The Friendship Doctor

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Ending a one-sided friendship: How can I get her to stop IM-ing me?

Bite the bullet and be direct in the kindest way you can

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

I'm in an awkward situation with a friend and I'm at a loss about how to proceed. We've been friends for about 6 years. We met at a high school summer program and would see each other maybe once a year, but talk occasionally online. This friend as always been very socially awkward, and when we were younger, it was kind of endearing. But now that we're in our 20s and out of college, it's getting kind of sad and really uncomfortable.

A few months ago, she moved to my city (which I actually just moved out of), so we saw each other much more often. When we'd get together, it was painful trying to maintain a conversation (not a lot of give-and-take), and I was also noticing a lot of personality differences that were getting to me (e.g. she found certain things to be hysterically funny while I thought they were really offensive).

I came to the conclusion that we had drifted apart, which is fine. But I don't want to completely end the friendship, so I've been trying to get some space/downgrade the friendship (maybe back to the see-each-other-once-a-year level). But she won't take a hint! Right before I moved away, I was dodging her requests to make plans by saying that I was really swamped, which worked for a while.

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The issue has now become internet communication. Over G-chat, if she tried to start a conversation, I used to do the same ("I'm really swamped"). But now I've taken to just not responding period and it's not working! For the past few weeks, she's continued to message me anytime we're both on G-chat, often messaging multiple times (as in, having a one-sided conversation) while I haven't responded at all.

It's gotten to the point that as soon as I see that she's online, I immediately sign off, which then infuriates me that I'm doing these things just so she won't contact me. I started off wanting to simply downgrade the friendship, but it's as if she won't let me! It's wearing me out, and it's affecting my other friendships when there's people I DO want to chat with but can't because I have to sign out so I don't have to deal with her.

I know she hasn't really made any friends after moving to the city and is lonely, but I just can't handle it anymore. I feel like I've done what I can to show that I'm not interested in talking, but every single day (not an exaggeration) I get a message from her. What else can I do?

Signed,
Lexi

 

ANSWER

Dear Lexi,

What makes this situation so awkward and uncomfortable is that you and your friend both have different needs and expectations. You've tried to hint, quite graciously, that you want to back off but she hasn't gotten the message. Since your friend is "socially awkward," it's quite possible she may not have understood your subtle cues.

You don't have a lot of choices that I can think of. You could block her on G-chat, or you can go invisible (so she doesn't know you're online). But I sense you're reluctant to do either of these. I'm not sure if it is because you know your friend is lonely and you feel badly for her, or it is because you really want to keep her as a once-a-year-friend. I suspect it is the former.

You also have the option of meeting her in person, or sending her an email or snail mail saying that you feel like you've simply grown apart. I know that wouldn't be easy either.

The off-line equivalent of this G-chat situation would be a friend who pounces out of the bushes each time you appear in the park even though you say you don't want to talk any more. What can you do? Online or off, eventually, you have to bite the bullet and be direct in the kindest way you can. Your friend can't feel very good about the relationship as it is now, so in the end, she may appreciate your honesty.

Hope this helps and, perhaps, other readers have better (or different) suggestions!

Best,
Irene

 

Related posts on The Friendship Blog about online friendships:

Why don't friends just talk about it

How to handle a Facebook frenemy

Thoughts on being defriended

 

Follow The Friendship Doctor on Twitter.

 

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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