The Friend Divorce.

Via Joslyn Hamilton
on Sep 20, 2010
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Mastering the Art of Moving On

I have a good friend named “Dylan” who is my role model when it comes to managing friendships. Not just because he is an always excellent, kind, and fun friend, but because he has amazing boundaries that I myself aspire to.

I have a lot of friends. I’m lucky in this way. I didn’t always have so many friends. When I was younger, I was shy and introverted (a terrible combination of two things that are not at all the same) and preferred the company of books and rocks to other humans. But a natural curiosity about people and a learned ability to “fake it ‘til you make it” helped me to eventually start building some very solid friendships. I now count among my closest relationships a handful of people that I’ve known since we were in our single digits. My friends are my real family, in many ways, and they mean the world to me.

I cherish my friends. But sometimes, a friendship will run its course, and as challenging as it is to make good friends, it’s often even harder to let go of bad ones. My golden rule for romantic relationships is that they’ve gone bad when the other person starts to make you feel mentally ill. But relationships with friends don’t always devolve to such a dramatic low when they are at their natural end. Sometimes, I’ve found, you just get to a point where the friendship is no longer serving you. It can be tricky to fess up to that instance.

This past year, however, I’ve been making a practice of letting go of dead friendships.

Here are some things that indicate to me that a friendship is no longer a viable one:

  1. Consistent incidents of crazymaking and uninvited drama
  2. A perpetual feeling of being drained when around the person
  3. Noticing that I feel worse about myself after I spend time with them
  4. And the obvious one: being effed over in a way that would make it challenging to maintain one’s dignity if one didn’t take a stand

The tough thing is, when you cut someone off, there is an inherent feeling of being uncompassionate. And compassion is a principle elevated to high regard in the yoga and mindfulness worlds that I frequent.

Yet Dylan, my role model, is a practicing Buddhist who maintains only a few friendships. He cherishes and cultivates these relationships and always has time for them. He seems to have no qualms about all the other wannabe friends he’s left in the dust. I asked him once how he does it. Without any visible rise in blood pressure, he said to me, “It’s so easy. I just never return their calls. Eventually, they stop calling.”

I, on the other hand, feel intense pangs of guilt if I ignore a phone call or email or request to hang out. I am impelled to respond immediately with a million excuses about why I can’t do such and such. Not Dylan. He just ignores. Guilt-free.  I really admire that. I’ve traditionally been exceptionally crummy at ending friendships. But this year, I turned a corner.

It started with breaking up with the ex-love of my life.

We had a lot of friends in common, but when we stopped talking, it became painful for me to see and talk to these people. I persevered for a while. Every time his name came up, I winced. Eventually, I let most of them go by the wayside. And that felt good.

Then, I started to notice that “Shelby,” the girl I had called my best friend for the last several years, kind of wasn’t anymore. I saw that our relationship revolved almost entirely around me either accommodating or assisting her in troubleshooting her various crises… often crises of her own making. After years of patience, and telling myself that Shelby was just going through a tough spell, it slowly dawned on me that Shelby was addicted to drama, and determined to keep me embroiled in it. I began to feel like an accomplice every time I humored her through a conversation about how untrustworthy her husband was and how justified she felt in hacking into his email to see whether or not he was doing anything fishy. I started to view her as the untrustworthy, fishy one.

But when I tried to step away from the crazier aspects of our relationship, or express my real opinion about her behavior, her resistance was palpable. It was all downhill from there. After months of painful pull-aways and one teary but pointless confrontation, I eventually resigned myself to being one of her many “ex friends.”

It got easier, the friend-divorcing.

My next breakup was with “Marco”—a friend of twenty years who had started off as a novio but slowly, gradually, turned into one of my longest-standing and most important friends. Marco and I talked by phone, text, or email nearly every day, and I thought of him as a fellow artistic soul, someone who would always understand me, even when the rest of the universe didn’t. But Marco, it turns out, thought of me as “the girl I don’t tell my wife I still talk to.”

