The art of unfriending someone: How to part ways with elegance

No doubt the pandemic was pretty tough on people in a plethora of ways. One of these was the sudden wipeout of our social lives. 

Gone were Friday night drinks with friends. No more in-person heart-to-hearts with the soul companion you saw as a kindred spirit. 

For me personally, I found that the downtime was an opportunity to assess which people I wanted to keep and those from whom I needed to move past.

My dear dad died two years before the pandemic. It was at this time that a couple of family friends I’d known since childhood—but had lost touch with over the years—came back into my life. It started with their reaching out to give condolences and then seeing them at the funeral. 

Before long, we were having regular coffees or occasional dinners. For one thing, I needed all the distractions from my grief that I could get. 

For another, I felt a fervent desire to dwell in the company of people who knew my father. Being able to talk about Dad as well as hear their own stories about him was the kind of comfort I was seeking. 

I welcomed these healing sessions of sorts with open arms.

But over time, it became clear that beyond a myriad of fond memories, we really didn’t have much in common. With one of them, it especially became more and more evident that we really didn’t see eye to eye on a wide range of things.

The truth is that these two friendships started to feel very draining and my heart would sink anytime I saw a text pop for the next round of plans. 

But how could I cut things off with the people who had supported me at the worst time of my life? With COVID came the answer. The imposed isolation of the pandemic allowed me to naturally pull back in a way I would have found too difficult to do on my own. 

We understand that unfriending someone can be very difficult. It isn’t something that should be taken lightly, so we’ve put together a guide on how to part ways with as much grace as possible. 

Friends for a season may not even need a reason

Kind of like some romantic relationships, I believe that some friendships, although meant to be, aren’t meant to last. They come into our lives at a time when we need them most, can learn from one another, and then eventually move on. 

Perhaps this person came into your as you were going through a divorce (or in my case, the loss of a parent). Their presence was a spiritual gift meant to support you through a difficult time. 

Once you’ve come out the other side of it, sometimes these friendships can naturally fizzle or phase out on their own. Coffee and dinners start to decrease in number. 

Telephone and text conversations also wind down over a period of time. Before you know it, these friends become the people that you only communicate with once or twice to wish them well on birthdays and vice versa. 

There is nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to work to sustain it. Let them go and love them from afar. 

A clean break can require a clear conversation

We have to borrow from the romantic relationship analogy yet again because it often applies to friendships as well. 

A close friendship may have run its course and then some—but only from your side of things.

This is when you might need something akin to the “it’s not you, it’s me” approach.

Here’s what couples counselor Natalie Claire King has to say on the situation: 

“If that person is calling you every day with every crisis, maybe they need to speak to a professional about it. When you’re feeling like a friend has changed a bit, and they’re needing more from you than you’re willing to give, then you do have to be very clear, kind and honest.”

Gently but firmly speak your truth and stick to it, even if the reaction is emotional. If they respond by guilt tripping you in any way, then take that as all the more confirmation that what you’re doing is the right thing. Keep your own reaction neutral and mature as possible while still being kind and compassionate

Tell them that even though you can’t continue your friendship the way that it was, that you’ll always have a special place for them in your heart. 

This might sound kind of cheesy, but it’s the truth and it might be a balm to the bad news. 

Once you’ve made the decision, set up a time to talk asap

Breaking off a friendship is a lot like ripping a bandaid, you want to do it as quickly as possible. 

This doesn’t mean that the actual conversation should be rushed, however. On the contrary, we advise setting aside more than enough time—a couple of hours even, especially if the friendship has been one that’s been a big part of your life. 

This way, there will be a sense of closure for both sides. 

Stand your ground 

There can be situations when the “friend” doesn’t truly take no for an answer. After a while they may text you to ask how you’re doing. 

Or they may continue to like and comment on anything you post to your social channels. If it’s a couple of “likes” here and there, it’s easy to just ignore it. But if the comments continue and you feel like they are covertly trying to suck you back in, it might be best to “unfriend” or block them so that they get the message. This also applies to blocking their texts and calls. 

This is a last resort, but you have to put your own well being first. We hate to say it, but the “friend” is actually compelling you to go this route when they’re not respecting your wishes. 

Don’t fall back into the friendship 

There will be moments of weakness when the void or vacuum of not having them in your life will make you tempted to reach out for old time’s sake. 

Whatever you do, do not fall into this cycle. Remember, you let them go for a reason. Falling back into the friendship will only create a messier, more drama-filled situation and you’ll only come back to the original confirmation—this time with more hurt feelings and resentment on both sides. 

It might be a good idea to prepare yourself beforehand 

Journaling is a great way to get all of your feelings in front of you. It’s also a physical reminder of why it’s important to let go of the friendship for your own personal growth. 

Spend some time and write down about how the friendship will always be special to you but also the reasons why you need to let it go.

Journaling is a good way to cement the decision so that there is no wobbling. It can also help you to prepare you on what to say. It will also show them that you’ve thought long and hard about this and that it wasn’t an easy decision. 

Once “the talk” is over, do something for yourself

Ending a friendship can feel like the end of an era. It’s important to incorporate some self-care at what could be a very emotionally-sensitive time. 

Nurture your spirit in nature. Go for long walks or hikes alone to reflect. Exercise. Put on some upbeat music and dance your heart out. Treat yourself to an ice cream sundae with all the fixings. 

Let the old energy go, and invite in a new phase. One that will be more aligned to the person you are now and the one that you are becoming. 

Do a social media sweep

We don’t advise deleting pictures of you and your friend together because it’s nice to periodically look back with fondness. 

This is unless, of course, the friendship was a toxic one, or where there was so kind of betrayal involved. In this case delete all you want. You also wouldn’t owe them a conversation, and we think that “unfriending” and blocking them on Facebook is the way to go. 

If this isn’t the case, then perhaps archiving any images might be a good idea just so they’re not in your face every time you’re on the app. 

If you’d still like to be Facebook friends or want to continue to follow them on Instagram, then maybe turn off notifications so that their posts aren’t flooding your feeds. Social media space, especially in the beginning, is a smart way to cut the threads and move on

Some parting words:

The endings of friendship is a fact of life. The idea is to follow your intuition on whether this person fits into your life or not. People change and that’s a good thing. It means you’re growing and need something more aligned with who you are now (or who you hope to be) to feed your soul. 

It’s always fun and fulfilling to have friends. But also remember that your one true-blue ride or die will always be you. 

Picture of Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has been published by The Globe & Mail, ELLE USA, ELLE Canada, British Vogue, Town & Country, and others.

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