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Ending a Friendship

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Parenting, Families, & the Community > Ending a Friendship



Ending friendship with neighbor

May 2007

I am trying to ease out of an acquaintance/friendship with a very needy/lonely neighbor and need some advice on handling it well as we are going to be living right across courtyard from each other for the next six months to a year. We are looking for a house to buy, so will be moving within that time frame.

Here is a thumbnail sketch: She is a single mom of a 2 1/2 year old and is the same age as me. We met at a daycare center at which I work part-time and then ran into each other several times at our apartment complex. She worked very hard to find my phone number, which makes me uncomfortable. Then started calling to ask me for things (could I babysit, needs a pack of wipes, could I help her sell a newspaper ad to my boss, etc). I have a tendency to take in stray cats, so I invited her over one evening for a glass of wine when my husband is out of town -- I have two children ages, 2 and 4. The evening was very stressful. My younger tussled almost continually with her child over toys -- instigated about equally by each. My neighbor just kind of stared at the goings on, so I had to intervene each time. On Mother's Day, I invited her again to join some friends at the playground for a picnic (went fine) and then later in the evening took my girls over to her condo for a playdate. The playdate was the same as the first -- a complete nightmare. Since then, she continues to call me all of the time, asking me to do things for her or get together. Some of her requests are weird -- she wandered by my house one night around nine to ask for a beer, because she had run out and then another time asked if I would be willing to call her every morning to get her going as she is a 'night person,' but really needs to be working on being a 'day person' so that she can hold down jobs. Other than lending her wipes, I haven't responded to any of her requests for help.

She is a very nice woman, but she isn't someone that I want as a friend. Nor, do I want to get involved with her issues. I feel guilty, because she is VERY lonely, works from home, doesn't have any friends in our town, etc. She also is having financial problems, which I have a difficult time relating to...

How do I get out of this -- Do I stop returning her calls? Tell her that we should try again in six months when the children are older (and hopefully, I will have moved by then). I don't want to be uncomfortable when I run into her, but I want to limit my interaction to the casual run-in. Any suggestions? -anon


Stop leading her on. Don't call and invite her to the park, Mother's Day, or playdates with the kids. You seem to be encouraging her. Now you realize it is not a reciprocal relationship and that she appears too needy. Best to cut the cord swiftly but with kindness. Don't be so available and eventually (or hopefully) she will clue in. Always be polite when you see her but don't engage in activity that could send her mixed messages. anon
First of all, if you are moving in 6 months to a year, I think it is best to be as cool as possible. A year will fly by with just saying ''sorry I can't'' but a few weeks could be a nightmare if you try to ''break up'' with your neighbor. Second, one of the issues you bring up is the 2 year olds fighting over toys and the other mom not trying to break it up. Two year olds fighting over toys is pretty normal and I think all you need to do is say ''You guys take turns.'' If it gets bad give them both a warning and after that go home. Finally, just be busy or say you are. Don't give in to weird requests. It is nice for your child to have a friend in the same building. It sounds like you started off pretty darn friendly to this lady too so it would be cruel to just dump her now. As we grow up and move we are going to be around people different from ourselves but they can still be nice to have in our lives. So give her a chance but like I said, you don't have to give her beer or wake-up calls. anon
That's a difficult one. I support you in your need to not take responsibility for her problems, and I also support you in your empathy for her.

I tend to have the viewpoint of, ''there but for fortune go you or I''. Any one of us could experience unexpected hardship in life and find ourselves alone and needy, as scary to imagine or admit as that might be, and many of us lack the support of extended family to fall back on in hard times.

I think it's good of you to invite her to group events where she can get out and be with people, and I think it's wise of you to draw the line at a one-to-one personal relationship, and putting those two together is going to be an ongoing challenge. But I think you can do it, and I think that you'll feel better about yourself in the long run if you make the effort to figure out how to do it. It's a skill that will serve you well with other people who you'll meet in life.

