My friend Melissa got word of this, which has been causing me stress. She and I grew up together and were best friends in high school. We partied hard. Then, in our early twenties we kind of grew apart but kept in touch. She was even my maid of honor. But for the past few years I have been getting slowly annoyed by how much she lives in the past. She keeps making the same jokes, telling the same stories (more dramatic and overly-fabricated each time) as when we were teens and has this constant craving for attention. And every time I do or like something, she copies it and is like “OMG, we’re so the same!” We are so not the same though (For one thing, she quits everything she starts. Plus, she dropped out of college and married a simple-minded, right-wing guy…).
Anyway, she heard my friends and I took up tennis again and she kind of invited herself to tag along a few weeks ago, because she wants to play tennis too all of a sudden. It’s been a real bummer. She keeps clinging on to me and interrupting my friends’ conversations because she doesn’t know what/who we’re talking about (our lives). She keeps making jokes no one laughs about. She even texts us when she’s early because she doesn’t want to enter the sports club alone! She tries so hard to fit in, but it’s just not happening. To be honest, I don’t even want it to happen. Because they’re MY friends. We’ve got a good thing going without her!
I don’t think my other friends really have a problem with it (they do feel sorry for her), but I am so out-of-my-mind annoyed. Playing tennis with my friends is my moment to work away the stress of the week, not to add more to the pile. I want to have real conversations with my friends again. I don’t want Melissa to ruin this. Sometimes I feel like she thinks we’re a team, the two of us. We’re so not!
So what should I do? I feel awful about feeling so hateful towards her, but I just cannot help it. I can’t even look her in the eye anymore and I don’t want to share anything with her. I’ve been hoping she would quit the sport, but she just loves it.
I’m going to hell, aren’t I? Any advice would be greatly appreciated! — Zero Love
Well…do you want to be friends with her at all anymore? It doesn’t sound like you do, which is fine, and if that’s the case, then this is as easy (well, “easy”) as breaking up with your friend. It will be uncomfortable to hurt her and you’ll feel guilty, but you’ll basically be free of her forever. You can break up with her essentially by telling her you’d rather she not play tennis with you anymore — that you enjoyed the dynamic of the group as it was and that the number of players was perfect and that having an additional person — even someone you’ve known for a long time — throws all of that off. I’m pretty sure she won’t want to be your friend anymore after that. So if you’re looking for an excuse to get rid of her, there you go.
If, however, you prefer keeping her as a friend but at a much, much longer arm’s length, it will be a little trickier. You can’t ask her not to play tennis with you anymore because that will hurt her enough that she won’t want to be friends with you (and, again, maybe that’s what you want…). What you can do is stop playing tennis yourself. If this is a woman who can’t go into a sports club alone, she probably isn’t going to continue playing tennis with your friends without your being around. Or, maybe she will, but you won’t be involved anymore to be annoyed by her. Still, it’s worth a shot. Find an excuse — like the holidays or a work project or an illness or a vacation or a combination of all of the above — that will keep you from playing tennis with your friends for a couple months. Once the habit of meeting together every week is broken, your friend, who quits everything she starts anyway, will have moved on. Or, at least, that’s the hope, anyway. And once she’s moved on, you can start playing tennis with your friends again.
If that doesn’t work, you could try telling your friend that you don’t feel like you get good one-on-one time with her when she plays tennis with you and you’d rather get lunch together or get coffee or go for a walk. This may backfire though because she may want to do those things in addition to playing tennis with you and your friends, and spending even more time with her might be the last thing you want. Which brings me back to my original question: Do you even desire her in your life at all anymore? And, if so, why? Out of a sense of obligation? A connection to the past? A feeling of nostalgia? Guilt? None of those is a good reason to remain friends with someone you don’t like or enjoy.
Your life now has such small pockets of free time — much, much smaller pockets than when you were in high school and first befriended Melissa. As a working mother and wife myself, I know how precious your time is. You want to protect it. You want to be a little selfish with it. Because after you give your time to work and mothering and being a good wife and taking care of the home and meeting various family and social obligations, there’s just a teeny sliver of free time left for you. I get it. So you have to be really picky about whom you share that little bit of time with. You need for that time to be rejuvenating and uplifting so that you’re recharged for all the work and energy the rest of your life demands of you (because even if that work is often fulfilling, it’s still exhausting). This is the time in life to weed out the people who either don’t fill your current needs or whom you don’t imagine filling your long-term needs either. It’s one thing if Melissa doesn’t fit into your life now, but if she’s someone you don’t imagine wanting in your life a decade from now either, then she’s not worth the effort to maintain ties with.
It can feel very callous to let go of a friend. But… it’s not that different from ending a romantic relationship that no longer works for you. You end a romantic relationship to free yourself from any tension or discomfort the relationship creates as well as to make yourself available for a better match or to fill your time with activities and hobbies and people who bring more joy and fulfillment to your life. And that’s essentially what you’d be doing by leaving a dead-end friendship, too. You just have to decide if you’re ready for that step. Do you see a future together? Do you want her in your life in ten or fifteen years? If so, are you willing to deal with her presence in the short-term? Is having her in your life now, even crashing your tennis club, worth the potential of being life-long friends with her? If not, then a friendship breakup is probably the best answer.
Readers, have you ever been in this position? Have you dumped a friend? Or been dumped? How did you handle it?
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.