How To Not Tell Your Friend You’re No Longer Their Friend

In support of the subtle fizzle.

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Photo by Marisa Harris on Unsplash

I think we keep people in our lives too long because we’re scared to have the conversation where we tell them we don’t want them in our lives anymore. There, I said it. I feel better. As beings, we don’t generally like confrontation. We don’t like putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations of any kind. And an official friend breakup is far more difficult than like…going to dinner sometimes, so we avoid it. I am suggesting a solution somewhere in between a full friendship-ending conversation and you having to move to Saskatchewan. There’s middle ground. You’ll like it.

It’s hard to break up with a friend. It’s a conversation that’s easy to avoid, because a friendship is not like having a lover who is around you all the time or who actually lives in your house. Ease of avoidance drags relationships out. When you only see someone every once in awhile when it’s been awhile, or when they want to bitch about something over wine (again), or when they only seem to reach out to you when they need support they typically prefer to get from someone else but that someone else isn’t around, we tend to let things slide, and we let friendships linger.

If you’ve ever been genuinely annoyed to see someone’s name in your inbox, this is for you. If making plans with someone feels obligatory, rather than something you look forward to, or if cancelled plans with someone feels way better than it reasonably should, this is for you, too. I want to release the pressure valve on friendships. We build up fear of a conversation in our mind and that causes stress and resentment that don’t need. We should be letting go of more things, more often, and we shouldn’t be afraid of that release.

My intention is to help people who have one or more “have to” friends. You know the type. Friends you feel you “have to” see or “have to” be there for, friends who make you feel bad on the following four levels:

  • guilt if you don’t make plans with them
  • guilt for not wanting to make plans with them
  • frustration because hanging out with them isn’t how you want to spend your time
  • frustration because you do actually care about their wellbeing, you just don’t want to be responsible for it.

If any of these feelings sound familiar to you, I want you to know a very simple truth: You don’t have to do anything special or extra to stop feeling these feelings. You can simply let them go, and let the person go, without ever having to talk about it. You can simply make the decision for yourself that you’re not going to carry this weight around anymore. You’re going to let it go. It’s a change in the way you view things, it sounds like magic, and I think you’ll find my strategies effective.

I am not suggesting straight up ghosting or leaving them sitting at a bar when you had plans on a Thursday at 7:30. I am instead talking about the fine art that is the friend fizzle.

Friend fizzle is the solution to awkward conversation avoidance and it will allow you to relieve yourself of the stress and tension surrounding friends you don’t enjoy anymore. Also, it’s 100% okay to have friends you don’t enjoy anymore. I want to point that out because I think we forget that we grow and evolve as humans and sometimes friends don’t grow and evolve along with us. It’s okay, it happens, and you are not responsible for someone else’s personal evolution any more than they are responsible for yours.

The most important thing to remember when fizzling is the following: Do not initiate contact. You are adopting an “avoid and deflect” strategy here, you don’t want to give yourself more work to do. In order to subtly fizzle a friendship, you are to remain dormant in your outreach, and noncommittal in your responses. It’s like putting bowling bumpers up so that you can steer a friendship where you want it to go, which is nowhere. I also strongly suggest muting them on social media so that you don’t accidentally engage there, either.

You’re going to come across as annoyingly busy, or as someone who isn’t prioritizing this friendship. But that is okay, because it is true. This is also a great exercise in getting over caring about what other people think of you, TBH. It’s going to feel weird, and there will probably be some guilt in the beginning. But we’re letting go of guilt, just as we’re letting go of relationships that don’t bring good into our lives. As with anything, practice helps. Take it in small steps, and I know it seems odd to accomplish “doing less” in small steps, but sometimes doing less is a really difficult thing. So give yourself some slack, you’re doing less really well.

When one thing fizzles, another thing carbonates. It’s just physics. Please do not put an unnecessary amount of pressure on yourself to take responsibility for someone else’s happiness, or for being someone else’s “only” friend. Having people in their lives is their job, you aren’t responsible for stocking their lives with human beings, they are. They can make more friends. And honestly, they probably should. We all should! We’re all growing and evolving, remember? One of the things that comes with developing who we are as people are new friends who match us now. I think you’ll find that the more you let go of friends that aren’t matching your energy anymore, the more new people will come into your orbit and bring good with them.

It is okay to let go, and it is okay to let go informally. You’re not being karmically docked for ending a friendship without a formal ceremony. You’re not doing anything wrong by taking care of your own feelings, and by deciding for yourself who you want in your life. Calmness and lightness come with letting go. I hope you find them.

Written by

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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