The book I’m writing now contains something I’ve never written about before: a bad best friend. It’s strangely thrilling to examine this subject, because after all, we’re chicks. We love our friends! I personally am blessed with many close friends, from Bethie, my friend since kindergarten, to Jill Shalvis, whom I met two years ago. (Hi, Jill! Hi, Beth!) In between them are my BFF from high school, from college, from my very first job in the real world to my very last job in the real world. My first writing friend. My daily friends. My once-a-year friends. My email friends. My reader friends. I have guy friends too, but we’re not talking about them today. (Sorry, boys!)
But every once in a while, it seems, we women find ourselves with a toxic friend. That is a deliciously sinister term, isn’t it? Especially to a writer. It’s not like this person is going to stab you in the neck with a fork (one hopes)…she’s just someone who sucks all the energy from the room. She’s not supportive. Your time with her is always all about her, maybe. It may not have always been this way, but things have been lousy for years. The thought of being around Bitter Betty (or Debbie Downer or Selfish Sue) is simply exhausting. You know your time is better spent, yet here you are again.
In my book, and in real life, it’s really hard for the protagonist to let go of this person. Habit, maybe; the memory of the good times you shared; fear of actually ending a friendship when women are traditionally so loyal and steadfast. We turn to our women friends when men fail us…how can we fail each other?
But there comes a time when we simply should exorcise the negative from our lives and fill that space with positive, whether it’s good eating habits or good friends. We have to accept that we get to choose our friends, and we can choose to leave them. It’s awfully hard, don’t get me wrong. In all my life, I’ve only ended two friendships. One was mutual and polite—we still hug and exchange pleasantries when we see each other. The other was harder. Still, in your heart of hearts, you know that it’s time to put this friendship down.
Being me, I researched this subject to death. I talked to my friends. I read books and Googled articles. There seem to be a couple of ways.
The slow fade. You delay in getting back to her. You don’t answer every email, but after a few days, you drop her a note saying you’re really busy. If there are times at which you have to see her, you’re pleasant, but you don’t engage in deep conversation. This might be the best method if you still have to see this person at work or through your kids.
The broad hints. For those of us who go out of their way to avoid hurting a person’s feelings, the next step on the foodchain is to hint. “My New Year’s resolution is to keep more positive and surround myself with positive people.” I’ll be honest. This hasn’t worked for me or anyone I know. If the friend suspects you’re implying something (and of course, you are), she might become more bitter, more negative and more self-involved. I actually used the above line on my Debbie Downer friend, who then said, “If only I had anything to be positive about, I’d love to do the same thing.” Sigh.
The break-up. The most effective method is also the hardest. You tell her in no uncertain terms that you don’t wish to be friends any more. I’m getting hives just thinking about it. But what do you actually do? What do you say? I had no idea when I was in my own situation. I think I did some things right and some things wrong. I hope I never have to do this again, but if I did, or if a friend asked for my advice, here’s what I would offer.
- Think about what you want to say. Don’t just react to Bitter Betty’s latest diatribe or blow up after Selfish Sue dismisses you yet again. Take a breath, take some time. Blurting out what you want to say, either in person or in an email, text or IM, is never a good idea.
- If you’re writing a letter or email, remember that it’s easy to misinterpret tone. Do your best to let her know what yours is. Don’t be angry; do be firm. Just as with a guy you don’t want to date anymore, don’t string this person along.
- Be brief. Even if you have a list a mile long of excellent reasons that you need to end this friendship, complete with evidence that would hold up in a court of law, remember your point: you want to end this, not perpetuate the discussion.
- If you feel you must address a specific situation, focus on how it made you feel, rather than what she did.
- Tell her that you simply can’t give her the kind of friendship she seems to need. This statement says it all.
- Thank her for the good times and wish her the best. Because there probably were good times. There’s a reason you’ve been putting up with this friend, even as you recognized that the relationship has been deteriorating or was always riddled with problems. You don’t hate this person; you just don’t want her in your life anymore.
- Prepare yourself for her response, as well as possible fall-out. Angry Facebook postings, furious or tearful letters, phone calls at 3 a.m., 50 texts in one hour. Or maybe just one rude gesture. She may well tell your mutual acquaintances how rotten, how unkind you are. Remember three things: Her feelings are hurt; no one can hurt your reputation except you; and you don’t have to deal with her anymore. The people who know you will give you the benefit of the doubt. The people who know her have probably experienced some of the same things you did, too.
Not all friendships are meant to last. Sometimes, it’s a hard truth for us women to face, but it’s true nonetheless. There are so many positive and lovely people in the world; breaking up with a toxic friend just makes more room for them.
Did you ever break up with a friend? How did it go? Got any advice?