According to New York psychotherapist Sheenah Hankin, there are three effective—and compassionate—ways to break up with a friend:
The No-Reveal If it’s a long relationship, you’ve got to do it face-to-face. You say, “I’m just not comfortable with the way things are going.” Then you say, “But I don’t want to talk about it.” You’re avoiding an argument, but what you’re really avoiding is the insult to the other person.
The Fadeout If it’s not such a close friend, you have the option of seeing them less by being busy. Return some calls, not all. It’s okay to send an e-mail saying “I’m working on a project, and you might not hear from me for a couple of months.”
The Brick Wall If they’re just not taking the hint, you have to say, “Look, I’m finding you want too much of my time. It makes me angry, and I don’t want to be angry with you.” The key is to rehearse it, because they’ll apologize and come right back. It’s like you’re building a brick wall and they can’t pull it down. And don’t feel bad about it. With all these people housecleaned out, you can put more effort into your real relationships.