How can you spot a friendship is dying? Most of the time friends who exit our lives do so slowly, and in stages. You start seeing them less and less (rarely intentionally, and with the best intentions of rectifying the situation) until the fact that they have moved, or married, or got a new job, sinks in and they recede to the back of your facebook page. Such changes in our personal priorities are rarely painful. Indeed, they are rarely anyone's fault. Most likely, they come about naturally, and with assent on both sides.
Every so often, however, someone carves you out of their life with a decisiveness which is as startling as it is unexpected. The last time it really happened to me was at high school - with all the psychological brutality teenage girls normally reserve for one other. I remember the pain of it still: my best friend turning against me from one day to the next, and of spending about two years trying to work out why apologies and explanations hadn't ironed things out. I've also done the same to some others in my life - people who thought I was angry with them, and thus refused to communicate, when in reality I was just indifferent and wanted them to go away.
The fact of the matter is that sometimes we need to move on from certain people in our lives. Perhaps we have little in common; perhaps we have grown out of them; perhaps we simply don't like them; perhaps we need to prioritise; or perhaps our relationship is somehow inappropriate. That happens. We develop. However the real question - and the ethics, if you like - is how to go about making the separation. I still feel rather guilty after leaving an ex-boyfriend (who was always calling me 'as a friend') high and dry. Every so often I would agree to meet him for coffee and invariably, when the moment arrived, I would find a reason to cancel. I'm not surprised he hated me afterwards. I simply wasn't honest enough.
Nobody likes being rejected by someone they care for. Especially not by being given a chronic cold shoulder until they get the hint. Sometimes it is fairer to be cruel than to be kind, even if that is more difficult for the perpetrator. So many people take the attitude that if you ignore something it will go away. Very often, all that happens is that this breeds resentment and self-hatred in the injured party. Fundamentally, if you are indifferent to someone who cares for you, that does not mean to say you wish them ill. Just that you no longer wish to see them. As such, damaging someone's self-confidence for the sake of an easy way out is egotistical in the extreme. The 'its not you, its me' line might be cliched - but it saves a lot of worthless soulsearching in the long-run.
So much for responsibilities. What about rights? To what point can the injured party blame the other for their hurt feelings or sense of loss? And to what point are they entitled to an explanation? Personally, I think that if someone respects you enough to break ties with you, and tell you why - as is done in many breakups, if we're honest, which, however unpleasant at least have the relief of finality about them - you should respect them back and bother them no longer. However, if they refuse to confront the issue, or deny there is a problem, they do bear responsibility for that.
In that case, you can just tell them so, I suppose. And be done with it