Artwork: Tess Emily Rodriguez
She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.
I'm hoping you can offer me some insight on the following situation. I'm 33 years old, happily single at the moment, loving my job and my passions (folk music, dancing, writing, staying in shape), but …
I’ve come to the uncomfortable realization that I no longer feel like spending any time with my friends. Any of them.
I've done some serious work on myself, been to therapy, established the basis of a healthy relationship with myself and others, and with life itself, and with the potential of a serious romantic relationship. I no longer binge-drink, I take my job as a music teacher seriously, and I respect the boundaries of how much activity my body is able to take on. I give myself time to rest and no longer expect myself to go above and beyond what everybody else is doing. I no longer sleep around or engage in any type of toxic or unhealthy relationship (such as hooking up with a coworker who has a wife and kids).
I'm proud of all these things, but I feel alone. One of my friends sleeps around and binge-drinks and wants to party all the time, and I have no interest in that anymore. Another friend badly needs therapy but instead likes to call me and drain my energy with her complaining for three or four hours at a time. And so on.
I've set boundaries with everyone for the time being, but I don't want to be the flaky person who ghosts her friends.
However, I also don't know how to let them know tactfully, that I still love them, I just don't like them very much and don't feel like spending time with them. The concern is not that I will remain alone and never make new friends. I'm very social, and I also know these energy shifts always take you in the direction you need to go. My concern is hurting people who have been able to rely on me, and I on them, and I don't think it's their fault they've gotten stuck in the same thing while I've been able to change so much.
Thank you for reading and much love…
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I feel for you. It’s painful to outgrow friendships. And I understand that you don’t want to hurt these people. Before you proceed, you need to make a decision.
Do you want to have these friends in your life in a less involved way, or not at all?
If you want to keep these relationships but with less involvement, that is possible. As you mentioned, you’ve set boundaries. You can continue to set any boundary that makes you feel comfortable. I have done this before, needed to distance myself from friendships for one reasoner another. But I didn’t want the friends out of my life; I just couldn’t remain so intertwined with their drama. And it worked.
Some of them became closer friends again after a time. And some have remained more like acquaintances, and that’s okay too. We can still care for and love people from a distance.
Conversely, I know I have been on the other side of this. I sensed it and truthfully was happier to have had these friends remain in my life in a limited way, rather than lose them altogether. I don’t fault them for any of it. Sometimes we just have to let go of certain people.
I know you are afraid of hurting people, but unless you’re acting with malice, stepping away from a relationship that’s no longer working for you, even a friendship, doesn’t make you a bad person.
You can be clear but kind. Some people will intuit the shift through your increased boundaries and decreased availability. But others may need a bit more clarity. And really, they deserve that. There is no reason you can’t deliver the truth with kindness. It’s what you would want if the roles were reversed.
So what do you say? Lead with gratitude for the friendship you have shared. Then let them know why the friendship is not sustainable for you. You can say something like, “It’s become hard for me to feel comfortable spending time together because we are in very different places in our lives.” Or, “When you come to me for advice, I can’t give you the answers you’re looking for.”
Acknowledge that ending the friendship doesn’t come easily for you and that you wish nothing but the best for them. It’s up to you how open you leave the door for social interactions. And remember this…
You can’t control your friend’s reaction.
They might be hurt, angry, sad, or indifferent. But, if you speak the truth, and do so with compassion, then you don’t need to carry guilt because you've stepped away from a relationship that is not right for you anymore.
Compassion, kindness, and honesty are key to walking away from any relationship in a healthy manner, especially with those we used to call friends.
The information within Ask Erin should in no way be interpreted as medical advice because I’m not a medical professional. But I am here to help — to share with you the wisdom I’ve gained after years of making mistakes. If you have a question for me about relationships, addiction, dating, friendships, depression, parenting, sex, consent, what I’m watching, what I’m reading, Golden Rutilated Quartz, or anything at all, use the contact form below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, your anonymity is golden. Lastly, I’m so excited to share with you my Ask Erin Self-Care Guide, free when you sign up for my weekly newsletter. xoxo