Our friendship went to hell in a handbasket almost overnight. I was planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest and made plans to stay with Marco when I passed through his hometown of Portland. I must stress that these were plans I made with Marco, many months in advance.  I had stayed with him before and spent time with his wife, but this time I was particularly excited to meet their new baby. Unfortunately, Marco neglected to tell his wife I was coming until five days before the trip, and she ixnayed the whole idea. Instead of standing up to her (or, hello, asking her sooner), Marco offered a lukewarm “Well, maybe we can still get coffee when you’re in town.”


(As a sidenote, with nowhere else to stay, I basically cold-called a friend-of-a-friend who I had met a handful of times but barely knew. I camped out on her back deck, and now we are good friends. Blessings in disguise, these things sometimes are.)

With Marco, it wasn’t just the one incident; it was my sudden eureka moment: Marco and I were not the best friends I had always imagined us to be. For Marco, I was a forbidden friend. And I don’t want to be anyone’s forbidden anything. No more Marco.

There were others.

I don’t mean to imply that these friendships all ended because I found fault in the other person. I’m not perfect either, lord knows. In the end, it’s all about whether or not it’s working. And if it ain’t —and it don’t seem fixable—might be better to move on.

Dylan taught me that staying true to oneself is actually where compassion starts.

Incidentally, I haven’t heard back from Dylan in a while. Hmm.


About Joslyn Hamilton

Joslyn Hamilton is a freelance writer living in beautiful Marin County, California. She is one of the co-founders of Recovering Yogi and also launched Creative Truth or Dare. Joslyn has an imaginary spice + skincare line called SimpleBasic. She is a functioning craftaholic and counts hiking, cooking, reading and rabid tweeting among her many chaste vices. Reach her directly at [email protected]


30 Responses to “The Friend Divorce.”

  1. Absolutely. But sometimes, after you've tried to explain or work through things for a while, and the person still seems stuck in their pattern of creating drama and amplifying issues, you realize that the only way to stop the drama is to walk away.

  2. Emily says:

    What if they don't stop calling? I have someone that I've known since we were both in elementary school. We hung out a lot then, although I wouldn't say we were the best friends in the world, we had different interests, but we lived less than a mile from each other, out in the boonies, and if we wanted to hang out with someone of our age and gender, we were all we had! Now, we're in our 30s, I live far away and have a life of my own, she seems to be in a sort of stagnant place. I feel bad for her, but she'll call, all the time, and want to be on the phone for four plus hours, something I hate doing, telling me the same old tired stories about stuff that happened back in high school. I don't want to be rude to her, but I've heard it all before. I've got things to do. Plus, she's never coming out here to visit and I'm never going out there to visit, so I feel like we're just beating a dead horse. But I'll go literally months without answering the phone and she'll continue to call once a week. Finally I feel bad and can't take it anymore and will pick up, be trapped in a phone call that goes on for hours, then she'll start calling daily again. I don't want to tell her 'gee, I'm sorry, but I outgrew you years ago', but honestly, I have. She's in the same place I left fifteen years ago, and I left it for a reason, I don't want to go back, and those aren't times over which I want to reminisce. But the other part of me realizes she doesn't have anyone, she's trapped out there with her kids and her husband and her soaps and no real life or friends, and she must really be lonely, and it must be wonderful for her just to talk (although after teaching all day, it's wonderful for me to enjoy the silence!) but then I'm not really being a friend, paying lip service out of pity. If she would only call every once in a while I wouldn't mind giving her that time and letting her talk about the same ole things, again and again, but it isn't every once in a while, it's an all the time thing. So then I'm torn- is it so much for me to just give of myself to this person who obviously needs it? Am I being selfish for not wanting to? But then, don't I deserve to be able to come home from work and not have to talk on the phone for hours on end all the time? Haven't I earned a little relaxation and rest?

  3. swati jr* says:

    great post! set personal boundaries and put your needs first. guilt will kill you. so quit returning its calls. we'll all be better off for it.