She's obviously depressed and there's not anything you can do about that except to be someone who recognizes her existence and her humanity. Anon


I have been in similar situations and have over time discovered that honesty is the best policy. When she asks, say no. If she asks why, tell her (for example) that you don't think your kids get along well and you do not think it's a good idea to have play dates right now. Or, that you don't have time to call her to wake her up each morning and that would be quite a burden on you. Your neighbor sounds very needy and is using you for her own personal needs. Don't think this is a friendship; she is getting what she can out of you. While it's commendable to want to help, you can't keep giving and not receiving without becoming totally exhausted and unable to have peace. Honesty is the best policy. anon
I would keep not responding to needy and/or odd requests, stay cheerful, and as lightly as possible when she asks to come over again, state that while her kid is great, the kid combo doesn't work for you. Blame it on two being hard, on your own kids' ages, you being in the process of moving. Although you know you don't need a reason.

One time I knew this woman I'd been friends with in many party, camping, and group family settings and had had many laughs and talks with. We knew people in common and had a lot of the same values. But when I suggested lunch, she just said ''I don't do lunch.'' Period. The bluntness and focus on her own preference (not on me) and lack of explanation or hedging or alternative suggestions made it very easy for me to understand. I didn't take it personally even though I knew she didn't want to take the friendship to the next level. I've used her as a model in my life in setting boundaries for whatever reason.

Good luck. Anon


I actually had a similar situation long ago before I had a child and I totally understand your dilemma. It took me 20 years to figure what my problem was; I needed to set limits and boundaries, but I didn't know how to do it. For instance,

''You know, XX, my hands are full, so I won't be able to call you to get you up in the mornings. Why not turn up your alarm clock?''

''I don't have an extra box of wipes.''

''It's late for us; 9 p.m. is too late for me to have visitors.'' (don't even address the beer.)

Also, now that you know you don't enjoy the playdates, stop scheduling them. Period. You don't have to make excuses, just say, ''No, we're all booked up.'' And don't invite her to any of your personal dates, either.

This doesn't have to be unfriendly, but you do have to set your boundaries. If you say No often enough, and you mean it, she'll stop unreasonable and inappropriate requests.

You do say that she's nice, and you seem to kind of like her -- or feel sorry for her -- and if it's the latter, you're not really being a friend, you're assuaging your own guilt. It's not like you couldn't invite yourself to HER place and bring a bottle of wine every once in a while, which allows you to leave when you've had enough (but only do this is you want to), or even invite her over for an hour or two to your place but be clear that you have a time deadline, and tell her when your time's up: ''Hey, it's 6 p.m. -- time for me to get dinner ready.'' This is where you stand up and get ready to usher her to the door, ''I guess it's time to cut this short; it's been nice to have you over! We'll do this again soon!'' And then walk toward the front door and open it. She'll get the message, and you're not being mean; you're holding your boundaries.

It's not easy to learn to set boundaries; it's taken me years of therapy, but let me tell you it's so nice to feel comfortable saying ''THAT'S not going to happen!'' But it feels really good when you get to that point, where you know you're doing things for other people when it makes you uncomfortable. Good luck! Anon


First off, let's be clear about one thing: this is not a friendship, you are being used. I've been there before, just last year in fact, and contrary to what others have advised I'd save your breath if you think you can ''educate'' someone like this about boundaries. She will just find the next victim and there will always be someone there that will buy into the song and dance she's got going on.

The only thing that I have found to be effective in this situation is to just stop being available, at all. Trying to explain how you feel or why will only aggravate you further. Your neighbor sounds an awful lot like my ex-''friend'' and nothing was ever her fault or her doing. I always ended up feeling worse after my attempts at talking to her honestly, so I finally just stopped responding to her requests altogether and eventually she moved on.

Take care of yourself and your family and just say ''no.'' Anon


Disengaging from friendship in small town

Feb 2007

I've had a friend who has been very kind to me. She was especially supportive during my pregnancy and birth of my first child. I worked for her husband for several intense years. I had disappointing, negative experiences with him which upset me on a deep level. I've never shared this info. with my friend and know for certain that I never could, so I've never felt like I could be 100% myself around her. Being friends with her means continuing a relationship with him. A little more info.: I'm pregnant with our second baby & have had terrible all-day sickness. My friend has called a few times, and I have not returned her calls and hoped she got the hint (esp. as she's a new mom of twins) but she didn't and I know she'll keep calling to check in. I have seen posts about this topic, but not quite like this. I feel very crappy about making this decision, and it would help to hear from any of you. Please, only gentle empathic replies if at all possible! Thank you so much for any encouragement/ advice you can share. Anon


