Friends 4ever. Maybe not. How do you end a friendship when the relationship has run its course?

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Years ago, we scribbled promises that we’d always be there for each other in the yearbooks of our closest, sleepover-and-talk-all-night friends. Now most, if not all of them, are out of our lives, proving wrong what we had written so long ago.

Friends are not forever.

As we grow and watch our priorities, beliefs and interests evolve, the members of our inner circle change. It’s natural.

“Relationships of all kinds, friendships included, are organic – they have a beginning, a middle and an end,” says BJ Gallagher, the Los Angeles-based author of “Friends Are Everything.”

Karen Gail Lewis, a Cincinnati relationship expert and author, says friends are like gardens.

“Periodically, they need weeding (the toxic friends), transplanting some friends from the center to the sidelines and leaving space for new plants in the center,” she says via e-mail.

The problem becomes: How do you pull the weeds? What do you do with a longtime friend you once shared everything with but with whom you now share only memories? What about the friend who suddenly seems to envy your success or resent the time you’re spending with your new boyfriend or girlfriend? What about the friend you used to look forward to – but now dread – spending time with?

If the feelings are mutual, it’s easy, says Gallagher.

“More often than not, friendships die a slow, quiet, peaceful death as the relationship just withers away with neither party caring very much.”

But when one of the friends doesn’t realize things are broken beyond repair, it can get painful.

Aristotle once said that a friend is “one soul abiding in two bodies.” Here are some ways to perform an exorcism:

– Tell the truth.

It’s a novel idea, yes, which is why so few people do it.

Thank your friend for the great times. Say you want to end the friendship now so you can keep the wonderful memories intact.

Duquesne University professor Janie Harden Fritz, an expert in interpersonal relationships, suggests saying something like, “It’s pretty clear that we have different expectations for the friendship. I am no longer able to meet these expectations, so it’s best to end the relationship.”

Make sure to frame the reason in terms of “I” or “me,” instead of “you,” she adds. Saying, “I am no longer a happy person” is a teeny bit less painful than saying, “I have more fun with a strep infection than with you.”

The truth method is painful and difficult, but the cut is clean and the healing can begin.

– Light fuse, get away.

You can’t realistically hold up a “the end” sign to your friend and roll the credits on your relationship, but you can have a dramatic final scene, a grand finale.

Your pal will have no doubts that things are over.

Start an argument with your friend and step on the gas. Scream; hurl accusations. If your friend is female, tell her she’s fat; if it’s a guy, tell him his truck is lame.

“It’s not a very honest or respectful way to treat someone who was once your friend,” says Gallagher, “but if you’re desperate to break it off … (it’s) an option.”

A blowout is quick, easy – and says a lot about you.

– The disappearing act.

The neglect method is probably the most popular way to end a friendship. The reason comes down to fear.

Expressing feelings to a friend and then getting a real, live reaction can be “frightening,” says April Masini, a relationship expert who doles out advice at AskApril.com.

“As silly as that may sound, emotions are powerful, and many people do whatever they can to avoid them,” she adds. “Passive-aggressive avoidance is one way of avoiding feelings.”

Hope your friend gets the message as you stop returning calls; say you’re busy when he or she wants to get together; cut off the Christmas cards and birthday gifts; avoid her at events; do anything else a sixth-grader would.

No matter what method you use, just make sure that when all else fails, do not, repeat, do not open your mouth and instinctively resort to that old reliable sayonara: “We can still be friends.”

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