Ways To End A Friendship

Not every friendship is lifelong. Friends grow apart or do things that put them off each other. If you want to end one of your friendships, whether you've known them for years, or only a few months, there are two main ways to do it:

  1. Formally "break up" with them
  2. Do a fade out, that is slowly wind the relationship down by pretending to be more and more busy and unavailable, until eventually you aren't keeping in touch any more

We don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but sometimes that's inevitable, and is going to happen no matter what tack we take. I'll go into more detail comparing the two options below:

The formal break up

This is when you explicitly tell your friend that things aren't working any longer, and you want to stop hanging out with them. Depending on the circumstances you may tell them in person, or through writing. A lot of the standard romantic break up advice can be applied to this situation:

Here are the pros and cons of the approach:



When the break up approach is most appropriate

When the break up approach is less appropriate

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The fade out approach

This is when you gradually phase your friend out of your life. It mainly involves becoming less and less available, because you're often "busy". Sometimes you can coordinate the start of a fade out with a life event that truly makes you harder to see, like a new job, a move, or starting a family, but usually your busier schedule is a lie.

If you usually hang out with your friend in a group, you act polite, but give them less and less individual attention. A fade out could also entail purposely making yourself less satisfying and accommodating to be around, to force a sense of "growing apart", for example:

If your friend depends on you for something, like emotional support, you may help them find it elsewhere, so you don't feel like you've left them hanging. You certainly don't have to, but could as a courtesy. For example, you encourage them to see a therapist.

There's a fade out spectrum. At one extreme there's no "fading out" to speak of. You just suddenly cut your friend off with no explanation. You stop answering their texts and emails and act distant if you ever run into them in person. That's really more like a clumsy break up. The opposite is when you very slowly, imperceptibly wean them off you.

These days the final step in the fade out is often when you Unfriend or Unfollow them on your social media accounts. However, some people don't delete their ex-friend, to maintain the ruse that they still have a relationship, but just don't talk nearly as much as they used to.

On occasion the fade out may not be used to end a friendship, but to downgrade it from a relationship that's close and intense to a more tolerable acquaintanceship (though if you truly want to end a friendship, don't fool yourself).

Pros of the fade out approach

Cons of the fade out

When the fade away is more appropriate

When the fade away isn't as appropriate

Sometimes there's not a clear cut answer as to which approach is best for your situation. Like I said, you may just have to accept ending the friendship is going to be emotionally difficult either way, and pick whichever one seems slightly less-crappy than the other.