Why do we do this? Is it because having lame friends is better than having no friends? Or because breaking up with friends is awkward and we want to avoid that? Probably all of the above and then some, explains Andrea Bonior, PhD, LCP, author of The Friendship Fix. Most importantly, she said it doesn't make you a horrible person if you do this.
"It's too easy to just hoard friendships, because friends aren't monogamous, so you don't have to dump someone," Dr. Bonior says. Cycling through your friends on Facebook (the ones from high school, the ones from summer camp, the ones who are friends with that person you were seeing) and doing a KonMari-like cleanse is easy enough, but trying to explain to a friend face-to-face why you don't want to hang out with them anymore can be very hard and uncomfortable for everyone involved.
Figuring out how to handle a particular situation is often a matter of deciding what the expectations and end goal of that friendship is; maybe it's just keeping in touch on a surface-level, or maybe it's about setting certain kinds of boundaries. You also have to think about whether or not you like yourself when you're with them, Dr. Bonior says. "Friends can bring out bad stuff for you, and make you competitive, snarky, materialistic, judgmental, or lazy," she says. "The more time you spend with that person, if you're not who you want to be, you won't meet your goal."
Nobody really wants to have this conversation, especially if there's already conflict in your friendship, but sometimes a breakup is necessary to get your point across.
It's also possible that the negative vibes are just part of a phase in your relationship, and for whatever reason (like they just got engaged or they're preoccupied with momentary drama), your friend is particularly insufferable for a short period of time, she says. "Maybe you're not your best self with this person because there's a trigger; you're frustrated, but it's not a long-term problem," she says. Dr. Bonior says you have to zoom out and figure out if this is particular to your one friendship, or if it's something you're struggling with in general. "Think: Am I insecure and competitive, and all my friendships are making me jealous? Am I the problem here or is it temporary?" she says.
If you do decide you don't want a friend in your life, you could start by taking the non-confrontational route, and slowly drift away, Dr. Bonior says. It's basically ghosting, and you know how to do that: Don't ask them as many questions, don't say yes to their invitations, and take a little longer to get back to them, she says. But this really only works if it's a mutual dance, and the other person doesn't want to be in the friendship, either — otherwise, you're just being rude.
"If it gets to the point where the person isn't adjusting their own behavior, or is asking you what's going on, the right moral thing to do is to give them clarity," she says. Nobody really wants to have this conversation, especially if there's already conflict in your friendship, but sometimes a breakup is necessary to get your point across.
You don't have to show them the receipts about every little thing they've done to wrong you, but Dr. Bonior says you do owe them the expectation of what's to come between the two of you by saying something like, "Hey, I'm sure you noticed I can't hang out much, and to be honest, I'm feeling my life pulled in different directions. I'll always value our friendship, but I don't have time to devote to hang out." This works well because it gives them clarity about what they can expect from you moving forward. "If someone meant something to you in the past, you owe it to them to end it in a graceful way," she says.
In short, friendships have levels, and that's okay. What a "real friend" is to you might not be the same for someone else, and as long as you're on the same page, you can't lose. "Friendship comes in different shapes and sizes," Bonior says. "But you don't have to love every aspect of someone to have a meaningful friendship."