Dear Captain Awkward,
Last year I ended a friendship “Joe.” Joe is a “misery loves company” kind of guy. He is also immature, manipulative, and vengeful. He will poke at your insecurities when HE feels uncomfortable, just so he isn’t the only one feeling vulnerable at the moment.
Example: I once confided in him that I felt like I was developing a drinking problem. He stopped me to yell about how I was obviously lying for attention and that claiming I had a problem was an insult to actual alcoholics. He then attempted to ban that subject from future conversations. Joe would have preferred keep me close, drunk, and unhappy than to risk me not hanging out at bars as often.
We did not stay friends much longer after that.
Joe’s character took a while to show through… and I’m ashamed to admit that it took me even longer to recognize I was being hurt. I just kept telling myself that it was my job as a friend to be there for him. I knew he was hurting and lashing out, and felt like a bad friend if I didn’t help him.
I soon realized that I was SO MUCH HAPPIER when we weren’t talking and I ended our friendship. I’m happier (and healthier) without Joe in my life, and I stand by my decision. I kept saying that my life got infinitely better when I realized that I could remove people from it. Maybe I took that too seriously with other friendships?
More recently, I ended a friendship with “Jane.” Our friendship had morphed into her using me as a dumping ground for her problems and emotions. Trying to “fix” Joe to the detriment of my own well-being was something I didn’t want to do again, and maybe it spooked me out of the friendship with Jane.
I pulled the “friendship fade-away” and distanced myself from her without much explanation. This, I admit, is not the most mature way I could have handled things. I didn’t want to hurt Jane, but I guess I was just selfishly ignoring what she must have felt about the situation. I kept telling myself that since I was fine, she must be, too.
I am, however, still happier not being her friend.
She has since made me the villain in this. She accused me of lying to her and trying to slight her on social media (untrue). She is avoiding me on the street and at work, and asks mutual friends to disinvite me to events. Did I really treat Jane so badly to deserve the punishments she is doling out? Am I the villain in this?
How do I take care of myself without being a jerk to others?
Short answer: 1) You don’t have to be friends with people who don’t make you feel good. 2) When you do end a friendship and/or visibly pull away from someone, they are allowed to feel how they feel about it and you can’t control the story that they will tell. Rejection sucks, and not everyone shrugs and moves on when it happens to them.
Since you appear to work together and have a large mutual friend circle, it might pay to clear the air with “Jane” along the lines of “Hey, I can see that I really hurt your feelings when I stopped wanting to [be friends outside of work][talk about personal subjects][spend so much time together], and I’m sorry for the way I handled it. I should have told you what was going on with me instead of leaving you to wonder.”
Might. Maybe. It might also put you in the position of having to say “I still don’t see us having a close friendship, tho” and starting the whole rejection cycle over again.
The other strategy you can use is to disengage and let it all blow over. Unfriend/unfollow/block. Be civil when you do have to interact with her at work, give the “heyhowyadoin” nod or greeting when you run into Jane socially, and otherwise ignore. If something untrue makes it back to you through the mutual friend/colleague grapevine, say, simply, “That’s not true” but don’t get into the details. Think of a brief, neutral story you can tell about what happened between you, such as “Jane and I had very different expectations of our friendship, and it’s obvious that I really hurt her feelings when I pulled away. I’m really sorry about that, and I wish I’d handled ending the friendship better, but I know it was the right decision for me. All I can do now is hope that with time everything gets a little easier for both of us.”
I realize that a detached response is at odds with how annoyed you feel right now. Look at it this way: If you fight with Jane about the fairness of what she’s doing, if you work hard to correct each untruth, if you follow up every time she tries to have you disinvited to something, if you invest hard in proving that you are the good guy, you won’t just have lost a draining friend from your life, you will have converted her into an equally draining enemy. Jane is punishing you for withdrawing from her and doing stuff to get your attention–the thing you didn’t really want to give her in the first place. If you stay somewhat relaxed and detached, and Jane continues to try to tear you down, mutual friends worth having are going to quickly realize that Jane’s story is not congruent with your behavior. Hang out with those friends who are important to you one-on-one and in small groups instead of just at big events, and give her (and you) a lot of time and space.