Sex Ed in Higher Ed

College instructor teaching human sexuality rants about the dumbing down of America, the lost art of manners, grammar and (the perfect combination of both) the thank you note. Also includes random rants about life, pet peeves, and sometimes raves about favorite things.

Monday, October 22, 2007

If I Have Any Readers Left

I know they made a whole Seinfeld episode about this, but how do you break up with a friend?

I'm especially nervous because I was once on the receiving end of a friend break-up (she sent me a "You've changed, have a nice life" letter) and it hurt like hell. I suppose even more than the loss of the friendship (10 years) I felt humiliated and like a fool. Apparently (according to the letter), we'd been "growing apart for some time" (news to me).

So I don't want to do this to my friend. In fact it's the last thing I want to do to her. I've been taking the mature and thoughtful route - not returning her phone calls. Instead of getting my lame-ass hint, she calls and leaves more demanding messages, "Um, Hell-o! I've left you a few messages now. Call me back." Her messages are only slightly less pleasant than ones you might get from a bill collector.

I suppose I could sit down and have a chat, but what would be the point? She is who she is, I'm not interested in changing her and it's not like there's this long list of "crimes."

Okay, maybe there is. Let's see:

  • She makes snide comments about Mr. J. and once actually said, "So, you guys don't ever really like, do anything, do you?" in reference to the fact that we don't travel much (or ever, what with all the house stuff.) Not traveling is one of the biggest crimes one can commit in her eyes and we are guilty, guilty, guilty!
  • Mr. J. took a week's vacation to tile the bathroom. Her comment, "Oh, so that's what he does with his vacation" in the snottiest tone possible. Translation: Clearly you don't go anywhere or do anything so this is how you burn vacation time.
  • Do I need to mention the babysitting? She seems to be under the impression that a.) since she pays for daycare during the week, she shouldn't have to pay for childcare at any other time. Her daughter will be four in March and to my knowledge she has only paid for a babysitter once. I got sucked in the first time by "Do you have plans tonight?" No, I didn't. What was up? Dinner and drinks later? "No, thank goodness. Now you can come over and watch the baby. I have to mow the lawn and then husband and I want to see a movie." That I only fell for once, or maybe twice. Now when she says, "Do you have plans Saturday morning?" she's not asking because she wants to go shopping (or maybe she is) but my standard response is, "What did you have in mind?"
  • Do I need to mention the highly annoying voicemails demanding an immediate return phone call because she's trying to "organize coverage for the babies." I'm not getting a Ph.D in baby-sitting. Also, one of the many reasons I don't have children is so I can spend my free time exactly how I want to spend it. I don't need you begging me to watch your kids (for free, always for free) because you and your husband need to go to counseling. (Well, that one's my fault. I get sucked in because I'm a neurotic mess and the only person who likes a doormat is someone with dirty feet.)

I could go on, but the point of this entry wasn't (believe it or not) to completely defile this person's character. I just want to know how to terminate a friendship in a way that is least hurtful for the other person. (And to be fair, right now I have a bit too much pent-up resentment to discuss anything calmly with her anyway so that may not be an option for a while.)

Have you ever had to end a friendship? What did you do? Have you ever had someone end a friendship? What did they do? What was the outcome? I'd like to hear your stories, please.



Blogger Audrey said...

I once had a friend break up with my by doing the ignore-my-calls thing. It took me awhile to get the hint (am thick-skulled), but once I figured it out it hurt like hell. But I got over it eventually and no longer think nasty things when I hear other people mention that ex-friend's name.

I don't know if I've ever been the one to actively end a friendship. Knowing my non-confrontational tendencies, though, I would probably go with the ignore-her-calls approach.

Good luck!

October 22, 2007 6:14 PM  
Blogger Jhianna said...

I've only ever let friendships die a natural death by taking a bit to return calls, being distracted while talking, and similar things.

Maybe you could find a subject she doesn't care for and only talk about that with her until she stops calling you? Boy, that's pretty passive aggressive, isn't it?

If you feel like it, you could also go the direct route. Call her on it the next time she gets snide about Mr. J. Compare and contrast with her husband. Next time she tries to get free babysitting, tell her you quit doing that when you quit teaching. It's not fun, but she'll either quit calling or (rosy glasses alert) shape up.

October 22, 2007 6:52 PM  
Blogger Denever said...

