You know that awesome coworker you enjoy grabbing drinks with on the weekends? According to sociologist Gerald Mollenhorst, you’ll be lucky if you still see them seven years from now.
Research shows us that the average friendship has a finite lifespan, meaning that the experience of a friendship ending is inevitable for most of us. Sometimes it will feel easy and natural, and sometimes it will be a fraught experience.
Here are three ways to end a friendship:
1. Let it fade out
One of the main reasons great friendships don’t last is that life inevitably changes. We move cities, get new jobs, get married, have kids. In my practice, I see many young adults struggle with adjusting to shifting relationships after college; without the proximity and social structure that college provides, it takes a lot more effort to invest in friendships that used to be logistically easy.
Human beings only have a finite amount of relational capacity that we allocate according to our priorities depending on the season of life we’re in. These shifts give us an opportunity to reevaluate which friendships take precedence. An easy example: when we have kids, our priorities naturally shift to taking care of small humans who need a lot of time and attention—time and attention that inevitably gets taken away from somewhere (or someone) else.
As a result of our lack of capacity to nurture them, we can allow certain friendships, even great ones, to fade out mutually. And guess what? That’s okay. When people from our past come to mind, we can wish them well and take a moment of gratitude to appreciate their impact on our life during a particular season.
2. Ghost them
Sometimes we experience situations where cutting ties with someone as quickly and efficiently as possible is important. Did that person steal money from you? Cheat with your partner? Sabotage and profit from your business idea? Ruptures in friendships are normal (and even important), but the pain of betrayal by someone we love is a devastating heartbreak. When there has been an unrepentant, gross breach of trust, cutting ties as quickly and efficiently as possible is protective. That might mean you immediately stop engaging with them in every capacity and ghost their ass.
3. Have a breakup conversation
Despite your best efforts at improving the connection, you’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to end a friendship where ghosting or fading out is not an option. Because of the nature and closeness of the relationship, it’s time to have the dreaded breakup conversation. Yes, this conversation might be awkward and painful, but having it is important, and here’s why:
- It communicates respect for the relationship. Having a conversation shows that you acknowledge and honor the time and investment you made in each other. It also gives the other person an opportunity to participate and express themselves as well, which shows that you respect their wants and needs in this difficult situation as well as your own.
- It brings clarity and understanding. Having a conversation lets you both know where you stand and gives you a grid for how to move forward in your interactions.
- It helps you hold your boundary. If someone refuses to respect your time and space, your conversation can be an anchor to point them to when you have to reestablish the ground rules.
The ending of friendships can be many things: awkward, painful, mindless, easy, sad. Despite the complexity of the experience, one thing is certain: the ending of friendships is normal. So let’s celebrate special connections that have stood the test of time as well as those in the past that have shaped us into the people we are today.
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