College Polish

04.29.139:00 AM ET

Breaking Up With Friends

Ditching your gal pals can be harder than dumping a guy.

People always talk about the lifelong friendships that start in college. What they fail to mention is how many of them don’t last until graduation.

Friendships fade as each semester ends. You hung out because you lived next door and because you had similar schedules. You shared laundry detergent and impromptu post-exam tequila shots. You bonded over Psychology 101 homework and the luxury of a required freshman meal plan—watery eggs and Nutella you stole together.

It sucks when those friendships fizzle into nothing, but it’s rarely tragic. She probably didn’t know much about your family and high school friends, or your deepest hopes and fears anyway. This makes future situations relatively easy: you see her on the street, you wave, you exchange a few words, and then you both carry on as usual. It’s not that you are actively not friends, but you’re not actively friends either. Time just did its thing.

More traumatic, however, is losing friends purposefully, which is messy and terrible. It’s hard to know when to tough out the rough patches or when to bail. At a certain point, it’s important to cut ties with friends that only detract from your life. It’s an ambiguous situation to be in, but in the interest of being the best you (“self-actualization” as you learned in Psychology 101), there are two types of toxic friends that you’re better off ditching.

The first is the “black-hole friend.” My freshman year of college, I made one close friend in particular. We did a lot of normal, healthy things together: talked, studied, partied, laughed, cried.

Over time, an imbalance started to build. I comforted her when her grandfather unexpectedly died. I was there to cheer her on when stress meltdowns loomed large in the middle of the night (this happened at least twice a week, and I regularly trekked the 20 minutes to her apartment). I accompanied her to the nearest Duane Reade when she needed Plan B. I shared a bottle of wine with her in celebration of an internship offer. I cooked dinner with her before we settled down to study for finals. I did these things because those were my duties as a friend. I wanted to be there for her.

Yet she was nowhere in sight when I needed her. Everything in my life—the small and the catastrophic alike—was of no interest to her. She didn’t care if I cut bangs or not, and she really didn’t care if I was having an existential crisis questioning everything: my school choice, my major, and my long-term relationship. She was scarcer than water in the Sahara when I turned to her for help.

Another kind of “black-hole friend” had been around for years. We had a much denser history together and tons of instances where we had successfully worked through disagreements, forgave one another, and moved forward in our friendship. This made it harder to accept that it was time to move on.

Gradually, she became less genuine. She stopped sticking up for me. Our conversations felt like scripted Dr. Phil shows. She belittled me with unsolicited, patronizing life advice like a tape recorder. It was as though she didn’t have time to tailor her responses to our specific conversations. She didn’t care about my joys or my sorrows, and I was often purposefully excluded from significant parts of her life. She kept me around, but at her disposal.

I know relationships can never be perfectly tit for tat—and they shouldn’t be, because true love and respect for another person is selfless. However, when there’s zero effort on one end, growth stops. I was no longer learning about forgiveness and loyalty, patience and communication. I was learning only what it was to be used.

The second toxic type is the “jealous partner friend.” These are the friends that have power issues; they put you down to build themselves up.

I had a wonderful friend who was supportive, honest, and fun; that is, until she saw my GPA. Then things changed. She no longer celebrated my victories with me because for her, I had become her benchmark, her opponent. If I did something noteworthy, she’d one-up me with her latest and greatest thing. If I had a good day, she’d had a better day. If I did well, she did great.

I realized that I shouldn’t have to hide something like my GPA from a friend. A friend should be happy for me and my accomplishments. A friend should recognize accomplishments as collective successes.  

At first, it was hard to distance myself. I wasn’t sure if I should make one last-ditch effort to talk it through or if I should slowly pull away. In the end, I found that I had to do what felt most fair to myself and to the friendship.

With the younger friendships, drifting away was easy enough—text messages didn’t receive urgent replies, I didn’t run to comfort them, and I stopped sharing any emotional details. But with the more mature friendship, the separation required one last heart to heart. I expressed my hurt and disappointment, and then gradually pulled away. Getting the point across while avoiding a devastating explosion took the right amount of firmness and tact that can only be determined by an individual situation.

It was worth it to sever the ties. Even if I see these friends in the dining hall, on the street, or at a bar, I know that for whatever reason, our friendship had turned toxic—and toxicity outweighs nostalgia.