I'd go for a gentle email or letter saying you need to take a break. And then stick to it - don't get sucked into explaining. If she wants to kow what's going on, just keep saying you need a break, and then take it. See how you feel in six weeks. If you still want out, tell her why.

In the meantime, there's a good book about this whole subject that you might want to read: "What Did I Do Wrong? When Women Don’t Tell Each Other the Friendship Is Over," by Liz Pryor. One of the things almost all the women she talks to say is that when a friend tries to "be kind" by not saying why they're dumping you, it's actually much more hurtful because it always leaves you wondering.

October 22, 2007 7:51 PM  
Blogger Ellen said...

I wish I had advice for you -- I would probably do just what you're doing and hope she can take a hint -- but I'm still cringing at "organize coverage." Did she really use that phrase?! They're her kids, not shifts at Dairy Queen!

October 22, 2007 10:52 PM  
Blogger Cay Reet... said...

I've been thinking about that a little myself, as my best friend and I seem to grow apart as well.

For the moment the only tip I can give you is to really talk to her and tell her. Not returning phone calls could have a number of reasons and -- unless she's easily distracted -- she'll probably just continue to call and might corner you somewhere someday anyway.
It's better for both parties to make a clean cut, I think (and probably I should heed to that advice myself...).

Anyway, I'll continue checking your blog (so you'll have at least one reader left) and I hope you manage to clear the situation.

October 23, 2007 8:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm kind of in the middle of this process now. My rule is as little contact as possible, and, and this is important, no specific information about yourself. This will contribute to the sense of grown-apartness.

Hard? Yes, especially if the other party resists, but it's not fair to be hanging around with someone who constantly makes you grit your teeth.

October 23, 2007 8:53 AM  
Blogger Courtney said...

I've never taken a direct route to end a friendship, it is just usually longer and longer between visits and phone calls. But I've never actively tried to end a friendship either- long story short, I do not have any advice.

I do like the idea of calling her on her selfish or snippish comments. I have done that with my mother- asked her not to talk about my in-laws or make comments such as "..."

Good luck!

October 23, 2007 9:12 AM  
Blogger elanova said...

Oh good - someone else has this problem too!

I know it's something you cringe from but you should take the direct route. Tell her you're uncomfortable with the way she talks about Mr. J and that you don't like being her free babysitter. Tell her you intend to spend you time with people who want to be with you, and when she's ready for that she can give you a call.

Think of it like an apology - you dread it before you do it, but once it's over you feel so much better. That's how a breakup should be. It builds character. (You can also feel good knowing that she would take the ignore-your-calls approach, but you didn't so you're the better person.)

October 23, 2007 11:55 AM  
Blogger Antique said...

Well, yes, I've been on the receiving end of a girlfriend break up and it is still too painful to talk about because at the time it seemed to have everything to do with the fact that she was pregnant with her second and I was hopelessly infertile - two hormonally crazy ladies probably don't make a good match. At any rate, we had been through a lot A LOT together and it hit me like a ton of bricks.

She gave me the "chat" and I was humiliated and hurt and it was awhile before I saw that it was for the best. That was about seven years ago.

There is a season for everything, including friendships and sometimes it's okay to let them die.

My advice, skip the chat, it won't make anyone feel better. There's just no polite way to be truthful. Just be extremely busy and unavailable. Good luck.

October 23, 2007 2:48 PM  
Blogger NG said...

Maybe you could not end the friendship, but rather diplomatically tell her that you aren't interested in watching her children. It sounds like that's the only reason she's calling you anyway and if you're not available for that purpose, she'll be the one to end it.

Aside: I cannot imagine asking any of my friends to watch my kids for free. Even when people offer of their own volition, I generally decline the offer unless it's some sort of "I'll watch yours tonight if you watch mine tomorrow" deal. That seems the only fair thing. Maybe you could ask her to do some work in your kitchen in exchange for babysitting.

October 23, 2007 3:52 PM  
Blogger Shay said...

No one who denigrates your spouse is worth losing sleep over.

October 23, 2007 7:46 PM  
Blogger Saradevil said...

I almost broke up with my friend of twelve years about a year ago. Among the problems were general bad mouthing of my relationship, bad mouthing of me, drama (oh the drama), and professing self harm for attention.

It was a lot and finally it all collapsed in on itself and imploded. We stopped talking after several attempts at conversation that ended in either screaming matches or bitchy emails.

