go on vacations together and buy a home together to co-house (yes, she’s already done that with another friend). Whereas I just want to appreciate her for being a friend to me when I didn’t deserve it (and still now, when I’m being kind of a big ingrate) and see each other a few times a year. I guess I want more of a friend, and less of a sister?

    I don’t know, APW.

    • Moe

      I used to be a big fan of The Fade, but I’ve come to learn that fading on someone is really just a form of cowardice. My intention here is not to flame you, I say this from my own experience.

      I had a friendship that sounds similar to yours. This friend came into my life during a time of big, scary, life-transforming change. I lost weight, I had surgery, I moved, I changed careers, I had just graduated. I needed support and friendship in a lot of different forms. It was during this time that my friend kind of latched on to me, and I allowed it.

      What began as support and friendship grew into a realtionship that was stifling and overstepped boundaries. Again, I allowed it because I didn’t want to rock the boat and speak up for myself. So I slowly let this friend overpower my life in more and more ways while I quietly suffocated.

      Then I met my soon-to-be husband and everything began to change. Maybe being with him gave me some courage, but really I just think he’s way more practical and honest. “Why are you friends with this person you clearly do not like anymore?” Our views were different, our polictial and religious ideals were different, and she was already asking to plan and be a part of my wedding.

      So I had to finally speak up for myself and tell her that I did not want to continue the friedship anymore. I did it via email. (I was still a coward) I hit ‘send’ and went into a complete panic. But it was done and after one last email from her it was over.

      It is scary, uncomfortable and hard but you will be so proud of yourself if you handle this yourself.

      • KC

        I think there’s a difference between a “I’m not responding to them anymore” fade vs. a “I’m just not going to make as much effort” fade? Some friendship fade-outs are just due to proximity changes or interest changes or less time or whatever, and aren’t really deliberate – some friendship fade-outs aren’t complete and aren’t intended to be complete (I’ll congratulate you on big life events! but I won’t be calling you every week regularly). So, if you’re definitely intending to end a friendship and the other person would benefit from knowing that (either so they don’t rely on you or because there’s something they need to know), then direct contact = good. (in this case, yeah, you might be right that direct contact would be more informative, unless May wants to go for a reduced-level friendship rather than a complete end)

        But if you’re just not sure things are really there anymore and you don’t want to put more effort into it, then not putting as much energy into the friendship and seeing if it comes to a slow stop seems not so much cowardice as… not pushing things.

    • KC

      I think “I don’t like who I become when you’re around” is a legitimate reason to generically reduce time spent around someone. If you can’t “fix” your side of it (such that you don’t slump into “carry me” mode), and she can’t change her overcoddling mothering (which: sometimes friends really do need a soft place to land, and it’s hard to balance that with tough love, and tough love sometimes makes people mad, so I get how that happens), then cutting down the opportunities for that sort of not-good-for-you imbalance seems like a good plan?

      You can maybe do the relationship along different channels and work on your side of it, or fade out to some degree, or ask her directly to not replace your spinal column? I don’t know what would be best. But: real friends want what is best for us, too, ultimately, after they’ve sorted out any hurt feelings, etc.

    • LILY

      Not to get off-topic here, but what does it mean to “co-house”? Do the two (or more) couples live together? Is it like purchasing a time-share? I am very curious about this new-to-me concept…

      • May



        Hope that doesn’t come across as snitty! Not meant to be….I started typing out this long winded explanation and then realized that not only was it an incomplete explanation, it was basically unintelligible. Oops. Hence, the link! They explain it better.

        It’s a really neat idea, but it really can’t work unless all parties involved really want it. I’m not into it and neither is my fiancé. But…man does this friend of mine try to hard sell the idea. Every time it’s brought up I wonder if I might end up with some kind of timeshare…lol

    • Rachel

      I don’t know that you’re “letting nature take its course” if she wants to vacation together and co-own a house. A fade might seem natural to you, but I doubt that it would to her, which is why I think having a conversation with her is the right thing to do.

      To use a romantic example, if someone was wanting to buy a house with someone and planning a vacation for the two of them for a year from now, and the other person knew his or her heart wasn’t in it and that the relationship was over for him/her, I don’t think a fade-out would be the route most people would recommend that person take. Even if it is about you (which is a totally valid reason), she is still going to be hurt and confused by a fade-out since it would seem she thinks you’re on the same page with regards to your friendship.

