Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
July 8, 2020

Sometimes you have to break up with a friend

By AMELIA ISAACS | March 29, 2018



There are three things that I want to get out of the way before I actually get into this article. Firstly, this piece was inspired by the lovely Lily Kairis’ column last week titled “The pain of growing apart from an old friend.” If you haven’t read it, I would highly recommend that you go online and have a read of it — as soon as you’ve finished reading this one, of course. Secondly, I have never been in a romantic relationship and have never gone through a breakup of that kind. And thirdly, I have never successfully “broken up with” or “dumped” a friend.

While there are definitely times in our lives where we unintentionally and unfortunately drift away from people we were once close with, and there are friendships that we colloquially describe as having been “lost,” there are also friendships which we sometimes have to take it upon ourselves to end. It’s not particularly glamorous, and isn’t a thing that people like to talk about a lot because frankly, it’s kind of awkward. 

If you think of the number of bad dates people go on or the number of times people swipe left on tinder before they swipe right on that one person, people are super picky with who they enter into romantic relationships with (and justifiably so). I don’t think that the same can always necessarily be said for friendships. 

You probably wouldn’t have a problem saying to someone you’ve only been on three dates with that you don’t think it’s working out. Why then do we find it so awkward to do that with a friendship?

There have been three friends in my life who I have ever felt like I wanted to “break up with” and, as I mentioned, I have never actually managed to do it successfully. In every situation, the friend has been someone who is part of a friendship group of three or four people, and the rest of us grew closer without them. In none of these situations was the friend in question rude or mean or a bad person, but the other friend(s) and I just got along better without them. 

As someone with an obsessive need to make sure people feel included and happy (I have an autistic sister who struggled a lot in school with being excluded, and I now don’t want to willingly inflict that upon anyone else), I struggle to just “dump” a friend when I see that they are on the periphery of our group.

While my other friends might be able to just ignore their texts or not include them in plans, I find I have a compulsive need to make sure the person feels happy, even if I don’t want to be friends with them. 

My justification for this is that because they’re not bad people and they didn’t do anything wrong, I don’t want to hurt their feelings by dumping them or breaking up with them. But I shouldn’t feel any obligation to be friends with someone. Just because someone meets the criteria of not being a terrible human being, that does not mean you have to be friends with them. 

While you might feel like it’s hurting them to stop being friends with them, I’ve realized that sometimes it hurts you just as much (or more) when you stay friends with someone that you don’t want to be friends with. It’s okay to change your mind about a friendship and realize that maybe that person isn’t actually who you thought they were now that you’ve gotten to know them better. Or it might even be that you change your mind about a friend you’ve known for years — maybe you’ve both changed and your friendship has changed, and it’s not the same as it used to be. It’s okay to end that friendship too. 

This is still something that I’m learning to come to terms with, and as a result, I’m still (kind of) friends with all three of these people. But I’m learning that sometimes breaking up with a friend is actually the best thing for both of you. 

Sometimes you need to put yourself first, be a little bit selfish and do what makes you happy (as corny as I’m aware this sounds). It’s uncomfortable, and it’s awkward, and it feels like a horrible thing to do. But you wouldn’t stay in a romantic relationship that makes you unhappy, so why would you stay in a friendship that makes you feel that way? 

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