Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Medical school lie is the final straw for this friend
Maryland: I just found out a close friend of mine, "Jade," has been keeping up a major lie for the past two years. (I can clarify if you want, but I doubt it matters.) A few of us suspected she was lying, so another friend used work resources to check it out and confirmed our suspicions. Now everyone knows, but Jade doesn't know we know. I'm utterly freaked out and don't know what to do.
On the one hand, I can't stand the thought of letting her go another day thinking she's fooling us. On the other hand, it has never been our intention to embarrass Jade. I'm worried about her, but I also realize I can't stay friends with someone who could keep up something so dishonest.
Carolyn: Actually, I think it does matter. Some lies you can all agree to play along with (those that hurt no one and, say, give Jade a fig leaf to cover something embarrassing from her deep past), and some lies you can't (say, lies about her present circumstances that require frequent new lies to maintain the facade, or lies that cause collateral damage).
That said, if you've decided to end the friendship, then it does appear (from what little you've given here) as if your best course is to tell Jade privately that you're on to her lie and that, while you're worried about her, you feel you can't trust her to be your friend anymore.
But I write that with an asterisk, because I might not believe the same thing once I hear what the lie was about.
Maryland again: Re: The lie: Jade has been lying about being in medical school. She talks about it all the time and claims to be starting her third year. We were always suspicious about the details she gave about her schedule (for instance, she never studies), and red flags really went up when another friend of ours actually started med school last year and told us everything Jade said about school sounded bogus.
This is especially frightening because Jade already has a pretty strange relationship with the truth. She has been caught exaggerating or outright lying about being in "relationships" with guys she's only met once. She's also really insecure about the way her looks/social life compare to her friends', even though she's pretty and incredibly funny. She lies so convincingly that I've stopped believing anything she says. I'm genuinely freaked out about all of this and don't know what to do to help her.
Carolyn: I stand by my original advice, then: Tell her you're worried about her but you also don't trust her to be a friend anymore.
Yes, it's wrenching to cut ties to someone troubled, but she's troubled above the credential grade of any friend who isn't in a mental-health profession.
By the way, there was no need for anyone to abuse their workplace access to confirm your suspicions about Jade. Under current privacy laws (which are subject to change), a student's name and program are treated as public information, unless the student requests otherwise. A registrar is at liberty to tell you when someone isn't enrolled.