      • May

        I should have clarified that she does live across the country from me. So that might make a fade a little more ‘natural?’ We talk for a couple of hours (long convos) twice a year, tops.

        It’s like how I mentioned before about resuming our “roles” every time we see each other. It seems that for her, we’re always picking up right where we left off. But I suppose I just don’t feel the same way as she does.


        As my fiancé often asks me when I’m perseverating on (fill-in-the-blank), “Is this a big problem? Or is it a little one?” And you know what? It IS a little one.

        But it’s still a hard and complicated problem, darn it!

    • Have you thought of talking to her about the fact that you see yourself slipping into these rolls every time you see each other? As someone who often takes on the caregiver roll, she probably thinks that’s what you still need. I would consider at least trying to have a conversation (post-wedding) thanking her for everything she has done, but now it is time for your rolls to change. If after that, it doesn’t work, at least it won’t seem totally out of the blue. Since it sounds like she was a pretty amazing friend, I think it would be worth it to try to evolve the friendship. Just my opinion.

  • Blimunda

    You must be reading my mind again, because I had this topic in mind. So I just made myself a batch of pancakes (not a common afternoon treat around here, but so good), thinking how to phrase it.
    I had a male friend in my early 20. He was my person. He was also my boyfriend, my first real big love, the first person I thought I would marry someday. It lasted only a few months and then we stayed friends for years. We were very close, and I couldn’t do without him even if seeing him in new relationship made me feel worse than I was ready to accept (so I just pretended it didn’t. easy, uh).
    I had the feeling that I could never get mad at him, whatever he would do. He behaved perfectly, by the way, and I realize now that I must have been quite annoying sometimes.
    Then, one day, I all of a sudden got mad at him (over a stupid thing) and decided that this time I would not call back. He didn’t, either. It’s been about 7 years.
    This year I started to think to get back in touch. I grew up and when I think of him it feels like ages ago (my life has changed much in these years) but I don’t remember anymore all the good reasons there were not to talk to him. I’d like to know how’s he doing.
    Problem (or not), I tried to contact him to an old email address, no answer. Called an old number I had, it was now his business phone. The email may not be working anymore, and I wasn’t brave enough to say my name and leave a message to the secretary.
    I don’t know if it’s a good idea to try again- any experience on either side?

    • Jessica

      Hi Blimunda –
      I’m curious what makes you want to contact this guy again right now, seven years down the road. Are you experiencing any major life changes that are making you especially nostalgic about the past? Even tho I’m now happily engaged, of all the guys I’ve dated, I can only think of one where it’d be a totally platonic, unemotional reunion. For example, I was “friendly” enough with one of my exes to go to his wedding – we only dated for a year in high school and he invited our entire graduating class (10 people) – but it was still a little weird to watch him kiss his wife and know that I had kissed him too once.
      ANYway, enough about me…point being, “just wanna see how he’s doing” sounds like an excuse to me. If there’s any hint of romance in the air, I’d say you should just leave well enough alone.
      If if if if I’m wrong and you really just would enjoy being friends with this guy, even if he’s now in a relationship/married/whatever, perhaps you could reach out to any mutual friends you might have had. You probably know his family, right? They could also let you know whether or not he’d appreciate hearing from you. If you’re too embarrassed/shy to contact his friends/family…that’s probably a good hint that your friendship with him isn’t as platonic as you’re saying you want it to be.

      • Laura

        It’s fine to contact him if you want, but I think it’s also worthwhile to think about what you’re hoping to get from catching up, and to be aware that you might not get the response you want AND you might end up feeling worse than you did before getting in touch. It may still be worth it to you to try and re-connect, or it might not.

        I used to ‘casually reach out’ to exes who I was ostensibly friends with, and would always feel disappointed with the outcome. Ultimately, I decided getting in touch wasn’t worth it. It made me feel badly and it wouldn’t get me what I wanted — for him to decide that he wanted to be with me. If he wanted to be in touch, he had my contact info and could call me. It was always really hard not to reach out, but I realized that if I were truly “over” the person, I wouldn’t feel so desperate to get in touch.

  • Kate

    Oh I remember one friendship I wish I could’ve faded out or ended with a mature discussion. The only problem was he was dating my little sister. And insisted on being in our home during all waking hours, usually playing the same three songs on ukelele. It was one of the factors that made me longer want to be his friend, along with his often judgey attitude and frankly, annoying the bajeezus out of me. It got really ugly towards the end (an end that took 8 months) and definitely brought out the worst in me.
    So, word of advice: before setting up your friends/setting up friends with roommates/giving your blessing to friends dating family, consider how things will go if you no longer wish to be friends with that person.

