How Do You Fire a Friend?

By Janey Womeldorf

We leave home, we scrimp, we study, we work. We move, we marry, fill our houses with stuff. We have children, we stress, we long for more sleep. We eat out, drive-thru, buy a slow cooker in hope. We gain weight, we diet, our closet has two sizes. Ten years fly by over bagged salad and lattes. We drink, we justify, we make lists and rush. Pain happens, we cry, we recover and move on. We turn 40, find clarity, we slow down and breathe. We crave simple and downsize, we justify less. Then one day it hits us: We’d rather quit the race, grow our own veggies and spend more time with the family and friends we love.

Gone is the 20-something person checking off boxes, the 30-something making it work or the 40-something questioning the point. The chapters of our life have shaped our priorities, confidence and values, and we are not the same person we were years ago. The reality is, our lives are dynamic; the problem is, not everything survives the ride – including friendships. A special few will last a lifetime, others blossom in one chapter yet fade away later, and some fall by the wayside for different reasons.

“I’m firing Alice,” my sister announced one day. “Her constant whining is exhausting, and I’ve had enough. If she calls, just tell her I’m out.”

“Does your friend know she’s fired?” quizzed my father, confused by this new “modern” method of ending a friendship.

“No, it’s not like I’m going to send her a pink slip; she’ll figure it out.”

The demise of the friendship wasn’t just Alice’s fault. Maybe it was my sister becoming more selective about whom she chose to surround herself with; maybe it was being a cancer survivor. Either way, she no longer desired the company of someone who drained more from the well than they added. It wasn’t like my sister hadn’t tried; she had listened and counseled Alice for over ten years, but her friend’s unwillingness to actually change anything about her victim-attitude, unfulfilling life was grounds for termination.

Many of us know an Alice. She is the colleague, the neighbor or the coffee buddy who probably doesn’t realize that her negativity and pessimism suck the joy out of what once was a fun, engaging friendship. As our sympathy dwindles and our frustration increases, we even begin to dislike ourselves and question how good of a person we really are. The fact is when a friend no longer makes you feel good about yourself, it’s time to move on – the question is how. Maybe we should just follow the example of children.

Kids show up at the playground one day and announce, “I don’t want to be your friend anymore.” The other child runs off crying, then ten minutes later is playing in the sandbox with a new best friend. It’s immediate, decisive and refreshingly free of the mind-consuming, over analysis we adults do so well.

Maybe I’m just lucky. My lesser friendships have always fizzled out on their own so I’ve never needed to fire a friend; I have, however, promoted a few.

My husband and I recently promoted a couple who are friends of ours from “tier-two” to “tier-one” level. Tier-one friends are the select few who are your first line of defense to socialize with – they make you laugh, conversations are riveting, you share and respect their values, and they make you feel good about yourself. Tier-two friends are still enjoyable but you see them less often, stay less engaged in their lives, and getting together with them lacks the same urgency. There is also a third tier – distant Christmas-letter friends that you see on occasion or friends who instill the “should” word when you think about getting together with them, even though you always have a great time when you do.

We advised our friends of their promotion over a laughter-filled evening appropriately celebrated with a wicked amount of wine.

“Tier one – what an honor!” they gushed, as we toasted the friendship. The reality is, this couple are fun to play with and are welcome in our sandbox any day. Fingers crossed we will always feel that way about them – the alternative is too messy – it’s not like dating.

Relationships are straightforward when you’re dating – you marry or you break up; either way, there’s closure. The rules are unwritten, but we all know them. Take the face to face break up: There is no easy way to tell another person that you just don’t fancy them, so instead we lie through our teeth in a fake attempt to soften the blow on our unwanted victim and make out we care. Blaming the job is a popular choice and so much kinder than blaming the real reason – their personality; alternatively, fear of commitment is another crowd pleaser. Within a few days, the relationship is a memory, and life goes on – or at least for one person. Nowadays, however, who even needs to break up face-to-face when you can just e-mail, facebook or worse, send a text!

Unlike couple relationships, mutual friendships operate by different rules. Girlfriends can go months without calling, but all that means is that life is busy. If a man doesn’t call a woman for two weeks, it’s over. One girlfriend and I can go months between calls then pick up the phone and chat like it was yesterday. Time holds different values between girlfriends; maybe that’s why it took Alice so long to “get the message.”

As the chapters of our lives unfold and play out, friendships will come and friendships will go. Some endings we will orchestrate; others we are the Alice. I just hope that if ever someone wants to fire me as a friend, they’ll be kind. Don’t let me know, don’t send me a text and certainly don’t write me a letter.

Especially if it contains a pink slip.

About this writer

  • Janey Womeldorf Janey Womeldorf once went to work wearing different shoes. She now freelance writes and scribbles away in Orlando, Florida. It’s probably best.

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