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How Do I Get Out Of A Friendship?


I have a friend who wants to be closer than I want her to be. She is a controlling person and loves to tell me what to do, she’s also selfish and never talks of anything but herself unless it is to tell me what I should be doing in my life. I’ve endured this for quite a few years but I’m tired of it. I have tried to break away gently by not accepting her invitations but she insists on wanting to know why and persists in extending more. She won’t leave me alone. How can I nicely and permanently break this off? I think I will have to have no contact with her as I am not able to keep her at arm’s length. Thank you for you advice.

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Breaking up with a friend who wants to continue to be your friend is a very difficult and awkward sort of situation for most people. It is particularly so for many women who are socialized to be nice to others (or at least to give the appearance of being nice). As is the case with any breakup, it is necessary that you stop seeing the other person. For the most part, there is no way to do this without the other person knowing that you are rejecting them.

Many people try to handle the situation through subterfuge, white lies and excuses. They make excuses for why they cannot attend functions they are invited to, or why they are busy. They put off meeting with the person into the indefinite future, master the art of "maybe", and generally become noncommittal. They stop calling the other person. Most of all, they hope that the other person doesn’t really figure out what is happening. If that is too much to ask, at least they hope that the other person will have the graciousness to not force a confrontation. A confrontation is what all of this behavior is designed to avoid.

Avoiding the person until enough time passes that the friendship becomes a thing of the past is a time tested strategy, but it is not one that leaves most people feeling particularly courageous. There is a sort of sneaky quality and lack of straightforwardness to the procedure that most people don’t admire. That people use this strategy so commonly is due more to the fact that they find the idea of rejecting the person in a straightforward manner to be enormously emotionally difficult to do more than that they like feeling like a sneak.

People dislike rejecting other people in a direct, straightforward manner for many reasons. The two that I can think of most readily are that they fear a confrontation, and that they imagine that the other person will feel harmed and they do not wish to inflict a wound. People know that they are still inflicting a wound when they are indirect about their rejection, and they may even know that the wound they are inflicting by being indirect may be even more painful than the wound they would inflict by being direct. However, it is easier to bear the pain of inflicting the indirect wound, because the indirect wound is never witnessed. What you don’t know can’t hurt you, (right?)

In your case, with your friend being so controlling and questioning of your motives, you may not have the luxury of rejecting indirectly. You may be forced into a situation where you must reject directly.

Telling your friend that you no longer wish to see them socially does not have to be a hostile action. It is possible that you have a polite and frank conversation with your friend, stating what it is that you want to do (e.g., not see her anymore), and offer a toned down but still essentially honest version of why this is the case. In your case, you have found this woman to be invasive of your privacy, you have not really understood how to assert yourself to have let her know that some of her attentions are unwanted (even though some have been wanted too), and in your failure to know what to do, you have started to feel resentful of her. It has become uncomfortable being with her now as your resentment has started to overcome your pleasure in her company. In order to preserve your sanity and self-respect, you have had to learn how to become more assertive, and this means that for the time being, you are taking control back over your life by limiting your contact with her.

One of the ironies of life is that there are people out there who will not be offended by such a statement, but they are not the sort of people you’ll tend to want to reject in the first place (because they are already sensitive to other people’s needs and don’t overreach in the first place). There is a reasonable chance that your friend will have no idea that you’ve been feeling put upon, and will interpret your self-protective measure (for that is what it is) as an act of hostility. There isn’t much you can do about that if it should happen, save for maintaining your resolve and your composure. You can apologize for what you’re doing and mean it (because in a real sense, you’ve been acting passively here. If you had understood how to be comfortable in pushing back when she pushes on you all along, the situation likely would not have come to a head like it has), but don’t cave in. Instead, stand your ground as politely as you can, and then take the break (temporary or permanent as you require).

This is an assertiveness situation, so you may very well benefit from reading up on how to act assertively. A good place to start would be this section of our self-help book Psychological Self-Tools. Good luck!

More "Ask Anne" View Columnists

  • David W

    By being honest with her and telling her that she is selfish might do her a favor and she may like you more for being honest with her. She may also change towards you. If you think she means well and has good intentions then this is probably a better path.

    On the other hand some people are just not worth being friends with and with those I have no misgivings about not returning their phone calls.

  • Anonymous-1

    Being honest is the best policy the she may want to break it off with you be maybe you sending some sort of mix message to her be direct and honest just come right out and tell her you don't want to accept her calls any more be firm and direct some time a person need to hear it direct.

  • Pace Veloce

    Our social environment is the single most important factor in the creation of our sense of self, and the development of a circle of supportive friendships in which both parties are well-satisfied with the relationship is paramount to our well being and growth. If we feel that a friendship is consistently draining us, it is time to leave but that doesn't require any judgement about the other person other than the simple fact that we feel they aren't a good fit for us. Given that this assessment is primarily about ourself, no one can reasonably object to it. The world is full of people with whom we can have good, healthy, mutually-satisfying relationships, and the sooner we clearly, directly and inoffensively bid farewell to those individuals who don't meet our needs, the sooner we can begin to cultivate healthy new ones that do.