  • Let me recommend the best girl friendship ending book ever. (I’ve read it like 37 times and counting…) It’s Canadian as fuck, but I’d argue Canadiana at it’s finest (no incest! no maritime backdrop!), and highly recommend you hunt it down to read. It explores the end of a decade long BFF relationship in an honest and incredibly funny way.

    Six Weeks to Toxic by Louisa McCormack

    • I’ll definitely check this out! I’m a huge fan of all things Canadian. Speaking of which, Being Erica (amazing Canadian show) also had some great examples of real complex friendships, including one friend breakup. Definitely worth checking out!

      • Not Sarah

        Being Erica is the best show ever. Possibly even better than Gilmore Girls since it’s not about a teenager.

        • So good! It’s a hard sell, but so good!

        • What. That is a pretty strong statement there (says the diehard Gilmore Girls fanatic). I might have to check this show out now.. . hmm.

          • You definitely HAVE to check it out. I think the first three seasons are on Julu. Although, I think it’s very different from Gilmore Girls. They are both so good in completely different ways. :) Bunheads is very similar to Gilmore Girls, and definitely worth checking out as well.

    • I just googled this book and bookmarked it. It sounds like a must read!

  • Rachelle

    What a loaded topic. I am extremely proud of the friendships I have kept for more than 20 years already, and I honor those people always in my heart. I don’t see them as often as I’d like (but then, I don’t see anyone as often as I’d like…thanks grad school) but I still feel strongly about our friendships.

    I have multiple “best friends” even though by definition of “best” it should only be one…I guess I just consider the term for the people who mean the most to me…which is a lot? Hmm…writing it out it doesn’t seem to make sense…

    I also have this other level of friendship that I call “intimate friendships.” I was thinking about this the other day — people that I’m especially close with because we have a sexual past, but are also close as friends. I also especially value these people because they know me like few others do. Yet a lot of people have trouble understanding this kind of friendship, especially because I’m married now.

    …Just some thoughts. It’s a complex topic and I’ve loved this month’s discussions.

    Thanks for all your insight and wisdom, ladies!

  • anon for this

    I had a friend breakup a year ago. In hindsight, we didn’t have the emotional closeness of BFFs (and never had), but I considered her my best friend. We live in different cities, and I saw her after I’d started dating my now fiance. In the category of “fucking small world,” through a very dubious grapevine, she’d heard my new guy was A Bad Person. Cut to a year later, he and I are engaged, she and I haven’t spoken since I said “I believe you are wrong about this person you’ve never met that I love, and I hope you will give some weight to my assessment of him.” I have felt bad about our breakup, but can’t help but think she’s the one making the choice. It’s been kind of mortifying to feel like I “chose some guy over my BFF” – but that’s not how I see it, it’s just how I’m afraid anyone else would see it. This month has been really interesting at APW, and also brought up a lot of feelings over this. Not that I wish it on anyone, but it’s been helpful to see that other ladies have had bad friend breakups as adults, because it’s a narrative you usually only hear in the trashiest reality-show contexts. So – thanks for your honesty, everyone.

    • I’m not a fan of “all girlfriends MUST trump all romantic interests.” I think we’re sold that in opposition of giving up all other friends for a guy, and I don’t think either extreme is healthy. Sometimes, YES, I choose my partner. In your case, as your fiance, he is way more than “some guy,” but the narrative surrounding such a choice is more complex and therefore not bandied-about so much. When we don’t talk about the difference between unhealthily involved in a romantic partner, forsaking any other relationship and healthily investing in our partnership and placing high value on protecting it, it’s difficult for outsiders to recognize that difference.

    • I had a few friendships end right around the time my fiancé and I got serious. For me, having a super healthy and amazing relationship sort of put the spotlight on a few friendships that were no longer working.

  • Julia

    I kind of have the Tier model going but I think of it more like concentric circles. People move in and out of the circles based often on locale, but sometimes life changes as well.

    Inner Circle – my sister and 3 women I’ve been friends with since high school. That’s it.

