You rely on your friends for a lot—they’re there to cheer you on and celebrate your successes, and bring you chocolate when you’re going through a rough time. They never judge you, and you guys have each other’s backs. That’s why it’s difficult when friendships end—and it’s even harder to end them. But whether your previously strong friendship begins to sour, or you realize it was never a good one in the first place, sometimes, letting go of someone you call a friend is the best thing you can do for both of you.
So what are the signs? We’re here to show you what to look for, and how to deal with the situation.
You’re too dependent on one another
There’s a fine line between enjoying one another’s company and being way, way too dependent on each other. The latter is a sign of a toxic relationship. What to look out for? Your friend always has to know where you are, what you’re doing, and who you’re doing it with; or maybe, you feel left out and hurt if your friend hangs out with anybody aside from yourself. That kind of emotional dependence can get pretty volatile, and ends up making the relationship way too delicate.
Daisy, a student at Marymount University, says when she and her best friend moved in together, her friend started to become too reliant on her for everything, to the point that Daisy says she felt like she was being taken advantange of.
“I began to have panic attacks whenever I had to go into my room,” she admits. “I became a doormat and I couldn’t let myself let go because I was kind of afraid of her. It sounds pathetic but I didn’t want to lose her even though she was hurting me.”
How to handle it
Of course, the first step is to try to maintain a healthy distance; but that doesn’t always happen right away. Kathryn Williams, author of Roomies: Sharing Your Home with Friends, Strangers, and Total Freaks, suggests discussing it in as non-confrontational of a way as possible.
“If trying to get and maintain your own space is not working, sit down and talk with him/her about it—always privately, sober, and in as non-confrontational way as possible, so your [friend] or roomie doesn’t feel judged, attacked, or embarrassed,” she suggests. She also adds that you should be “prepared for a chilly period”—however if it’s a real friendship, both parties will recognize the change is a positive one and it won’t be long before you’re able to strengthen that bond again.
Even though it was hard, Daisy finally ended the friendship while she and her best friend were apart during a semester abroad. “Toxic friendships can drain the life out of you. Sometimes you can’t really see the damage until you force yourself out of the situation,” she says, adding that she knew the friendship wasn’t worth saving when she confronted her friend, and her friend wasn’t receptive to her concerns.
The friendship is one-sided
As we’ve already established, balance is key in any relationship. So what if your problem is the opposite of the one above—and the issue isn’t that you and your friend are too reliant on one another, but that there’s one side that isn’t putting in any effort? Key signs to look out for: your friend is never the one to text you or initiate plans; she only reaches out when she needs something from you; she often claims to be too busy to hang out, or will cut your time together short because she has somewhere else to be; and when the two of you do get together, the focus is always on her and she doesn’t seem to have much interest in what’s going on in your life.
Allison*, a junior who found herself in a one-sided friendship, says that she caught herself giving up a lot to maintain that relationship.
“I started sacrificing a lot of things—time with my friends, schoolwork, going to class—to try to make myself available whenever he was free,” Allison says. She added that her other friends tried to point out how the relationship was one-sided, but she didn’t notice at the time. “I couldn’t even clearly see what was going on—I had become so used to making him a priority and putting myself second even though he never made me a priority,” she says.
How to handle it
As you would in any relationship, it’s important to discuss your feelings before making any final decisions on where to take that friendship. It’s possible that your friend doesn’t even realize he or she is treating you in that way; or perhaps, there’s something going on in his or her life that is a legitimate priority that they need your full support for.
“Evaluate the friendship up until this point and decide if it’s worth talking to her and/or maybe taking a little breather to see what happens,” suggests Nicole Zangara, author of Surviving Female Friendships: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. “If you talk to her and nothing changes, then it’s definitely time to decide whether to keep this person in your life.”
Allison adds that sometimes, you’ll have a gut feeling about the relationship—and as hard as it may be, now might be the time to stick with it: “My advice to other people who are thinking they deserve better, you probably do.”
Your friend isn’t supportive
Part of what makes a best friend great is that she’s someone you can go to for anything without judgement, whether it’s to celebrate a big win, cry over a heartbreak or rant about a difficult day at work. Whether you’re dealing with a situation that’s positive or negative, your friend should always be there for you.
Anna*, a junior at Denison University, had a friend who didn’t ever stand up for her—but it wasn’t until something serious happened that she really recognized it.
