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damage control

The question

Is it okay to walk away from a long friendship without explanation? I had a close friend for over 20 years but she and I have nothing in common these days. We rarely communicate and when we do, our conversations are superficial and brief. She has no interest in what is happening in my life, and I’m tired of trying to keep the friendship alive just because we’ve known one another for a long time. She messages me from time to time and I reply even though I have nothing to say. Can I ignore her messages or do I owe her a goodbye?

The answer

I would say you definitely owe her a goodbye after 20 years.

It’s too cold simply to part ways without explanation and to “ghost” a friend you’ve known that long.

I put this question to my wisdom-filled wife and she favours a middle-ground, hail-fellow-well-met-and-slowly-let-it-die approach – in other words, every time (let’s call her Susie) calls: “Hey, Susie, nice to hear from you, what’s happening, how’s your job going” etc. but never call her, and deflect all get-together suggestions, until the friendship slowly withers on the vine from lack of hydration, sunshine and nutrients.

Which it sounds like has been your approach thus far, and is I suppose what most people tend to do in these circumstances.

But – bzzt! – don’t like that one, either. If not cold, it’s too cool: lukewarm at best. Maybe you could take this approach with a casual acquaintance, or pesky member of your outer social circle or whatnot.

But 20 years is a long friendship. I think you owe her a conversation before cutting her loose.

Me, I don’t like “breaking up” with friends. Every friend is precious to me, especially the old ones.

If I lock antlers with an old friend I love, at most I’ll put them “in the penalty box” (and they’ve had occasion to do it to me, believe me) for a while, knowing one day we’ll gratefully if not tearfully reunite.

I’ve only truly dropped an old friend once (call her “Fiona”), and that was after a series of clashes, insults, and affronts – culminating in her stiffing a contractor friend of mine for a lot of money, and besmirching his reputation, for egregious reasons.

That was an easy one: “Listen, Fiona, I don’t think we can be friends anymore,” etc.

I was upset: I did it over the phone. But in your case, I unfortunately have to opine that as agonizing, uncomfortable and squirm-inducing as it might be, I think you should conduct your conversation in person.

A concept complicated by COVID-19, I know. But you’ll figure something out.

Your case is further complicated by the fact is doesn’t seem like there’s been any particular insult, injury or confrontation. Sounds like you just got bored, with perhaps a dollop of being sick and tired of her.

Don’t let her catch a whiff of that. In your shoes I’d keep your remarks revolving around a pretty tight script of “I’m sorry but I just feel like we’ve grown apart.”

Stay on message: don’t give “reasons,” even if she asks; even if she begs.

After all, what’s the point? You’re ending your friendship anyway. Why hurt her feelings by sticking in the shiv of “reasons”?

As the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky so eloquently put it (re: a love-relationship, true, but I think it applies):

“And, as they say, the incident is closed… Now you and I are quits. Why bother then to balance mutual sorrows, pains and hurts?"

Your watchword should be “kindness.” As a matter of fact if someone were to stick a gun to my head and say: “Dave, you dirty rotten advice columnist, sum up your top advice in two words or I pull the trigger!”

I’d say: “Be kind.” Then close my eyes and wait for the bullet.

Carve it on my gravestone: BE KIND.

(That way, see, I’d still be passing on advice even after I’d passed on myself.)

We could all use a bit more kindness, especially these days.

And who knows? Maybe when you finally talk seriously instead of having brief, superficial conversations, you’ll come out better friends than ever.

A long shot, maybe. But certainly the outcome I would wish for you.

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