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6 Women On The Moment They Knew They Needed To End A Friendship

Walking away from a friendship can be hard, but sometimes the alternative is worse.

Breakups can be tough. After months, years, or even decades of weaving your life together with another person, separation can be painful. That’s true of romantic partners, and it’s often just as true of friends. In some cases, it can feel like starting an entire social life over. In others, it can complicate ongoing friendships when third parties remain connected to you and “your ex.”

Nobody enjoys a breakup, even if it is ultimately for the best. And “friendship divorces” are rarely done lightly. So why, when they make things so hurtful and complicated, do some people choose it anyway? We spoke to six women on the moment they knew they needed to end a friendship. Their replies were vulnerable, honest, and (many said) still painful to share, but therapeutic. And in the end, even if some of these breakups were more Real-Housewives-level dramatic than amicable, they found that ending these friendships was better for their mental and emotional health.

Megan, 40

Megan had found her people: friends who got her through every major life event with encouragement and love. But when Megan and her partner opted for a transracial adoption, the limits of their support — and their unwillingness to engage in confronting their privilege — became apparent.

When I graduated college and got my first apartment, I got really plugged in with a group of young adults at a local church. All childless and either married or engaged at the time we connected, we “did life together” for many years, through weddings, job losses, first homes, and new babies. When several of us found ourselves with infants around the same time, that became my lifeline and my core friend group. Overall, this friend group — and in particular four other moms — were central to my life for a decade.

We chose to build our family by adoption, and these friends walked with us through that journey. When our first child was placed with us, a baby boy, they helped throw me a shower. I carted our son around to various play dates and coffee mornings for several years with these moms, and considered them my closest friends. Our son was white like us, and we were not immediately identifiable as an adoptive family. I just felt like “one of the crew.” When we chose to grow our family for a second time, a few years later, we adopted a sibling group that was Black.

“My kids will literally always come first.”skynesher/E+/Getty Images

Just a few short months after our family grew, teen Michael Brown was killed by a white police officer, and race became the center of many conversations across America. I spoke up on behalf of my children, I cried to my friends with fear and worry for my Black son. Rather than offer the comfort and support they had for years, many of those friends shut down, pulled away, and became cold and distant. I was “too angry.” These topics were uncomfortable. I had to temper my feelings if I wanted to continue to bop around with my mommy group, and I knew that I couldn't do that. To do so would have been my own white privilege, but as a mom to Black kids, I knew I needed to walk away and find a support network that understood.

I walked away. We switched churches, moved to a more diverse neighborhood (where some “dear friends” wouldn’t visit because they saw it as too “urban”), and I began to make friends with moms in our new town. They understood my fears. They gave me advice, we held each other while we cried with worry for our Black kids, and the state of America in general. Since then, there is one mom from that group who has kept in close touch, and has sought out to learn more and be a continued support to me. The others seemed relieved to not have to deal with it. They sometimes like a photo on Instagram, but even that is rare anymore. It was one of the hardest and scariest things I've done, but my kids will literally always come first.

Alexandra, 59

Alexandra and two other women were friends for more than a decade after having met at work. But when they began to get more vocal about their politics (that didn’t align with her own views), Alexandra couldn’t see how their bond could continue as usual.

I had to break up with two friends when Trump appeared. I knew they were Conservatives, they knew I was a Liberal, but it seemed like Trump gave them liberty to lose their filter and overnight their vocabulary changed. I couldn’t believe it, but I heard them say things I never saw in them. Was I blind? I don’t think so, but Trump loosened their charade or whatever it was they were putting out into the world before him. To hear them use words like “illegals” and “scammers” literally made me gasp. They never spoke that way before. I told them they were using offensive language and they told me the United States needed Trump. Done. Just done. I was friends with both women over 10 years. I am still disappointed and this is a small town of 10,000. I hope I never run into them.

Elisabeth, 33

Sometimes people grow apart — even after a lifetime together — and it can be hard to recognize when it’s time to let go. In those instances, Elisabeth found, our worst instincts can take over and cause us to do things we regret.

