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?