    First ring – Friends I see a lot because they live where I live (Minneapolis) and we share interests, or people I’ve wanted to keep in touch with (for whatever reason) even though we ‘re geographically separated (a current close co-worker, a few friends from the last place I lived which was Chicago, a few friends who used to be in the Inner Circle)

    Second ring – people I’d invite to a big party at my house because they live in Minneapolis and seem awesome and maybe we’ve hung out a time or two but are not solidly in each other’s “see you every month” social circles (more co-workers, my husband’s grad school colleagues and their partners)

    Third ring – people that are essentially only a little more than friendly acquaintances, but there is potential they could move inward if time and geography worked out (high school friends who still live in my hometown, theatre people I made plays with in Chicago – this group makes up a lot of my Facebook friends)

    I have friends who were definitely first ring in Chicago (where I lived for 7 years) who have moved to third ring, and sometimes I feel a little bad about it because we shared some intimate times in our lives. But, ultimately, I’ve found for me it’s better to acknowledge that they still mean something to me, but at the end of the day there is only so much time to go around, and I need to build a community in the new place I live too, and not spend all my social time on Skype or the phone. Add in an 11 month old baby and full-time work outside of the home, and as of late I’ve been struggling to just make enough contact with the Inner Circle to keep my heart happy.

    Thanks for the Friends conversation this month – themes like this one are one of the reasons APW is in my feedly even though I got married 3 years ago.

  • Bri

    I’m so glad to hear that other people don’t feel like their friendships fit into the BFF model- I thought I was abnormal! I’ll watch all these wedding shows on TV and think, “Who are these people with 8 lifelong female friends who are ALL bridesmaids, and are somehow magically able to attend ALL wedding events?” That’s not my reality at all- I feel like I’m scrambling just to find 3 women for my wedding with whom I’m close enough to ask to be my bridesmaids.

    I think part of what has defined my relationships is my chosen career path. I’m a jazz musician, which is a field with a notoriously low amount of females. Therefore, the people who I have always been in closest contact with, and therefore have most easily become friends, have mostly been male. And since male friendships *tend* to involve less drama (in my experience anyways), I don’t have a lot of patience for the high levels of drama female friendships can sometimes bring.

    On the plus side, I think musicians and artists have a terrific knack for building wonderfully supportive communities, even if they aren’t all best friends. I have people I call friends scattered all across the country that I’ve met at one-time gigs, summer camps, a 3 month long Disneyland band, conferences, etc. Even though I haven’t spoken to some of them in years, I have no doubt they would offer their couches to sleep on if I happened to be passing through- and I would do the same for them. I’ve made peace with the fact that I may never have a super close BFF, but I have a community of people all over the world who support me.

  • JC

    I think one of the most traumatic experiences of my life was a friend breakup. My college BFF, we lived together for 3 years, and then in my final semester just decided out of the blue that she didn’t want to be friends anymore. She stopped talking to me (we still lived together), and started inviting our friends over and then going into her room with the door closed to hang out. When I confronted her about it, she said that she thought our perfectly-consistent 3 year friendship wasn’t healthy and she just couldn’t do it anymore. We had been through a lot in three years, countless other bad roommates and friend situations, and had made it through together, but then she just decided it was over. I was devastated for a really long time.

    Then I found out toward the end of the school year that pretty much all of the friends I had made and lost in the span of college were lost because of her. She had manipulated all of my other friends away, and then when I finally made friends that she couldn’t touch, she freaked out and dumped me. Then the devastation over the break up turned to devastation that I had fallen for her manipulations for YEARS and not noticed.

    And then she stole my dog. True story.

    That situation has seriously messed me up for future friends. I’m not very open with new people anymore and it takes me a REALLY long time to learn to trust someone after trusting her blindly for years only to find out she had been systematically trying to ruin my life. I had no idea that I was experiencing the same emotions as someone who had been romantically dumped, as all of my romantic relationships have ended rather amiably, until a friend was describing her feelings after a romantic breakup and a light bulb went off in my head. I thought it was absurd how affected I was over this, we weren’t even dating! It took me a long time to get to the point where I realized a relationship is a relationship, and it is perfectly normal to mourn being treated in this way by anyone, no matter your attachment to them to begin with.

    • KC

      Most people do not systematically try to ruin your life. Seriously. That is an anomaly. If either a friend or a boyfriend or a boss or whoever is exhibiting these weird control patterns or behaviors or behind-your-back-ness, they are an anomaly and are good to break up with (I say this partly because once someone’s had one relationship where, basically, abuse is “normal”, they’re more likely to have sequential abusive relationships – but the abusers are an anomaly and can and should be hedged out of your life; the initial endorphin rush or whatever is attractive about possessive people is Not Worth It).