It sounds like you are in a lot of pain about this decision to disengage from your friend and also about what you experienced with her husband. I'm wondering when you say you're 100% sure you can't tell her what happened with him, if you're trying to protect yourself or her? If it's her, then I'd want you consider how hurtful it might be for you to just ignore her attempts at connection. I would seriously consider telling her SOMETHING about your hurtful situation with her husband, even if you feel you can't tell her the exact content, just to give her an explanation of why you are not comfortable in your relationship with her. If you're worried about what ramifications it would have in her relationship with her partner for you to tell what happened, consider carefully if you would want to know that your partner had behaved badly, or really hurt someone that you cared about. Also, you can't try to take responsibility for how she will feel or use the information you give her about what happened. With the little information you gave, it sounds like you care about each other, and you may have the mistaken impression that being in relationship with her means you have to have him too. It's perfectly normal for individuals to have relationships that don't include their spouses, and she may be open to that, especially if you tell her about the intense past and that you don't feel comfortable around her husband. It can be very painful when a friend ignores you and just fades away, and this may be just as bad or worse as telling her the reason why you're you're not emotionally available. It sounds like it's really hard for you, for whatever reason, but it still sounds like the golden rule applies: honesty is the best policy. Good luck. I feel for you! Rachel
I think you need to return one of her calls, and let her know how you're feeling - you don't have to be brutally honest. You can be nice and respectful. I have had to tell a few friends of mine of late that I just don't have a lot of bandwidth and hope to get back-in-touch; of course, this sounds different than your situation. Having twins, she may understand to some degree. But, I think you need to address this - and not avoid her - she will keep calling. And, you will see her, since you are in a small town. anon
If your friend's only crime is that you don't like her husband, why not deal with THAT instead of dumping her. You don't need to go into detail (don't!) but if she's as nice as she sounds I'd at least try. Maybe ''Now that we are both going to be new moms, I'd love to spend time with just you and your twins, instead of as couples. Would that be ok?'' If you've already decided to end the friendship, you have nothing to lose by trying.

I've come to value the friends who are ''mine'' differently but as highly as the ones I ''share'' with my husband. If what the man did is so bad you can't face her, she deserves to know -- again, you have nothing to lose, you've already decided the friendship is over. Ending a friendship by not returning phone calls is what we all did in school... why not do better than that and be proud of yourself, whatever the outcome? Been there and Regretted it


Well... If you're going to lose the friendship anyway without telling her why, that will hurt her. So are you sure you can't tell her why? Honesty might be best if at all possible. Or, if you can't tell the truth, can you give some false reason that spares her feelings so at least she'll feel better than she would otherwise? Something that originates outside you? Or maybe tell her the truth in the partial way you told everyone here, without hinting about the husband? There's a reason and I'm so sorry I just can't tell you. It has nothing to do with you. You've been a wonderful friend, this makes me sad but it can't be helped, etc. Those are my ideas. Good luck. Anon
You were very vague about your relationship with her husband.I wish you would ask the question again with more specifics. anon
As a short term fix, stop trying to drop hints and just call her back and say you feel too sick to talk or ''play''. Then just let it drift away. If you want to end this friendship without ever telling her the thing about her husband (sounds bad) I think you just have to mimic the phenomenon so many of us have experienced unintentionally--less frequent and less fun interactions until nobody really tries anymore. sad sad but i think dropping her cold turkey will draw more attention to it and possibly result in a ''talk'' where you end up telling her this info which you seem to be considerately shielding her from. (are you sure it's not something she should know for her own well-being?) anon
Only asking for ''empathetic'' replies, suggests to me that you have a guilty conscience and that perhaps deep down inside, you know you are being unfair to your friend by avoiding her. Is this how you would want to be treated? By avoiding her, she will always wonder what she did wrong? Tell your friend the truth. Don't be a coward. Be honest, be sensitive and be truthful. Whatever your feelings are towards her husband, that needs to remain separate. You don't need to share the nitty gritty details with her unless the husband did something so egregious that you feel she must know. Otherwise, just express your frustration and angst over your working relationship with her husband. Ask her if she has any suggestions on how to keep your friendship in tact while at the same time, respecting that you would not be comfortable spending time with her hubby. You both have young children...why not have playdates together? There is plenty you can do without spouses.

