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This person (male) and I (male) went to high school together over 10 years ago, during that time we spent a lot of time together, the typical bro-relationship.

Since then a lot has changed, I went to college, made new friends, got a job, moved in with my gf, found new hobbies and interests, and matured as a person. He on the other hand has been the polar opposite, having a very troubled last 10 years with extreme mental health issues, still living with his parents, being without a job for the longest time and only keeping very few friends of which I'm apparently one. His habits have barely changed since high school. Our interests hardly overlap anymore and since he's stuck in life I feel like I'm watching a movie over and over again whenever we spend time together.

We have grown worlds apart (understatement) and for whatever reason he fails to see that this friendship has run its course. I've managed to reduce it to a bare minimum over the years, but every time he asks to hang out or chat it feels like a chore. I often find myself resorting to real or imaginary excuses to bide time but in the end reluctantly agreeing, because "we're friends" after all.

I tried to hint at the solution but the only thing he took away from that, is that we need to spend more time together.

The only reason I see why this is so difficult is because he is a sociable person that needs people around him, not having many friends and at the same time being oblivious to social intelligence/norms. Him having all the time in the world being without a job, sitting at home not socializing doesn't make it any easier.

Normally one would just let a friendship take its natural course and in this case let it fade away but since he won't let that happen, how should I go about this without offending him?

3 Answers 3

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That is a tough question.

I personally am not an expert on the topic but I have been in a similar situation a few times. I think the most important thing to consider is to what degree you want to end the relationship. For example, do you want a clean break, meaning you have no intention of contacting them again in the future? Or would you maybe just prefer to pause the friendship until they get their life in order? If you get married would you want to invite them to your wedding? The answers to these questions will probably influence how you approach the conversation.

Beyond that, it's good to be prepared for the conversation. Having a speech prepared is probably overkill, but remembering a few bullet points to keep the conversation moving forward is a good idea. It's always best to keep the conversation focused on yourself and avoid assigning blame, criticizing, or bringing up any of your friends' shortcomings. Try to be as explicit with your desired outcome as you can be.

Most importantly be honest and mature, and try to keep it simple. You are probably the best judge of how you believe they will react and if you need to prepare for that. If you have any other close friends in common you may wish to reach out to them and tell them soon after.

Again I am not an expert, these are just a few things I have done or wished I would have in my own experiences.

I hope at least some part of this was helpful.

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I come from a very different culture, but have experience dealing with friendships that have run its course.

Based on my experience, I think you are asking the wrong question. I strongly advise against having a direct conversation with that person about the issue. Not only would such a conversation be difficult and leave a bitter aftertaste, but it also might seriously alienate the person if it went badly. He might feel offended and betrayed and do something you don't even think about, during the conversation or later. He has had mental health issues and such people are especially unpredictable.

Instead, I suggest adopting a simple strategy aimed at making him conclude on his own that the friendship has run its course.

First, never initiate contact with him on your own initiative. Never call him and never send him a message if it's not a response to his message.

Second, if he messages you, be slow to respond, succinct, and passive:

He: Hi, how are you doing?

You (a day later): Hi, I'm fine. Just overburdened by work and responsibilities

Third, if he calls you, answer that you are very busy right now / today / this week / this month. Complain about having things to do and deadlines to meet. Keep calls short.

If he insists on spending time together, say something to this effect:

This month is very difficult. Let me look in my schedule. We can meet in four weeks, on MM-DD. I am sorry but I really can't do it earlier.

When you meet him on the scheduled day, behave friendly but make the conversation as little interesting and enjoyable to him as you can. Talk about things he is not interested to learn about---your projects, professional interests, etc. Use terms and jargon he doesn't really understand, and don't really try to explain them. Or explain them using even more terms he doesn't understand. Mention your achievements to make him feel envious. Ask him uncomfortable questions, but friendly and without offending him. And do all of these naturally, talking with him as if he were from your world, and thereby making him realize he isn't. Be sure to refrain from explicitly criticizing him in any way, as otherwise he'll argue and defend himself. Let him make conclusions on his own. People accept only their own conclusions.

By the way, if you do so, you will actually do him a favor. He might finally realize that he is wasting his life, and make changes for the better.

Remembering the discomfort of the meeting, he probably won't even ask you to meet with him again, but if he does, you can just say,

"Nah, I can't. I don't have time. I barely get time to sleep. You know, we're friends and you can always ask me for advice or anything; my life is just too busy for hanging out."

Or somewhat more frankly:

"Nah, I don't feel like. It didn't work for me last time. You know, we're friends and you can always ask me for advice or anything; I just don't feel like hanging out."

Say this friendly, just as you would refuse a cup of coffee. After this, each time he asks you to hang out with him, just repeat what you said before.

If it doesn't work, which is highly unlikely, you can just stop interacting with him. You did all you could, so you can just ignore his calls and messages. If he confronts you face-to-face, take the initiative and ask him a couple of uncomfortable questions, but friendly and without offending him, then briefly repeat that you don't feel like hanging out, then say you have an urgent thing to do, then say bye and go away.

You can adjust the strategy for your particular circumstances, but I hope you get the idea. The idea is to make him lose interest in you without offending or alienating him. It works because when people experience discomfort from something, they quickly stop seeking it, and you can easily make him experience discomfort without doing anything he might see as hostile or unfriendly.

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As you stated in your question, you've grown apart. But, it seems, your friend doesn't share this perspective, doesn't want to let go, or maybe he is simply not aware of this, or in some form of a denial -- aren't we all in denial of something or another at least for while until a nudge or a more drastic shift happens?

I would suggest to communicate your perspective to him in a gentle way. Try to do this in person, say over coffee. Take your time, say one hour, and tell him in advance that you want to talk to him about something very important to you. You may not want to tell him that you want to have a break up. It is after all not a conventional intimate relationship. But, you have moved on from being single and are now active in different forms of relationships. Also, stop and listen to his response. He might actually acknowledge what you bring to the table. As another answer-writer mentioned, offer him your future presence, by reassuring him that you are available for coffee (a short meetup) or a phone call (even shorter) anytime he needs some moral support or simply a listening ear.

Finally, I would also suggest that you look within and see if you have any feelings of guilt associated with this "past" relationship. If so, it would be best to examine and identify it so as to forgive yourself. You haven't done anything wrong. People grow apart for many good reasons and some distance would be good for both parties. There are many good reasons why no-fault divorce is legal and even the right thing to do. Yet, there is also a lot both sides can learn from the experience. No relationship is meant to last in its original form. If we could let them evolve, we would spare both ourselves and the other party from the acute pains of break-ups. And more importantly, we would grow and let grow everyone in our lives.

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  • Hi Ben, welcome to IPS. You seem to give some good advice, but what is it based on? As you may not know, answers here need to be backed up by data or experience and should explain why and how it would probably work. More information on Interpersonal Skills Meta
    – OldPadawan
    Jun 12 at 14:42
  • Thank you, OldPadawan. What is my answer based on? A life experience of more than half a century, three kids, a PhD in hard sciences and engineering, and many years of deep study and examination of life through psychology and philosophy. If it helps, I would site any book by Yalom, especially the Gift of Therapy, say chapter 38: "Provide feedback effectively and gently." And, Carl Rogers' Person-centered therapy. Jun 13 at 15:57
  • Thanks for clarifying. So please just edit your post and use all this to back up. If you use some citation from a book, quote it and add the link (in case the link-only data goes offline). FWIW: DV isn't mine
    – OldPadawan
    Jun 13 at 16:01

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