      There are good, real friends out there. You can go slow. But someone trying to destroy your life is *not normal*, and definitely not something you’re very likely to run into twice, especially in friendship, unless you go specifically seeking out someone just like this person. Sometimes meeting friends through other people (where this person has already been screened) can help? But again: the odds are on your side that you will not run into this again. Having friends is good. And I hope things go well. :-)

    • CII

      I have also been through a few friend breakups that I consider particularly traumatic, even today. I think you hit on a really good point that the collateral effects of a friend breakup (the side-picking, the rumors) can be just as devastating as the break-up itself, particularly when the “breaker upper” is sharing a narrative about the break-up when you aren’t even aware it’s happening.

    • Kristen

      I went through a similiar situation with a passive aggressive friend of 15 years and it was so devastating it led to me going into intense therapy. So you are far from alone, though thank goodness friends were all she stole and I still have my pups. I’m truly sorry you had to go through that.

      Going forward, let me suggest something. When I meet people who remind me of this ex-friend, an alarm goes off and I pay close attention to whether they are too like her to be close to. So you will have the same weapons at your disposal – an intimate knowledge of her personality and triggers in you for when you run into them again. It’s super helpful to understand places where you missed clues and made mistakes in that relationship, but it’s difficult to do on your own. So if you’ve ever considered therapy, this is just the kind of thing you can learn and grow from, which in my opinion feels amazing.

      If you’d rather just move on, then do it. It’s terrifically hard to trust people when you’ve been badly hurt. But as we learn from healthy relationships we have, trust builds the strongest, awesomest of bonds, so it’s also worth it. Good luck!

  • Oh wow. This post hit home for me. As someone who got broken up with earlier this year in a very same fashion as this post (via email out of the blue) I have been experiencing many of the same feelings.

    Although the breakup email was more of the style of “I never want to see you again, but said in a ‘nice’ way.” It was unexpected. This person was going to be a bridesmaid in my wedding, and she sent this email about 6 months prior to the wedding.

    Honestly, the relationship was not in a good place. Do I feel like it needed to be ended with such finality in such a dramatic way? Well, no. As such, I have so many mixed feelings. I go from being very angry about the way she ended our friendship, to sad, but underlying I know it was the right thing.

    My only trouble is I wonder how long it will take me to get over it. We were friends for almost seven years, including being co-workers and best friends for the most recent three. She ended the friendship very soon after leaving for a new job. Every time I think I’m almost over it, a co-worker will bring her up, and all the feelings will come back. I also continue to have dreams where I either yell at her, or we become friends again, which makes me think it is very unresolved on a subconscious level.

    I really wish I could just get over it, and move forward. I guess it takes time.

  • PSA

    You guys – THIS post.

    I’ve also never been a BFF-er, but have had a few close friends that have stuck out over time. Two of them were bridesmaids in our wedding. One was a friend from college, one I met after college and we became friends based on our mutual morals and beliefs. Only to find out that’s not actually true. Both of them have lied, over the last year and a half or so, about fundamental friendship things (you know, those shared morals and beliefs – not so much), to the point that I no longer enjoy talking to them or being around them because I’m always questioning if whatever we’re talking about is actually true.

    I was going for the not-put-so-much-effort in these friendships and focus on people that do make me happy to be around, but maybe that’s unfair? My husband totally does the loyal group thing, but he’s know most of his friends since he was 3 and they all went to the same school. I have a much wider variety of close-acquaintances (is that a thing?), but find myself enjoying spending time with his friends and just a small few of mine.

  • sigh

    Oh MAN this topic hits close to home, I went through a friendship break up last year–someone I had only been friends with for a couple of years, but it was intense and very unhealthy in a lot of ways. I had gotten married about 6 months before the break up started (it dragged on, still has never had a clear conclusion as advocated by Rachel, but since I haven’t seen her or had any contact in the last 8 months I think that means it’s over). And weirdly, having the extra stability and confidence from my relationship with my husband made easier (or possible) for me to stand up for myself–and I knew her dragging me down was dragging him down too.

    I still feel really guilty about it, I always remember all the nice things she did for me and I feel like a terrible person for giving up on the friendship–I feel like if I had somehow been more stable or generous or less insecure, I could have made it still work in a healthy way.

  • Amanda

    I feel like I’m seriously in the minority here, in that I’ve never had a “breakup” per se with a close friend. Maybe I choose the right people to be friends with? Maybe I’m too laid back to let stuff get to me? That’s not to say that my friendships are perfect and I love every single thing about every one of my friends and my feelings never ever get hurt by something a friend does/says; I just honestly have never had a problem so deep or hurtful that we couldn’t get past it.

