When is it time to break up with a bad friend?

Christmas is a time to catch-up with loved ones, and I always make an effort to see my friends before

Christmas is a time to catch-up with loved ones, and I always make an effort to see my friends before the New Year. Recently I organised morning tea with my girlfriends, and they all showed up with platters in tow, save for one exception: Karen*.

Karen is the friend I can always rely on to cancel last-minute. This time, I received a phone call later that same afternoon, with profuse apologies and vague explanations of a hangover. I was unsurprised, but still hurt.

Karen has been through a marriage breakdown, the sale of her family home and lots of soul-searching. Throughout every step of her difficult journey, I have provided a shoulder to cry on. I referred Karen to my favourite doctor, and convened for many late-night conversations that were all about her.

Now I’m going through tough times of my own. My mother has passed away, and I’ve returned to work part-time. My other friends have been incredibly supportive, but Karen has been absent. I could really use her passion and “joie de vivre”.

The truth is though, Karen and I might be overdue for a break-up. There are only so many excuses I can make, before she crosses the threshold between ‘unreliable’ and downright uninvolved.

I’ve done extensive reading on the idea of friendship break-ups, to help inform my decision. According to psychologist Dr Irene Levine, break-ups occur if “one or both friends (do not have) enough interest or energy to keep the friendship together”.

“One of them may be more self-involved, have less need for companionship, or have less time for friends”, Dr Levin explains. “Friendships are voluntary relationships that have to be reciprocal. If one person wants more of a relationship than the other, it rarely works.”

Breaking up with Karen is not a decision I take lightly. Unlike breaking up with a bad partner, separating from a friend is not a pain I can share openly. Nobody buys someone flowers or writes songs about breaking up with a friend, do they?

As author Liz Pryor explains, “friend break-ups tend to go unacknowledged, which can contribute to why people suffer so much from them. When the public response is ‘it happens,’ you feel like you shouldn’t be mourning as much as you are”.

I’d like to focus on the great, enriching friendships that I do have. Firstly though, I intend to sit-down with Karen and have an honest conversation with her about our future. That’s assuming I can get her to stick with a plan…

Have you ever broken up with a bad friend? Do you have any advice for women looking to end certain friendships? When is it time to let go?



  1. I would never end any relationship if I could help it with bad blood, just stop contacting her, a friendship it not like a marriage, there is no binding contract

    • Agree with you all. Some friendships just cool off naturally, some come back, some don’t. I mainly send a text inviting friends so as not to put them on the spot. Most turn up, some text back or even phone. I have a girlfriend whose husband died and I was there for her all the way. She has now met someone else so I rarely see her, but am very happy for her and will always be her friend.

    • I have had friends who left me feeling depressed and drained after visits. I have accepted that and felt that they were going through a bad time and needed support. After a while with some of these friends I noticed that I was doing all the giving and they were just taking. On top of that some were snide and negative about my life. Now they are no longer in my life and I am very careful about who becomes more than a nice acquaintance. Much happier for it.

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  3. Talk and ask for what you want from that friend -then give it some time to hopefully see improvement. Then follow your instints to let it go or not. Sometimes a truth conversatoon can save the friendship. I have in the past year let two friendships go. Just too different these days.

  4. Just step back ,have less contact ,enjoy the friends you do have, it hurts for a little while
    one door shuts and another one opens .
    friends come and go in our lives that’s natural as our lives change

  5. Never actually “broken up” with a friend, just drifted apart. Other friends (living interstate or overseas), I might not see for years except for a Christmas card, but then pick up where we left off when we see each other.

  6. It’s hard, I think we change, and so do they – often it’s mutual, and and go the route. Interests take us where we go, and sometimes that friend is moving in a different directions too – I have one best friend, and we have our own lives, but we still love each other, and accept each other unconditionally

  7. Yes I have. It just got to a point where she became so high maintenance and demanding, that I coulden’t cope with her anymore.
    I see her from time to time and will always love her, but just can’t cope with her and don’t want to.

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