It’s ideal to take a break every so often to reflect on your relationships and determine if what you have it’s constructive to your life. It’s important to recognize when a relationship does not bring positive energy into your being and actually causes you to feel unhappy and distressed. For instance a bad marriage, or a dreadful working relationship or even a childhood friendship that no longer makes sense. Then we know it’s time to walk away, to start over, to be honest with ourselves and with them. However there are other relationships that are a little bit more complicated to abandon.
I am talking about one type of relationship that it’s very difficult to breakup with: The Acquaintance. Yes, you heard it right. That friendly stranger you keep running into is the most problematic person to breakup with. You know what I’m talking about; we have all been there at least once. You don’t know how to politely tell them you’re no longer interested, you don’t’ care to see them or to call them or to go out with them. It sounds awful, doesn’t it? So you avoid them, you don’t call them, you don’t invite them, you don’t feel curious about their lives and try to send the message without telling them directly that you have nothing in common. I mean if you have shared an event, a school life i.e. Grad school, a neighborhood, a common family friend and got along well, maybe a friendship could have developed but it never really did. After school (or any other common thing you had), you don’t have a bond anymore. Yet, you don’t tell them this and you pretend to be friends with them. You do your best not to hurt their feelings and somehow you end up responding and agreeing to go out with them. You smile, you make small talk, you ask how they are and you try to share enough to have a friendly date. Then you realize (for whatever reason) why you didn’t want to go out with them in the first place. Sounds familiar?
I asked people why it is so difficult to break up with an acquaintance. It is more challenging than breaking up with a lover they said. If you never had a quarrel or a bad experience with them it’s almost impossible to tell them “sorry but I really don’t like you, please don’t call me”. How rude and harsh would that be? But it would be honest. It would be sincere. Can people be as sincere without hurting feelings? How can one tell the other person that no deeper connection will come out of this relationship? Here are some of my suggestions and with a bit of luck you don’t feel too guilty:
Since you only see each other sporadically and you don’t have an emotional investment, be okay with not answering calls, and be okay with sending a text (the less confrontational way) and say No. No is simple, is real, and is fine. No, I don’t want to go to the party. No, I can’t attend the meeting today.
Accept that No is a clear and authentic answer without going into a lot of details. The more details, the more excuses you will have and thus not being honest with the person. They will get the message (eventually).
Sometimes an email or a letter may be the best way to express your thoughts and allow the other person to take their time and review their response. It may be necessary with certain types of acquaintances such as a co-worker or a neighbor that you cannot completely avoid. Word of advice be clear, be considerate, ensure you’re not being self-justifying, or offensive. Do not be too apologetic either and remember that no matter how you do it people can feel rejected and disappointed. They will not like it at first but it’s only temporary. Let them know you rather keep the relationship professional at work or neighborly. Let them know that you have decided you will not socialize for personal reasons. No more particulars. “I thank you for the invitation but I rather keep to myself”. Or “I prefer not to attend” or something like that. Be firm. Do not say “maybe next time”. Be okay with this, you have the right to set boundaries. After all you have no emotional connection, you are breaking up with an acquaintance remember?