    I think the closest I’ve had was a pretty nasty but short-lived roommate situation that ended, the night before I moved out, with her acknowledging we’d had a difficult time and stating something to the effect of hoping we could still be friends, and me warily agreeing, but then doing the fade out. I was polite when I saw her (we worked together), but never made any effort to hang out or keep in touch outside of that. I had known her less than a year, and (before moving in with her) considered her a friend but not a “close” friend. It sucked in that when we first met, and up to the point that I moved in with her, I honestly thought we were going to be great friends. It quickly became clear that it was a pretty toxic relationship though. Shortly after I moved in I decided I had no interest in furthering our friendship, and started looking for a new place. I feel like I dodged a bullet in not investing myself further in the relationship, and yeah it sucked, but I can’t say it hurt me all that much.

    Much more common for me has been the fade out, but I don’t think it’s ever been intentional on either end. I still consider people friends, and I’d enjoy catching up with them even though we might not have talked in years. They’re old friends, not former friends.

  • Elaine

    I know others may disagree, but I do think the fade out can work and actually be the kind option, IF you don’t want to fully break up the relationship but just not to be besties any longer. In our young adult years, I came to the realization that my best childhood friend and I had some pretty serious differences in our world views and senses of morality. I still cared for her, but didn’t care to spend nearly as much time with her – so, I did the taking a while to return phone calls, scheduling coffee dates much less often thing.

    We’re still friends to this day, though not the BFF soul mate types. We clearly have some different values and have made very different life choices, but still have a blast getting together a few times a year, laughing, and reminiscing. When I was married, she even cohosted a bachelorette party for me with some other old friends, since we didn’t have a bridal party. And frankly, I think if I’d had a huge confrontation with her about how I thought she’d become a superficial bobblehead and no longer felt we were compatible BFFs, it would have been way more hurtful, and we would no longer be in each other’s lives.

    • k


      In both friendships and romantic relationships that aren’t formally exclusive, I totally prefer the fade-out. Don’t call me back a few times, believe me I’ll get the message and leave you alone. I don’t need to have someone sit down and tell me all the things they hate about me, thanks very much, and likewise see no benefit in telling someone else that I think, say, they’re whiney and passive aggressive, or they never stop talking about themselves, or whatever. I have a friend who always says she wants to know *why* guys aren’t calling her again, and I completely fail to understand how hearing just what it is that they dislike about her is going to make her feel any better.

      • KC

        I think there’s the question of fixable vs. not-fixable (and semi-universal vs. particular) behavior. If the problem is something that is going to drive away 99% of future potential boyfriends or friends (or employers) and is something that she can change without self-damage (for instance, if she wears waaay too much perfume and doesn’t know it, or if she just isn’t aware that most other people do not want phone calls at 6am, even though she’s already been up for an hour so it’s a great time for her, or if she talks for 98% of the time in conversations and interrupts people a lot if they interfere with this), then it’s not fun to find out, but might be good long-term to know so that she can either adjust her behavior or not as she chooses. Obviously, though, it’s hard to take criticism/critique/etc. in accurate proportions and well without being crushed or getting defensive, etc., and some things are non-universal incompatibilities (political viewpoints, degree of desired contact after a particular length of relationship (the same amount of contact can be read as “clingy” or can be read as “playing hard to get”, which is nutty), amount of makeup preferred, putting ketchup on eggs is delicious/disgusting, etc.) and can be hard to express in a non-ouch way (hint: “you’re so whiny” is easier to say, but not as helpful as “my mood sinks when the first things you say whenever we see each other tend to be negative”), so for some people it’s better to just not get that data.

        So, I guess, a healthy reason to want to know: so you can change the problems if they’re actual problems. But there’s also an unhealthy want-to-know-all-the-nitty-gritty-dirt must-know-everything thing sometimes that might be at play, too, that’s more like picking at a scab and isn’t likely to make anything better at all.

        • Kristen

          This. Thank you, I was thinking just along these lines. I had a friend once (through her husband) express hurt over a new tendency I’d developed of canceling plans at the last minute. It totally sucked to hear, and I felt terrible, but I was so grateful! I’d been damaging an extremely important relationship through selfishness and I’d already recognized the problem. I felt well deserved guilt and I corrected the behavior immediately.