“I started to notice patterns where I felt really left out and excluded and like an outsider...”Twenty47studio/Moment/Getty Images

I just went through a massive friend break up. It was heartbreaking. I was at fault: basically I got caught gossiping and accidentally spreading private info that turned into a rumor. I didn’t realize it would be as hurtful as it was. This isn’t an excuse. I was wrong and took accountability and apologized, but I decided ultimately to end the lifelong friendships.

There are times when I feel so conflicted. Did I do the right thing? I feel real grief for those friendships. But when I was looking at why I behaved in a way that felt so antithetical to who I am as a person, I started to notice patterns where I felt really left out and excluded and like an outsider among those friends for so long. And so I think gossiping was a way to assert myself into the group and at the same time subconsciously blow up friendships that I knew in my heart weren’t working.

It was the worst way to leave a friendship. I wish I had been braver and spoken up earlier and not let it get to the point where I felt I needed to hurt someone to exit the friendship. It was a really not nice way to behave but it was a wake up call that I need to be in friendships where I feel safe and seen and cared for and those people deserve the same, and I clearly couldn’t be that person for them. So letting those friends go was ultimately the right thing to do ... I just wasn’t my best self in those friendships.

Stephanie, 44

We were all desperate for connection and camaraderie during the pandemic. But, as Stephanie discovered, the kind of closeness that develops in stressful, scary circumstances can easily go awry.

I knew I had to break up with a friend when she talked trash on my husband and kids. She is a neighbor, and we became close just before the pandemic and then bubbled up and spent too much time together through it. She was unhappy in her marriage and we would vent to each other, but when she started saying things about my family — forget it. We ended things a little over two years ago. It's a bit awkward since I see her around— it didn't end well — but the second I got out of it, I realized how toxic the entire relationship had been and I felt so much freer. The people I spend my time with now are positive and lift me up. I am so much happier.

“Mary,” 35

It can he hard to find true friends at the office, and when Mary found two at once she thought she hit the co-worker jackpot... that is until one began to grow jealous of her bond with the other.

I met my current best friend, “Dara” and “Jeanette” at the same time. They were colleagues and established friends who joined my firm from another firm at the exact same time. For a while we all had a lot of fun, both at work and in our personal lives. But over time, it became clear that not only did I not have a ton in common with “Jeanette” but she was pretty insecure and could be toxic. I think she was scared of “Dara” and I becoming closer and leaving her behind, so she would make up drama and try to play us off one another. It didn’t work, because it was so obviously that she was trying to drive a wedge between us and, sadly, it made her fears come true. Still, I remained friendly with her until she started spreading rumors about me at work. NOPE! I remained professional with her but stopped socializing with her completely. Luckily for me she left a few months later (let’s just say she didn’t reserve her toxicity for just me and clients and management took notice) so I didn’t have to deal with her every day.

“Philippa,” 40

Phillippa’s decision to leave a friendship occurred as an epiphany in the strangest of places: an ATM in Cuba, thousands of miles from home. But it’s now evident to her that tensions had been building well before that fateful moment.

“I made the decision at that Cuban ATM that this friendship was just not serving me and I didn’t like the person I was when I was with her.”FG Trade/E+/Getty Images

We had been friends for six or seven years, and we were traveling together to Cuba, one of the most unconnected and inconvenient countries in the world. My friend had always been tight with money and it used to drive us all bonkers, but on the trip it reached a whole new level. She wouldn’t volunteer to pay upfront for anything, even though everything was being split in the end. And then she was having trouble with her ATM card. So I ended up lending her over $1,000 even though I was on unpaid leave at the time. It turned out her ATM card wasn’t working simply because she hadn’t put any money into that account before going overseas traveling. I made the decision at that Cuban ATM that this friendship was just not serving me and I didn’t like the person I was when I was with her. Honestly, it had been building for months: over time, hanging out felt uneasy. We were two very different personalities and I knew it was an unhealthy dynamic.

When we got back home, I stopped asking her to hang out one on one. I’d still see her at group [events] and invite her to things like my birthday, but I wouldn’t message her outside of group chats. Interestingly we are now coworkers again and have both gone away and lived life a bit these last four years. When we do chat now it’s much healthier and more enjoyable now that we’ve had a break.