Ask the Practice Parent: Breaking Up With a Best Friend

Dear Practice Parent,

I started a new school in a new district last year as a freshman. I met my best school friend on my first day of school. She’s very nice, funny, and interesting. The problem is that she doesn’t want me to have any other friends. Last year we pretty much only hung out with each other. I am kind of shy so I didn’t really try that much to make other friends. When I did get invited to hang out with someone else, my best friend got really upset. She also got upset when I talked about my church and softball friends. If people asked us both to do something, she would say no before I could get a word out. If people sat with us at lunch, she would tell them the seats were taken. I tried to talk to her about this a few times and told her that she was still my best friend even if I had other friends. She started crying and then ignored me for the rest of the day. Then the next morning, we both acted like nothing had happened. This happened every time.

We didn’t see much of eachother over the summer because she was visiting her dad in another state. I wanted this year to be different. Now we have 6 out of 7 classes together and she is acting exactly like she did last year. My brother told me that people are saying they don’t even try to be our friends anymore because we are loners. Sometimes they call us by a combination of both our names.

This is supposed to be one the most exciting times in my life. I spend most weekends hanging out in her bedroom or my bedroom doing homework or talking about whatever she wants to talk about. She doesn’t like to go out. I still like my friend, but I really want to make new friends too.

I am also interested in a boy I met at church this summer and want to hang out with him. If my best friend could accept me having new friends and possibly a boyfriend, I would want to stay friends with her. I just don’t see that happening. I hate that I am asking this because it seems so mean, but how do I break up with my best friend?

I think everyone has broken up with a best friend or two over the years (In case you are wondering, it’s not that much easier for adults). Some people stay in our lives forever and some are an important part of our lives for a short amount of time. Most everyone else lies in between. Try not to be too upset with yourself for wanting a more active social life. Besides being an exciting time in your life, these are also important years for discovering more about yourself, your interests, and the kind of people you most want to have as friends and significant others.

It does sound like expanding your social circle will be complicated as long as your best school friend (BSF) is taking the lead. It seems like she has taken advantage of your shy nature and your willingness to appease her to get what she wants. Of course, you have aided her in this endeavor by giving in to her demands and drama. The situation is even more challenging since you spend most of each school day in close proximity to your BSF.

Because you see one another everyday, I suggest that instead of a formal break-up, you ease yourself away from having one BSF while working to forge new relationships.

1.  Present your BSF with some new boundaries for your relationship. Though she may not accept what you have to say again, you need to be clear. Tell her that you are feeling ready to come out of your shell a bit and are excited to make more friends this year. Explain that you are interested in a boy from church and also look forward to spending more time with him. If she objects (and it sounds like she will), say something like, “I am very excited about all this and I need you to be excited too.” And then, because history shows that your BSF is likely to react with some manipulative drama, end the conversation. Excuse yourself to go do something else. If she starts crying, that is not your responsibility. As long as you were not intentionally cruel, you cannot blame yourself for her reaction.

2.  Make new friends. If your brother is right that kids in your school see you as a loner, you may have to be the one to reach out to people. You can start small by following/friending some peers (and church and team members) on social media or by texting a few acquaintances and asking them if they knMMIfriendsow of any activities happening over the weekend. For a shier person like yourself, making initial connections online can help reduce some social anxiety. It’s also a great way to ask a teammate or church friend to carpool to activities (an easy way to get to know people better). At school, you can ask someone to work on a school project, study for a test, or go to a school event with you. When you feeling more comfortable, invite one or more of these people to hang out with you outside of your usual activities.

3.  When you see your BSF, treat her as you would any other friend. Ask her how she is, let her know what you have been up to, and, if it feels right to you, consider spending some time with her as well.

4.  Once you have established a few new friendships, decide whether or not you want to include your BSF in any group activities. If she has been open to hearing about your new friends, she has probably learned that she needs to give you space and stop trying to control you. You can salvage your friendship, hang out with her at times, hang out with your new friends other times, and hang out in groups that include your BSF as well.

5. If your BSF reacts in the same way she has in the past, it is time to declare (to yourself) that your relationship with your BSF needs to be downgraded to an SF — school friend— someone you see at school, but don’t spend time with outside of school. If your SF continues to require that she be your only friend, you will need to be firm. You can say, “I really wish I could hang out with you, but I need a bigger group of friends. If you can handle that, please join us. If you can’t, then we’ll have to be satisfied with seeing each other in class.” As you did when you first broached the subject of making new friends (in step 1), let that be the end of the conversation. Excuse yourself to do do something else.

6.  Enjoy your new friends and accept the new parameters of your relationship with your BSF/SF without guilt (and without being sucked back into the drama). You have done your part to kindly, but firmly, let your friend know what you need. You have made new friends without intentionally hurting your BSF/SF. If her feelings about your friendship remain intense, she will have to work through her drama without you.

Finally, making new friends can take time. It might be tempting to drop everything and settle for the way your relationship with your BSF has always been. Resist. Put in the energy to alter your current relationship with you BSF and to make new friends. It will be worth the effort.

Good luck!