          It’s not easy to say this stuff, and it’s not easy to hear. But I think it’s fair and acceptable to ask of our loved ones to treat each other with kindness and respect. Which means taking each others feelings into account. Be it not monopolizing a conversation or keeping plans once made or being negative too much. If we don’t start acting better ourselves and requiring the same of others, we’ll stay stuck here and I for one want to keep growing. Sorry for being passionate; this is obvs an issue that’s close to my heart and important to me.

          • KC

            Ha! “Sorry for being passionate” – I love it when people are passionate about good things, like growing. (and honestly, I kind of love it when they’re passionate about random things, too, like how many varieties of radish there are in the world) So: hooray for being passionate!

            However, it is really, really hard for a lot of people to take negative feedback well, and it’s also hard for a lot of people to give negative feedback well (people seem to tend to skew either to all-sniping-all-the-time or everything-is-roses-and-buttercups?), and timing/phrasing can very easily be “off”, so that has to be taken into account when deciding when to give and ask for feedback (and as I said before, sometimes feedback-hunting is more like picking at a scab than a productive process). But yeah. Feedback can be a really good way to grow. And growing is good. :-)

          • Kristen

            I think you’re making an extremely important point here:

            “it is really, really hard for a lot of people to take negative feedback well, and it’s also hard for a lot of people to give negative feedback well”

            Yup. This biz is hard. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have to do it or get better at it. If we have a problem in society today, it’s the pervasive idea that because something is hard, we don’t have to do it.

            I’ll be doing my damndest to raise my kids to understand the healthy and kind way to be honest with people. I’ll continue to try and influence my social group with the same ideals. Because we have to learn how to be honest with each other if we’re going to survive together. We have to remember no one dies from having their feelings hurt. As the most sensitive person I know, if I’m willing to risk a literal sharp pain in my chest because you told me I don’t call you enough (because my emotional sensitivity is reflected often in physical pain), then the world at large can handle someone pointing out you’re being a little selfish or that you could use some help because your depression is affecting your behavior or whatever is the problem at hand. All said kindly and constructively of course. But these things need to be said.

            It’s not about whether someone wants to change in my mind. It’s our job here on earth to grow and change. That’s what we’re here for. I also think we’re here to help each other, but that’s a little more difficult to sell to the masses. ;)

  • CII

    I’m late to the game because I’ve been thinking about this all day, but I am so thankful for this post, especially because the friendship posts have been difficult for me all month.

    I have been fascinated by the various approaches / points of views on the fade out. I didn’t even realize it was a thing with a name. Now I’m not sure how I feel about it. I think if what you are doing is just naturally transitioning someone to a different “tier” of friendship, it’s probably completely appropriate, but if you are using it in lieu of a conversation about issues, I’m not so sure. (I admit, I’m totally thinking about my feelings as the recipient of such fade-outs” Lastly, I really agree with KC’s “question of fixable vs. not-fixable” — I wish that, in some of my friendships, I had been more proactive towards addressing whether there were “fixable” problems that were causing underlying tensions, etc. — including more proactiveness of addressing those problems when they were my fault.

    My one comment would be this: Just because you can’t take a trip with someone, or be a roommate / housemate with someone, or fulfill function X in their lives, doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t be friends. Sometimes, in an otherwise good relationship, it just means you should recognize that you shouldn’t do those things. I’m still heartbroken about a (fairly abrupt) friend break-up that was levied on me after an unsuccessful vacation, and I’m really thankful that a college BFF and I who were terrible roommates but great friends gave eachother a second chance once we no longer lived together.

  • Pippa

    This post is great. I was on the receiving end of a fade out to a BFF relationship that had lasted 11 years. I was 16/17 at the time and it was intense. I still think about her and miss her and wonder what the hell I did wrong but at the time I just did not have the emotional maturity to deal with it.
    And ever since her I’ve sought to find someone to fill the role of BFF. And you guys, it has NEVER worked. Woman number 1 did the slow fade as our uni paths diverged. Woman number 2 faded naturally as our romantic relationships blossomed and our social timetables changed (we’re still friends but not BFFs). I chose to fade out woman number 3 (in the “I won’t initiate contact and see what happens” category) after my partner helped me realise our relationship was toxic. Woman number 4 and I were there for each other during really tough times in both of our lives. That faded once she found herself a more robust social group, and I guess her need for our connection wasn’t as intense. Women numbers 5 and 6 did the “You’re a total bitch I’m never talking to you again” after a complete miscommunication that I tried so hard to correct because I cared about them so much, to no avail. Since then I’ve pretty much stayed the fuck away from close friendships with other women.
    And now our wedding is coming up and I’m getting really anxious that people will see and KNOW that I have no BFFs and that my partner has no real friends (a story for another time, but some pretty radical lifestyle changes have got us both in the awkward position of no longer having anything in common with our old friends and not yet having found any new ones, to varying degrees).

