When to Walk Away From a Friendship

Moving foreward

Article by Wendy McCance

One of the most difficult things a person can experience in their life is the break-up of a friendship.  It doesn’t matter if it is the friend who ends the relationship or if it is you.  Either way, with so much time, energy and closeness, walking away can be extremely painful to do.

What if you are the one who decides to end the friendship?  Can you do it, or do you let it drag on much longer than it should?  Can you decipher when a relationship is no longer healthy?  Can you extricate yourself from a friendship that was close and full of years of history if it no longer feels like a healthy friendship?

Thankfully, the majority of situations where I have had to pull the plug happened in my youth. Kids are growing and changing fast and in different ways from each other.  Sometimes my friendships would result in friends changing into people I no longer recognized.  No longer was there much in common and spending time together felt awkward at best.

As an adult, I have only had the experience of walking away from a friendship that had been long-term once, and it was an incredibly hard decision to make.

I had known a person as an acquaintance for several years before we slowly realized how much we had in common.  Our friendship blossomed into a close one as we realized that we had endless things to talk about and had great fun when we were together.  The friendship became so close that our families bonded in the same fashion as if we were close relatives.  We literally adopted each others kids and treated our relationship as though we were one big happy family.

Part of the bonding we had towards each other was based on experiences that could only be described as tragic at best.  Through some incredibly dark periods in our life, we were able to find a bit of light whenever we discussed some of the trials we had faced head-on.

Our experiences were painful and difficult if not impossible to share with the vast majority of friends or family in our lives, and yet we had each other.  It was a relief as well as a tighter bond that had been formed off of tragic circumstances.

The bottom fell out years later when I had grown through the bad times and was resurfacing as a more confident and forgiving person.  I had found a way to let go of the times that had been so devastating to deal with.  I realized I had to move on in a positive direction if I ever wanted to get to a better place in my life.

The end of our friendship evolved over a two-year period when it became obvious that my friend had gotten stuck in the misery.  Discussions that used to start with a bad experience but could end with hope and strength had become a doom and gloom situation.  No matter how hard I tried to pull my friend to a place where she could feel hopeful and regain some confidence was something I could no longer do.

Conversations became tedious as I was only contacted when there was bad news to report.  Our relationship had become like a broken record.  We could get so far in a conversation and then it would hit the scratch.  The record would skip, playing the same piece over and over without moving ahead.

I hated and truly began to dread these conversations.  I never got the pleasure of hearing good news. There was much good news to share, but I only became privy to it second-hand which was heartbreaking.  How did I become the person who was titled with only dealing with the bad without being able to celebrate the good?

The fallout came gradually.  The friendship had reached a place where I felt like a therapist.  What was going on in my life was never discussed.  I began to dread phone calls or the few visits because they became long poor me sessions.  It was awful to see our friendship falling apart.  It was even worse knowing I was unable to pull my friend out of her dark moods and focus on the bright side.

I held onto the hope that things would turn around.  That my friend was just going through a rough patch and needed support.  After two years it became obvious that a pattern had formed and it was draining the life out of me.

The final straw was finding out that the relationship that I was enduring was mine alone.  I found out that when my friend was feeling good (and there were many of these moments) she was whooping it up with other friends.  I had been tagged as the person to pour out the negative onto, but wasn’t allowed to share in the good times.

There were a few conversations about how I felt.  Unfortunately, they fell on deaf ears.  I had to walk away.  The sad part is to this day, my old friend doesn’t understand why I walked away. Explanations have not helped.  It was just a sad end to what was once a brilliant friendship.

What about you?  Have you had a situation like this?  Were you able to walk away or are you still stuck playing out a miserable situation?  I’d love to know your thoughts on this topic.  Please leave a comment and let’s discuss.

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Wendy McCance

Wendy McCance is a Michigan based freelance writer and social media consultant. Wendy has gained attention as the founder of the popular blog Searching for the Happiness which can be viewed in 9 local papers online, including the Oakland Press. The combination of writing skills and social media knowledge is what makes Wendy such a powerhouse to work with. Stay tuned for opportunities to advertise, guest post and as always, have your questions answered.

