A few years ago I spoke to a woman who was thoroughly fed up with a friend of hers. She just didn’t enjoy being with him any longer. Though she had already decided to back away from him altogether, she still wondered if she should “forget the past and see what happens,” in spite of his high-maintenance nature.
I told her about a “friendship test” that an acquaintance of mine actively applies to everyone with whom he associates. The test requires that he be able to name at least ONE thing, no matter how intangible, that this person “does” for him. Does he genuinely laugh when he’s with the friend? Does he come away with amusement, insight — anything? Does he look forward to seeing the friend again? If the answer is no, then he ends his involvement with that person. He does so on the premise that life’s too short to associate with somebody out of guilt or vague obligation, such as “Oh, we’ve been friends for so long, etc., etc.” (By the way, he fully expects others to apply the same standard to him.)
Of course, I couldn’t tell the woman if her friend would pass the test. Only she could know that. Yes, some people are high-maintenance, and sometimes small doses work fine. Indeed, if you look at things from his point of view, the “life’s too short” concept works both ways. Her friend may have issues with her that might affect his behavior when they’re together. Eliminating somebody from your life is a big step, so I suggested that she talk some of this out with him.
When someone tells me that their “history” is the main reason for staying friends with someone, I see it as having too little regard for one’s own time and, consequently, one’s self. Every minute that passes is a minute you will never, ever have again. Isn’t that important?
Do we keep a car longer than it can drive, or clothing longer than it’s wearable? Unless they give us some sort of pleasure, we wouldn’t hold on to things for absolutely no reason other than “I’ve had it for a really long time.” Obviously, friends are more important than things, and that’s precisely my point. Why would you tarnish the ideal of friendship by spending your precious hours with somebody you now only pretend to like?
So how do you end a friendship? Wondering what to say is really just a distraction from the real issue. The real issue is refusing to waste your time by perpetrating a fraud against somebody else. Imagine how you would feel if you discovered somebody was pretending to like you out of pity, or for no other reason than your “history.”
Some people who have difficulty ending unsatisfying friendships say, “I’m not going to throw away all those good years.” Ridiculous. How is throwing away your time in the present a reason for not throwing away the past? The past is past. It’s done. This includes the good and beautiful things too. The fact that someone whom you once liked turned into someone different doesn’t change the fact that he once was who he was, nor does it take away the good things you enjoyed.
Some may say, “But he still likes me. How can I end the friendship even though I no longer like him?” Sorry: Your past experiences with someone do not require you to pretend you’re still having those experiences in the present. When you first become friends, you don’t sign a contract obligating you to be their friend forever, even if you no longer like or respect them. Case in point: We can’t even get 50% of marriages to work, and they DO involve a contract!
The issue generally ends up not being about friendship, as much as letting go of the past. If something such as a great friendship is in the past, then you can, and should, embrace those memories. But we live in the present, and it’s entirely possible that even greater friendships lie ahead. Let go, move on, and give yourself the chance to find them.