  4. K Sequoia says:

    Joslyn. I have begun to anticipate your articles here. Good stuff!

    There is a lot I could say about this topic. I'll leave it at that.

  5. Dylan says:

    My name is Dylan and it feels like this has been inspired by a situation I was just involved in. Woah!!! WHat a trip. I am the one who stopped calling. For me it was the fear of falling in love again, building a life together just to have it ripped out of your chest.

  6. nathan says:

    Carol, you sound "old" too – and not in a wise way. You've clearly projected this "selfish," "me first" persona onto the author based on what, exactly? The author clearly states that this is an issue she's still working on, and the examples are about how things have changed for her in the past year. My own experiences have shown me that first attempts at shifting patterns aren't always "on the mark," but you have to make the attempt anyway.

    The way I see it, endings aren't always clean and tidy. Sometimes, no matter how reflective and kind you are, things are a mess. And sometimes, it's you who makes the mess no matter how kind and reflective the other person is. I've been on both ends of this equation.

    Compassion looks different in every situation. If the author's friendship with Shelby had devolved into examining the latest drama, then what's more compassionate – aiding in maintaining the drama, or stepping away? It seems like those were the two choices present, as it sounds like Shelby didn't want a relationship that involved something else besides talking about her dramas.

    There is a difference between what people need and what people think they need. A fair amount of the time, what I think I need and don't have is actually something that will harm me. Or something that won't fulfill the unexamined space I am calling a need.

    Also, I've been a "forbidden friend" before. It's miserable. There's an uneven power dynamic that warps the whole relationship because you're always trying to keep it a secret. When I examined why it was that I stayed in my situation, what I realized was that I figured the person would change someday. My mistake, I'll fully admit.

    Sometimes, people become friends or lovers for the wrong reasons. It's important to do your best to make the ending ok, if you realize it was a mistake, but how it ends isn't completely in your control.

  7. Mrs. Borden says:

    Nathan, you might try reading what I actually wrote instead of being reactive with your own issues.

  8. nathan says:

    Lol – you sure like to point out how everyone else has "issues."

    My comments stand uncorrected.

  9. Carol says:

    It's not the action I find bothersome, it's the attitude. Do you blame the other person and cut them out of your life or do you take responsibility for your own feelings and needs and cut them out of your life?

  10. Wendy says:

    It can be exhausting dealing with people and we certainly need to make sure that we don't lose sight of the values we want to have for ourselves. I am reminded of a quote by Audrey Hepburn, she said,

    "People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. "

    If someone is really threatening you and causing you trouble, you don't have to allow that in your life but if it's just challenging, I don't think we should just give up on being there for each other. I know lots of drama addicts and that's just the way some people are.

    What are we here for, if not to help each other and be there for each other?

    I'm Buddhist too and I don't believe in throw away people, especially if they aren't harming me directly and just need some comfort from me, regardless of how irrational I think their perspective may be. Compassion isn't easy because it requires working with our own negative emotions while still caring for others and not by ignoring others in the name of compassion. That's just silly.

  11. nathan says:

    Wendy, sometimes the only way to help is to end the relationship. Giving comfort might be simply being co-dependent if the other person expects you to soothe them all the time.

    By all means, we shouldn't just chop people out of our lives the moment things get hard. Perhaps the author didn't let us in enough into all the twists and turns in these relationship examples, but I don't get the sense she just said screw it when things got hard.

    Buddhist teachings about compassion always emphasize thoughts, deeds, and intentions focused on specific situations. Sometimes, it's soft and comforting. Sometimes, it's hard looking on the outside, but the intention is still soft and kind. I say this after almost a decade of study and practice.

    I have to say for myself, when endings have occurred in my life, I have tried my best to come from a place of leaving the door open in the future. That's my intention, knowing that things can change. Just yesterday, I hung out with a friend who I had a falling out with three years ago. We didn't talk for a year, but because both of us decided not to turn our disagreements into personal grudges, we were able to come back together again more recently. You might say – "You should have stuck it out with your friend," but it took both of us moving on from the places we were in order to see that we still could be friends.