However, we both ran in similar circles and could not help bumping into each other socially. After about three months I put up a white flag so we could talk.

During the talk ground rules were established for the friendship if it was going to continue. This included for friend: no bad mouthing my relationship, me, or threating self harm. In the case of any of those things I can walk away and we can try to talk again later when you are less of an ass. For me I stopped picking fights or feeding fights and agreed to make time for us to do friend things like shopping or eating out together on occasion.

It worked and saved the friendship. There are still times where I am forced to hang up over what I call "the drama" but it happens less often. And we now have a standing friend date every Sunday for dinner and window shopping.

I say, if you are even remotely interested in maintaining the friendship, see if there are places where you can establish rules, consequences and compromises and it might be worth doing.

Good luck with it.

October 25, 2007 3:31 AM  
Blogger Annie said...

The ignore thing is how I have been dumped in the past. Once in college though I did sit down with a high school friend and told her I didn't want to be friends anymore because I'd changed and she hadn't. It was awkward after that and to top things off, I ended up having to give her a ride back to college after the next long weekend back in our hometown and when we picked her up, her mother came out to talk to my mother about how hurt she was. My only defense in that case was that I was nineteen. Anymore, I just don't return calls. The most recent incident was a woman who my late husband and I knew through a volunteer group. We used to get together with she and her husband, but when my late dh got sick, her need to have me be the one who always listened to her martial woes wore thin. I had a dying husband and she wanted to complain that hers didn't do his fair share of the housework. I screened her calls and didn't return messages. She took to calling about every 6months after - to check up on me. I never called back. I have remarried and live in another country now so perhaps these "check-up" calls will stop now?

People change or you change. It happens. Don't feel bad.

October 25, 2007 9:38 AM  
Blogger Denever said...

There's "no polite way to be truthful"? I think this is what people say when they really mean, "I don't want to do the hard work at finding a way to express my feelings without being unnecessarily hurtful."

Does the truth sometimes hurt? Sure. But Teacher Lady's no dummy, and she's not exactly inarticulate. I think she could probably find a diplomatic way to say what she wants to say *if* she actually wants to have that conversation.

And a great deal can be conveyed with tone of voice. Some people can say "I love you" so that it sounds like a threat, and some can say, "Honey, I have to tell you this because no one else will - you have bad breath" in a way that makes it clear that they have only your best interests at heart.

The question of whether a person wants to expend this kind of energy is a separate issue. But "there's no nice way to say this so I'll just leave her wondering" is just a way of justifying your own cowardice by trying to reframe it as kindness.

October 25, 2007 1:13 PM  
Blogger Mrs. T said...

I think you should do the ol'distance yourself from her thing. If she doesn't get the hint, then the next time she badmouths Mr. J, just tell her that's not ok- she'll need to stifle any negative comments about him. As far as the babysitting- I think your standard response sounds pretty straightforward.
Good luck- sounds yucky, you need a new friend.

October 25, 2007 4:59 PM  
Blogger The_Myth said...

I was dumped by a friend once. It was 11 years ago and sometimes I think I'm still not over it.

I recommend you just ignore her. Any engagement will just encourage her to keep coming back. If you run into her in-person by accident, make small talk and get the heck out of there asap.

"The talk" almost never goes well for either parties. I felt humiliated and confused...and then got REALLY angry. There's no reason to promote ill-will when she might just take the hint and disappear.

Although the demanding phone calls may indicate she's already overly engaged. The again, you seem to hint that she's done similar things before.

*sigh* Good luck!

October 25, 2007 6:29 PM  
Blogger SAILOR MOON said...

i have had to dump several friends. I have th ebad luck of ending up with the bad eggs. I suggest the best way that helped me. Texting a message to her phone on how you cannot bear being friends with her any longer because shes totally useless to your life. And its causing too much strain on your part to hear about anymore of her problems because youve got enough of your own. I used that this year. I got a mad text back but that was that. And it was all over. Nice and clean and a deleted text.
Texts are impersonal already breaking up with a friend is even better. It pushes the dagger deeper.
:) good luck

October 26, 2007 8:28 PM  
Blogger Antique said...

Well, I'll just disagree with denver in that sometimes even when you are polite and truthful, the dump-ee doesn't have ears to hear it. You can do the hard work, as you say, and do it perfectly, but the hear-er simply cannot recieve the message as intended. And then it's just worse.

October 29, 2007 8:07 PM  

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