Bottom line: you need to deal with your resentment towards her husband and not direct it at her. Female friendships are prescious. She sounds like she was a dear friend to you when you most needed help and support. It's unfair and cruel of you to cut her out of your life suddenly without an explanation. Living in a small town only makes the situation all the more awkward. Chances are you will continue to run into one another. I wish you the best of luck with your pregnancy! Anon


I am sorry for the pain your friend's husband caused you, but perhaps you can disengage yourself from this friendship in a clean cut way that does not leave your friend wondering what she did wrong. It sounds as though she cares about you a lot, if she is checking on you regularly, despite having young twins. I mean this gently, but it doesn't seem quite fair to ignore her and hope she gets the hint. If I were her, I would doubt myself and feel hurt for longer if a friendship ended this way than if my friend said to me, ''I am so sorry, but something has happened in my life that is personal and uncomfortable, and affects my ability to be friends with you right now. You are a wonderful person and friend, but for reasons I can't share, I need space from you right now.'' If whatever happened with her husband affects her in any way other than your friendship ending (example, he made sexual passes at you), I think you might want to reconsider your decision not to tell her why you are ending the friendship. Best of luck. It sounds like a sad and uncomfortable position to be in. talking it out helps
It sounds like there are some open wounds that need to be healed. You said you had ''disappointing, negative experiences'' with your friend's husband that you could never share. Whatever happened between you and him is unresolved and is still bothering you. Ignoring your friend hoping that the problem will go away is not a solution. As the saying goes, you can run, but you can not hide-especially in a small town. I think you owe it to yourself and everyone else who is involved to go into therapy and sort this out. At some point, you're going to have to face your friend, and possibly others as well. For the time being, I would stall and say you're not feeling good enough to see her. In therapy, you'll have a safe space to explore your options and decide what to do. Anon
I'm kind of surprised no one responded with the perspective of the friend you would like to disengage from. So I guess I will...

Many years ago, my closest friend in the world (best friends through high school) went away for a summer and stopped having contact with me. She wouldn't return my calls, she wouldn't answer letters, etc. The only inkling I had of what was wrong was information given me second hand that to this day I still don't know if it's true.

It was devastating. I had no idea what I had done, and consequently no idea how to fix it, which I desperately wanted to do. Consequently, over the years I have been very wary of investing myself emtotionally in friendships for fear of being hurt again.

Years later, just before our 10th high school reunion, she contacted my mother in attempts to reconcile with me. She knew I would be at the reunion, and didn't want it to be awkward, I guess. Apparently, she had been in some terrible car accident and had a near death experience, consequently making her realize all and who were important to her. By that time, however, she and I had such different lives that I had no interest in reconnecting. Especially, because she couldn't tell me(or wouldn't, is my take, because she realized the reason for ending our friendship and how she had done so was so foolish)or remember why she had decided to simply not communicate with me.

The moral of my story? Her actions (or inaction as the case may be) had long-lasting, devastating consequences to me, for something I don't even know what I did - though I believe I didn't actually do anything - I believe she was simply immature and ill-equipped to deal with her own feelings, not unlike you. I don't mean to be harsh - I am simply trying to give you some insight as to how you might affect this person should you drop her cold turkey with no explanation.

I realize losing my ''best friend'' is not quite on the same level as your relationship with this woman, and maybe the consequences of your actions may not be so devasting to her...but the point is, you don't know. Please, for her sake, just be honest with her. At least that way, you both can move on in an appropriate way. dropped once too


How to break up with a friend?

May 2006

How do you end a friendship? I have a friend who hasn't really done anything wrong or hurtful, but I'm feeling really done with the friendship. I've tried working out some of the things with her that I've found frustrating, and she's been really open to working with me on them. However, I still find myself screening my calls when I think it might be her, telling her I'm busy when she wants to get together, and generally feeling annoyed when I do hang out or talk with her.

I feel really mean about this, but I just would rather not be friends any longer. I know she would be very hurt to know this, as she seems to value our friendship still. If it were a dating type thing, I'd say something like, ''I care for you but I know I'll never be in love with you.'' What is the friend equivalent? I know I need to be direct, but I'm just really unsure how to go about this nicely.

