I’m not sure which hurts my pride the most, the fact that I’ve been dumped, or the knowledge that I have failed as a friend. When a sexual relationship ends, things are relatively simple. There is the dumper, and the dumpee. You have the, “It’s not you, it’s me” conversation. There are broken hearts, recriminations. The relationship is declared officially dead. You decide who gets custody of the children/cat/Wire box set. Mutual friends choose sides. No matter how devastating, at least it’s clear: you were a couple, you exchanged bodily fluids. You are no longer a couple, you keep your fluids to yourself, or distribute them elsewhere.
When a Platonic friendship cools There’s the slow fade-out, where you try to downgrade an intense friendship to something more casual. Or the short, sharp split. “I sometimes felt I was the perfect customer for a much-needed but never-produced Hallmark card that would read: ‘We’ve been friends for a very long time now,’ followed on the inside by,’What do you say we stop?'” writes Joseph Epstein, author of Friendship: An Exposé. But if such a card existed, how many of us would have the guts to send it? And if you received such a note, would you think, “Fair enough” or would you want to send it back with a few added expletives?
Secondary friendships are on an equal footing, rather than one person wishing they didn’t have to see so much of the other.) differences in taste and ambition dont creepup as often. Whether local politics, the financial crisis or private education, every issue seemed to highlight how different it is.
As we struggl to find common ground, it becomes tricky to talk about anything that matters. a friend tried to reconnect with you a few times; meanwhile, u call her less. “Sometimes it’s possible to downgrade the relationship by seeing the person less or to dilute it by seeing the person with a group, “Sometimes, you just need a break from the other person. I call it a ‘friendship sabbatical’.” A friendship sabbatical? It sounds so civilised. Presumably you either return to the friendship fully recharged or decide to retrain as a yoga teacher. Mine was more like a friendship divorce.
You can see the slow fade-out as the coward’s way or the kinder, more respectful way of letting down someone you once cared for and who probably still cares for you. If you have a lot of mutual friends, or are likely still to see each other, “downgrading” makes things less awkward, but if the friend is too naive or self-absorbed to read the signals, or just really persistent, it may not be enough. Eventually you may need to do the decent thing and dump them properly.
And that takes courage and honesty. It doesn’t have to be cruel but it does mean telling someone you were once close to why you feel they are no longer worthy of your time. No one likes to hear that they are surplus to requirements, so tread carefully,
a “pre-dump”: “Give me a warning, maybe I can fix it, and if I can’t, then at least I knew this was coming, so it prepares me. And be kind about it, say, ‘Here’s what’s not working.’ I don’t need 100 reasons, don’t give me a whole laundry list, but let me know what the problem is, so I can have that information and move on. I don’t have to agree with it, but at least I have something.””When you’re clear about your feelings, other people respond to that. You may think you’re dong someone a favour by not telling them but in the long run it’s a lot worse.”
Things are made worse by the fact that many end so slowly, withering and dying after months or years of neglect with one or both sides building up resentments. When my ex-friend (quite reasonably) asked me to return some books my partner had borrowed, I took offence. When she refused the offer of a drink at a party, I felt snubbed. Perhaps if I’d been more honest, our relationship wouldn’t have foundered. I tried a few times to say that I felt we didn’t have as much in common any more but I also wimped out, blaming our paths not crossing. If I’d really wanted to see her I’d have found a way; instead I felt guilty every time she left me a voice mail.
“When friendships drift, we rarely discuss it,” says relationship psychotherapist Paula Hall. “If it feels as if one person has made less effort, then you can feel rejected. Because friendships don’t end in a conflicted way, there isn’t closure, you don’t feel you’re better off without each other, it just stops, so there can be feelings of loss.”