Feel a familiar itch to break free that you had previously thought only arose in romantic relationships. The tedium, the emotional drain, the fundamental feeling that this isn’t good for you all abound, but as you are not in some qualified “relationship,” how to go about removing yourself from it seems a vague, unrealistic concept. You’d never before considered having to break things off with a friend, but efforts to find common ground becoming more and more futile, it seems the only thing left to do.
Realize, in a moment of profound sadness, how much we actually do have tied up emotionally with our friends, even if we don’t realize it. The things that we experience together, though not bookended by marriage or children or even sex, are such an enormous part of the people we are today. In some ways, you are an amalgam of all of your friends — the people you choose to surround yourself with, each a reflection of different aspects of your personality, each typifying different interests and niches that you identify with. Though we can navigate fairly fluidly through social groups, there will always be people in each that we hold onto tighter, that we find a more profound connection with. These people mirror something in ourselves that we long to feel fully, to bring to the forefront. It seems that to end things with a friend means ending things with a certain part of yourself, or at least a person you once were.
Life pulls us in different directions, and you realize that having become incompatible with someone is not necessarily a good or bad thing, only a truth of relationships. It is highly possible that someone with whom you were once totally yourself has now become someone who makes you feel uncomfortable or unworthy, someone with whom you can no longer keep up, or someone with whom you have nothing to share. And that is the case here. Though the changes in people, because they happen so slowly, are often difficult to accept — there are only so many times you can allow yourself to feel empty or ugly in the company of another person before you decide for your own well-being that it is better to not continue seeing them. Accept that people are sometimes going to make decisions that we cannot support, do things that we feel unhealthy or enabling to be around. We are not required to forever support and be friends with someone simply because we were at one point very close. Drawing a line in the sand is incredibly difficult around those we actually love, but an important ethical act nonetheless. If you don’t stand for something from strangers, you shouldn’t stand for it with people you call friends.
Wouldn’t it be so convenient if life made it so that you could drift away painlessly from the people you no longer wanted to be with? If we were somehow absolved of the responsibility to end things in clear terms and express the thoughts we know are going to hurt someone? It happens all the time, the continental drift of groups and friends that render continued contact more trouble than it’s worth — why can’t it happen here? Begin to slowly accept that in order to move on from this, you’ll have to end things clearly, as you would in any romantic relationship. Realize that it may actually be harder to do with a friend, more messy, because we often take for granted that friendships are things that actively have to be worked on as well. We like to imagine friends as extending infinitely forward in our lives, adapting to be the people we need at a given moment, free from the constraints or pressures that often prove the downfall of couples. See clearly that this is not the case, and that your friend, as much as any boyfriend or girlfriend, is deserving of a real explanation.
Think about what you’re going to say, how you’re going to make it sound like you’re not dumping someone who, in all actuality, you’re distinctly moving on from. Try not to place too much blame on them for being a bad influence on your life or making you feel badly. There is no reason that you have to pretend everything is fine, but remember that the two of you used to be very close and hearing things like this is going to hurt no matter how soft you try to make it. Decide that the best explanation, one that is both true and also places no real blame and rehashes no ugly disputes or accusations, is that you simply don’t have much in common anymore. You feel like you have been drifting apart, and being around each other is no longer fun and natural — it’s become unhealthy. They have to notice. Don’t they notice?
Continue on your life without them and consider them less and less as each day passes. Like a former lover, their roots in your life begin to untangle as you construct more and more things that do not involve them. Occasionally think about the time you used to spend together, and the person you were back then, and feel a painful twinge of nostalgia. Think often about sending them a message here or there to ask how they are and what they’ve been up to — but don’t do it. You can see, through social media and the offhand talk of mutual friends, that their life is not something you fit into anymore. They are making decisions and surrounding themselves with people that are just fundamentally not good for you, and it is best for all parties if you keep the distance that you created.
Above all, think about the fleeting nature of almost everything in life you come to love. Remember how limitless your friendship felt when it first started, before you two eventually chose paths that would make compatibility impossible. Understand that the love you have for them — even in disapproval of their decisions — is something very rare in life. There is a familial element to it, a caring for someone even at the expense of their favoring you. Feel acutely sad at the prospect of having lost someone, but realize that having had someone in your life who hurt to lose (and who was important enough to matter) is a gift in itself.