I have been friends with Karen since grade school. Karen graduated from college a year after I did. When I graduated, I moved home and immediately began working full time and became closer with my friends from high school again. When Karen came home, I was still working, and she spent a lot of time lounging around, shopping, and pretending to look for a job. She would call me and text me several times a day, beginning as soon as she woke up in the morning and continuing well past my bedtime. I tried to make time for her, but my busy schedule didn’t allow for me to pay her all the attention she seemed to need. Karen expressed her boredom and loneliness, and I suggested she branch out and join some social clubs in our area to make friends, which she did.
The problem is, in the past year, Karen has become someone I don’t feel like I know anymore. She used to be a confident, sarcastic girl with a great since of humor. She used to talk about going to law school and working in politics. Since making these new friends she has changed her sense of fashion and her hobbies, and become extremely disrespectful to her parents, who have always doted on her. Not only that, but through her new group of friends she began “dating” this man who flat out told her at the beginning of their relationship that he didn’t want anything serious with her. Despite expressing to me that she didn’t want to be someone’s “hook up,” she began sleeping with this man and spending a lot of her time with him, despite how badly she told me he was treating her. (Ex: While out spending time with her he would check out other girls and buy them drinks, and he made her cry on several occasions, including on her birthday. Apparently at one time they had an “arrangement” that he could do whatever he wanted as long as he promised not to “flaunt it in her face.”)

Every time I hung out with her we would spend the entire time talking about how bad he made her feel about herself, how disrespectfully he treated her, and how she knew she could do better. I always encouraged her to stop seeing him, but she never did. After months of this I finally asked her to stop complaining to me about how awful he was if she was going to continue to put up with his bad behavior. I told her that I really didn’t understand why she kept putting up with him and encouraged her again to stop seeing him. This time she actually told me she was going to stop seeing him, and told me she was happy that I finally called her out, but we didn’t talk for nearly three months after that conversation.

Out of the blue recently she called me to tell me she is pregnant with this man’s baby and is now living with him and they are “making it work.” We went to lunch after she told me, and during the conversation she admitted to me that her parents had cut her off and kicked her out of the house when they found out she was pregnant, so she had no choice but to move in with this man. She also told me that she didn’t believe he would be with her if she weren’t pregnant, all while insisting she didn’t get pregnant on purpose.

While part of me feels like I should just be happy for her if she is happy, the other, larger part of me wants nothing further to do with Karen. I feel so conflicted because Karen is my oldest friend and we used to have such good times together. I don’t want to be the type of friend who ditches people when the going gets rough. I have no doubt in my mind that if it were me in this situation, she would still be my friend. But I also have no doubt in my mind that I would never make a baby with some guy who treated me like utter crap for months on end.

To be honest, her behavior was already taking a toll on our friendship and this pregnancy and faux-happily-ever-after is just the icing on the cake. She sent me an invitation to her baby shower yesterday and I wanted to ask her to just leave me alone. Should I tell her I don’t want to be friends anymore or should I just try to be happy for her and be supportive during this time, knowing the drama will probably not end any time soon? — Over My Childhood Friend

Aunty Lisa

It’s totally natural for friendships to change over the course of many years and for people who were friends as young children to drift apart as their adult lives take them in different directions. The mistake people make, though, is in trying to force intimacy that is no longer there or remaining “friends” out of a sense of obligation. For a friendship to be mutually satisfying, there needs to be authenticity, and if either party isn’t feeling it anymore, a wall of resentment will quickly build up, which takes us to the biggest mistake of all: dumping a friend for no better reason than you simply aren’t feeling it anymore.

That’s where you are now. From what you’ve written, it doesn’t sound like Karen has done anything to directly hurt you or betray you. She hasn’t behaved in a way that would warrant a cold breakup. At worst, she’s made some poor personal decisions. But what it really sounds like here is that you two simply don’t have very much in common anymore and you don’t enjoy her company. Do you have to have been betrayed to end a friendship with someone? No, of course not. But I do think there’s a fine line between dumping a friend and simply letting the friendship fade out.

If you tell Karen you no longer want to be her friend, that’s dumping her. If you slowly stop returning her calls and making plans with her — which it sounds like you’ve already done — that’s letting the friendship fade out. If you tell Karen you won’t be coming to her baby shower because you think her pregnancy is a huge mistake and you no longer want her in your life, that’s dumping her. If you make a quick, one-hour appearance at her shower, and then let another six months pass before seeing her again, that’s letting the friendship fade out.

The truth is, Karen is going to be so busy once that baby comes, she’s not going to have time for the kind of friendship you’ve had in the past anyway. It will be very, very easy to let your conflicting schedules be the excuse you need to stay away. And unless you have a reason to cut her out of your life dramatically — like, she’s asking to crash at your place or asking to borrow money or depending on you in a way you no longer feel comfortable with — and you want to make a deliberate point that you aren’t her friend anymore and cannot help her, it’s kind of cruel to dump her.

The fade-out may take a little longer, but the advantage is you can still remember each other fondly and you don’t cast a shadow over the long history you share. You may feel nostalgic some day and actually enjoy catching up with her over a coffee or bite to eat. Why burn a bridge — especially one that leads to happy childhood memories — if you don’t really need to?

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