Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Hi, Carolyn: How do I tell my friend/roommate that I want to spend less time together? I’d like to try just being roommates for the rest of our lease, but she’s been having a hard time and I don’t want to upset her further. Our friendship feels toxic and one-sided but I’m not sure what to say that I won’t be manipulated out of. I’ve helped her through a lot the past few years but it seems like there’s always a new crisis.
I’m worried that if I explain why I don’t want to be her friend anymore, she’ll spiral, lash out, and we’ll both be even more miserable. Help?
It’s on her that she’s manipulative, but on you that her attempts are successful.
This answers a different question from the one you asked, but it sounds as if you need to work on your own emotional fortitude. That means learning to say no; to say something because it’s true or honest, versus because it’s expedient; to accept consequences for the previous two as awkward but better than the alternative of getting sucked in; that getting involved with people’s dramas isn’t the only definition of “help.”
Sometimes, upsetting people is the natural consequence of being true to yourself.
Sometimes, being upset is bad for the moment but good for the person.
Sometimes, the most helpful thing to say is, “I’m sorry to hear that. What do you think you’ll do?” – as opposed to volunteering yourself to propose or execute a solution.
I’ve recommended this book a lot lately as a primer on boundaries – “Lifeskills for Adult Children” by Janet Woititz and Alan Garner – and it might help you. Your roommate, too, but one psyche at a time.
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