Dear Captain Awkward,
I need a good way to stop being best friends with my former best friend. I don’t want to hurt her feelings any more than I might have already have, but the relationship is seriously not working out for me in a bad way.
Brief recap: Former best friend (FBF) was in a poly relationship which ended explosively and which because of various reasons (her reactions to the situation, namely) tore up the entire social circle (all ten people I consider close friends in Boston and six of whom I live with). She and I and her boyfriend live in the same housing situation numbering seven in all. There was lots of drama for four months. Then things got more-or-less resolved. Now she is trying her best to turn us back into “bestest buddies ever” and I just can’t do it. This is because I genuinely feel like she doesn’t care about my feelings or my needs at all if she has any sort of need or upset. She always comes first, even if it means she has to disregard my stated needs for sleep, for boundaries, for “I don’t want to talk about it, I can’t talk about it because I’m on the verge of a mental breakdown”.
Recently, she told me that she would get depressed and paranoid if **I** didn’t make the effort to chat her up every so often. It doesn’t count if she initiated the conversation other times, the clock doesn’t get reset unless I seek her out and talk with her.
Asides from my work, which is amazingly busy right now, I have no problem with talking to her — I just don’t want to have it be mandated “or I will be depressed, non-functional, and paranoid” because this is part of the entire reason I can’t be best friends with her: she seems to be incapable of not going Hulk-like when her feelings are in question and when she’s feeling hurt or “abandoned” or “dismissed”, nothing else matters except that people must put down everything and anything to make her feel better.
Then, the day before we were going to go out to a board game night at the local bookstore, she informs me that she “feels like she and her boyfriend are always the ones being **abandoned** to take the T home **alone**” and if I could “reserve two seats” in my car for her and her boyfriend to go home with us at the end of the night.
I calmly told her that since there was six of us and my car only seats five, someone would have to take the T home. She responded with “I would feel abandoned if I and my boyfriend would have to be the ones to take the T home alone” and then also “I feel like it negates the point of hanging out with friends if we don’t get to go home together at the end of the night”.
For reference, the board game night was going to start at 12:30pm and last until 10:00pm. We were probably going to stay for most of that.
I honestly didn’t have a good response to that because I didn’t want to just point out that if she wanted seats in my car, which was never made clear to me the entire 20+ days previous to this that she had known this event was happening, then one of our other friends would have to take the T home alone, by himself, unless someone else wanted to be a hero and take the T home with him. So I said “right” and let the conversation end.
Part of my problem with this is that she is the one who sold her SUV because “I hate owning cars” and “you don’t need a car in Boston” and “there’s no way my life will be badly impacted by not having a car” and so my mindset honestly has always been: you didn’t want a car, you sold your car, and you have your boyfriend for company, so someone needs to take the T home, it should be the people who **didn’t have previous dibs on seats in the car already**. But no, now I would have to either ditch the car and take mass transit with her, or boot out someone I had already promised a seat to, or she was going to feel abandoned.
The next day, first thing that her boyfriend asks when we show up is whether or not we have seats in the car for them. I curtly tell them that friend J would be taking the T home, alone, so they could go home with us in the car.
Later on, couple of hours later, I tell her that we’re going to the local Thai restaurant to have dinner and that she should join us once she was finished with her game and if not, oh well — she tells me, again, that she would be very upset if we “left without her” and “abandoned her without telling her”.
I was drained, upset, completely set on my ear by the amount of abandonment guilt tripping going on and at this point I’m ready to not go to any events with anyone with my car (which because of my energy levels will mean I don’t go out and do anything) because life would just be simpler that way.
I really, truly, don’t want to cut her off from my life entirely. Despite the four months of drama we went through, I still wanted to be friends with her because I thought that she would regain equilibrium and we could all stop flinching around each other. However, I don’t want to be “best friends” with her anymore because I honestly don’t trust her not to cut me dead if it was me or her feelings on the line.
tl:dr — How do I stop being someone’s best friend while still being a friend without hurting their feelings?
