Human beings are pack animals and not built to live in isolation. Authentic interpersonal connections improve our mental and emotional health, and making friends is a huge part of that. But what happens when you have been friends with someone and something changes? For some reason you’re no longer on the same page, your values no longer match, and you’re starting to forget what being close to them feels like. We all know what it’s like to grow distant from a friend or learn that they’re no longer good for us. How do we navigate this?
In mainstream media, the dynamics of romantic breakups are explored and documented constantly, but no one really talks about how it feels to end a friendship, and in my opinion, we should. In an age of ‘ghosting’ in our romantic relationships, (ignoring someone and expecting them to take the hint) how do we maintain a level of integrity and allow ourselves to have that final, uncomfortable conversation?
Relationship expert Esther Perel writes:
‘I encourage you to end relationships respectfully and conclusively, however brief they may be. Act with kindness and integrity. This allows both people to enter into their next relationships with more experience and a clear head rather than filled with disappointment and insecurity.’
Although she is referring to romantic relationships, it is relevant to platonic friendships also. When we realise a friendship is one we no longer want to pursue, we don’t suddenly view the person as an enemy, so why shouldn’t we continue to treat them with respect, kindness and integrity when navigating this important ending? People don’t always remember what you said or did, but they always remember how you made them feel, and if they were ever your true friend, you don’t want them to leave your life feeling insecure, hurt or wronged in any way.
Perel goes on to outline some kind parting words:
- Thank you for what I’ve experienced with you.
- This is what I take with me, from you.
- This is what I want you to take with you, from me.
- This is what I wish for you, hence forward.
Ultimately this is a decision you are making in order to achieve a positive result, and as difficult as endings are, they don’t need to be shrouded in negativity. In my personal life, I make pros and cons lists, I ask others for advice, I meditate on it, I write letters and poetry about it and try to squeeze some art out of the situation, for the sake of finding something – anything – positive, if only for my own mental clarity. I really struggle to end friendships because I’m too understanding of the reasons behind people’s actions and I seek to see the best in people. I have learned that although someone’s reasons can be perfectly understandable, this does not mean that I am obliged to tolerate their behaviour if it is detrimental to my happiness in any way. It is so important to respect your own boundaries and require your loved ones to respect them also.
I have tied myself in knots many times when faced with the possibility of having to end a friendship. These are the key aspects that I feel represent my personal journey when choosing to walk away:
- Instinct – It starts with a gut instinct that something is not right; I feel irritated with that friend and I cannot always articulate exactly why straight away.
- Reflection – Then comes a lot of reflection, writing, meditating to really get to the core issue.
- Second opinions – I seek second opinions from those close to me to put things into perspective and make sure I’m being fair and not overreacting (we don’t always trust our own judgement when it comes to these things do we?)
- Resentment – Then comes the resentment. I resent that I have been wronged in some way, I resent the fact that my ‘lovely’ friendship has been compromised and I certainly resent having to have an uncomfortable conversation that I really don’t want to have and don’t know how to prepare for.
- Space – I don’t want to think about it anymore, I don’t want to talk about it anymore, I just want to breathe into the space before the uncomfortable conversation occurs and enjoy the calm before the storm.
- Confronting the issue – The conversation has to happen – I know this, and my friend probably knows this, so it happens. And now it’s time to express how I’ve been feeling and really listen to what they have to say. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and emotional and unnatural but the world does not end and we get through it.
- Breathing space – Is the friendship really over? Have they justified their behaviour and apologised to the point where another chance is appropriate? Or did the conversation solidify my theory that this friendship should no longer continue?
- Coming to terms and personal growth – Moving on and making a decision to be more discerning with who I consider a ‘friend’. It’s all learning at the end of the day. (And probably more writing and reflecting).
When it comes to the friendship model, I have to navigate different personalities all the time, and understanding that continuing a friendship with someone is no longer appropriate is part of my role. Ending friendships in a professional environment is extremely complex, however it is essential – not only for the model but also to keep myself safe in my working environment. I have come across people who have exhibited inappropriate behaviour that made me uncomfortable and people who clearly don’t share Tiata Fahodzi’s values when it comes to inclusivity and social awareness. As the friendship model is about authenticity, we can never turn a blind eye to this for the sake of ‘bums on seats’.
Personally, if I value a friendship, I think it’s important to be honest about how I’m feeling, as well as give the other person the opportunity to make the appropriate adjustments if they are willing/able to. If, after hearing my qualms, they aren’t then I would be honest about why I am no longer interested in engaging with them. Similarly, with regards to the friendship model, I think boundaries are of the utmost importance, as well as honesty and communication, as long as it’s done diplomatically and professionally. If you clearly set your boundaries and the other person refuses to acknowledge them, do you really feel that you can call them a friend? Professionally or otherwise? Respecting my own boundaries professionally and personally is a form of self-care, and although my main focus in this role is showing up for others, I am allowing this to serve as a reminder to also show up for myself.
Kiki Brown is the Friendship Producer for Tiata Fahodzi. With a background that also encompasses acting and community theatre, she has co-run two small-scale theatre companies, is a drama facilitator and a singer/songwriter.