To contact Wendy McCance about a writing or social media assignment, interview or speaking engagement, please email her at: mccance.wendy@gmail.com

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39 thoughts on “When to Walk Away From a Friendship

  1. I caused a friend much heartache and pain. I went as far as causing him to lose a business deal worth thousands of dollars. We were in a relationship and he caused me much hurt and pain and all I wanted to do was make him hurt. I called the store where he was and they called his name over the loud speaker he got so upset and left the meeting. I feel so bad, he was my best friend I want to repay him but he won’t answer my calls.

    • I’m so very sorry. I understand. Unfortunately everyone has gone through something with a friend that they wish they could change at one point in their life. I hope you are able to find some peace. Wishing you the very best.

  2. I have been in a one-sided friendship for years, and yet I continue to give. My friend recently called me and shared that due to our fallouts, she had pushed me away. I was also very co-dependent, and accepted full responsibility. She also said that she realizes what a great friend I amam. I am so hurt and want to walk away completely, but I don’t know how. I have a wonderful husband and two precious daughter’s, along with so many wonderful friends. I would love any advice! I just want to be done with this chapter of my life and let go.

  3. I am going through this right now with a friend I have had for around 30 years. It is complicated as she is also a sorority sister. But she has become, as my husband calls it– a “bad time friend.” There is no joy or fun in our relationship. If I am happy and well she is nowhere to be found. The minute, however, an illness or other “bad” thing happens….she swoops in like an emotional vampire…relishing in my misery. The only other time I hear from her is when she wants to vent. She constantly critcizes other friends in our circle and gossips about them…thrilled when they suffer any misfortune. I know she does the same regarding me. I recently have been having health issues over Christmas and had to block her number and get off Facebook entirely. She kept calling and texting etc. I have never told any of other friends what she has said about them. Never. I could never hurt them like that. Now she is running behind the scenes running me down to them. All because I did not want to feed her desire to see and feed off my sickness. It was my story to tell when I was ready. Now I have told it and have the support of friends…I haven’t heard from her at all (good thing). She is angry that she did not have the “scoop” on me to tell. These are just a few examples. She displays extreme jealousy whenever I try to spend time with other friends or sisters and most often finds out and shows up….only to take over and commandeer the event and talk all over me and try to exclude me from even conversing. Yet she plans outings with this group and never includes me. I guess my question is….who gets the other friends when a long time friendship is on the rocks? I feel I have to be extremely secretive with every relationship I have. She has even tried to hijack events I have planned with my husband. And yet she is always the “victim.” She is manipulative and controlling. I have gone out of my way to be supportive. Just can’t do it any more. I would hate to lose my other friendships over this but she is driving me crazy. Like I said this is 30 years of complicated and I guess I could write a book.

    • Hi Eliza, thanks so much for sharing such a personal experience. Unfortunately, long-time friends can change or maybe you change, but growth tends to make you reexamine what you do or don’t want and that includes shedding yourself from those who are becoming toxic. Wishing you the very best and good for you for knowing when to walk away from a friendship that no longer brings you happiness.

  4. Reading your article is so helpful. Ive had to walk away from a friend who I thought would be in my life forever. We were very close and our kids were great friends. But about 3 years ago it turned toxic.There are a few different reasons why I walked away but the main one was my role as a carer. I am a fulltime carer of 3 kids who have various illnesses and conditions. Being a carer to them all is very stressful and as a result I have health problems myself. Anyway, I had to end the friendship as she minimised their disabilities as far as saying they don’t have them! She believed because they weren’t in wheelchairs they only had “issues”. It was very hurtful to hear this said to me over and over. I felt like I had to explain myself constantly and justify their disabilities all the time to her. It was causing me such distress and even anxiety. It was horrible. I feel betrayed. It still upsets me that she put me through that. I don’t think she realises how much hurt and anguish she caused me. That’s one of the hardest things I guess – their obliviousness to the pain they caused you.

    • Hi Trish, thanks so much for sharing your experience. I am so sorry you went through that. Thankfully you didn’t allow yourself to remain in a toxic friendship. Unfortunately, many people don’t get it when they treat someone poorly. It sounds like in this case, there wasn’t any intentional maliciousness, just a lack of understanding that what she was doing was hurtful and insensitive.