— completely at a loss
Dear At A Loss:
To review, “The African Violet of Broken Friendship” came about because there are no good scripts for ending friendships the way there are for romantic relationships. Maybe there should be a ceremony where you could give the former friend a small parting gift and a card where you wish them well?
You asked me “How do I stop being someone’s best friend while still being a friend without hurting their feelings?”
Sadly, there is still no good way (even with a nice parting gift and a note) to not hurt your friend’s feelings when you have whatever conversation you are going to have with her. What you have here is a choice between saying nothing and feeling constantly annoyed and making her feel constantly “abandoned” by you when she asks for something she needs that you don’t want to give vs. speaking up and saying a hard, true thing that might end the friendship but might be the one thing that helps you reset it on more equitable and truthful lines.
I’m going to argue for truth, even uncomfortable truth, presented as gently and clearly as possible.Without the truth the friendship is going to end anyway, in a spectacular fight with a lot of hurt feelings.
If you want to make the discussion focus strictly on the car stuff:
“Friend, I want to talk about the other night and your request for seats in the car. It’s not fair to make that about me “abandoning” you. I had already promised the seats to someone else, and you put me in a bad position. It’s not about abandoning you, it’s about honoring the commitments I made to other people and also the fact that I get to decide when I give rides (or whether I give them at all). If you need a ride, just ask me straight out, and if I can’t give you one, I’ll tell you straight out, and I expect you to respect me as I would respect you.”
You could decide to handle all of your conflicts with her on a case-by-case basis vs. having one big talk, and there is tons of advice on the site for how to say “Okay, done talking about this, sorry, so we’re going to have to either leave this subject or one of us needs to leave the room.” However, this all sounds bigger than the car, and it’s not fair of your friend to put so much of her emotional well-being on your shoulders. “I’ll be depressed if you don’t….” is her basically deciding in advance that she will react negatively and seeking to manipulate you into doing what she wants. NOT OKAY. So the script I would really use is:
“Friend, you’ve said a lot of things about feeling abandoned, and asked me to do stuff like give you rides or chat with you as a way to ‘prove’ that I’m your friend.
The requests to make me ‘prove’ my friendship in these ways are making me very uncomfortable, just as I imagine your feelings of being left out are uncomfortable for you. You’re not crazy or wrong to pick up on the fact that we aren’t connecting like we once did. I am not feeling as close to you as I once did, and I need to take a break from the whole idea of being your ‘best friend’ and the pressure that comes with that. Can we agree to hang out and be friendLY at (larger social circle/housemate things, where I’ll be very happy to see you) but take a break from the one-on-one time for a while?”
Truth: It’s not going to land well. She is probably going to get very upset and ask you why and say stuff about how you hate her and it’s going to be sooooo awkward. What you want is some more separation from this woman, not a long heart-to-heart where you end up apologizing for standing up for stuff you want and end up more intertwined than ever. So let her talk and get upset, but hold your ground. Then say:
“I’m really sorry, I know that this is hurtful to hear, but I still need a break from hanging out with you one-on-one and talking about serious matters. I don’t want things to be strained and uncomfortable in the house, but the truth is they are ALREADY uncomfortable because you are asking me for more than I can give. I need you to agree to give me some space and to let me be the one to seek you out. Hopefully with some time things can get better.”
Then try to end the conversation. Plan it so that you can be out of the house for a while afterward and let her process/cool off, and plan to be out of the house a lot more this summer so that you’re not always thrown together. Make some friends who don’t know her at all! Be respectful of the fact that all of this was very painful for her to deal with, so tread gently for a while. But don’t get sucked back in. You’re not responsible for how she feels about herself.
Oh yeah, she’s gonna take this to your friends/housemates, so while you didn’t ask, your mantra for them is “Sorry to make things uncomfortable for you. Nothing is really wrong, I just needed some space from _____, and that includes not talking about her when she isn’t here. Thanks for respecting that!” + (change the subject). It’s not a perfect answer but if people are choosing sides over things they’ll generally choose the one where people are being reasonable and cool.
Good luck, keep your cool, settle in for a few uncomfortable weeks, and pat yourself on the back for having a difficult conversation and standing up for your needs.