How to End a Friendship

If there’s one question we get asked by girls that makes us pause, it’s this:

How do I end a friendship? What if I’ve tried everything I can to make the friendship better, but it’s not working? What if I’ve just outgrown it? How do I do this – and do it without seeming like a horrible person?

Unfortunately, there’s no magic answer – much as we wish we had one. There’s no invisibility cloak that can make you disappear from her (or his) life without anyone noticing or caring. Lucky for you, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to do this, and why it’s important, so read on.

We may want to end a friendship for many reasons: meanness, feeling used or taken for granted, our own new priorities, or just growing in a different direction. Keep some things in mind as you start down this road:

  1. There’s no easy way to end a friendship. The question is not whether we’re going to make someone feel hurt, it’s how. If we’re honest with ourselves and the other person about what’s happening, we’re more likely to act in a way we’ll be proud of later on.
  2. Most friendships change and end. Sometimes we do the ending, and sometimes we’ll be the one left behind. It hurts and it’s hard, but it’s the price of the joy and love we feel in connection with others. You can’t have one without the other. The good news is that we’re making new connections all the time. Our relationships go through cycles, much like living things: they grow, die, and grow again. It’s okay to think about why it’s happening, and what you can do differently next time, but try to remember that these experiences happen to everyone.
  3. Ending a friendship is one of the hardest things a girl can do. Remember, girls grow up with the message that a “good girl” is nice to – and liked by – everyone. Ending a friendship isn’t part of the girl job description. But girls need not only our permission to end friendships; they need the skill to know how. The alternative is that girls believe they must be friends with everyone, and that friendship should be preserved at any cost – even when they are being hurt.

It helps to see ending a friendship as part of a continuum of healthy boundary-setting skills that girls should be using on a regular basis. We set a boundary when we want to set a limit – either on our own behavior, or others’. Boundary setting is key for girls’ emotional health because it allows girls to maintain control, autonomy and safety in their relationships. When girls set their own boundaries, they can decide when and how to be authentic with someone else. Ironically, boundaries are what makes it easier for us to get close to others.

Without boundaries, we often become resentful. We lose control over what happens in our relationships, making it harder for us to be compassionate, grateful and happy in them.

Some of the boundaries girls may set in friendship include: not sharing deep secrets (but talking about more superficial subjects), hanging out at school but not after school, or asking a friend to stop making a joke that you find offensive.

Ending a friendship is obviously an extreme boundary to set. When it happens, the culture’s expectation that girls be nice all the time can kick in, delivered not just by other girls but adults, too. It is not uncommon for accusations of being mean, or worse, to follow. That said, if girls follow the steps below with adult guidance, and treat the other person respectfully, they have nothing to be ashamed of.

We recommend following three rules when you end a friendship.

  1. Treat the other person how you’d want to be treated. If you like your truth straight, and hate it when other girls drop hints about what’s really happening, you know what to do here. It will help to practice beforehand. Consider writing a letter or script that you could practice beforehand with a trusted adult. If you want to send a letter, that’s okay, but we suggest doing it in writing. By now we all know what can happen on social media when something falls into the wrong hands.
  2. Keep the decision permanent – no takebacks. Ending a friendship isn’t temporary. It’s an ending. If you’re not 100% sure that you’re done with this person, try a friend vacation instead. If you are likely to see this person outside of school on a regular basis (think church or synagogue, or family dinners if your parents are friends), think through how you’ll manage that. You will have to be polite and civil, but you won’t be able to lean on that person like you probably used to. It’s not okay to be pretend- or temporary-friends based on where you are.
  3. Keep the decision to yourself. If you talk about it too much with your friends, it’ll get back to the other girl, and she’ll feel even worse. We know you need to vent about this, but turning to the friends you share in common is just not kind. Explain what happened briefly to your friends, without the gory detail, and let them know you’re going to be cool towards her when you see her. If you need to talk, lean on the friends who don’t know her, or a trusted adult.

When all is said and done, the classiest, coolest thing a girl can do is continue to smile at, make eye contact with, and say hello to an ex-friend. She can even make small talk, if it’s not confusing for anyone. This girl doesn’t have to be “dead to you.” When girls learn how to end a relationship with grace, it gives them the confidence and skills to choose the healthy relationships they want.

Read more from Girls Leadership:

on Parenting     by Rachel Simmons

Books for girls:

A Smart Girl’s Guide: Friendship Troubles (Revised): Dealing with fights, being left out & the whole popularity thing by Patti Kelley Criswell

Real Friends vs. the Other Kind (Middle School Confidential) by Annie Fox

  1. AK

    Very helpful advice. I wish I would have read this several years ago. I had to end a friendship recently and it is the pits! Still I did not see another way and I really don’t regret it now. I just wish I would have been better about setting boundaries from the beginning. Always learning…

    • Traci

      I had the same thing happen a few years back I really ish I had this advice before hand

  2. Melanie

    I read this, and it stuck with me all day – and I think it’s because a couple things here could be expanded on, and felt off to me. I’m concerned about treating people the way you want to be treated, when the kindest thing is usually to treat that person the way THEY want to be treated. As long as it’s emotionally safe, use a little extra effort and go the extra mile to treat the person with dignity in a way that they can hear and understand. Also, “no-take-backsies” deeply concerns me. I imagine some girls may want to come back together in a year or more. Cementing an eternal boundary when they (we!) are still evolving and changing seems extreme. I understand needing to set a boundary, or take space, and absolutely the need to avoid flip-flopping on a person. I suppose I can’t imagine when it would be appropriate to truly, permanently end a friendship.

    • Chloe

      Great, thoughtful comments Melanie. However, there may be NO way the other person wants to be treated if they are going to be offended no matter what. In that case, you really do have to do unto others as you would have done unto you.

      • Chloe

        I agree largely with this as well: I imagine some girls may want to come back together in a year or more. Cementing an eternal boundary when they (we!) are still evolving and changing seems extreme. However, at least for some, there really are things that are inexcusable or violating in very harmful ways that may not (or should not in order to maintain self integrity) ever be able to be worked through.

        • Melanie

          Great points Chloe! This is touchy for me as I recently was broken up with by a best friend who I believe in her mind thought she was doing the right thing. It is still hard for me to wrap my head around the cruelty of the gesture, despite what I see as her attempts to be kind and compassionate. Truthfully, I still don’t fully understand, and have experienced much grief. I agree there are circumstances where permanent boundaries should be set, especially in the wake of a violation. A break up is a break up. It will be hard no matter what.

  3. Rhonda

    Loved reading about ending a friendship. This is helpful at an age. So clearly stated.

    • Dorothy Ponton, Community Engagement Manager

      Hi Rhonda,

      Thanks for commenting. Lots of people are agreeing with you: this really applies at any age. Part of the human experience.

  4. Mary

    Wonderful advice fit for all ages! advice for a relationship when suddenly dropped, ie dead, with nothing to explain the change? How to best behave with dignity when this happens?


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