  12. Guest says:

    To disregard or neglect a friend/lover or someone who has been part of your life over a period of time intentionally, because knowing them does not serve you any longer or your intentions or what ever it is you may be perusing for yourself , for it seems here it is done only for ones own ego, with little consideration of what the other may be going through. is in my point of view and/or understanding of the Buddha teachings about as far away from compassion /unconditional love a human-being can become. Intentional = Conditional. I only know of a few who have intentionally neglected/ ignored others, and they have always had quite strong psychopathic tendencies. A psychopath is always in it for their self even when it seems like they are caring for and helping others. The definition of their "friends" are people who support the psychopath and protect them from the consequence of their own antisocial behavior. Shallow friendships, low emotional intelligence, using people, antisocial attitudes and failure to learn from the repeated consequences of their choices and actions help identify the psychopath.
    I have always wondered how anybody can find peace or any form of unconditional love/ compassion within them selfs by just cutting someone off? I guess for a Psychopaths, if the outcome does not go as he/she planned there is no other way for them other then to conditionally ignore/ neglect.

  13. Wendy says:

    Dear Nathan, I am not talking the case of people needing space for a little while to get over something, that was not the impression I got of what the author was trying to express. The title says, “divorce.” That implies a serious separation. I said if it was harmful, people shouldn’t allow that in their lives

    I can’t go into details but I know many drama addicts and listen to them. Listening doesn’t enable them and maybe I can actually benefit them by giving them more positive insights. Even if I don’t, I’m not going to avoid everyone that adds stress to my life because I love people. I have no idea what they are going through privately but if I can help them, I never see that as a problem or burden. Even if it’s irrational, they are still in pain.

    Long story short and pardon the “drama,” but I have known many people with cancer, dying young and old and they all complain… about pain, quality of life, things they can’t do. I’d gladly listen to them bitch and moan all day long rather than visit their silent tombstone.

    The thing is suffering is suffering. Whether they are crying over a toaster or something else. If they aren’t hurting you, you can only help them.

    As Bono would say, “we have to carry each other.”

  14. Shelby says:

    Yes, it may seem like drama: being a "friend" to one going through a rough year, with a lot on their plate – husband (cheating or not, rehab or not, great marriage this year or not), kids (twins or maybe not) and perhaps a stressful job too (too bad we can't all be living in the woods, writing all day, hoping to pay next month's rent – and, not on a credit card).

    Or, "the drama" may simply be life. Only seemingly drama to those who just broke up with their ex-love of their life (and require a TON), have a lonely, shallow existence and will never know what it's like to juggle a famly, a job and a high-maintenance friendship where the friend requires being #1 under impossible circumstances. Maybe one day when you need a true friend without judgement, there will be at least one friendship left you haven't divorced.

    Ever thoughtof this – could be at the point one decides to divorce a friend, is just the point when one gets the hint? Maybe the selfish, negative and depressing attitude was wearing on them and they actually divorced you?

  15. nathan says:

    There's a difference between someone who is bitching and moaning and struggling with life, and someone who demands that everyone around them drop everything and focus on their suffering every time you see them. I had a friend like this once, and I wasn't about to be his therapist for the rest of my life. Wendy, what you write sounds really close to being a therapist. I hope I am just misinterpreting what you have written.


    Although I may sound like I'm being tough and callous, I actually have rarely chosen to deliberately cut people out of my life. I have friends who have listened to me wail on and on about jobs, relationships, politics, etc. And I've done the same for them. That, to me is friendship – a love that flows back and forth. The few times I have deliberately ended a relationship (friendship or romantic), it was because the whole relationship had become one-sided, where I felt like the other person didn't care about who I was as a person: they only wanted another sympathizer to whatever gripe or struggle they were dealing with.