“I was sexually assaulted by a mutual friend and she told me that she didn’t believe me and stayed friends with the boy who raped me,” Anna explains. “Her reaction when I told her made me feel like … it was all my fault that I had been assaulted.”
To avoid letting the friendship carry out until that point, look out for the smaller signs. Is your friend genuinely proud of you when you succeed, or does she constantly try to upstage you? Is she willing to talk about anything, at any time? Jenna*, a senior at Emory University, said that a former roommate of hers seemed like a good friend—until she really needed a friend. “I had just gotten out of a long-term relationship, and the fall-out was rough,” she says. “For a while, it was all I could think or talk about—and a true friend would have been okay with that. But one night, she got up and told me to suck it up—that she was sick of hearing about the breakup. I knew then that I wouldn’t be able to count on her for support.”
How to handle it
Zangara reiterates that it’s so important to pay attention to the little signs that people give off. “They are people who don’t take your feelings into consideration and do not care how their actions impact you,” Zangara says. Maybe it’s someone who always wants to be the center of attention; maybe they’ve always got to one-up you. These actions indicate where their priorities lie.
If you’re seeing minor red flags in a friend, discuss your concerns with her; call her out when she does something that feels hurtful to you in any way. But if it’s clear that she could care less, like in Anna’s case, there’s really no need to give her a second chance—it’s time to end that relationship.
You’re being emotionally or physically abused
Whether you’re dealing with backhanded compliments or straight up insults, a friend who doesn’t treat you well isn’t someone you want to keep in your life. “I had to end a friendship because she kept putting me down,” says Monica*, a Her Campus contributor at Hofstra University. It wasn’t always clear what was happening, though: “Her actions were very minimal and sly,” Monica explains. She says she started to catch on when she always felt self-conscious about herself after hanging out with that particular friend.
How to handle it
If the relationship is physically abusive—end it, immediately, with the help of the authorities if you don’t feel safe doing so on your own. There is never a reason that anybody should be in a relationship that’s physically abusive.
The same could be said for a relationship that’s emotionally abusive, but Zangara says that it could be possible that your friend doesn’t even realize what she’s doing—so that’s where communication comes in. “Use ‘I feel’ statements—I felt hurt when you x, y, z,” Zangara says. “Don’t attack the friend but let her know that because you care about her and the friendship, you want her to know how’s she’s hurting you and to bring that to her awareness.”
Williams says that if the relationship is especially on edge, or you don’t feel comfortable or safe comfronting this person face to face just yet, to consider writing a letter. “Sometimes communicating by letters…is a good way to give everyone space and time to process,” Williams explains.
You’re going down different roads
Just because you and your bestie aren’t majoring in the same class, or have the same views on politics, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be friends—it’s beneficial to everybody to have as diverse a friend group as possible. But sometimes, differences will cause friends to drift apart—and that’s okay.
“The lesson I learned is that friends will grow apart and it’s not always a bad thing because you become aware of your self worth and really realize the type of people that you want and find are most deserving of being in your life,” says Erica*, a senior at American University.
Maybe your life goals are different; you want to get ahead in your career, and your friend wants to start a family. Or maybe, your separate interests bring you to build closer bonds with other people. Whatever the reason, growing apart from friends can happen as you experience major changes in your life, such as starting college, or graduating.
How to handle it
This isn’t a friendship that necessarily needs to be cut off; but it might not be one that’s worth actively trying to save, either. “Talk about these changes and prepare for these changes. For example, talk about how you’ll keep in touch and stay connected,” Zangara suggests. Ultimately, Zangara adds, “The goal is to be grateful for those you had in your life at that point in time as they were special and provided a wonderful connection and comfort.”
As your life changes, it’s natural for the people in your life to change with it. “It’s not a failure on anyone’s part; it’s life,” Zangara reaffirms.
Ending a friendship is never easy, and it’s often the last step you want to take when you’re going through a rough patch with someone you care about. When considering ending a friendship, it’s important to always remember not to end it in anger, and to think about what you want to say before you communicate with the person. Ultimately however, if a friendship is hurting you in any way, it’s in everybody’s best interest for the relationship to come to a close—so whether it’s a toxic friendship, a one-sided one or even a downright abusive one, it might be time to move on.