We’ve all done it. It only takes seconds to hover over a name on a social media website and click ‘unfriend’. We all understand that it’s OK to do that; after all, it’s impossible to stay in regular contact with hundreds of people.
So why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to maintain friendships in the real world when it’s clear that we are drifting apart? Whether the friendship makes us feel unhappy or inadequate, or we simply don’t have time to stay in contact, accepting that friends come and go in life and learning when to let go is a key skill we should all learn.
“Every friendship has a value and leaves an imprint, but some are more profound and long-term than others,” explains Adam Zargar of life-coaching organisation 2b Limitless (www.2blimitless.com). “Friends come and go from our lives because we are always developing as individuals – and when we are developing, our personality and character can go in a different direction. Priorities and personal circumstances change and this can dictate whether we remain close friends, or even friends at all. I prefer to look back at past friendships as part of the life passage, a graduation almost.”
Relationship expert Helen Williams, founder of LifeWorks Personal Development Training (www.lifeworksdubai.com) adds, “It takes courage to admit that a friendship is past its use-by date and even more courage to discontinue it with grace. Learning how to let go is a skill that we are seldom taught.”
Research by Microsoft’s MSN Messenger website backed this up, revealing that we make an average of 396 friendships in a lifetime, but maintain only 33 on average – that’s one in 12 friendships that will stand the test of time.
Susan Quilliam, a leading relationship psychologist, says, “Two generations ago we probably would not have made anywhere near 400 friends, but we are a lot more mobile now – we don’t live in the same town or village all our lives and we don’t have jobs for life, so we come into contact with many more people and make lots of friends. The number of close friends who we can really count on when we need them, however, is probably unchanged.”
Step 1 – Making the right decision
So how do we know when it’s time to end a friendship? According to the experts, this depends on how close the relationship was to begin with and whether you still see a place for it in your life. There are times when friends drift apart and there may be nothing to discuss or solve; the friendship simply comes to an end as your location or your lifestyles no longer match up. But if the friendship is closer and has faltered over a disagreement or upsetting behaviour, you need to ask yourself if you miss and value the friendship – and if the answer is yes, communicating with your friend is the first step.
Helen advises, “Honest and open communication is the best way – making the time to talk with the friend, to hear their side and to be prepared to tell the truth. Sometimes we may need the help of a third person to enable clear communication. Acknowledge your own wounded feelings, offer apologies if you have caused hurt and express a genuine wish to heal the friendship. These can go a long way towards the repair.”
Even if these steps fail to smooth over the cracks in your friendship, you can move forward knowing you have tried your best and remembering the friendship in a positive light.
Step 2 – Ending it
In the absence of a ‘delete’ button, what is the best way to bring a friendship to an end in the real world? Should you tell the person face to face, or write them an email or letter to explain? Or should you simply drift away without any explanation? “How you end a friendship depends on the kind of person you are,” says Mahyra Roy, a life coach at Catalyst Concepts (www.catalystconcepts.org). “Some people find it easy to confront and discuss, others prefer to simply move on. It all depends on what gives you closure. The important thing is to ensure that you try not to do anything out of character, as that is bound to upset you further down the line.”
“I would advise writing an upfront and honest email,” says Helen. “This allows you to step back from the situation, use cut and paste to remove negative or damaging criticism and be more objective.”
Marwa Karoura, founder and director of life-coaching organisation KTalk (www.ktalk.info) warns, “However you choose to bring the friendship to an end, you should be very conscious to express your own emotions rather than blaming the other party. If you write a letter or an email, it should be fully in the ‘I’ person rather than in the ‘You’ to avoid accusation and blame.”
However you choose to end the friendship, it’s not uncommon for feelings of guilt or regret to come into play afterwards. If this is the first time you’ve broken up with a friend, you may struggle with whether you’ve made the right decision. It might also be hard to cope if the former friend keeps contacting you, refusing to admit that things are over.
“The key is to keep reminding ourselves that we have done the right thing,” says Samar Satamian, also from KTalk. “If you’ve had closure then there shouldn’t be any guilt. Often we remain in friendships and relationships for much longer than we need to in the hope that they will improve and become what they once were. Try to move forward positively, focusing on what you have learnt from the friendship rather than focusing on negative emotions. “
Adam adds, “You have to let go of the guilt. See the positives that result from all situations and experiences. Every friendship – no matter how small or how short – offers positive moments or positive learning experiences. How can you be guilty if you have been true and honest to yourself?”
So it seems we should take a cue from our social media habits after all – press delete, move on, and have no regrets.