You know it's time to hand in your half of the heart necklace or extract yourself from that weekly one-on-one squash game, but the truth is, getting out of a friendship can be as hard as ending a romance. Here, some tips on how to trim the friendship fat with as little emotional damage as possible.
Ignore Dionne Warwick – friendships don't always last forever more
While it's true that long-term pals are one of life's most rewarding gifts (fun fact: people with close friends live longer than their BFF-less equivalents), sometimes the only way to make room in your relationship stable is to ditch a few lame ponies. "We're all about building relationships in our society, but no one tells us how to end one," says Jodyne Speyer, author of the platonic-breakup bible Dump 'Em: How To Break Up With Anyone From Your Best Friend to Your Hairdresser.
Breakup techniques will obviously vary based on the specifics of the relationship, but the golden rule stays the same: You need to allow yourself to move on from a friendship that isn't working, even if that means parting ways with someone who once pricked their finger and declared you their blood sibling.
The fizzle is okay if it's double-sided
When dealing with a new friend or more casual acquaintance, sometimes the easiest thing is just to deprive the friendship of oxygen – phone calls get less frequent, a few missed brunch dates and bing, bang, boom, you've got one less b-day to remember. This method is relatively pain-free, but it only works if both people are looking to dial it down.
"If the other person keeps calling, you're going to have to take action," says Ms. Speyer. In cases where one friend simply wants more out of the relationship (more time, more intimacy, more all-night Twilight marathons), Ms. Speyer recommends focusing on the least insulting part of the equation – the time commitment. This allows the dumpee to believe that this is about your hectic schedule and not her tendency to annoy the living crap out of you.
A breakup bomb shouldn't come out of nowhere
If the person on the other end of Operation Friend Drop is shocked by the news, this means that (a) he or she is totally self-absorbed and hasn't picked up on previous hints (in which case, good call on the breakup) or (b) you haven't laid the proper groundwork. In a best-case scenario, discussing the problem with the offending friend might negate the need for a split. "You'd be surprised how often people are totally unaware of their behaviour," Ms. Speyer advises. In the worst case, at least you've been fair and given Single White Female a chance to mend her ways.
Go in with a game plan
Organize your thoughts and make critical decisions in advance. "In stressful situations, people tend to over-talk as a way of avoiding awkward silence," says Ms. Speyer, who recommends keeping the breakup chat simple and specific. If you're looking to demote a friend as opposed to ditch him, be clear about the investment you are willing to make. Something along the lines of, "At this point seeing each other once a week isn't realistic. I would love to catch up once every couple of months," sends the message that you still value this person in your life.
If this is not the case, you need to say so: "Mike, I just can't see myself continuing a friendship with someone who would go behind my back to get the job I wanted." Even in this harsher split scenario, try to leave just the tiniest bit of room for a friendship redux in the future. Even crimes that seem totally unforgivable may become less hurtful over time. "I've had friends come back into my life who slept with my boyfriend years ago," says Ms. Speyer. "As you grow up, you get over a lot of things."
And don't do this: Bring the rest of the gang into the breakup. In the divorce analogy, close mutual friends are the kids, so do what's best for them.