66

Context :

I'm in my early forties and I've always been a loner and never really made friends. Until recently I didn't even know what was so great about them. I don't have any problems socializing, it's just I don't "need" it. I enjoy company but I'm not looking for it. I met someone I really (and surprisingly) like and over the months I started to open up and reciprocate his friendship (I have a lot of acquaintances but I always kept my distance, some even say I was putting up walls between me and them). It was the first time I ever invited someone at my home and the first time I accepted invitations from someone who was not from my family.

Problem :

It's great. Really. It feels like I now have a better understanding of what being "normal" is and I enjoy every time I speak to or meet with him. On the other hand, I'm now afraid to make mistakes, to be too demanding (I'm not, but since I don't have any experience in friendships, I'd rather choose to avoid contact than contacting that person too much, I don't use his phone number, his messaging accounts, only his email) or to have him cope with teaching me how to behave in social situations. I read as much as I could about friendships on this very StackExchange and on the Internet. I'm pretty sure I can't replace experience with "theoretical knowledge". I'm missing about 30 years of experience and it's hard for me to read people in a non technical/professional situation. I'm bound to fail and I think it's better I stop trying right now.

Question :

How can I stop this relationship without hurting his feelings and eventually explain that I'm lacking experience in friendships to handle this situation properly?

  • 3
    Is your friend aware of your lack of experience? Did it ever come up in a conversation you two had? – Kaspar Scherrer Jan 23 '18 at 14:22
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    Are you sure your lack of experience is your main reason why you want to stop the relationship? – Kaspar Scherrer Jan 23 '18 at 14:25
  • 22
    Does he know what you're going through? I'm currently going through something similar (learning how to make friends) and simply asking people stuff like "hey I'm still learning how friend stuff works, are you ok being patient with me? can you tell me when I mess up?" can go a very long way. What you are doing now is simply giving up because it's gotten hard. Don't do that. – Pyritie Jan 23 '18 at 18:37
  • 8
    Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes. – user58 Jan 23 '18 at 19:02
  • 1
    Two questions: This is a... "friendship" you want to stop... Or is this something that you are afraid is going to develop (or has developed) into something... more? A "romantic" relationship? And... You want to stop this friendship because you don't feel you have the experience. Are you wanting to get this experience (experience in being a "friend") and just not from him... or are you looking to simply never have friends and this is an "unwanted" surprise? – WernerCD Jan 24 '18 at 12:15

12 Answers 12

174
+100

Answer:

Try doing the following:

  1. Thank him for being your friend.

  2. State your problem, tell him that you are not very good at social interactions and are afraid you will offend him eventually.

  3. State what you intend to do to fix your problem. In your case go back to not having any close friends.

  4. End by thanking him again and apologizing for your shortcomings ( i.e. Not wanting to continue the friendship).

For example:

Thank you Bob for inviting me to xyz and being such a good friend. I'm not a very social person and I'm afraid that I will probably offend you eventually. So I'm going to stop being your friend so that you can find other people to be friends with. I'm sorry that I struggle with this social anxiety. Thank you again for being a good friend.

Thanking him at the beginning and the end frames the conversation in the positive light of gratitude which will ease the pain of being told that you don't want to be his friend any more.

Personal Advice:

Writing the above answer to your question was actually painful for me to do. Because I don't believe it's the right choice. What I mean by that is I believe you can find a much larger amount of happiness by pursuing this friendship than by stopping it. I've found in my own life that those times when I am connected with other people are the most fulfilling times in my life. And I'm no extrovert.

Look right now you have a potential, you can choose to develop that potential into something valuable. Or you can watch it fade away as time goes by. Either way you lose your potential as time passes. You might as well at least try to develop that potential into something valuable. And Friendship is one of the most valuable things I can think of.

You say:

I'm missing about 30 years of experience . . . I'm bound to fail and I think it's better I stop trying right now.

You're right you are going to fail, everyone fails, that's part of being human. We are all going to die eventually too. That doesn't mean we should just all give up living right now. If you try and fail at least you've learned something and that experience is what will keep you from making the same mistake in the future.