Any ideas?
Bad Friend?


There is no nice way, but if it were me in her shoes, I'd prefer my so-called ''friend'' have the decency to tell me rather than just cowardly avoid my calls. I'm sure your ex-friend will soon realize that a self-serving, disloyal friend is much worse than none at all. Be brutally honest and be done with it Anon
I broke up with a very close friend many years ago and it was agonizing and painful. There's no other way to describe it.

But once I did it, I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. I didn't realize how burdensome the issue was for me until after it was over, and then I wished I done it much earlier. It is NOT mean. What is mean is knowing in your heart that you do not want to be friends with someone and continuing to pretend to be friends or making lame excuses not to see each other. With some friends, a ''break up'' isn't necessary. Casual friends may fall by the wayside with a little encouragement. But in my case, I had to have a talk with the person because she was one of my closest friends. I just began to realize that the whole relationship was so draining for me that I couldn't go on. Basically, I said to this person, ''I respect you and love you and have enjoyed so many parts of our friendship. But the friendship really isn't working for me any more. It's not about who is right and who is wrong. I'm just don't want to be friends any more.'' I also had to be firm that it could not be worked out, that I had been thinking this way for months and I wasn't really open to trying to fix things. It was important not to make her wrong; it just came down to our being fundamentally incompatible in a certain way. Friendships ebb and flow and sometimes they end as people change and their lives change. It was really devastating for my ex-friend -- whom I still care a lot about to this day -- and to a certain extent for me. And occasionally I have missed her. But I have never regretted my decision. Hopefully, your situation isn't as intense and maybe it will be easier. Anon


It may be that being nice doesn't jive with ending a friendship. You can try to be kind in your choice of words. One way to keep the pressure off her is to only speak in terms of YOUR feelings. You can say something like, ''I feel ____ when you do _____, and I don't want to feel that way anymore...'' But don't frame it like she is terrible or the cause of your problems. Truly, though, you must accept that your friend is going to be hurt, but also that her feelings are her choice and responsibility, not yours.

I ended a friendship after I lost trust in a close friend a couple of years ago. I didn't have much to complain about before that, but I could find no way around the change in my feelings toward her. Ending that friendship came with huge sad losses for me that I still often feel, but I am still comfortable with the decision.

I bring this up because you seem very clear on the fact that she doesn't meet your needs as a friend, and that can only work in your favor, especially since you have already addressed the issues with her and it hasn't worked. I also bring it up because, if you do feel loss and/or guilt afterwards, that's really normal and doesn't mean you did the wrong thing. I suggest simply telling her with that same clarity and the non-blaming approach that you don't want to continue your friendship with her. anon


I'm not sure you need to be direct. I think what you're doing now - not returning calls, not getting together - will send the message well enough. You only have to be direct if she asks you directly. In that case, yes, you would want to be honest and not say something like, ''oh, I've just been busy.''

But really, it's not the same as a dating relationship where you have to break up. Friends do drift apart, and it's much less hurtful for this to happen than to have someone have a sit- down with you and tell you why you're not worth having as a friend. anon


I am someone who was recently ''dumped'' by a friend who I felt very close to and held a lot of respect for. It felt sudden and shocking and really hurt. The hardest part about it for me was that she didn't really give a reason - there were just some vague statements (and this was by email mind you, a terribly disrespectful way to go) followed by a request that I not ask to talk to her about it further. It was really horrible, mainly because I have no idea what I did or what about me bothered her.

All that is to say that the reasons you give in your posting for wanting to end the friendship are also quite vague, and I'd suggest you NOT say something like the line you proposed. If you can be more specific, so that at least the friend has some sense of why you don't consider her a good match as a friend, then at least she can understand where you're coming from and she's not left wondering (as I was) ''what's wrong with me? what did I do?''. Give her something concrete so she can at least have closure. anon


