THE BLOG
06/11/2010 11:10 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

It's hard to say goodbye to a BFF, even if she's a narcissist

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

I met my former BFF on the first day of college almost nine years ago. A year later, I went to a party she was throwing and met my now fiancé, who is great friends with her brothers. She was always a high maintenance friend; she was more concerned with having tons of friends and living the wild college life, rather than issues I was struggling with at 19 (becoming financially independent from my parents, paying for school on my own, and keeping a roof over my head). I stopped talking to her after a year out of frustration with the way she degraded my struggle to pay to fix my broken down car and suggested I just ask my parents for the money.

Three months later, my boyfriend and I moved 800 miles away. When she and her brother came to visit us, I was forced to spend time with her. It was on this visit that we rekindled our friendship and soon declared ourselves BFF's. We took several summer trips, visited each other regularly, emailed daily, discussed and analyzed every possible reason for her not finding success in dating: what was wrong with her, what was wrong with the guys she dated, why she couldn't find love, how she wanted to get married and have babies.

I started to see what mutual friends had told me---that everything was always about her. Then she lost her job. At the same time, I had some really scary health issues. Instead of listening and giving me moral support, she told me there was nothing I could do and we needed to stop talking about it. I was scared, in pain and crushed at her response. I stopped participating in daily IM sessions, replied to emails curtly and focused on the issues I was dealing with, without the support of my BFF.

A few months later, I told her I was upset she wasn't interested in the important issues things I was dealing with and how her comments felt sarcastic, insincere and condescending. She brushed me off so she could continue talking about her own problems: her misery in her job, dealing with a new boyfriend, moving in together, "Oh no! He hasn't called he must be cheating." Her immaturity, selfishness and narcissism began to grate on my nerves. I tried to be a patient, kind and supportive friend, but it just wasn't fun anymore.

The last straw was when two friends got engaged and she told me that she just couldn't be happy for one of them. She went on and on about how SHE wanted to be engaged and why wasn't her boyfriend ready after 9 months. When we discussed my impending engagement plans, the conversation always circled back to her wedding plans. When my boyfriend proposed, I didn't want to tell her because I knew she would downplay the intimate, perfect way that my boyfriend asked me to be his wife. I didn't want to be brushed off.

I stopped IM'ing and made excuses about being busy. I acknowledged all of her contact but kept things simple and short. Then I formally announced my engagement and sent her an email with the good news. She replied angrily about how I could do such a thing over email. I told her that she had hurt my feelings when she flipped the conversation about my engagement to her wedding plans, and that wasn't what I expected from my BFF. She demanded specific examples of what she did wrong, that my generalizations weren't enough. I didn't reply, I've been enjoying my engagement and planning my wedding. For the first time in years, I feel free. I feel energized. I don't come home from work after long IM sessions with her feeling that the life is sucked out of me.

Last week, she and her boyfriend both sent me emails asking that we work things out, telling me that she is devastated and will do anything to make things right. There isn't anything to work out. I don't want to be friends anymore. She isn't the type of friend I want in my life. I want to surround myself with friends that are energizing, friendships that both give and take, and women who are fun to be around. I replied that I couldn't be the friend that I wanted to be at this time in my life. My question is how I can end this cycle of emails from her. I don't want to deliberately hurt her, but she isn't listening to what I'm saying and ignoring her isn't giving me the result I want. I would really appreciate your help!

Kind regards,
Jane

ANSWER

Dear Jane,

When two people share so much history together, it's always hard to end a friendship, even one that is hanging by a thread. In this case, an added complication is that you met your fiancé through your friend, and have a relationship with her brothers. I understand, too, why you wouldn't want to hurt someone who once was your friend.

When you were in college, you may have been looking for different things in your friendships. Now you are quite clear that she isn't the type of friend you want: She is extremely self-centered and narcissistic and you aren't able to either share your problems or your happiness with her.

While the rules of friendship sometimes feel murky, it is totally reasonable to surround yourself with the kinds of friends you want. It was a great idea to tell her that "you" can't be the kind of friend you want to be at this time. There is no use in blaming her or providing more examples and details of what's; whatever more you could say isn't going to change her or your feelings towards her.

Be sure to give your fiancé a heads up about your plans (because he is involved through his relationship to her brothers) and end the cycle of emails by making the firm decision not to respond to them any more. Then let your friend know that you will not be responding to future emails.

I hope this is helpful.

Best regards,
Irene

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Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. Her new book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, was recently published by Overlook Press. She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog and at PsychologyToday.com.