  • Kat

    .... you COULD keep her friendship! Now, don't groan, I have reason for saying that. I had/have a friend who is just like the one you're describing. Believe it or not, it actually got better in time. Yes, she still is poorly socialized. She tends to talk only about herself, without a good give-and-take, but it has improved a little. And guess what... she turned out to be a very good friend, in her way. Much better than many of my other friends, who aren't around any more. She WANTS the friendship! And I have to say, she really is a good person, and a loyal person, she just has bad habits.

    I've learned to live with them! and I'm kinda glad I did.

  • Anonymous-2

    If a friend is overstepping all the time, you might have let her do it once too often. Each time you feel that she is getting into your business you need to say: "Each person sees their own life knowing all the factors in it, and I see things from my vantage point, and make decisions based on what I feel is best in the circumstances that only I know." If she insists on giving you advice or being bossy, then say: " I know you mean well but you are not aware of all the factors in my life that cause me to make the decisions I do. As a good friend I hope you know that I am doing the best I can and even though your advice is good, I have other information about the situation." Then, change the topic. Change the topic whenever you feel the conversation is going in a direction where she is trying to run your life. She will get the message and eventually stop. I had a friend like that and she got the message and doesn't say as many things that annoy me any more. When I visited her for a week (lives in another city) I hadn't had a cigarette for the first three days but wanted one that evening. She really got on my case about it. She seemed to think that she could change my habit right then and there. I said that habits are something that only the person can control in their own life, because only they know why it fills a gap for them. Also, that since I smoked up to 10 cigarettes a day up to two weeks before the trip, I was doing quite well not smoking more than one every couple of days. Having never smoked before she didn't have a clue how hard this habit is to quit and that is why she was on my case. I simply took my cigarette and went outside, and she didn't say another word about it after that. Hope this helps.

  • Laura

    I'm friends with someone exactly like the person described above. I went to school with her over 15 years ago and our friendship has always run entirely as she wishes - I am essentially at her beck and call and I service the little bubble she lives in. We lived together as flatmates for about 3 years and in that time she would continually manipulate me into doing what she wanted, always borrow money, act quite appallingly towards me in social situations and undermine my confidence at every opportunity possible by telling me how I should live my life.

    Our relationship wasn't always like this, but I was always the easy-going one and she, the slightly more high-maintenance one. Bit by bit, over the years, although I could see some of what she was doing, I let the situation get out of control because she made it too difficult and painful to confront her bad behaviour, so I let too many things slide.

    I moved out of our joint accommodation nearly two years ago and almost immediately was able to see clearly the extent of what she'd been doing and how it had affected me. Of course, she won't let me go that easily and despite my attempts to quietly un-hook myself from the situation she has always guilted me back in to the friendship.

    Having been single for, well, ever (which suited her just fine), I started seeing someone in December and after we'd been on only 3 dates (3!!!) she was bad-mouthing me to our friends, telling them she was worried that I was going to ditch all of my mates for this guy. She made me feel like my prescense was unwelcome, and essentially stopped speaking to me, then told all of our friends that I was ignoring her. I personally would have walked away then because I was so angry, but my friends all encouraged me to talk to her because "friendship is important" and we'd "been friends for such a long time for a reason".

    You see, people on the outside don't get what it's like in these situations. So after a row a few weeks later we were friends again and I hoped that this little speed bump would have shown her that I wasn't going to take her crap anymore. I was wrong.

    Five months on and I'm still with the same guy and things are getting pretty serious. A few days ago she started meddling in our relationship. When I pulled her up on it she said that she was surprised because most of her friends are more open about their relationships than that. She made me feel like I was being out of order for not letting her have some control over MY relationship.

    So that's it. She's finally crossed that last frontier and now this relationship has to end. I'm not threatened by her when it comes to my boyfriend, she just messed with the wrong bit of my life and underestimated how important it was to me.

    I have thought about doing it slowly - say yes to fewer and fewer invites, brush off my absense as just being reidiculously busy with work, and everntually just hope she gets the hint, but that will not work. I've tried it before and she has too many weapons in her arsenal, including manipulation of our mutual friends, for me to get away.

    The ONLY way I can do this is to tell her to her face that it's over (as if she's my boyfriend or something - isn't that ridoiculous?!!). It is going to hurt and she will go for my blood afterwards for "abandoning her", but all I can hope is that my friends don't hold it against me.

    People like this can't be negotiated with. Their one goal in life is to satisfy themselves and if you service that end they will do everything they can to preserve their control over you, including tricking you into believing they understand and everything is back on an even keel, when really it never has been, or will be.

    I'm not saying that everyone is like this, but my experience has shown me that some people just don't know what a real friendship is. I know that if I do this quickly it will be a nightmare, but eventually, it will be over. If I don't do it then this destructive situation could go on for years.

  • aG

    I can see the dilemma that you are in. Friendship is one of the best relationships, but if it's your hurting you and pulling you down, if it's manipulating and controlling your life, then perhaps you should try to talk it out with her. But if the person refuses to confront with you on that matter, then I guess it would be better to just gradually avoid her. It migh have to hurt her a bit, but it's the best thing you have to do for yourself. Friendship is more than just companionship, like sharing a flat or room or something, so just leave it behind you and move on. And if the situation warrants it, just be frank and straightforward about it, don't invest your emotions too much on the parting. I know it would hurt you too coz after all she's been a friend. I'm not saying you should close your doors to her, but really, you need to get out of that relationship.


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