  5. Wendy what do you do when you want to end a toxic friendship with someone who is sick? I would have ended this friendship earlier, but then they were diagnosed with cancer, although they are not sick at the moment and in remission. When they heard the news of their fate, they became worse in the friendship. The thing is, by ending this friendship I know people will think I am heartless and cold but I cannot confront the person whilst they are in their current predicament and I have put up with their toxicity for many years to the point that it is making me really unhappy.

    I feel really guilty, especially as they are using their illness to guilt trip me into friendship, but I just can’t carry on.

    My inner voice says to walk away however, this is a very controversial decision because in the process, everyone that knows me and them ( but aren’t true friends either to me) will think I am the bad person for deserting a sick friend. This cycle has happened for many years and often I feel bullied within this group of friends, when they ignore me in social situations and try to belittle me. An incident happened a few weeks ago that was so painful, that I have not been able to contact her or speak to her since.

    I can’t evolve or be my authentic self with this friend or the ‘surrounding’ people and have actually gone on to make new friends, who accept me for who I am and where I have the freedom to be myself without fear of rejection.

    I just want to know it’s ok to walk away. If I let her and them back in I’ll be forever locked in a cycle of resentment.

    • You already answered the question. If the other people who are connected to this person are just as toxic, and you already feel belittled and ignored by them, why would you continue to put yourself through such abuse? Take care of you and get away from those who make you feel bad. Friends are supposed to lift you up, not tear you down. You have done more than enough to support those who don’t treat you like someone they care about. Wishing you the very best.

  6. i have a best friend, i have feelings for her and i did tell her about it but she told me that she can’t reciprocate. I tried moving on without breaking the friendship but it just didn’t happen, every time she would talk about some guy with whom she hang out and hugged and kissed, it was so hurtful for me it was affecting my life my career. I know she needs me but i can’t bend myself anymore i have reached my breaking point.

    Should i walk away from her?

    • Hi Nitin, I’m sorry to hear you are going through such a difficult time. If being around your friend is creating more painful feelings than good feelings, maybe some distance would be best so you can take care of healing your own feelings. Wishing you all the best.

  7. Ugh. It isn’t easy to walk away from a friendship, is it? As you know, I have had a similar experience, and despite having high hopes things would turn around, I, too, decided it was time to end things. It was a hard decision to make, but I just couldn’t continue with a one-sided friendship. And, just like you experienced, I kind of felt like I only heard from my friend when she was in trouble. The rest of the time, I wasn’t worth a second glance. Anyway, I’m so glad you made the choice you did. Regardless of how hard it was, I think it was the right one.

    Oh, and thank your for linking back to my blog!


