DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Here are the basics: I have a friend, we’ll call her June. Me and June go to the same school. Both of us have social anxiety, and she has ADHD. Both of us don’t have a lot of friends (I am planning to make more, the school year just started anyway). I am trying to decide whether or not I should just stop being her friend.
June doesn’t talk to me much. She’s a not a great conversationalist and can go several minutes without saying anything if I let her. I don’t like the silence and I prefer to talk to friends when I’m with them. We have some interests in common, and hang out occasionally, even having a few classes and clubs together. When I’m around her, I feel like I can’t be myself. The friendship feels half-dead and kind of obligatory, the only reasons I’ve stayed thus far being that we both don’t have any other friends. I don’t like the idea of being alone again, as I know making friends takes time and I already have trouble with it, but I don’t wanna be around June anymore and I feel kind of bad stringing her along. I don’t really like her and it feels selfish to pretend I do just because I don’t wanna be alone. I don’t hate her, but I don’t like her either. She’s just tolerable.
Also, even if I stopped talking to her as often, we share a few classes and clubs, so I’m not sure how things would be if I just stopped being her friend. I could just only interact with her in those environments, but I’d still like to get your perspective if possible. I appreciate you!
(a separate but related issue: I don’t feel like I’ve really had any totally comfortable friendships where I could be myself. Some superficial ones, but none yet with any emotional depth)
Moving On Down
DEAR MOVING ON DOWN: I wish you gave me your age along with this, MOD, because that can make a difference – especially if you’re still in high-school or younger.
I admit, I have to wonder how June feels about things and whether she’s on the same page as you regarding your friendship or not. You all sound fairly different from one another. It doesn’t seem like you have much more than proximity and a lack of other friends to act as the glue to this relationship. You have different temperaments and, from the sounds of it, different social needs. She seems to be the sort that’s comfortable with silence and parallel play, you need more interaction. She may well be feeling as mixed about things as you are.
I also have to wonder whether you’ve ever actually tried seeking more emotional depth with people – June or otherwise. It sounds like you’ve been coasting along on fairly shallow, low-effort friendships, which could be part of the problem. Friendships require investment from both parties. A lot of seemingly shallow friendships are only shallow because nobody actually put the effort in to see if there was more – or missed the other person’s bid for greater connection.
If you want closer, more emotionally connected friendships, you’re going to have to actually make the bid for it. If you’re waiting for someone else to take the lead, you may well be waiting for a long time. Someone needs to make the first move and if that’s what you want, then it may as well be you.
That having been said: you aren’t obligated to be friends with anyone you don’t want to be friends with, any more than you’re obligated to stay in a romantic relationship when you want out. You can end a friendship for any reason, same with a romantic relationship. If you’re done with June, then you’re done with June and that’s all you really need.
Now, not every friend break up requires an actual discussion or saying “hey, we’re done”. Many friendships don’t end with fireworks or high drama; many just quietly fade until you realize you haven’t talked with ol’ wazziname in how long? It’s not impossible for you to just quietly let this fade out as you both just do your own thing and spend less time together. This happens more often than you’d think; not a conscious decision so much as just one week of not hanging out becomes two, then three and so on.
But this is also why I asked about how June feels about things. She doesn’t sound terribly communicative in general, but sometimes a friendship fading away hurts more than you’d expect. That feeling of “wait, why did we drift apart” can sneak up on a person like a snake in tall grass. So too can the feeling of “did I do something wrong?” That lack of clarity and self-doubt can be deeply unpleasant, especially if that triggers any hidden anxiety landmines.
It’s also kind of a s--tty thing to do to someone you presumably liked and who likes you. I don’t think you necessarily need to say “hey, we’re done, peace out cub scout”, but the impact of ghosting someone after a first date vs. six months in is pretty significant. It’d be a good idea for you to consider how it would make you feel if someone (other than June) were to pull the fade away on you deliberately.
What I wouldn’t recommend is trying to Tarzan your way through this; hanging on to this friendship until you’ve got another one that you can grab onto. I understand that you don’t like feeling lonely – very few people do – but “I only stuck around until I had another vine to swing on” is the sort of thing that feels personal, pointed and frankly, more than a little callous and incredibly disrespectful. If you don’t want to be friends, don’t be friends, but don’t make her your safety net until you find someone else. That’s just needlessly painful, and in any break up you should do your best to avoid unnecessary pain.
Now, seeing one another afterwards is going to be somewhat inevitable. Unless you’re going to a fairly large college or university, you’re probably going to be running in similar circles. Much like dealing with a romantic break up, the key to dealing with your ex friend or ex-lover is to be polite and respectful. They deserve at least that much. Unless things were really bad or ended badly, you don’t need to avoid her like she’s got the latest COVID strain. That’s only going to add insult to the injury and cause more unnecessary pain. Even if you don’t want to spend one-on-one time with her, you can at least show her respect. You can be friendly without being friends. You can be polite and distant if you absolutely need to, but you can’t skip the polite part.
If it helps, think of this as treating her how you would prefer to be treated by an ex; after all, they’re not going to just disappear into the ether after things end any more than you will if someone breaks up with you.
Meanwhile, if you do decide to talk about why you’re ending things – or if she brings it up – keep it short, simple and about you. Using “I” statements here are important; she should understand that it’s not that she did anything wrong or that there’s something wrong with her. You have different needs and different temperaments, that’s all. It’s still going to hurt – there’s no avoiding that – but, again, you want to avoid unnecessary pain, and letting her think that it’s her fault is very unnecessary.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com