Also, people can be surprisingly forgiving, after all we all fail (make mistakes). If you try to be open, and honest, your new friend will most likely be very quick to forgive you of any mistakes you make. And you'll probably find that he makes mistakes too and you'll need to forgive him as well.

All you have to do is talk about any issues together and then listen to each other. If you both do that when any issues arise your friendship will continue to grow. And even if you make a mistake here you can apologize, try to do it again the right way and you will most likely find every thing works out great.

It is totally understandable that you would be afraid in this situation that you are in. Choose to be brave and face your fears. Don't let that fear keep you form connecting with other people, and enjoying a full life.

Lastly, You may want to find a professional counsellor who can help you deal with fear and anxiety. I don't know all of your life's situation, but I do know that professional help has helped me and a lot of people who I love to improve our lives.

Be brave, take some risks, learn a few things, and you'll find that what you feared before is not as scary as you thought it was.

  • 14
    Thanks a lot, I'm going to try that. In the end I'll be sad if I fail or if I stop trying. I will try to explain him my limitations. All I have to lose is failing faster. – user11781 Jan 24 '18 at 9:37
18

How can I stop this relationship without hurting his feelings ...

Probably you can't.

Ending a friendship is experienced as a loss, which will probably result in feeling grief, sorrow, maybe anger.

Giving reasons and explaining maybe might help a little to regulate these emotions, but not make them disappear.

I understand that you'd like to return to avoiding as a means to control insecurity. This would come with the price of losing what the friendship is offering. You could of course continue discovering more of that road you have been taking and learn to regulate your worries / emotions with less "drastic" methods compared to ending the relationship.

17

I was going to comment on Dan Anderson's answer but it would be too long. A lot of good answers here but I want to focus on one piece of this:

On the other hand, I'm now afraid to make mistakes, to be too demanding (I'm not, but since I don't have any experience in friendships, I'd rather choose to avoid contact than contacting that person too much, I don't use his phone number, his messaging accounts, only his email) or to have him cope with teaching me how to behave in social situations.

As I read it, you are afraid to continue because you might fail. I really feel the need to point out the apparent flaw in your logic. Consider the following game theory table:

        | Quit | Continue
        -----------------
Fail    |  0   |   -1
        -----------------
Succeed |  0   |    1
        -----------------

The number in the cell represents the value of the friends you have at the end. The -1 in the upper-right-hand cell represents the pain you would have if you continue and fail and feel a deeper loss than if you just gave up. So you decide to quit so that you guarantee a more acceptable result even though that eliminates the best result as a possibility.

But perhaps you can turn that upper-right-hand corner into a 0? Somewhat like Dan's answer, you can write a message (or preferably just say it) explaining your what you say in the quoted section. If 'Bob' says, sorry, I'm out, then you are basically turned that column into a 0. You tried, failed but you are no worse off than if you turned him away.

But 'Bob' might say, OK, I'm game. My guess is that 'Bob' already realizes that you have a lot of these issues and this is the most likely result. Then you continue and just be open an honest about when you are unsure. Yeah, in the long-run it might work out but most friendships don't last forever anyway.

  • Trying to get that one: how to turn the -1 into 0, I do not understand your example, could you elaborate? Thank you. – michi Jan 23 '18 at 19:59
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    Your answer was pretty helpful too : I think it's a "leave me/keep me" "leave him/keep him" situation. I have a : 1 for continuation -1 for either one fail or for both of us abandoning friendship. I think I will try Dan's suggestion thanks to you and games theory ! – user11781 Jan 24 '18 at 9:36
  • 1
    @michi By leveling with 'Bob' and letting him know what he's getting into, it moves the choice to 'Bob' early on. I'm reading between the lines that the OP fears that as 'Bob' learns more about the OP, he will realize he doesn't want to be friends. Meanwhile, the OP will become more attached, making the loss greater. Letting Bob make that decision initially removes a lot of the fear and allows the OP to just worry about trying to be friends. – user1982 Jan 24 '18 at 14:15
  • @user11781 I wish you would update this to show that the reality is such that (Fail, Continue) is zero. Because you don't really have negative friends, you just don't have another friend. – Edwin Buck Mar 12 at 12:19
14

Your analysis is based on the premise that if you don't interact with him, you won't hurt him. This is a very dangerous assumption.

