Should you mend ties or move on gracefully? Here’s how to decide, and the precise steps you should take.
Winnie-the-Pooh was right. A day without a friend is like a pot without a single drop of honey left inside.
Friends play an incredibly important role in our lives—at every stage. “Research shows that the happiest and healthiest people are those who are well connected to friends and family,” says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., a therapist and author of The 10 Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After 40.
Unfortunately, the older we get, the more difficult it may become to hold on to close ties. Below, experts share their views on why friendships may splinter, how to know whether they’re worth keeping, and how to salvage them—or let them go—with grace.
Why Friends Grow Apart
Any number of circumstances can cause even the strongest of friendships to falter. For one, we may start to lose common interests, notes Nicole Sbordone, a licensed clinical social worker and author of Surviving Female Friendships: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
When you retire, she says, your social circle often shifts. Or maybe you want to try new hobbies in your free time, while your friend isn’t on the same page.
“Physical limitations of aging or illness may also prevent someone from connecting with their friends in the way they used to,” Tessina adds.
Some friends may grow apart due to distance—one may move closer to family or to a retirement community, for instance. Another cause of friendship fallouts can be arguments.
“We tend to get more set in our ways as we get older, which can lead to disagreements in friendships if we don’t know how to communicate well,” Sbordone says.
Finally, you might realize that some friendships are simply draining. Perhaps it feels one-sided: They always talk about themselves, and never ask about your life.
Or maybe it feels like you’re constantly reaching out, but you don’t feel like your efforts are reciprocated. This would wear away at a friendship at any age, Tessina notes.
Is Your Friendship Worth Saving?
The short answer: If you keep wanting to talk to or reach out to a friend, you still care about the relationship, Sbordone says.
Even if someone has moved far away, that doesn’t have to be a deal breaker, Tessina says. Social media, email, and text make it easier than ever to stay tight with your BFFs. You can even make plans to travel together.
If you’re having trouble deciding, ask yourself whether your hesitation comes from disinterest or a fear of rejection, suggests GinaMarie Guarino, a licensed mental health counselor and founder of PsychPoint.
“If it is a fear of rejection—not disinterest—then the friendship is still important to you,” Guarino says.
When you’re ready to revive a friendship, follow these steps.
Step #1: Talk About It
Just like in any relationship, communication is key. Call, email, or text your friend to see if they want to meet up and talk, preferably in person.
After you first reach out, be patient. They may be caught off guard and need a bit of time to respond.
Step #2: Plan to Meet
Don’t just say, “I’ll call you soon.” Ask your friend to have coffee or lunch at a specific date, time, and place. It’s much more likely to happen this way.
If distance is a factor, Skype, Facetime, or other video chat service are the next best thing to a face-to-face.
Step #3: Keep It Simple
You don’t have to have a whole speech planned. Tessina’s suggested icebreaker: “I realize we haven’t seen each other for a while, and I miss you.”
“Don’t assume reconnecting will be awkward,” she says. “And if it is, just say, ‘This is awkward, isn’t it?’”
Step #4: Make Peace, If Needed
If you did something wrong that you’re aware of, it’s always good to say you’re sorry—or assure your friend there’s no ill will if it was their mistake.
Sometimes it’s better to leave the past in the past, but if you want to discuss what happened, you can bring it up. Just know that your friend may also want to bring up stuff too.
Is It Time to Move On?
Coming to this difficult decision looks different for everyone, Sbordone says.
- “Does this friend bring me more sadness and frustration, rather than happiness and joy?”
- “Is this friendship worth putting in more energy and time?”
If the answer’s yes to the first or no to the second, Sbordone says, then that’s your sign it’s time to move on.
Other good reasons to let go of a friend: You feel hurt, disregarded, degraded, or unimportant. Or if you feel pressured to be, act, and feel a certain way, then it is okay to walk away, Guarino says.
Know that if you do decide it’s time to end things, it’s not going to be easy. “Breaking up with an important friend can be every bit as painful as breaking up a love relationship,” Tessina notes.
Here are four ways to end a friendship.
1. Let It Fizzle
This is the easiest way to end a friendship, Tessina says. Say no thank you when they invite you to make plans, and don’t reach out again.
Most people will just drift off in response. If your friend is really interested, they will ask what’s wrong, and you can communicate how you feel.
2. Be Honest—but Only If There’s Hope
“Only tell a friend what’s wrong if you hope to restore the friendship,” Tessina says.
If you’re feeling disregarded or hurt, speak up if you see the friendship continuing if things change. “If you’re definitely getting out of the friendship, there’s no need to go over things you know aren’t going to elicit a good response,” she advises.
3. Take a Timeout
If you really can’t decide whether to end things fully or not, try taking a break from your friend for a month.
If you feel better, that’s a sign that you might be happier without them. But on the other hand, sometimes just taking a small break from the friendship can also show you whether or not you miss it, Sbordone says.
4. Go Cold Turkey
If the friendship is deeply draining or toxic, and you’ve attempted to talk with them, sometimes we have to cut the friend out of our lives completely, Sbordone says.
This means removing them from your phone and email contacts, unfriending or unfollowing them on your social media, and simply moving on.
“If you wind up at the same party, though, no need to be rude,” Tessina says. “Be polite but distant—then they can’t accuse you of being mean.”
Finally, don’t forget that we all deserve to feel supported and enlivened by our friends. If you’re finding that you wish you had more friendly faces in your life, check out these five icebreakers for any situation and our four-step guide to making new friends.
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