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Can you end a friendship well?

People who ended friendships in relatively healthy ways recount their experience with the awkward exchange

A text conversation between two former friends, which has faded out into niceties like birthday wishes.
A text conversation between two former friends, which has faded out into niceties like birthday wishes.

After spending my first year in school crying from a case of separation anxiety, four-year-old me decided Year Two was going to be my year. And so, on the very first day, I asked the girl I’d been seated with if she wanted to be my best friend. Because she was also four, she didn’t think I was coming on too strong and just like that, we were best friends for fifteen years—before the bond disappeared into the clutches of newfound adulthood. Unlike our beginning, the climax came upon us randomly: I realised I had to scroll too deep in my WhatsApp chats to find her. The mutual fade off, a tale as old as time.

Friendships, unlike romantic love, rarely begin with the promise of a ‘forever.’ As the writer C.S. Lewis put it, they have no ‘survival value.’ But what friendships do share in common with romantic relationships is how they end—which is often for the same reasons.

For Tanaya, a 23-year old social science student from Mumbai, living apart from her three best friends, who she describes as bodying the energy of the foursome from the Amazon Prime show Four More Shots Please!, eventually led to the bond weakening. “It started feeling like our friendship didn’t hold any value in the present because we were always talking about the good old days.” Getting robbed of basic respect was the last straw for Khushi, a 24-year-old journalist. “They started publicly making fun of things that were sensitive to me. Eventually, I realised that I was giving more than I was getting back.”

Also Read: 5 ways to ensure a healthy relationship

Sometimes, people teeter the edges of platonic and romantic until the friendship isn’t just that anymore. For Ishika Chauhan, a 21-year-old public policy professional, things began crumbling when her friend confessed they had romantic feelings for her. “Later, when they started dating someone else and didn’t find the time to talk to me, I realised there was a gap. We just couldn’t be close anymore.”

Despite friendships famously ranking the lowest in the totem pole of relationships in our lives, they are not a consolation prize. In fact, according to studies published by Perspectives on Psychological Science in 2015 and Michigan State University in 2017,friendships are a significantly more crucial parameter of health outcomes than traditional diet or exercise and a more important predictorof health and happiness than familial ties.

While enriching, though, some friendships can also be draining enough that walking away is the healthier alternative. It’s unfortunate, then, how we aren’t taught how to detach.

For those who dislike endings for their unshaking finality, some experiences show that friendship break-ups need not end in radio silence.

Jennifer Senior, in her viral essay, ‘It’s Your Friends Who Break Your Heart’ published in The Atlantic, put it best: “It is an insolent cliché, almost, to note that our culture lacks the proper script for ending friendships. We have no rituals to observe, no paperwork to do, no boilerplate dialogue to crib from.” This linguistic vacuum is then filled by the easier alternative—ghosting.

Divija Bhasin, therapist and social media creator with an audience of nearly two lakh on Instagram, says, “In rare situations, where communication is not possible due to the dynamics of the friendship, ghosting can be healthy.” Shaurya Gahlawat, psychotherapist and coach from Haryana, too adds that reducing contact can be the best way out, sometimes. “It can save people from heartbreak and help the transition without intense conflict. It’s self-explanatory and reduces guilt or blame.”

The temporary distance that ghosting provides might just be what is needed to have the tough chat later on. “I don’t think that the conversation we finally had to end the friendship would’ve been well received if we weren’t already on the track of fizzling out,” Tanaya adds. For Tia, 23, an upcoming master’s candidate in the U.K., taking a breather from her friend ended up becoming a time of discovery. “During the time off, I found out some things they had passed around, which I had told them in confidence. It made me realise that the friendship was no longer tenable.”

Also Read: The death of a friendship

How do we do it, then? Break things off in a way that is respectful yet assertive? For Sakshi Gala, a 24-year-old graduate student based in Paris, clear communication was the way to go. “I wrote them a text, outlining that while I’ll always cherish our friendship, I am uncomfortable around their partner and will not be putting myself in situations where I have to be around him.” She also covered all bases to avoid collateral damage. “I told our mutual friends that while we’re no longer friends, that shouldn’t impact their friendship with her. It ensured that neither of us stopped receiving invites from the same places.”

And for those who dislike endings for their unshaking finality, Ishika’s experience exhibits a friendship break-up that need not end in radio silence. “I am very happy and satisfied because it was very peaceful end, and we weren’t bound by any obligation. I can reach out to them anytime and they’d be happy to help,” she tells me. Just like lovers can reunite when the timing is right, by laying friendships to rest gently, we also make possible a future resurrection.

Every story I heard, although unique, was united by a single thread: all valued their former bonds too much to ghost them away. And, well, a bonus consequence—the loss of a friendship almost invariably led to the birth of a new one. It’s a good reminder, then; how some endings exist to make way for other, better beginnings.

Delhi-based Nona Uppal writes on love and relationships. She is on Instagram @nonauppal

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