    What I find lacking in this discussion is the fact that the author says she's only recently changed the way she goes about relationships. She's trying to change longstanding patterns of what it sounds like involved being a doormat. Maybe she's made some mistakes, and probably she'll have better insight into things after some more time has passed. But a lot of commenters seem to be righteously dismissing her as shallow, mean-spirited, etc. This is sad.

    How many people go through life maintaining every friendship that they have ever developed?

    Maybe more important, how many people go through life without having major clashes with someone close that lead to a permanent separation?

  16. michael says:

    I want to chime in here. My partner has a friend that I truly think she needs to "divorce". Yes, it is that serious. Serious enough that I won't give that opinion to her unless she asks for it. This "friend" is someone who is always in need of all of the attention in the relationship. Literally, I've seen her countless times call her friend asking for advice or support, and this friend always, without fail, turns the conversation around to her own drama and leans on my partner, even when my partner is at her most compromised. Sorry, that is not a friendship, that is one person USING the other person as a whipping post. If this is what the author is going through, bravo for taking care of herself and letting her friend deal with her drama on her own.

    AND: this might actually be good for the "divorced" friend — it might help the person come to terms with some things in her life that she should be dealing with. Then who knows? The friend goes back to the author and asks to be back in each others lives with more solid footing. THey'd probably end up with a more solid friendship.

    Shelby, until you walk in someone else's shoes, leave the judgement behind.

  17. michael says:

    Also, "guest", what if the friend you are divorcing is the psychopath? — if your friend is intentionally ignoring your needs (eg only allowing the friendship to be one sided, and using their friends without any reciprocation) because that is how I interpret this article. There can be no resolution to such a situation — only dissolution.

  18. Mr. Shelby says:


  19. nathan says:

    You must have been lucky to not have people come in your life who are either abusive or who don't respect boundaries. One of the few friends I have deliberately ended a connection with was a guy who not only demanded that I and others listen to him without any feedback he deemed ran counter to his viewpoint, but also was someone who started getting violent, making threats and a few times, getting physically abusive when I disagreed with something he said. To this day, I wish him well, but that's it.

    I also have had a fair number of female friends or girlfriends who have had to exit men from their lives for similar reasons. Some people who exude drama also end up bringing it into your life, no matter what you do. And when that drama moves into coercion, threats, or physical violence, I think it's time to cut the cord. Threats and physical violence are easy enough to spot, but what about the person who contacts you over and over, and throws tantrums when you don't give them your attention? And when any sign of friendliness is used as an opening to dump another story on you? It's happened to me, and to others I have known. There's no way to offer friendliness to people who are acting like this.

    I truly think you've been fortunate with the people in your life. I believe one can divorce someone from their lives, and at the same time, hold no ill-will towards them. I do metta meditations frequently, and sometimes I bring up people like my old friend, and offer him kindness in that way. Giving people basic respect, knowing we are all connected – I'm all about that. If someone is in imminent danger and I can help, I try to cultivate the courage to help in such situations. But I don't think "being friendly" should be a requirement, especially towards people who have harmed you in the past.

    Maybe the author's examples aren't drastic enough to require such action, but I fully believe that some situations require such action.

  20. Wendy says:

    Well, I was very clear in posting that if they are being threatened or harmed they shouldn't allow that in their lives. I absolutely agree that we should stay away from dangerous people.

  21. Guest says:

    Psychopathic personalities are much more common than most of us realize. They can have high verbal intelligence, but lack emotional intelligence. I lived with one who I thought, felt like I did. She didn't though, She tried but in the end she blew it, and blew it badly. Interestingly enough every article I read typifies her behavior. I loved this woman, I genuinely loved her.

