Sound advice Thursday: How do I “unfriend” someone in real life?

Dear Steph:

How do you “unfriend” someone in real life? One of my best friends has a girlfriend that she met through work that I’m not particularly fond of. Whenever we all hang out, she makes passive aggressive and snarky comments to me and goes out of her way to prove that she and my best friend have a closer relationship. She has always been a “frenemy” that I tolerated for the sake of my best friend (who’s oblivious to this girl’s rudeness toward me).  However, my friend recently moved away for graduate school, and her snarky friend is now contacting me, asking me to hang out. If it’s a big group setting like a happy hour, I’ll go, but I try to avoid any one-on-one time with her. I never initiate any sort of contact with her and I don’t do anything (at least in my mind) that would give her the impression that I like her and want to develop a deeper friendship with her. Is it wrong to completely ignore her or make excuses to avoid her until she gets the hint and stops contacting me?


I Don’t Want To Be Your Friend

Poor Chris Birillo. He never saw it coming.
Poor Chris Pirillo. He never saw it coming.


If only unfriending an annoying person in real life were as simple as it is on Facebook: just click “Remove friend” and you’re done.  Easy. Painless. Quick. But IRL, as the kids say, things are more complicated. There’s no easy unfriend option, and simply ignoring the negative Nelly in your life might not actually rid you of her.  I think the success of your ignore and wait strategy with Nelly will depend on two things: 1) the likelihood of your running into her while you’re out and about, and 2) your ability to persevere in the face of her continued friendship overtures.

You didn’t say whether or not Nelly and you run in the same social circles or whether your only connection to her was through your friend who moved away.  If it’s the latter, then simply not answering her emails, or replying with a curt but polite brush-off (e.g., “I’m so sorry, but I’m afraid my dance card is full for the foreseeable future!”) might do the trick.  Even though it sounds from your letter that Nelly is not the most adept at social cues, there’s not much she can do in the face of your unresponsiveness.

On the other hand, if you and Nelly are apt to run into each other frequently, you need to be more direct.  Let’s say you’re at your local watering hole having a beer with friends and Nelly saunters up and asks if you got her last six emails and if you’re free for drinks next week.  Be polite but firm.  Say something like, “Thank you so much for the offer, but I don’t think I’ll be able to make it.”  You don’t need to give her a reason or an excuse. All you owe her is courtesy (which is more than she has shown you in the past, apparently).

The second important leg of a successful avoidance strategy is the ability to resist the urge to answer her repeated emails, texts, and calls to make excuses for yourself.  Women are socialized to be polite and to think of others’ feelings, which can be wonderful in many contexts, but which can also bring up unnecessary feelings of guilt and anxiety when trying to avoid or get rid of someone who is a drain on your positive energy.  It may be tempting to want to give Nelly a list of reasons why you can’t hang out with her, but it’s simpler (and more honest) to just say you can’t make it and thank her for the invite.  Eventually she’ll get the hint.

Your letter begs the question of why someone who makes snarky, passive aggressive remarks to you would be so eager to hang out one-on-one, but I suspect it’s because Nelly doesn’t have a lot of friends.  She has probably alienated many potential pals with her nastiness and is now struggling to find people to hang out with, which is actually quite sad, if you think about it.  However, life is short, and my advice is to limit or cut out contact with people who make your life worse.  If you’re feeling charitable and/or masochistic and want to give Nelly another chance, feel free, but keep your expectations realistic.  It might take some tough love for Nelly to change her tune.

Good luck!

Yours, Steph

Please send your burning etiquette/life questions to stephanie [dot] early [dot] green [at] gmail [dot] com.


Leave a Reply