Despite the intimacy of those relationships, Bryant says it’s not unusual for a client to just stop coming in. In most instances, Bryant usually assumes the person has moved or is growing their hair out.
While Bryant isn’t bothered by these ghosting clients, she adds that she’d rather know why a person has stopped coming.
“It’s helpful to know for growth reasons,” Bryant says. If something she said turned them off, she wants to know so she doesn’t repeat the behavior. If it’s because she doesn’t offer a specific service, that can help her figure out how to expand her business.
“I definitely would want them to be more direct,” she says. Bryant appreciates clients who tell her, “Hey, this will be my last appointment for a while,” she says, or “Hey, I miss you, but this covid hair is looking good. I’ll reach out to you when it’s time.”
When we think of our most valued relationships, we may think of family, significant others or best friends. But platonic connections are often the web that binds us to our daily routines and our communities: the babysitter who comes through in a pinch, the work buddy who knows just how you like your coffee. Others, like hairstylists or doctors, help us show up for ourselves.
But just as with any relationship, sometimes you need to move on. Doing so in nonromantic situations can be awkward. We have a seemingly endless amount of resources and references for healthy (and not-so-healthy) romantic breakups. But for platonic, casual relationships? Not so much.
So we asked the experts: How do you end these relationships in an intentional way?
To ghost or not to ghost
Your initial instinct for ending a casual relationship might be to ghost them. It’s a normal impulse, says Neathery Falchuk, a licensed social worker and owner of Ample and Rooted, a therapy practice in Austin. After all, it’s much easier to avoid a conflict that could become awkward or uncomfortable than to assert yourself and your boundaries. But depending on the nature of the interaction and your intimacy with the person, this may or may not be the right thing to do.
For one thing, if the person has harmed you or has a history of crossing your stated boundaries, you don’t have to put yourself in that position again, Falchuk says. This is especially true if there’s a power imbalance in the relationship: if they’ve used microaggressions or have refused to accommodate your disability. In this case, ghosting may be appropriate — or become appropriate if they keep pushing the issue.
On the other hand, if the relationship has been amicable or you’ve had a longer history, providing closure is a more satisfying, mature thing to do, advises Marjorie Nightingale, a licensed marriage and family therapist in D.C.
It’s as simple as the golden rule: If you were in their position, would you want or expect closure from the relationship? This is especially true if the other person is providing a service and is income-dependent on the relationship, such as a child-care provider, aesthetician or therapist, Falchuk says. Giving notice ahead of time allows them time to fill your slot in their books or otherwise take care of things on the business end.
You might say: “Hey, next time is going to be my last time,” or, “I’d like to talk about an end date,” Falchuk advises.
No matter how you do it, ending the relationship with care and compassion is a way to respect that person, honor the relationship and show appreciation for the role they played in your life.
Keep it brief
The rule of thumb for diffusing these interactions is to keep them short and sweet. If you’re feeling anxious (which is normal!), it can help to prepare a script, jot down some notes or discuss what you’re going to say with a friend ahead of time, Falchuk advises.
“Keep it brief, direct, compassionate and give yourself a time boundary where you can say: I’ve got to go to another meeting,” they say.
Nightingale advises leading the conversation with appreciation. This could apply to one-on-one relationships, or social groups, such as a monthly book club: “Start with a short note of appreciation for the time you’ve spent together, then let them know you’re moving on and you wish them the best.” You don’t need to launch into a long-winded, apologetic explanation as to why you’re ending the relationship, she notes.
Then, if the person asks for an explanation or feedback, it’s up to you whether you oblige, Nightingale says. If the relationship is professional, you might respond with some feedback as a courtesy. Falchuk offered a common formula for this, whether you’re ending the relationship or striving to maintain one. It goes like this:
“When ______, I feel ______, and I need ______.”
For example: “When I’ve been misgendered by you, I feel shame and frustration, and I need you to use my correct pronouns,” they say. Or if you’re ending the relationship, you could say: “When I’ve asked you to use my pronouns and you have had difficulty doing so, I felt really frustrated, so I’m going to need to find a new hairstylist.”
In this formula, the “I” statements make it more about your specific experiences and feelings, rather than a characterization of the person. Sticking to a formula can help you keep it brief while still asserting your values.
Maintain your boundary
Of course, there’s no guarantee the other person is going to receive your message well. They may push back or offer an incentive to maintain the relationship — “I’ll give you a free service next time,” for example. In this case, Nightingale says, you can simply reiterate your message: “I am grateful, but this really is going to be my last day.” Or for a casual friendship, you might offer this simple but polite response: “I think we’ve gone as far as we can.”
If they respond with aggression or resistance, Nightingale says, “that’s their stuff to manage. That’s not yours.” You have no obligation to reason with them, and if they continue to push back, that may be further confirmation you’ve made the right decision.
Feedback helps people grow
For Bryant, the D.C. barber, honest feedback helps her run a better business.
She recalled one client who was experiencing hair loss. He would ask her what he could do to prevent it — something that was out of her expertise, she says. She advised him to see a dermatologist.
He eventually told her he would stop coming: Her expertise and his needs were not aligning. But Bryant says that experience ultimately helped her and her business. Her shop now does hair units — sometimes known as toupées — to help clients experiencing hair loss feel more confident.
Falchuk says it’s important to assert your needs “as soon as you’re able to notice dissatisfaction.” Start by trying to name it: What is going wrong, and how might we fix it? For example, you might say to your therapist: “I’m wanting to do this work in a different way. What do you think about that?” they advise. For a social group like a book club or knitting group, you might implement regular check-ins: How are things going? Is there something missing? What are we doing too much or too little of?
These questions act as routine maintenance and allow the other person or group the opportunity to adapt to meet your needs. It also softens the blow and allows for a more open, healthier exit if it comes time to part ways.
Give yourself compassion
Ultimately, it’s important to go easy on yourself as you navigate the end of relationships, big and small, Falchuk says. Reassure yourself that what you’re doing is difficult, but important.
“Setting boundaries is self-care,” they say. “We’re not taught how to leave relationships in a really satisfying way, so offer yourself compassion in the moment: This is a moment of anxiety. Others have certainly felt this way, too. I’m not alone.”