  8. I walked away from the person I once thought of as my best friend. I am in my forties and she is in her fifties. We are both married. She had always treated me so great and would tell me that she was closer to me than her own family. She text me from morning till night, and would always come by and call. She would tell me she thought we were soul mates. Within the last couple of years, she has had a facelift and a boob job. I have also had things done, so this is not a jealousy issue. She was becoming a different person. She talked about herself constantly and started needing validation from lots of men. We would have a girls night out at least once a month and have to admit we both loved the attention we would get from men when we were out. She was always on the computer on dating sites. but she would act like it was just a game. She would show me pictures of men she would talk to, and a lot of the time it was big burly men that she was just kidding around with. There came a point where she would tell me she would go meet men that lived in our area. She would meet them at a convenience store parking lot. They would talk a few minutes and sometimes she would kiss them before she left. She would start telling me little things about how she invited a man she knew to her house while her husband was out of town and they had gotten in the tub together. If I made any comment or tried to ask anything, she just got defensive and didn’t want to talk about it. She wanted me to think they didn’t do anything besides get naked and get in the tub. All of the meetings with men continued, but it was like she wanted to tell someone, but she really didn’t want you to say anything. I was supposed to be her best friend, but it didn’t feel like I was. Up to this point, she was still texting and calling. She still would tell me that I was her best friend. Then she met this young guy through one of these dating sites. He was 35 and had 3 small kids. His wife was in prison and he was raising them on his own. She would show me some of the things he wrote her and she even took me by his apartment to meet him ( he lived in the same town as us). This is when everything began to change. About the time that she first met this guy, she had begged me to go on cruise with her. Her daddy had died couple months before and left her a large amount of money,so she paid for everything. It took me a few days to agree to go because I had to talk about it with my husband. In this short amount of time before the cruise, she started treating me totally different. We had planned one of our girls night out and were going to leave at 6:00. Now, she is always at least 10 to 15 minutes late. I always tease her about it, but have never gotten mad. It’s just the way she is. This particular day, I had talked to her around four o’clock. and she said she was going to go get ready right then and she would be here at 6. Well. when 6:40 gets here, she is still not here. I text her, “What are you doing”? and she texts back that she is almost ready. I knew she was lying. I only live about five minutes away, so I ride out there and of course she wasn’t there. I didn’t even bother gong back home. Finally, at 7:00, she texts me and says she is almost to my house. I didn’t text her back and didn’t go home until around 10:00. She shows up and I told her I had rode to her house and knew she was lying. She couldn’t even get her story straight. She ended up with two different stories and all she got out of all this was that I was mad she was late. She wouldn’t admit that she lied nor apologize for it. She admitted that she went to his house, but said she had just ran by there because his daughter had cooked cookies and wanted her to try one. This was just the beginning. She would tell little lies when it came to him. She stopped calling, coming by, and pretty much quit texting. I tried to ask her if there was anything bothering her that had to do with me. Her response was that nothing was bothering her but her back. I wanted so bad to tell her I didn’t want to go on the cruise with her, but I wanted to give her a chance. I thought maybe when she was away from everything, she might be herself again; I was wrong. She was nice, but seemed annoyed. She wasn’t the person I had known all theses years. I felt like I was with a stranger. I couldn’t wait to get off that boat. She did not want to be there with me. The only other thing it could have been, was that she had realized that if she had ask anyone besides me to go (that her husband didn’t know), she could have taken her boyfriend with her. I finally told her as we were in the car on the way home, that I knew she was sleeping with him and that I didn’t understand why she had to treat me bad. She never apologized for anything, all she said was that she was miserable in her marriage and she didn’t know what she was suppose to do. It has been a year and we don’t talk anymore. I went to her house a month ago to tell her I just don’t want bad feelings between us. She had already gotten divorced and was living in another city. I just happened to catch her at her old house where her ex-husband is still living. She never even told me she was getting a divorce (around the same time we were going on the cruise) .I am sure it is because I am the one who knew the real reason for her divorce and not the lies she had to tell everyone else; She was doing the same thing as before. She wanted to tell me she had met someone, but never wanted me to know she was actually sleeping with him. She would rather shut me out of her life than for me to know. I was never a true friend. I was a distraction when she needed it and needed someone to go out with. It has not bothered her at all. She has never even tried to contact me .

  9. Hi Wendy. I really appreciate your article as I have recently had a hurtful conflict with someone I had considered to be a close and life long friend. I have walked away from friendships before as it became clear to me we no longer had much in common, but this is the first time I am considering walking away from a friendship that i had considered important. I need to respond to some very devastating and hurtful comments and I am torn over how much effort, if any I should invest. I take my friends very seriously and am really torn over whether or not I could ever really trust her again. Your article has been helpful and thought provoking. Thx.

  10. Your story is very relevant to a current friendship of mine. The relationship has always been a bit skewed, but I tend to be the optimist. Recently, I’ve been going through a rough patch myself, and this friend is nowhere to be seen. I can see the point to ending things, but my catch is that she’s the last of my high school friends, and I really worry about stuff she goes through.

    • Hi Lisa,
      What you are going through is never easy. All I can sugget is for you to follow your heart. If the relationship has turned too toxic for you to deal with or your feelings have been hurt beyond repair, it is time to walk away. If you can accept your friends behavior and realize that you can’t change people and are willing to accept that, then hold on to what you have. Good luck.

