Ask Dr. Levine | Relationship Advice

Zosia’s advice columnist, Irene S. Levine, PhD - a psychologist, professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine and award-winning journalist. She is widely considered the go-to expert on female friendship, and has been called the Dear Abby of Friendship.

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How Do I Break Up with a Friend I’ve Known Forever?

How do I break up with a friend I've known forever zosia advice column Irene Levine

Q:

Dear Dr. Irene,

Lynne and I have been best friends since grade school; we grew up in the same neighborhood, attended the same schools, and hung out with the same friends. After that, our lives veered in different directions. Lynne got married and became a stay-at-home mom with three kids. I went on to college and graduate school, and am now working as a human resources manager in a large multinational firm, a position that entails a great deal of international travel. Despite our different lifestyles and my move to another state, we’ve always managed to meet up and reconnect a few times a year.

During our last spa getaway in Florida, however, I thought the weekend would never end. Lynne talked about her kids incessantly and bent my ear complaining about her underachieving husband (a chronic problem during her ten-year marriage). I like hearing about her kids to some extent (I’m godmother to the oldest) and want to be a supportive friend but Lynne shows absolutely no interest in my life. Sometimes, I can’t get a word in edgewise. This pattern has worsened over time.

I’ve decided we have little in common except for our past and don’t want to spend another boring weekend listening to her litany of complaints (she never heeds my advice anyway). Yet I really like Lynne and know if I ever needed her, she would be there for me. So I feel a bit guilty about distancing myself. How can I break up with her without hurting her feelings?

Signed, Margo

Dr. Irene Says:

Dear Margo,

You are fortunate to have a good friend with whom you share such a rich history. I can understand your hesitance to summarily end this friendship and sever its connection to your past.

Long-distance friendships can be challenging to maintain. Instead of being able to spontaneously get together for coffee or a drink, friends have to devote a huge chunk of time and money to plan concentrated time together. Spending uninterrupted time like that with another person (perhaps, even sharing a room) can be tough on anyone, especially someone used to living alone.

Once you decide to “formally end” a friendship, there’s virtually no chance of rekindling it at the same level of intimacy. Do you really want to totally end this one? It seems like it would be a loss for both you and Lynne. Instead, couldn’t you space out your get-togethers so they are less frequent? It’s often easier to accept a friend’s idiosyncrasies in “small doses.” If you don’t want to disappoint Lynne, use your busy travel schedule as an excuse for skipping a couple of upcoming get-togethers. Another alternative: For your next visit, you could book a hotel room near Lynne’s home so you have your own base to retreat to; you might even combine your visit to her with some sightseeing.

When you do get together, gently suggest that while you love hearing about her family, you feel like your conversations have become one-sided.  Lynne may not be aware of how pressured she feels to confide in you.

Not all friendships last forever, even very good ones, so these remedies may not do the trick. As you suggest, sometimes bonds that bind good friends weaken. But at least you’ll have given yourself a chance to see if you can get this friendship back on track so it’s more mutually rewarding rather than losing that opportunity.

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