Please consider this:

  1. If you bow out now with an explanation, the friendship dies, and the message you are unintentionally sending him is that you do not value him enough to fight for the friendship.
  2. If you cut off contact without an explanation, you may leave him blaming himself and wondering what he should have done better.
  3. If you try your best and make a mistake anyway, he may be understanding and forgive you instead of being hurt.
  4. If you try your best and make a mistake which he does not forgive, at least when you look in the mirror you can have self-respect because you gave it your best attempt.

In case 4, he may or may not appreciate the effort you made to reach that point, but even if you end on a negative note, the chance that it turns out worse than cases 1 and 2 is small.

You can still proceed with ending the friendship, but don't delude yourself into thinking that doing so protects your friend. That would be a purely selfish action, saving yourself the effort that a friendship requires.

7

When I don't want to see people anymore due to reasons other than a falling out, I just start limiting my contact with them. Stop responding to their messages (that aren't questions or invitations) and reduce the frequency I see them until both parties don't feel too upset when contact stops completely.

That being said I don't think you should stop your friendship because you don't have the 'necessary experience'. Being friends isn't about smooth social interactions and making everything perfect, it's just about spending time with people you want to spend time with.

The only way to get experience in friendships is to be friends with someone, from a purely pragmatic perspective this is a great opportunity for you to learn how to be friends with someone.

If it makes it easier, treat this like a 'practice friendship'. If it goes south then you'll feel better knowing it was a good experience putting your research into practice.

  • treat this like a 'practice friendship'. Thanks, I think I find myself guilty of that. I don't want that person to feel that way. Actually, I think I'm afraid of that. – user11781 Jan 23 '18 at 14:38
  • 6
    @user11781 I honestly wouldn't worry about messing up a friendship too much, the end result is the same as what you're planning to do here over fears of that - you lose a friend. Better to have loved and lost etc. – Connor Jan 23 '18 at 14:41
6

You're asking the wrong question. Instead of asking how to end the relationship, you ought to ask how to minimize the danger of you messing it up.

If you enjoy the relationship, leaving the relationship to avoid possible failure is like committing suicide to avoid the possibility of dying of cancer sometime in the future. That doesn't make sense.

The fear you feel comes with vulnerability. Relationships require trust and trust requires us to open ourselves up to being hurt. In your mind, ending the friendship makes sense, because you're not used to having friends so the fear of being hurt and/or rejected eclipses any of the benefits derived from the relationship.

What I would recommend, is being honest with him. With a smile and a tone of voice that is not overly serious, just tell him. Say something like

"Look, I really value our friendship. It's been awhile since I was close to anyone, so I'm worried that I might a bit annoying. If that happens, feel free to tell me to back off. I won't be offended."

But to answer your question, you can't end any meaningful relationship with without hurting the other party. The best you can do is ease out over the course of several months. Gradually reduce contact, and back away from the relationship.

4

There are two possibilities: either sit down with him and talk it through, while saying "thanks" and putting no blame on him, like in any usual talk. The other way would be to just let it peter out. Experience shows that adult friendships which are not actively held up start to dwindle rather sooner than later on their own. Everybody has a lot to do, and things happen fast at this age.

I would probably go with the second possibility. I assume there is no sexual/love relationship going on, or you would have mentioned it. So I assume that he is just having a good time with you, as you with him, and will "survive" you not spending so much time together.

I would avoid being dishonest, like pretending that you have no time, pretending that you have found someone else, or whatever else. If he does not seem to give up, then either give him the talk, or come here again with another question.

You still can stay friends. Even if you decide to never call/write him again, and decide to ignore most/all of his calls, you can still meet once in a blue moon and still be friends. I would value such a long-term friendship with little contact just fine, as well.