Stop hanging out since she annoys you. I tend to be more indirect but if I were really pressed by someone who I don't want to hang out with anymore, I might say something to the effect of, ''I just don't feel like I can be a good friend right now. I'm so preoccupied and our lives have just gone in such different directions.'' Then it kind of puts it on you instead of her you know? JFL
Just tell her. Honesty is the best policy. I have been through this on both sides. People change, perhaps you will rediscover your friendship later in life always a friend
If you ever truly were this person's friend, and she yours, then level with her. Get clear in yourself about why you don't want to hang out with her anymore and then tell her. If this is the way it must be, it might as well also be an opportunity for growth for the both of you, and it would be dishonorable to the friendship you have shared to not be honest. Also, remember people always reek of insincerity when they say ''It's not you, it's me.'' Good luck Been in your shoes
I really did try to do exactly this and I have asked other friends this same question. There is something about life that causes people to meet up, run into one another, and find new lives together that makes ending a friendship, in my humble opinion, impossible. And I've tried before. It just wouldn't end though. I should clarify though, the friendship, that is the active keeping-in-touch, sharing life's joys, communicating wtih one another part did end. However, I continually ran into the friend's spouse every year or two. Once it was three years later and still the spouse made contact and reminded me that we should get together. Finally I gave in and played along the charade. ''Yeah, we should...next time...'' Good luck, but I really think you should just stop tending the garden and things will slow down to a point without having to say things that really only hurt people I tried already, it doesn't work
For the right thing to do, you have to know your audience. If the friend is not a defensive type, you can just tell her the truth why the friendship no longer works for you - trying not to embarrass her unnecessarily - and that you want a vacation from the friendship for now.

If the friend is a defensive sort, I would avoid, avoid, avoid, be cordial if you run into her and say you have to go when you pick up a phone and it's she. I say avoid because if you could talk to this friend and have her really hear you, you would probably not need to get rid of the friendship. People who cannot hear criticism will either get so angry or so hurt at anything critical, even if it's the truth and you are trying to get out of the friendship with honor, that you and she will feel worse than ever by conversation's end. Chicken when it's futile


I didn't see the original post for this, but wanted to chime in. Is there a reason for this break up? The only reason I ask is because true friends are priceless and if it is a true friend that has offended you, let them know of the reasons.

The only person I have ever ''dumped'' was someone that I considered to be a true friend but in fact was very cold hearted and actually wrote untrue things about me in a public forum. In this case, a huge burden was lifted off of my shoulders once it was brought to my attention as life is too short to tolerate ''friends'' like that.

However, if it is an acquaintance friend, sometimes we just drift apart as our lives take different paths, so maybe no ''break up'' is necessary anon


Like some of the other posters, I was dumped once. Unfortunately my friend took the avoidance route of not returning calls and not making plans. That is just plain cruel. By the time I figured it out I was not just hurt, I was humiliated and angry that I was humiliated. When she finally told me the truth, it was such a relief and I just moved on with my life. In fact, I realized she really wasn't someone I wanted to be close with anyway! Please just tell your friend and don't leave her guessing. Treat her like an adult and act like one yourself and I bet you will both be better off. E.
My advice is to end the relationship kindly, and directly. I think it is dishonoring someone by pretending to be invested in a friendship when you no longer are. Any relationship that one person values so intensely and that the other party wants completely out of is very unbalanced.

I was tormented by wanted to end a friendship of 13 years. When I finally did, I was truly surprised how much freer I felt. I hadn't realized how much keeping this person on my to do list was weighing me down. I also recommend avoiding getting into specific details as to why. In this situation, it's just not working, and there will never be enough details for someone who doesn't want the friendship to end. Specifics will just lead down a path of saying too much, could end up in negotiations that you don't want, or even saying things that are hurtful.

What worked for me was choosing a simple phrase and just repeating it.

Best of luck - this is a difficult and courageous thing to do! - a friend


If you don't want to be friends with this person, just find a way to gently tell them. Or, do something not so nice and let them break up with you. I had a friend break up with me once after I did something indirectly hurtful to them. This person actually did me a favor because it made me realize ours was an empty friendship anyway. anon
Really, if you could talk to your friend about what it is you object to in the relationship, you probably wouldn't need to break up with your friend. So, if your friend is a defensive type, you only stand to hurt her feelings, maybe even made her angry. I generally don't advocate avoidance, but this might be a situation where you should be polite if you run into her or answer the phone and it's she, but then excuse yourself. Eventually, your friend will get the message, and you won't have risked an emotional and draining confrontation. Julia
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