Quiet-Quitting Friendships Might Be Easy – But That Doesn’t Mean It’s Okay

When does setting boundaries become cruel?


by Marianna Manson |
Updated on

‘Boundaries’ is undoubtedly THE word of 2022.

Not officially – that accolade was bestowed onto ‘permacrisis’, which is essentially exactly what it sounds like – but ‘boundaries’, along with ‘quiet-quitting’, are two phrases which have been thrown around on social media a hell of a lot this year. Concise vocabulary to describe the act of looking out for number one and declining social or professional interactions if and when they come at the expense of your health or happiness, which should have been available to us all along.

I’m all too familiar with the importance of boundaries, even if, particularly in my friendships, I’m wholly incapable of implementing them (conversely, I enforce boundaries in my romantic relationships by simply… not having them). I often find myself catastrophizing when a friend doesn’t message me back, or apologising liberally for miscommunications that aren’t my fault. Often, for me, setting boundaries can mean deleting my Instagram and WhatsApp accounts all together, so that I don’t spend the intervening hours or days obsessively re-reading over messages, scouring between the lines for the moment it all went wrong, inevitably working myself into a frenzy far disproportionate to what’s actually going on (spoiler alert: usually, absolutely nothing). I know that it’s not my friends’ responsibility to alleviate this unfounded panic and paranoia, and so temporarily cutting myself off from them is a preventative measure I sometimes take. I will usually let them know when I’m doing this, and they know that in an emergency they can still call or text me the old fashioned way.

And yet, the panic and paranoia are not unfounded at all, instead a direct consequence of a former friend's own decision to enforce what still feels like the cruellest of boundaries. This was long before 'quiet quitting' and ‘going no contact’ were phrases du jour bandied about with hashtags and infographics - but that’s exactly what she did. A two sentence WhatsApp message sent in the middle of the night ending many years of best-friendship, a swift blockade across all social media the moment I turned my phone off flight mode and the two ticks turned blue. She even blocked my mum’s number when I desperately tried to reach out from that.

So this recent push to ‘normalise’ cutting people out of your life immediately, without explanation, or ‘quiet quitting’ your relationships in the hope that you won’t have to face the consequences of their break down, aren’t sitting well for me. We live in a time where most of our socialising is done through a screen, and so the need for communication – productive communication, where issues are respectfully expressed, discussed, and, for the better or worse, resolved – has been overshadowed by the convenience of blocking a person instantaneously from your entire life.

Recently non-binary influencer, activist and best-selling author Jeffrey Marsh posted about advocating for going no contact from toxic relationships.

‘When you say “I want to go no contact”, a healthy person will say “thank you. I understand things aren’t working for you, and I respect your decision to take care of yourself”,’ they wrote.

‘Belittling, bullying, sucking up all the oxygen, creating drama and then blaming you for the drama should be a big sign to you that someone is not healthy to be around.’

They concluded, ‘Going no-contact is a difficult decision to make. Please be kind to yourself throughout the process.’

Though their intentions were undoubtedly good, I would argue that Jeffrey sets an unrealistic precedent. Had I been given the opportunity by my friend in 2018, I would have tried to defend myself, to fight for our friendship – not thank her, respect her wishes, and thus take full responsibility for the breakdown of a friendship that the previous evening had seen us enjoy a fun night at the pub together. In my case, her decision to go no contact was less to do with our existing  relationship and everything to do with an incredibly toxic third party, but the fact remains that, had our years of friendship meant anything to her, cutting me out immediately and completely would have been less appealing that an honest conversation about her concerns (had she legitimately had any) and probable resolution.

My (remaining) friends will tell you that I’m the first to admit, apologise, and rectify when I’m in the wrong. My experience with my no-contact friend – followed a few years later by another who, deliberately callously, pulled the same stunt – has left me with genuine, lasting trauma, which I’m desperate to avoid repeating, often at the expense of some of my dignity. And while it’s been so easy over the years to blame myself for her betrayal, joking about my ‘inherent unlikability’ and putting up protective barriers that weren’t there before, the normalisation online of cutting people out of your life without a backward glance proves to me I’m not alone in this experience. In Jeffrey’s scenario, I am the antagonist, deserving of the abrupt ending to my friendship, unentitled to an explanation, certainly not to feelings of anger, betrayal, hurt. In Jeffrey’s scenario, she must be kind to herself, because going no contact is ‘a difficult decision’. But without ever having a single conversation about the state of our relationship, to this day I am blindsided by the move; I can’t take responsibility for, or learn from, and offence I didn’t, and still don’t, know I committed,

In the end, I wrote her a letter (the written word being my forte, naturally). I’ve no idea if she read it, or if the toxic third party got there first. I asked her not to reply. But it was the only way I had of saying my piece. And ultimately, I did respect her decision; I never reached out again, I resignedly let go of all our mutual relationships so as never to cross paths with her. But I couldn’t thank her for breaking my heart, or for leaving me with so many questions about the core of who I am, what I was capable of, which simply did not exist before - when it could have all been avoided with a simple conversation.

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