2

First and foremost, I don't think ending the friendship is doing yourself any favors. You seemingly are putting an immense amount of stress onto yourself and the relationship, essentially turning what was a source of enjoyment for you into a detraction.

Take a breath. All of these uncertainties regarding proper conduct or whether or not you are interacting appropriately are moot point. Relationships are established through a mutual enjoyment. So long as this persists, as does the relationship. Putting on an act defeats the entire purpose of connecting with others. People who like who you are will gravitate towards You, those who do not will move away. The connection you have is why your friend became your friend. He is also a big boy. If some part of your interaction is causing a problem for him, trust that he will address it with you.

Severing the tie out of fear of failure or rejection is your right if you so choose. It is this act that has hampered your ability to navigate through relationships though. If you have made up your mind and will never engage in another relationship for the rest of your life, tell him that you had a blast but the stress you feel resulting from human interaction is becoming too much and you need to withdraw. It's as simple as that.

2

Instead of ending friendship, consider asking for a time-out period. That will also be hard to do and it will feel rude, but the alternative is your own personal burn-out.

Explain that your friendship/relationship is going too fast for you and you need a time-out. For example, 2 weeks. Explain that he's done nothing wrong on his side, but you need a break. Tell him after 2 weeks you can likely continue or re-visit/re-evaluate your situation. Tell him you are not shutting him out but you really do need the time and will speak to him again then.

Then do, shut off for those 2 weeks while you take care of yourself. If he tries to contact you, either don't reply, or turn-off your messaging if you are/will be using any other more immediate social media. Exception to that can be his first initial questions, i.e. any clarification that he needs to know. Then lay low for a while until you feel "normal" again.

I have done the above once and it helped. Shutting off instant messaging helped tremendously. I didn't have the time to explain myself though I was so overwhelmed I just shut off my messaging for him, which threw him for a loop and I had to pace myself and explain what's going on.

1

Instead of focusing on stopping a relationship, I am going to look at the overwhelming aspect.

Unless you have friends, it will be very difficult to get new friends.

However, you can learn friendship lessons from the right kind of TV.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic generation 4

Every single show has friendship lessons to be learned. I know adults who should learn some of these lessons. It may have originally been a kids show, but even as a fully grown adult I still enjoy it.

In fact Trixie had some of the same anxieties and feelings. However, she met another character who she wanted to be her friend, but ended up messing up. However, another friend encouraged her to forgive Trixie and try again. She did, and now they are best friends.

In some ways TV is no substitute for real experience, but it is definitely better than having no help at all.

Brony and proud of it.

1

Offending your friend by ending the the friendship in order to avoid the risk of offending your friend and ending the friendship is only something that deep anxiety could come up with. You feel vulnerable and not in control of your own destiny because now this other person has power over you, to decide that something innocuous you might do is offensive and therefore punish you socially. You can keep control by ending the friendship on your terms.

The better way is to keep control by accepting that while you can't control the other person or what they might do out of spite should things go sideways, that you are a capable person who can whether that storm. You already know you can survive without the friendship - that same courage can be applied to keeping things going and accepting the risks that things might fall apart and go back to the way they were.

0

I to have had problems of a little fear of failure with people and things. I used to keep this on my refrigerator, it helped;

"The person who succeeds is not the one who holds back, fearing failure, nor the one who never fails... but rather the one who moves on in spite of failure. Far better to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows not victory or defeat. Author: Teddy Roosevelt" — Theodore Roosevelt

Early in his life TR met the love of his life, married her, started a family and then she died young. His mother died the same day(2/14/1884). Distraught he left the children with relatives, gave up politics and moved to ranch in the Dakota territories. He stayed there for some years. TR knew the grey twilight not wanting to go through the pain of defeat and loss again, and somehow he overcame that to go on to become the TR we all know about.

This quote truly comes from the kind of wisdom that only those of deep personal experience can say with conviction.

And then of course there was his cousin Franklin, whom said wisely "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself"

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