"I have a very old friendship that is turning toxic. Both of us have changed a lot and I know that this relationship is unhealthy for me, but how do you break off a friendship that has been going on for 10 years? I really care about her, and we have a lot of history together but it’s just not good for me at this point. Thanks!"
-Question submitted by Anonymous
I’ve been in this situation and I don’t think I handled it very well. I’d like to say you can just be honest with your friend and talk to them about what you’re feeling and how you’d like things to be different, but some people DO NOT respond well to that kind of thing.
I remember when my toxic friend was like “I’M MOVING TO CHICAGO” and I had a small panic attack because I knew I didn’t want to see her, but it didn’t seem like there was a way around it?? Basically, I ended up slowly backing away. Not going to her parties/dinners, saying I wasn’t available for shows, seeing her once a week turned into once a month. Once a month turned into once in a long while turned into only by accident turned into i haven’t seen her in a few years. It was a very slow process, but I had to do what I could in those moments to make myself feel better. When I was around her I felt stupid, super negative, unhappy, guilt-ridden, and just NOT GOOD about myself.
Sometimes (a lot of times) we have to put ourselves first. I know it’s a little hard to do, you don’t wanna be an asshole and you don’t want to feel guilty and you don’t want her to hate you. Be respectful and if she asks you what’s up, be honest. Tell her you haven’t been feeling 100% about your friendship so you’re taking some time for you…it’ll probably feel weird, BUT YOU GUYS, YOLO and why would you want to YOLO an unhappy YOLO?? Do what you gotta do to be happy.
I have also been in this situation, and I ALSO handled it very poorly. I felt constantly torn between knowing that my friendship was making me feel lousy and not wanting to hurt the other person. I kept relying on old memories from before the relationship had headed south to convince myself that things would be okay, and I also had a deep understanding of why my friend was hurting and unable to create a positive relationship… that understanding made it extra complicated to walk away.
I do think that what Dannielle has suggested is the best approach: make a conscious effort to decrease the amount of time you spend together. You have stated clearly that the relationship is unhealthy for you. In most cases, explaining that to the other party is very complicated and can be twisted around to be viewed as accusatory, so you should be wary of what you choose to communicate. It is good to be honest when and where you can, but if you know your words will be ill-received it is okay to frame them differently and keep some of that truth to yourself. At this point, the main goal is to see this person less.
In some cases, you will find that the relationship achieves a different level of connectedness, and that you enjoy the relationship as it settles into you seeing each other once a month or a few times a year. In a lot of cases, it is a hard shift, and you may wind up actually “breaking up” with your friend. The initial process will be hard and complicated (as it is with any break up, romantic or otherwise), but remind yourself that you are taking care of your heart and brain. That always, always comes first.