Friendships are simultaneously the easiest and most difficult relationships to navigate. There are no hard and fast rules. There is a near universal truth though, without a massive blow up or argument it can feel impossible to end a friendship. Many adult friends drift apart, but have you ever sat someone down and said, “I don’t want to see you again”? I can only remember doing it once, in my late teens. Since then a plethora of friends have entered and exited my life, and I still find it hard to navigate my feelings when I realise a friendship no longer serves a purpose, takes more than it provides, or I no longer associate it with happiness or support.
The following is a list of reminders for myself as much as you, of times when you don’t have to feel bad about departing from a friendship, no matter who it is.
1. You do not need to be friends with people whose values are at war with yours
You don’t have to agree with your friends all the time, or sometimes, at all. But if you find yourself putting up with or worse, defending your racist, transphobic, ableist, misogynist, downright hateful friends, bid them farewell.
2. You do not need to be friends with people who mess with your mental health
People who don’t respect you, your needs or your boundaries can be detrimental to your mental health. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, insecure, sad or anxious it might be time to reassess the friendship.
3. You do not need to be friends with people who never put you first
I am not saying you deserve to be everyone’s priority. But if you’ve got a friend who demands your attention but is constantly sacking you off for a better offer, leans on you but never supports you when you need it, and generally never comes through for you, you don’t have to stick around. Successful friendships are built on balance and trust, and if you can’t trust someone, what are you gaining from the friendship? They are treating you as disposable so it’s time you did the same.
4. You do not need to be friends with people just because it will be awkward if you’re not
You’re part of a ride or die crew and one of the people rubs you up the wrong way, but you don’t want people to feel “awkward” if you don’t speak to them anymore. HEY GUESS WHAT? Being an adult is awkward sometimes. It means having to make difficult decisions or deal with things that aren’t always nice. You can’t live the rest of your life with this person hovering in the shadows at your birthday, wedding, your child’s christening or your cat’s quinceanera, secretly resenting you as much as you resent them. Cut them loose. Your real friendships will survive, thrive even, without the awkwardness of this constant standoff between you and whoever the other person is.
5. You don’t have to be friends with someone just because you’ve been friends with them for a really long time
“We’ve been friends since we were in the womb!” Yeah that’s a great story to tell at dinner parties but are you actually friends, or are you clinging on to some legacy bestowed upon you because your parents said so, or you went to the same nursery or whatever. It’s okay to mutually outgrow a friendship. Wave to each other in Sainsbury’s if you must but you are not obliged to stay friends if you don’t want to.
6. You don’t need to be friends with people who don’t support you
Some of your ideas are terrible. But a real friend won’t sigh every time you come up with a new life choice or business idea. A real friend will be honest with you, but not dismissive. If you want to start your yoga-farming-yoghurt-pottery business a kind friend might sit down with you and help you pick out the best bits, and file the rest for another day.
And do you know what? Some of your ideas are winners. If you find yourself trying to achieve something, a new career, a marathon, writing a book, and your friend laughs it off or dismisses you, perhaps you don’t need that person in your life.
7. You do not need to feel like you owe someone your friendship
So a friend lent you money or helped you out of a difficult situation. Fast forward to now and that person is unkind to you but you feel like you owe them tolerance, because of how great a help they were once upon a time.
Repay your debts, always, and be appreciative of the support you’re given. But you don’t have to make amends your whole life by tolerating abuse because someone supported your when you were vulnerable.
8. You do not need to be friends with people who take advantage of your kind nature
Don’t be taken for granted. If people are constantly using your physical and emotional labour without even wondering what else you’ve got going on, you need to learn to say no. Just having one person like this in your life can cost you hours of your life and all of your energy. You’re not google. You don’t have to have the answer to everything. Sometimes the answer is just, do it your damn self.
With all this said, if you’re thinking about terminating a friendship, you also need to take a look at yourself before you react in the extreme. Are you exhibiting the above behaviours? Are you a user? Are you unreliable? Are you just a little bit rubbish? Chances are there is some work you could be doing yourself. It might even be time to renew a friendship and make a mutual commitment to being excellent to each other. Having good friends is about the biggest gift the world gives you. Handle it carefully.