If there’s one question we get asked by girls that makes us pause, it’s this:
How do I end a friendship? What if I’ve tried everything I can to make the friendship better, but it’s not working? What if I’ve just outgrown it? How do I do this – and do it without seeming like a horrible person?
Unfortunately, there’s no magic answer – much as we wish we had one. There’s no invisibility cloak that can make you disappear from her (or his) life without anyone noticing or caring. Lucky for you, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to do this, and why it’s important, so read on.
We may want to end a friendship for many reasons: meanness, feeling used or taken for granted, our own new priorities, or just growing in a different direction. Keep some things in mind as you start down this road:
- There’s no easy way to end a friendship. The question is not whether we’re going to make someone feel hurt, it’s how. If we’re honest with ourselves and the other person about what’s happening, we’re more likely to act in a way we’ll be proud of later on.
- Most friendships change and end. Sometimes we do the ending, and sometimes we’ll be the one left behind. It hurts and it’s hard, but it’s the price of the joy and love we feel in connection with others. You can’t have one without the other. The good news is that we’re making new connections all the time. Our relationships go through cycles, much like living things: they grow, die, and grow again. It’s okay to think about why it’s happening, and what you can do differently next time, but try to remember that these experiences happen to everyone.
- Ending a friendship is one of the hardest things a girl can do. Remember, girls grow up with the message that a “good girl” is nice to – and liked by – everyone. Ending a friendship isn’t part of the girl job description. But girls need not only our permission to end friendships; they need the skill to know how. The alternative is that girls believe they must be friends with everyone, and that friendship should be preserved at any cost – even when they are being hurt.
It helps to see ending a friendship as part of a continuum of healthy boundary-setting skills that girls should be using on a regular basis. We set a boundary when we want to set a limit – either on our own behavior, or others’. Boundary setting is key for girls’ emotional health because it allows girls to maintain control, autonomy and safety in their relationships. When girls set their own boundaries, they can decide when and how to be authentic with someone else. Ironically, boundaries are what makes it easier for us to get close to others.
Without boundaries, we often become resentful. We lose control over what happens in our relationships, making it harder for us to be compassionate, grateful and happy in them.
Some of the boundaries girls may set in friendship include: not sharing deep secrets (but talking about more superficial subjects), hanging out at school but not after school, or asking a friend to stop making a joke that you find offensive.
Ending a friendship is obviously an extreme boundary to set. When it happens, the culture’s expectation that girls be nice all the time can kick in, delivered not just by other girls but adults, too. It is not uncommon for accusations of being mean, or worse, to follow. That said, if girls follow the steps below with adult guidance, and treat the other person respectfully, they have nothing to be ashamed of.
We recommend following three rules when you end a friendship.
- Treat the other person how you’d want to be treated. If you like your truth straight, and hate it when other girls drop hints about what’s really happening, you know what to do here. It will help to practice beforehand. Consider writing a letter or script that you could practice beforehand with a trusted adult. If you want to send a letter, that’s okay, but we suggest doing it in writing. By now we all know what can happen on social media when something falls into the wrong hands.
- Keep the decision permanent – no takebacks. Ending a friendship isn’t temporary. It’s an ending. If you’re not 100% sure that you’re done with this person, try a friend vacation instead. If you are likely to see this person outside of school on a regular basis (think church or synagogue, or family dinners if your parents are friends), think through how you’ll manage that. You will have to be polite and civil, but you won’t be able to lean on that person like you probably used to. It’s not okay to be pretend- or temporary-friends based on where you are.
- Keep the decision to yourself. If you talk about it too much with your friends, it’ll get back to the other girl, and she’ll feel even worse. We know you need to vent about this, but turning to the friends you share in common is just not kind. Explain what happened briefly to your friends, without the gory detail, and let them know you’re going to be cool towards her when you see her. If you need to talk, lean on the friends who don’t know her, or a trusted adult.
When all is said and done, the classiest, coolest thing a girl can do is continue to smile at, make eye contact with, and say hello to an ex-friend. She can even make small talk, if it’s not confusing for anyone. This girl doesn’t have to be “dead to you.” When girls learn how to end a relationship with grace, it gives them the confidence and skills to choose the healthy relationships they want.
Read more from Girls Leadership:
Books for girls: