- Some friendships can be precarious or are simply not good for us.
- Recent research sought to understand how people decide to end their friendships.
- Some of the categories included having a talk, talking badly to the person, making excuses, and ghosting.
Friendships, when reciprocal and valued, can be a wonderful asset to our lives, giving a host of positive benefits, including prolonged life. However, some friendships can be precarious, feel one-sided, or are simply not good for us. While research has pointed at the reasons why friendships end, which I write about here, recent research published in Personality and Individual Differences sought to understand not why, but how people decide to end their friendships.
In the first of two studies, researchers sent a questionnaire to 225 participants—105 men and 120 women with a mean age of 28.6.
In the questionnaire, participants were asked the open-ended question, “Consider the following scenario: For various reasons, you are unhappy with your friendship with someone. Write down some of the things you would probably do to end this friendship." Once all questionnaires were complete, the researchers coded the 43 acts into seven broader categories:
Stop spending time with her/him
- I would stop spending time with her/him.
- I would stop calling her/him.
- I would cut him/her out of my future plans.
- I would not seek to go out with her/him.
- I would stop looking for her/him.
- I would not seek to contact her/him.
- I would meet her/him less often.
- I would not be available.
- I would gradually minimize our direct and indirect communication as much as possible.
- I would not share thoughts/problems/secrets with her/him.
Have a talk
- I would tell her/him honestly why I want to end our friendship.
- I would have a civilized conversation and explain to her/him that our views and characters no longer match.
- I would tell her/him clearly that our friendship can no longer continue.
- I would state the reasons why I feel the need to distance myself.
- I would tell her that I am not happy with our friendship and that it would not be a good idea to continue it.
- I would seek a one-on-one meeting where I would explain why this friendship is not progressing.
- I would clearly share my concerns with her/him.
- I would text/email him/her the reasons I want our friendship to end.
Communication becomes formal
- Our communication would become more formal.
- I would reply to her/his messages only formally.
- I would contact her/him only on special occasions (e.g., birthday).
- I would become colder toward her/him.
Talk badly to her/him
- I would use bad language to explain to her/him why I do not want her/him as a friend anymore.
- I would end our friendship by talking badly to her/him.
- I would be abrupt with her/him.
- I would tell our mutual friends about my displeasure, hoping they would tell her/him.
Make excuses in order to avoid her/him
- I would not accept her/his invitations to meet her/him saying that I have other things to do.
- I would make excuses not to meet with her/him.
- I would respond to her/his emails/messages with substantial delay.
- I would not answer her/his phone/email/messages.
- I would indirectly distance myself.
- I would attempt to distance myself slowly.
- I would try to find ways to distance myself in a roundabout way.
- I would disappear.
- I would disappear without explanation.
- I would cut off all contact with her/him.
- I would immediately cut off all contact with her/him.
- I would cut off every line of communication.
- I would not talk to her/him again.
- I would unfriend her/him on social media (e.g., Facebook).
- I would avoid going to places where I might meet her/him.
- I would avoid her/him.
- I would show indifference.
In a follow-up study, 469 individuals (244 women, 224 men, and one participant who did not indicate her/his sex) were asked via a digital form: “Consider the following scenario: For various reasons, you are unhappy with your friendship with someone. Please indicate how likely you are to perform each of the following acts in order to end the friendship:” Participants were then given the list of 43 items identified in study 1 above and asked to rate them on a 1-5 scale.
The results of the second study showed that a “gradual termination” technique (which comprised of “stop spending time with her/him,” “gradual fade-out” and the “communication would become formal”) was most likely to be used; the "immediate termination” techniques, (“ghosting,” the “talk badly to her/him,” and the “find excuses in order to avoid her/him”) were least likely used, as rated by both female and male participants, regardless of age.
While not listed here, I've written about one technique, asking for space, which may well align with the "have a talk" category here. What this study—and the 43 reasons discovered—shows is that ending a friendship for whatever reason is difficult, and the ways we decide to end it are vast and varied, but for the majority of us, we seek to end friendships in ways that do as little harm as possible, showcasing at the very least, we'd like to end on a kind note.
Facebook image: Bangkok Click Studio/Shutterstock
Apostolou, M. (2023). This has to end: An explorative analysis of the strategies people use in order to terminate an undesirable friendship. Personality and Individual Differences, 209, 112211.