How to Break Up with Friends You Don’t Actually Like
Kris Drewry is the author of Breakup Positive. This is how she came to the freeing realization that you don't need to be friends with people you don't like.
It started with the D word: Divorce. My ex-husband and I were together for nine years. We married when I was just 25. Looking back after our split, I don’t think I was ever truly myself when I was with him—most likely because for part of that time, I didn’t know who I was yet. I just went with the flow. I was a small town-girl from a farm in Virginia; he had lived in big cities for years, and instead of creating my own life, I passively fit myself into his. I wasn’t confident; his personality was larger than life. I was still finding my way in my career; he was established and ready for early retirement, so I felt chasing my dreams would mess up the future he had planned.
The problem with not saying what's on your mind is that issues that can be solved aren’t. By the time we split up I was more resentful than I’d known possible, and that’s a very sad place to be in.
Those first months following the breakup, it was hard to get out of bed. Even though I was the one who had checked out of my marriage, I was left with a million questions: How did I end up here? What did I do wrong? Am I letting everyone down? How could I have failed so miserably at this? But most importantly, Who am I if not my husband’s wife? That was the most terrifying question that would keep me up at night—who I was and how I was going to change my life moving forward. I was scared of ending up unhappy.
When the haze began to lift, though (part of that was forcing myself to leave the apartment), I felt lighter. Like I was finally free to learn about myself and what would make me happy. It’s terrifying and exhilarating to realize that you get a second chance.
But there was another existential crisis waiting for me at this juncture: Figuring it out alone. I leaned on my friends, as every movie about divorce tells you to, but something seemed off. The people I thought were my friends for so long either turned away from me like my divorce was contagious or took advantage of my foggy emotional state, using me. I was suddenly free on date night so I became the baby sitter; they would dish about their day but “have to run” when I needed to talk about feeling lonely; when I wanted, needed, a night out with friends, they were never not busy with their significant others.
Had they always been like this? I wondered. And it became clear: I had been maintaining relationships that were not balanced, not just in my marriage but in my social life too. I needed to remove the negatives. My life needed a serious detox—and not of the green juice and lemon water variety.
A friend detox may sound like high-level diplomacy but only until you take a hard look at who you are allowing to take up time in your life. Are you surrounding yourself with positive people who support you? For me, the answer to this question was a resounding “no.” The people around me didn’t have my best interests at heart; they were happy to take, not to give. There was the couple that told me that I didn’t try hard enough to make my marriage work through my sobs; the girlfriend who I learned was letting me take her to lunch—but then turning around and sharing the private details of my rocking breakup with others; my professional collaborators, who were happy to take my ideas and use them as their own without giving me credit.
It was time to gently remove those people from my day to day. That didn’t mean unfriending them on Facebook or giving them the cold shoulder at parties. But understanding who in your life is good for a coffee and some gossip when you bump into them at Whole Foods and who you want to share life’s important moments with—that’s an important distinction to make.
To my surprise, my “detox” never caused any drama. When I did simply take a step back from the friends who were unhealthy for me, they easily slipped away with no resistance. (Proof, if I needed any, that this move was for the best.) But the people who remained were true to the core. I didn’t necessarily add more relationships into my life, I just began to pull closer to the people who who were still there and had my best interests at heart (most of them I had know for much of my life). I now have a very small group of amazing girlfriends, and I don’t waste energy on those who don’t matter. Many of them—to my luck!—have become my professional colleagues too. I felt, for the first time, like I’d found my adult family.
Did I need to get divorced to overhaul my social life? Probably not. (Definitely not.) But it was a wakeup call to take a look at the things, habits, and people in my life that simply weren’t serving a purpose for me. You’ll always have to put up with the difficult boss or the cousin-in-law whose mission is making you look bad at Thanksgiving dinner. But you do have the option to clear your days of anything you have control over that isn’t positive.
In my case, there was still one thing I needed to do. I needed to detox New York City from my system. It was a place I had called home for more than 10 years, a place that I loved so much. But now it held too many sad memories of a different past. It had been less than a year since my separation, and I felt surer of myself and of who the important people in my life were. But those ties were stronger for it, and I wasn’t worried about losing touch with the family I’d created in New York. So I packed up and moved to LA, the birthplace of the detox—green juice and all.