Strictly Good Advice


Strictly Good Advice,


What’s the best way to get someone you don’t like to stop talking to you? This is a person who wants to be friends with me, but I don’t want to be friends with them. I have expressed sentiments of kindness and friendliness towards them in the past.




Hello and thank you for the question. For experimental purposes, I will omit the usual disclaimer. I would like to see if anybody writes back dissatisfied with the applicability of my advice.

This is the special Valentine’s Day edition of STRICTLY GOOD ADVICE. I have chosen to commemorate the occasion with your question because it is a good reminder that the plasticky comforts of the commercial holiday can sometimes fail. Just because it is called a holiday, does not mean that your usual concerns – ischemic heart disease, career trajectory, computer uprising – get the day off. Engagements, marriages, committed relationships of all kinds have met their demise on even less convenient days than this one. As a symbolic thorn of this constant awareness, then, I offer your case as a less dramatic cousin to the tragic Valentine’s Day breakup. You wish to halt the nascent ingrowth of a doomed friendship. I will examine the necessary steps to peel back some pitiful schmuck’s parasitic advance into your social life.

If you have already been “kind and friendly” (your words) to this person, it is probably too late to take any action that “without hurting them.” Acknowledge your complicity in this hurt briefly, and then put your awareness aside. Maybe you are at fault for something or should have acted differently or even “known better,” but I don’t think understanding the informative content of observations made in hindsight is very useful in this situation. At best, it will lead you to some conclusion about your virtues, or the virtues of your actions, their consequences, etc.; at worst it will spin you into reflective limbo. So rigorous contemplation about personal history is probably not worth the labor; I have done better in situations like yours by prioritizing haste in my thinking and choosing. Pocket whatever knowledge of your recent mistakes is readily accessible and clean up your mess. There’s no better time than the present to tell someone their best attempts at friendship are no more than the cloying ooze of a candied slug. Salt that slug before it gets too close, too confident, too interested in how your day was and what you’re doing this weekend.

By now it is clear that denying people your friendship requires first committing to negativity and silence. You should have a good reason for completely refusing the efforts of the interested party. It’s not easy to intentionally stomp on the efforts of an interested party. To spare yourself as much excess guilt, empathetic fatigue or whatever else, consider these intentions carefully. There is no set of normative criteria for when it is time to sever a social tie, but there are some good heuristics for when the option is on the table. Mine include safety, comfort, or serious inconvenience. For example, I will deny friendship to someone who hurts me, sneezes on me, or brings their pet bird to my house without asking. Usually when I want to dissolve my friendships, I stop and reconsider. Can I cut someone off just because they keep asking me for advice, but outwardly refuse to send their questions to my struggling advice column? Is it right to withdraw myself categorically from anyone with a pet bird? I cannot advise you too closely on where to draw this line on snub-worthy behaviors, because it is a personal and circumstantial decision, and I know neither your personality nor your circumstances.

If you can assent to all requisite meanness, the next step in de-friending a person is to take verbal action. Sometimes you can ignore a person for long enough and they will understand the tacit rebuke. This is what is called “getting the message.” Often enough though, part of the problem with the person of disinterest is an incapacity to get this kind of message. I have a feeling your situation is something like this; I imagine whatever hints or nudges you have given this person of your social intentions have failed to penetrate the soft tissues of the unrelenting slugperson. If so, the next step for you is to decide the best way to interpret the content of your silences and package them in the most obvious way possible.

Translating from implicit to explicit meaning is tricky and the result may assume a variety of forms. How you choose to do it is a many-valued function of your experience with and ability to deliver bad news. Below I offer a mad-lib style template for what you might say to someone if, whatever relationship you have with someone, you did not intend for it to involve friendship. I suppose this is all you really wanted, Eudora, when you asked your question, but I gave you the rest because I cared enough to write you those words. In fact, I feel something of a friendship budding between us, even though we are just strangers. And you would respond in kind as follows.

Hello [NOUN]. I hope you are [ADJECTIVE] and that your [NOUN] is going or doing well. I would prefer if you no longer [VERB PHRASE], because I have been feeling [ADVERB] about the way you [VERB] sometimes, especially about [NOUN]. Your tendency to [VERB PHRASE] makes me feel [ADJECTIVE PHRASE] about [NOUN]. I hope you don’t take this too personally, even if it is exclusively a comment on your personal behavior. I am sorry to be so [ADJECTIVE], but I really don’t think friendship is a good relationship for us to have right now. Perhaps we should stop [VERB ENDING IN -ING] for a while. I hope I have not caused you too much distress. Try and remember that it’s not you, it’s [NOUN].      

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