    I think they do experience emotion but that it is a learned response, their lack of conscience over rides their emotions and they continue on with no feeling. Yet i have not cut her off, nor do i ignore her when she does make contact. ( which has become less and less over the years) Our friendship does not serve me at all anymore as it once used to a long time ago, but I know now that she is not well, and if i can be of help to her in any way i will do that.
    Psychopaths will charm the pants of there victims and promise them eternal love and friendship, but they are make-believers.
    Joslyn's Friend Marco”—a friend of twenty years. Yet Marco, it turns out, thought of her as “the girl I don’t tell my wife I still talk to.” If this really has turned out that way as she says , then yes i would for sure say that he has a tendency towards psychopathic personality disorder, because they will so willingly and cleverly ( manipulatively) keep there victim hanging in there making make-believe promises, that they seldom for-fill unless it is beneficial only for them selves, and keeping her as a secret, well that says it all!
    For them it is detrimental to be caught out, if his wife now knows……. He will most likely Ignore Joslyn, and if he were ever to make contact, will it be beneficial for her if she ignores him? Well i personally think it may only result in feeding his illness.
    I personally am Honest, so honest that some friends have found me to be shockingly open. Yet over the years i have had those same friends come back into my life and thank me for having been so honest. Honestly i could never willingly or forcefully ever ignore any friend trying to make contacted with me, I could not live with myself if i knowingly cut somebody off who once may have meant the world to me.

  22. whosit? says:

    Wooooooooooah, so many heated and personalized comments here!! Yeehaw, internet candy!! This blog seems to have brought out a heckuva lotta drama [gender neutral monarch]s! And How!

    I smell movie deal, Joslyn Hamilton. Take this and make it The Friend Divorce Blog, let all the crazies post their self-aggrandizing hubub, and wait for Hollywood to call. Black limousine, $$ in the bank.

  23. Secret says:

    "There will be a return to Harmony when connecting is valued more than separation "

  24. yogadarla says:

    gotta agree with Joslyn on this one. people grow… people move on.
    sometimes people will take and take and take- and emotional vampires are exhausting.

    i have a friend i am currently "avoiding" because she wears me out! there are no quick conversations – no "just checking in to say hey- i love you" phone calls. it's all drama- over analyzing – and every fricken detail of every fricken thing. too heavy and too much- is just too damn much. she called last week when she was clearly intoxicated and i "put her off" until this week. so far… her sober moments have kept her from calling. and i am glad. really glad. it's too hard.

  25. Jennifer D. says:

    Sounds like Joslyn is the drama-filled one. It seems odd to write such a cruel blog about friends you once called your "best friends". SEems maybe Joslyn was the one that got hurt and instead of handling it maturely, she handled dramatically. A friend that gets so upset about another friend's personal drama sounds a bit selfish and in need of the attention. Friends go through periods of drama in their life and their best friend is there to be accepting and nonjudgemental. If that grows tiresome then, friends should respect one another enough to communicate their feelings in a loving way. You never know when the tables will be turned and you need your friend to be there for you time and time again. A best friend is someone you know you can turn to without judgement when things are tough. You can be honest and genuine with them. Yes, we grow, people change and move on and friends grow distant, but that is the way it is sometimes. Unfort, sometimes there isn't time to foster a friendship perfectly becuase of other life responsibilities. It's cicular. Instead of sounding spiteful, cynical and dramatic about it, lovingkindness should be expressed through acceptance and no expectations.

  26. This is a fantastic piece. Thank you for writing it. Ending a friendship is far from easy, but is sometimes necessary. Especially if it impacts your family as a whole. Look forward to more! Cheers!

  27. Don says:

    There's nothing like finding an article at the perfect time. This article validates what happened with a best friend about two months ago, after a seven month process to try and steer him away from his usual self-destructive patterns. It became evident to me that normal conversations and dialogue were becoming a spiral of energy loss and growing frustration. The minute I upped the ante and didn't buy into his "hee hee, no 600-lb gorilla in this room" view of life, I got a tidal wave of anger and resentment, was immediately de-friended in fb and blocked from his profile as well. It made me question the validity of the past 10 years or was a true indication of the downward spiral he's in.

    Like I said, it's been a couple of months and while sad, I realize the healing process is in full force. Thanks for a great article!

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