It's expected in our culture that most romantic relationships will eventually end, while most friendships, by default, will endure. Because we take the longevity of our friendships for granted, we often miss the signs a friendship is over or reaching the end of the road. If you're at this stage, just like in a romantic relationship, you may be able to work out your differences or you may just not be right for each other. Either way, catching the warning signs before it's too late helps.
One of the hardest lessons to learn about friend "breakups" is that the fact that you were once compatible as friends doesn't mean you are right for each other at this moment. You might even fit into each other's lives again one day. But that doesn't mean you are serving each other's best interests right now.
I use the word "compatible" because that's another thing to remember about friend breakups: they don't always occur due to someone's shortcomings or inappropriate behavior (though they can); they can simply result from a personality mismatch. Here are some signs a friendship could be going downhill, and either requires both friends' effort to recover or should be over for good.
1. Your Friend Is Not Who You Thought They Were
Like romantic love, love between friends takes months or years to develop. But sometimes, we think we've found a true friend after an initial period of infatuation (that part where you first meet someone and think "OMG! They're so cool!"). But this stage won't teach you whether someone is a positive influence or can be trusted with your secrets or truly wants the best for you or puts thought into your relationship. Only time will tell you that.
Some people in particular have charismatic personalities or a way of making other people feel important. These people tend to make friends easily but don't always keep them. And they'll often make you feel like you're really close before you've even gotten to know each other. Friendships formed on these grounds are always precarious. Remember that you don't really know someone after just a few weeks or months, so if they suddenly do something that seems uncharacteristic, don't be surprised; just maintain a healthy dose of skepticism until you've really gotten to know them.
2. You Wouldn't Be Friends If You Met Today
Especially if you and your friend have known each other for years, the commonalities that brought you together may not exist anymore. As we get older, we develop stronger moral beliefs, and the fact that someone else doesn't share our values may be a bigger deal at age 25 than it was at age 18. A friendship should be an active decision rather than something we hold onto by default. So, honestly ask yourself, "If we just met today, would I elect to befriend this person?" Remember, if you want to be friends with someone because of who they once were rather than who they are today, you don't really want to be friends with them.
3. You're Recurrently Upset With Each Other
During most friendships, someone will at some point make a mistake that upsets the other person. Then they apologize, you talk about it so they understand why it hurt you, and you move on. But when this happens again — and again and again and again — it can no longer be treated as an isolated incident. When it gets to the point that you can no longer trust someone to treat you with the kindness you deserve, your friendship is on thin ice.
4. You Feel Worse Around Them Than You Do Alone
Many of us have at some point experienced a friendship with a Debbie Downer. Of course, life isn't all roses, and I'm certainly not saying you have to pretend it is in order to be a good friend. I would hope that when my friends ask me "How are you?" they'd like me to answer honestly rather than automatically saying "Good." But a problem occurs when someone starts making their friends feel as bad as they do, whether by criticizing them, predicting the worst possible outcomes of their decisions, or undermining their triumphs and joys. Sometimes, both friends wallow in their negativity together, and that's not good for anyone. Friends should lift each other up and help each other see the good in themselves, and when that's not happening, the friendship may not be healthy.
If you think you might be the source of negativity in a friendship, remember that it's hard to do a good job loving someone else when you hate yourself. You may subconsciously resent someone's success because you wish it was yours or want to see them fail so that you don't feel all alone. Forming healthier friendships may require work on your own self-esteem.
5. The Relationship Isn't Equal
I've seen several of my own and others' friendships form when one person is lost and the other appears to have all the answers they're looking for. Then, the previously lost person puts the person with the answers on a pedestal, and for the remainder of the friendship, it is assumed that the "superior" person is always right. These friendships rarely last; if they do, they must adapt to become more equal, or they become more like a mentorship, which is very different. If a friendship gets on shaky grounds because one person challenges the other's beliefs, it probably wasn't an equal relationship to begin with, and it probably won't last.
Another variation of a power imbalance in a friendship occurs when one person is spending more time communicating and planning than the other, rendering the person willing to put in less work the dominant party. You shouldn't ever feel like you're chasing after a friend. Nobody is so wonderful that they deserve the attention of someone they're not attending to equally.
6. You're A Bad Influence On Each Other
If your friend is leading you to make decisions you wouldn't otherwise make, that could be a good thing — maybe you wanted to be a bit more adventurous, for example — but sometimes, it can lead you to engage in destructive behaviors. This sometimes happens when one person brings the other along with them to do things they wouldn't otherwise do, like drink excessively or hang out with the wrong people. It can also occur through bad advice. If you consistently regret taking someone's advice or they consistently regret taking yours, you may not be a good influence on each other, and the friendship may not be for the best.
7. You Can't Talk About All These Things
None of these signs are friendship deal breakers in of themselves — if you can work through them. If one or both of you isn't willing to address them, though, they will only fester and breed resentment. You should feel safe bringing up any problem you're having in a friendship, whether it's something the other person said or did or an issue you're going through yourself, and as long as you phrase it kindly, your friend should welcome the feedback. We all know it's hard to take criticism without getting defensive, but if someone shuts you down when you bring up a problem, that problem will never be solved and you'll feel the need to repress every problem you have in the future, rendering the friendship completely impossible.
One thing I've learned over the years is that no relationship is set in stone. I've come to recognize that even the closest, most stable friendships I enjoy now could one day end. You can never see the entirety of a person, and even if someone is good for you in their entirety right now, they may not be a few years down the line. Don't feel like you need to be a martyr for the relationship and keep it going despite the pain it's causing you. But don't dismiss a friendship because of one mistake either. When someone gets hurt (assuming the offense isn't unforgivable), that could be a great opportunity to talk about how you feel and strengthen your friendship. Or, if they don't respond well, that's a valuable piece of information in of itself.
If you do decide to terminate a friendship, remember to do it gracefully and avoid burning bridges. If you rant about what an insensitive person they are, you may regret it when you run into them at a mutual friend's party. If you unfriend them on Facebook, you may feel foolish years later when your anger subsides and you wish you could get back in touch. For now, quietly falling off their radar or telling them it's best you go your separate ways, hitting the "unfollow" button if need be, and taking out your anger in an email-to-never-be-sent may be the classiest way to deal with your feelings. Regardless of how you feel about your ex-friend, you owe it to yourself to do what's best for your own well being.