  11. Thank God you walked away. You became the dumping site, not the friend who was there through thick and thin. My high school friend and I became so close, that we were thought of, as brothers. After HS, we lost contact with each other, but often times I would think of him, and the close friendship we had enjoyed. About 40 years later, we found each other through the internet. We renewed our friendship, and all went well for a couple of years. We were happy, or so I thought.
    We were both Behavior Therapist, and our discussions were very enlightening. On one occasion, he became belligerent, and appeared out of control. I tried to reason with him, but to no avail. I was not going to allow him to take me down that particular road he had chosen, so I did what needed to be done. I told him that the past two years had brought back great memories, but that we could never be friends again. Of course he became very angry, cursed me out, and began spewing expletives at my family, my wife, his ex-wife, and my beliefs. So glad that I was able to open my eyes in time. Do I miss our friendship? Yes, the one we had when we were younger. Blessings.

    • It’s so sad to hear when friendships change so dramatically. I guess life gets in the way and some people can’t get past whatever has taken them to a bad place. I really appreciate reading about your experience.

  12. Another very thought-provoking post Wendy. Thanks for sharing something quite personal and giving us your insight into this very touchy subject.
    I have experienced a similar situation, ditto the closeness, the shared experiences, the bonding with our kids etc.,but then it became a different situation.
    My friend used to love to tell me all about her difficult marriage, rattling off how much she ‘hated’ her husband when she was mad at him for one thing or another. I began to feel uncomfortable but tried to be supportive (he was also a very close friend).
    At the time, my 22 year marriage was unraveling rather spectacularly and she knew it but it was all all about her. I foolishly thought she would support me too.
    Then she announced one day that they were moving. Her ‘loser’ husband had given her just what she wanted: a 10 acre horse ranch in Oregon with beautiful house to match and suddenly they were gone. She wanted to keep in touch, in fact we did go and visit them once. Now she was happy and her husband was ‘Mr Wonderful’. There were other things about her that I had come to see as well as this which really made me pause and wonder what kind of person she really was and I decided that I didn’t need that kind of shallow person in my life, I had been a great support to her but she was nowhere to be seen when it came to me needing the same support. She was happy. That was all that mattered.
    After we moved back to the Uk and about a year later she tracked me down somehow via my mother’s address (still don’t know how that happened?!) saying how sorry she was and how, although she knew that things ‘weren’t good’ between me and my husband she ‘had no idea’ just how bad they had been’!! In essence, she had never listened to a word I said but couldn’t understand why I could no longer be her friend.
    I have long moved on and long forgiven her. I did find out through the grapevine, as you do, that she is now divorced, ironic isn’t it? Also that she befriended my ex-husband on Facebook. Funny that.
    Life moves on, and as much as I hated to go through a ‘friend breakup’, especially when I really needed her, it was for the best and I was a better person for it. I soon came to learn who my real friends were and still are. And yes, I agree so much with Kym about friends coming into your life for a season. Some do, and others remain.
    Then there are the new friends we meet along the way, those who never fail to pleasantly surprise us in ways we couldn’t possibly have imagined.
    Have a great day Wendy :-)

    • Sherri, thanks so much for sharing your experience. I’m so sorry you went through such a rough situation. I agree that the way Kym put it about firendship is a perfect way to look at friendships in general. Have a wonderful day yourself. :)

  13. Many years ago I had to ask myself “What part of you am I feeding?” I didn’t much like the answer. I was 21 then and am 60 now and there are times when I wonder what happened to. my old friend: no hurt,just an unanswered question in an unfilled space.

  14. Not something I have really had experience with it has been a long time since I had a friend who was not family, my family are a family that are friends with family, we don’t have friends that we are related to. I was only talking about this on Friday with my niece

  15. Wendy – your post reminds me of a wonderful saying ” people come into our lives for a reason, a season or a life time”, It seems to me your friendship was for a season – as support through a difficult time- to stay when your truth was it had run its course would have caused further suffering.
    I have tended to be a bit slow on the exit – fearing hurting the other person, and avoiding my own pain – however I realise that is like pulling a band aide off slowly – it prolongs the discomfort. The suffering comes when we/I become attached to our expectations that a friendship should last a life time – rather than being grateful for the time we shared together. When we let someone go there is always a new experience awaiting us.
    Christine – I send you love and healing light – and feel to mention Louise Hays work – You can heal you Life.
    I love your posts Wendy – you add such value with your candid conversation’s – thank you.
    Abundant Blessings,