    BUT. This whole thread has made me re-examine what it is I was looking for and why that could have been working against me the whole time. So thank you thank you thank you APW for that. You’ve helped me re-evaluate my whole model of friendship.

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  • Bubbles

    “But I’m wasting my time whenever I choose to stay in a situation that hurts me, whether it’s a romantic relationship or a job I hate.”

    PREACH. When I had my major friend-breakup, it was because I realized that this person was being significantly less-than-awesome to me, and why should I have to put up with that and make room for it in my life when I have so many over-the-top wonderful people I could be giving that energy to?

  • Sarah

    I see the discussion ended a few days ago, but this topic has been on my mind so much lately that I feel compelled to add my thoughts.

    I had a best friend for almost 18 years. We grew up next door to each other and from elementary through high school we had the same activities, the same friends, and hardly went anywhere alone. We held hands on the way to class and we’d joke that most probably mistook us for a couple. Very few days were spent without one of us in the other’s house, and sometimes I laugh out loud thinking of all the fun we had together. I will never have another friend I am as close to as I was to her. Our friendship, however, was never perfect. Our very different personalities meant we handled problems in opposing ways and frequently neglected the feelings the other might be facing. We rarely discussed issues and when I remember our time together I think often of moments when we simply didn’t support each other the way we should have. Yet in meeting so young we became like sisters who were also best friends, a relationship that becomes a fantastical bubble of happiness.

    College arrived and our lives shifted dramatically. She left with a long-term relationship waiting at home while I went single and scared to the dorms. I met a new, good friend and my BFF and I very slowly began to grow apart. As we exited college we attempted to live together, yet the combination of her leaving each weekend to visit her boyfriend and me finally meeting the love of my life left us increasingly frustrated, formal, and distant. We never fought or felt the need to confront the growing divide, and perhaps this was the indication that our friendship, which had once been the basis of our lives, had become an adolescent memory turned adult acquaintance.

    This past year has been tough for us. Our infrequent get-togethers are nice but shallow. I have tried to share some hopes and happiness with her, and I have found that when they don’t fit in with her perception of reality I receive a few shrugs and a quick change of topic. After she got married – at a beautiful wedding where I had the privilege of being her MOH – I finally accepted that we were no longer within the confines of the magical BFF embrace. After an extensive conversation with my mom I realized it was okay that I felt okay with it; I know that my BFF was okay with it, too. Even in our distance we still know each other well.

    We didn’t break up. Neither of us like conflict or confrontation. We drifted gradually toward our destined journeys and found that they don’t run parallel and likely won’t intersect as we had always anticipated. We won’t live next door to each other and our children probably won’t be BFFs. For us this works – we don’t need a breakup or a counseling session. But I’ll always love her. She’ll stand by my side as I get married, we’ll go together to our high school reunions, we’ll laugh about stories from childhood over burgers and fries, and our children will have some unique cousins brought to them by a decades-old friendship.

  • Passerby

    Gotta say, I disagree wholeheartedly with number two. It feels artificial, and extremely confrontational, and I really think relationships should progress naturally and grow (or die) orgenically. If this friend has betrayed you in some way – something where you are never, ever going to speak to them again – then I can see sitting down and telling them. But if you’re just growing apart? Let yourselves grow apart. The only reason we don’t follow the same guidelines for dating is that there’s an assumption of sexual fidelity until a breakup. We can presume our boyfriend/girlfriend isn’t dating anyone else until they tell us we’re through, but there’s no cultural expectation of “one friend at a time.”

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  • LC

    Thank you Rachel, for writing such a poignant piece. I have experienced two separate friendship breakups – one a lot more painful than the other. This is an important topic that doesn’t get talked about enough and I spent years trying to get over the loss of my friend (I ended it in 2009). It wasn’t until I got engaged (this year) and started to plan my bridal party that I realised the pain was still there (I had always pictured her as my bridesmaid). I have a completely different bridal party now and I love it, but it goes to show how long we can be affected by this type of thing after the fact, especially because we don’t talk about it in society.

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  • lucy676

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  • Dumez Gracy

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  • Frank Silver

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