When it comes to female friendships, subtlety, nuance and innuendo are everything. We’ve tried to explain this to the men in our lives but they never seem to understand. They’ll say something like, “Well, if Jane was a bitch to you at brunch last weekend, why are you going to dinner with her tonight?” You’ll sigh and then go on for 20 minutes about how you’ve known her since you were 11 and her mom died when she was in high school and that screwed her up. But she makes you laugh your ass off most of the time … when she’s not being passive aggressive as all get out. In the end, you love her and would be devastated if you never talked to her again. So you’re basically going to have to suck it up whatever put downs she might hurl your way at dinner.
We’d love to be smug and say that it’s easy to decide to end a friendship, but that wouldn’t be true. It’s often harder, with more residual sadness, then breaking up with a boyfriend. And women, being the oh-so-poor direct communicators we tend to be, would rather lose a nipple than tell a long-time friend that we think she’s a fucked up, energy sucking vampire who needs to deal with her mother’s death in therapy. In the interest of being both sensitive to your friends’ feelings and dedicated to your own well-being, here are some important questions to ask yourself before you pull the plug on a friendship:
1. Is the friendship energizing or draining? After spending a couple hours with the friend in question, do you feel energized and inspired or in dire need of a nap? Some friends can wear you out because of their high energy and go-go-go personalities, and that’s fine, but others — you know the ones we’re talking about — leave you feeling drained in a much more profound, spiritual way. If you need at least a day to recover and re-energize after your hangouts, reassess the relationship might be a wise move.
2. Does she make you feel bad on the regular? If she’s making back-handed comments about the person you’re dating or shit-talking your other friends, or just fond of guilt-tripping you for dumb things, like not dropping everything to come to the drinks thing she’s throwing next week, that solidly qualifies as making you feel like crap regularly. Winona’s friend once blew her mind by telling her about her bad/break rule: “When something or someone is making you feel bad, you need to make a break for it.”
3. How long have you been together? History counts for something — not everything, but something – when it comes to deciding if a friendship breakup is in order. If she’s been around since you were kids and knows your folks, if she was there to comfort you the first time you got dumped or console you when you realized it was a huge mistake to dye your hair bright purple, she shares an important piece of your past. You might both be totally different people now, but you can’t deny how important it is have someone in your life who remembers when you were going through your goth phase. Of course, this isn’t enough to sustain a healthy friendship, but shared history may prompt you to see if there are other measures you may be able to take to save or restructure the friendship.
4. What will the breakup mean for her? The truth is, you truly care about this person — even if you are angry with her at the moment. In the spirit of empathy, take a moment to visualize what it be like for her to lose you as a friend. Based on her current life circumstances will it feel like a complete abandonment? Does your timing suck? Is she dealing with something terrible right now like a death in the family or recovering from a serious illness? If so, the decent thing might be to give her the benefit of the doubt until she gets back on track with her life. You might also find that you enjoy her company a whole lot more once she’s through her rough patch. Extending your compassion now might earn some in return when you need it.
5. Does the good she brings to your life outweigh the bad? All of our friends enhance our lives in some way, whether it’s through loyalty, compassion, humor, fun, or just a shared love of early 90s hip-hop. When a friendship turns sour, a friend starts adding negativity and stress to your life, and that can be, for lack of a better word, a total mindfuck (“Wait, aren’t you supposed to be my friend? Why do I feel worse every time we hang out?”). If you can’t think of five ways in which your friend is enhancing your life, that’s a definite “dump her!” situation. You can do better, girl.
6. Have you outgrown each other? As we grow and change, if our friends aren’t growing at the same pace as us, we might outgrow them. So as you become a more conscious, more aware version of yourself, you attract people who into your life who have a similar vibe. This might mean that a friendship that once felt so simpatico, starts to feel like an ill-fitting pair of jeans riding up your ass crack. If you’re into yoga and organic food and she still wants to go out partying and eat MacDonald’s, or you’re in grad school working on an advanced degree and she’s deciding what she wants to with her life, she may be an ill-fitting friend for you at the moment. This doesn’t mean that you still can’t be friends, it just means that you’re going to have to acknowledge what size you wear.
7. Are the friendship issues fixable? Once you’ve isolated the friendship issues — she’s ill-fitting, or too needy or seriously lacking in self-awareness, you’ll have to decide whether you think these are things that can be overcome or worked around. If so, maybe a full breakup is not in order. Maybe you can mend things with a brutally honest conversation or by establishing a precedent where you hang out less often. Sometimes, a friendship just needs a downgrade, where you go from seeing her three times a week to seeing her three times in three months. Assess your options.
8. Is your friend working on herself? As in every type of relationship, people who are actively trying to improve themselves get metaphorical points in their favor. Let’s face it: we all have flaws, bad habits, insecurities, and issues we’re trying to work through. If your friend is on a similar path of growth as you are, that might be reason enough to keep the friendship alive. Does she acknowledge her shortcomings and work to fix them, or does she make excuses and blame others? Does she have a long string of broken friendships in her recent history? Does she repeat behaviors that hurt others, or does she learn from her mistakes? As long she’s trying to grow and change, she probably deserves more chances than, say, someone who is stubbornly refusing to evolve.
9. Is the balance off? The best relationships have a really nice sense of balance, where both people talk and both people listen, where both are vulnerable and open with each other. A friendship shouldn’t be a therapist/ patient type of situation where one person talks and the other listens. Think of it this way: if you and your friend were sitting on a see-saw, would one of you be ass-deep in the sandbox and one in the air? If so, the balance is out of whack — a good indicator that the relationship is teetering on the brink of disaster if the balance isn’t restored.
10. Would some time apart do the trick? Maybe you’ve assessed your options and you think the friendship could be salvageable, but not in the immediate future. You might try a nice vacation from each other. We’ve found that friendships ebb and flow over time. What’s not working this minute, may be fixable in six months. It’s just the mystery of life and time and change. Distance may be able to give you new perspective on yourself and your friend and you may be able to come back together with a new and improved friendship that works better for both of you with new parameters, boundaries and expectations.
Do you have any friendship breakup/makeup tips? We’d love to hear them. Please share in the comments.