  16. I had to walk away relatively recently. I felt incredibly guilty doing it, but found that the person, for various reasons, was incapable of telling the truth. I went through therapy with her, but it seemed to only make it worse. Because of the life she has led, she has developed a pattern of lying, even about small things, to create the world she needs to believe in. Like your friend, despite explicitly explaining why I needed to pull back, she doesn’t understand– sees herself as a victim. She’s not a bad person, but I felt manipulated all the time, and had to walk away.

    • Patricia, that’s it exactly!! I felt manipulated after a while. My friend saw herself as a victim and it was exhausting. Good things were happening, but she could only dwell on the what if’s instead of enjoying these good moments.

      Thanks so much for your comment. By the way, I can’t tolerate lying either. A person who is that entrenched in lying can never have a real relationship, even with themself. It is a no-win situation trying to be friends.

  17. I know what you’re saying, as I’m in that situation right now. I met a long-lost relative when we moved here; I was in my 40s and she was almost twenty years older. She & I became good friends; we found we had a lot of tastes in common. I helped her out with a lot of things (she’s basically illiterate) and she even told me I was like the sister she never had. As she’s aged she’s become more and more self-centered on prejudiced, but we hung together.

    In the beginning she’d mention that someone had been in her apartment and messed with something. Her grandchildren maybe dropped by. But it was rare until two years ago when (in a new place) the caretaker changed and one day the new man let himself into her apartment for some reason when she was home. He made some excuse about fixing something (she didn’t have.)

    This started a real spiral of, “someone’s coming into my apartment and moving my stuff.” She’s extremely forgetful and yet can remember where every single ornament stands so can rattle off a long list of what was moved each time I visited her. She wanted me to record these things and she presented her building management with a complaint & list. She started packing everything in suitcases because things were going missing. She got a motion sensor camera installed and never caught anyone on film. She became a major drain, calling often: I drove an hour into the city several times to help her look for stolen items on several occasions – and they always turned up.

    One day, somewhat exasperated, I told her she should just unpack and put things back where they belong. She was going to crack up if she lived like this. And that was it. In April I started getting the “I’m never speaking to you again” treatment I’ve seen her give many others. She left a message that she didn’t like me anymore because I said she’d have to go to some place. (Which I never.)

    In May I was diagnosed with leukemia and it really blew me away. Thankfully it’s a very slow-acting kind. I wrote her a note saying I had cancer of the blood. Her daughter visited her and explained. She said she’d never heard of cancer of the blood. Then her brother-in-law died alone in his house and she phoned to rattle away all about that. Sounded definitely unbalanced. She mentioned my illness; it distressed her. I explained that cancer of the blood is leukemia. Oh, yes; she’s heard of that.

    And that was our last conversation. I should phone her, but have so much enjoyed my freedom! She hasn’t called again to see if I’m living or dying. Now I’m wavering. Should I call her up and try to patch things up again, for the sake of the good years? Because she’s almost 80 and needs help in so many ways? (I’ve read her contracts so she’d understand them, helped her buy stuff and explained many issues.) Or should I leave well enough alone? She’s maybe waiting for my apology because I was so wrong treating her the way I did. (That’s her usual line when she drops others.)

    • Hi Christine, first I would just like to say that I am so very sorry to hear about your illness. As for your situation, I think you need to take care of you. So much of what you said sounds so hurtful and one-sided. You have gone above and beyond and are still struggling to have a relationship. Now, especially with your illness, it is so important for your physical and emotional health to find peace. You need to clear yourself from toxic people and situations and surround yourself with loving people. It’s not selfish to put yourself first. At this point, you really need to. Like I have told my kids, you can’t take care of others if you haven’t first taken care of yourself. Otherwise, you will have little to offer and will feel resentment. I mean this in a caring way not a selfish me, me, me way.

      Wishing you all the very best!

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