6 Tips for Ending a Friendship Gracefully

By Onicia Muller

The birth and death of friendships are as mysterious and unpredictable as waves washing up on the shore. We can't predict when and what they’ll bring into our lives. We don't know what they’ll take or teach us when they leave. My would-be best friend struggled with low self-esteem, depression, and abandonment issues. After nearly a decade of knowing each, I chose to end the friendship. It felt horrible abandoning my friend at what seemed to be a low point in her life. Six months after our last conversation, I reconciled that we were both running on empty and didn’t have anything left to give. I finally forgave myself and my friend for letting our relationship die, and I learned some valuable things in the process. Here are 6 tips for ending friendships gracefully.

1. Get clear on why

Before officially putting friendships to rest, it is important to understand why the relationship is ending. This might be a solo journey for both the breaker and the broken. The why will determine whether there is hope for the future and how best to end the relationship.

If you’re a person who finds yourself in a season of losing friends, take a moment to reflect. Are you in an emotionally needy place? Has your friend circle reached critical mass and is causing you to be neglectful? Figuring this out might be a solo journey because old friends don’t owe you an explanation for the breakup.

2. Consider the future

If you think you might want to reconnect or engage with someone in a different way a heart-to-heart might be helpful. Meanwhile, an Irish goodbye or ghosting might work well for those who you have outgrown but have no beef with. Quietly exiting is also best for familial or professional relationships. Try muting instead of unfriending on social media. This option allows you to reinter quietly should your feelings or situation change. Hitting the block button is fine on those who are ign’ant, hostile, or abusive.

For you blocked souls consider what re-entering someone’s life will look like before reaching out. Can you spend quality time with them? Are you prepared to apologize for any perceived wrongdoing and change your habits? We all have friends who aren’t in our daily life but are still dependable; don’t bug people just to soothe your conscience.

3. Stay firm

Breaking up isn’t a one-and-done type of situation. If you’re a person who longs for peace, you might find yourself rekindling bad relationships. Once you’ve given your soon-to-be former friend a fair trial and sentencing, don’t debate it again. Writing the reason down in one concise sentence can keep you from wavering. Thinking about reconnecting? Set criteria and a check-in reminder to see if they’ve changed. Don’t torture yourself by constantly refreshing their social media profile or rehashing the details with other friends.

4. Watch your words

“Have friends and treat them well, but never tell them your secrets. For when your friend becomes your foe, around the world your secret goes.”

Losing a confidant can push you into becoming closer to someone else (#ReboundBFF). Desiring a mutual enemy of your former friend is natural. Watch out for people who spend the majority of their time addressing their haters or reveling in others’ failures. How they treat their enemies is how they will treat you. Form relationships based on positive interests. Keep it classy. Unless someone is a threat, no one needs to know why you broke up or join you in boycotting.

5. There isn’t always a villain

“Friendship is not social work; it's a different arrangement. It doesn't have to be equal or mutual.” - Dear Sugar (When Friendships End)

Friendship is about being charitable. However, it’s okay to leave the relationship if you find yourself feeling more as an emotional dumping ground. You can’t fill someone’s emotional bank when yours is empty. In some situations, you have to close one door (enabling through listening) for another door to open (getting real help versus wallowing). There doesn’t have to be a villain or major wrongdoing; it is okay to dump someone for being blah.

6. Forgive & let go

Forgiveness is for you, not the other person. Whether you are the forgiver or the forgiven, you have to know when to let go. Just because you’ve forgiven a person does not mean they should have the same level of access to your life. In cases where someone hasn’t matured, you definitely do not need to forgive them publicly; that’s just giving them another opportunity to waste your time.

If you recognize that someone has ended your friendship, accept that you may not enter into their space again. Whether you’ve changed is irrelevant. Like a criminal who served their time, you must forgive yourself for past mistakes. Don’t make the mistake of badgering people into forgiving you. Start fresh by going where you are wanted.

Do you have a hard time ending friendships?
Onicia Muller is a Caribbean writer and comedian currently freezing her buns off in Chicago. A former crime reporter and children’s columnist, she's found her happy place writing about women in entertainment. If you're into oversharing, read her weekly humor column Just Being Funny in The Daily Herald’s Weekender. In June 2018, she received IGNITE Caribbean's 30 Under 30 Caribbean American Emerging Leaders and Changemakers award for her work as a cultural influencer.

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