If someone is trying to distance themselves from you, they’ll display these 5 subtle behaviors

Feel like someone’s slowly pulling away from you? 

I’ve been there, and I know it’s not a pleasant place to be. 

But it’s a harsh reality of life that people drift apart, one that we all must accept. As Scott Neustadter, the American screenwriter and film producer behind 500 Days of Summer, put it: 

“People change, feelings change, but that doesn’t mean that the love once shared wasn’t true and real. It simply means that sometimes, when people grow, they grow apart.” 

It can be difficult to know if someone is actively distancing themselves, however, as it tends to happen slowly. 

With this in mind, we explore five subtle behaviors that suggest this is the case. 

Sure, it may hurt, but it’s better to be prepared. 

Let’s dive in.

1) When you reach out, they give short and impersonal responses

Do your messages now get met with a lazy thumbs-up icon rather than real acknowledgment? 

This sign might seem glaringly obvious on paper (or on-screen), but when it comes to friends or loved ones, we often find ourselves making excuses for such lackluster replies. We think to ourselves, “Maybe they’re just busy.” 

After all, if someone were genuinely trying to distance themselves, wouldn’t ignoring our messages entirely send a clearer signal? 

It would. But that’s not the reality of how people behave.  

A study on the dynamics of ending friendships suggests that people tend to prefer a gradual withdrawal over an abrupt halt. Researchers proposed one reason for this is that “negative feelings are less likely to emerge, so retaliation from the friend is less likely.”

So, if you’re noticing that your attempts at communication are consistently met with minimal and detached responses, it’s a sign worth paying attention to. 

However, this behavior alone is not enough to say that someone is desperately trying to get away from you. You’ll need to watch for these next signs, too. 

2) They have become weirdly formal with you

This is a pretty weird one, but it happens —I’ve experienced it firsthand. 

And it’s not just anecdotal; that study on friendship dissolution I mentioned in the last point outlined seven key strategies people use to phase out a friendship, and one of them was adopting a more formal tone in communication.

But how does this look in the real world?

Well, here’s how it went for me. 

I had this buddy in my early twenties, and for reasons unknown to me, he decided our friendship’s expiration date had come. He started checking off several of these “distancing” strategies, including this formal communication bit. 

When things were good between us, he’d casually call me “bro” or use a nickname. But as he began to pull away, he started addressing me by my full name—a formality reserved usually by my mom when she’s less than thrilled with me.

His politeness took on a new level of formality, too. Where he might have once said, “Sorry, can’t make it tonight,” his responses morphed into, “I’m afraid I’m unavailable this evening.” It was like he was scripting his texts from a Victorian etiquette book rather than just shooting a message to a friend. 

This shift, subtle as it may seem, was a signal that the dynamics of our friendship were changing. Watch out for it. 

3) They are suddenly “very busy” (i.e. too busy for you)

“Can’t tonight; work is crazy.” “Gonna have to take a rain check on that.” “Swamped with stuff at the moment; let’s touch base later.” “This week is a nightmare. Let’s do it soon.” 

Any of these sound familiar?

An abrupt increase in busyness is often just a convenient excuse for someone looking to reduce their interactions with you. Interestingly, this tactic of making excuses to avoid meetings also featured in the list of seven strategies for ending a friendship identified by researchers.

It’s worth noting, though, that life can genuinely get hectic, and sometimes people do find themselves overwhelmed with responsibilities. If this is the only sign from this list that you’re observing, it might be wise to give your friend the benefit of the doubt

After all, we’ve all been there—drowning in deadlines or personal issues, barely keeping our heads above water. 

4) Their calls/messages/invitations gradually dry up

This is a somewhat more obvious one, but when it occurs slowly (as research suggests it usually does), it can be difficult to spot. 

You might notice that the daily texts you used to exchange have dwindled to weekly check-ins, or perhaps those check-ins have now become non-existent. Enthusiastic invitations to hang out that were once a staple of your friendship may now be evaporating, replaced by silence.

These changes are subtle but telling signs that the person on the other end is pulling away, signaling a disinterest in maintaining the level of communication and connection that once defined your relationship.

5) They seem to have forgotten the past

This is a tough one to pinpoint, but boy does it sting when it happens. 

It’s as if the history you shared with this person, all those inside jokes, shared experiences, and deep conversations, have been conveniently erased from their memory. It feels like they’ve blocked out the fact that you were ever close at all.

Take my ex-friend from earlier, for instance. There came a point where it seemed like he didn’t remember—or at least chose not to acknowledge—the depth of our past connection. 

Conversations that once flowed easily, filled with references to our shared history, suddenly became stilted. It was as if he was interacting with me as someone he’d just met, not someone who had been a significant part of his life.

This behavior can be particularly jarring because it calls into question the authenticity of the bond you thought you shared. It’s one thing for someone to physically distance themselves, but this can feel like a denial of the friendship’s value. 

This kind of amnesia, whether intentional or subconscious, is a strong indicator that the person is not only distancing themselves from the present but also disconnecting from the past you shared.

The bottom line 

Recognizing these signs isn’t easy, especially when it involves someone you care about. 

But understanding when someone is distancing themselves can save you the pain of holding onto a connection that’s fading. It’s not about assigning blame or harboring resentment; it’s about facing reality and allowing yourself to move forward. 

Remember, some relationships will last a lifetime, while others serve their purpose for a season. 

As always, I hope you found some value in this post. 

Until next time. 

Mal James

Originally from Ireland, Mal is a content writer, entrepreneur, and teacher with a passion for self-development, productivity, relationships, and business.

As an avid reader, Mal delves into a diverse range of genres, expanding his knowledge and honing his writing skills to empower readers to embark on their own transformative journeys.

In his downtime, Mal can be found on the golf course or exploring the beautiful landscapes and diverse culture of Vietnam, where he is now based.

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