Do you have a friend who you’re always there for but, when you’re in need, they ghost you or offer minimal energy or support? Basically, are you in a friendship where it’s always all about them? Maybe you’ve been friends for years and you just want things to be more equal. Or maybe you don’t want to be friends anymore but can’t figure out how to leave without all the drama. Either way, I’ve got you covered!
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Friends are awesome! The best! Everyone needs them! But friendships are about mutual support. In a healthy friendship you feel uplifted and energized after hanging out with them. You feel comforted and understood when you reach out.
But in a one-sided friendship, you get very little or none of that. You’re the person driving the relationship and holding all the emotional currency. They’re in the friendship making withdrawals and all you feel like you do is make the deposits.
Let’s talk about the signs of a one-sided friendship:
- You’re always there for them but, when you need something they either show only minimal interest or they ghost you completely.
- They’re an emotional vampire. You leave conversations feeling drained.
- They might ask you how you’re doing but lose interest right away. If you don’t speak fast and get to the point quickly, they move the conversation back to them.
- When you bring up an issue you need help with, they give you two-word comments and quickly bring the conversation back to themselves.
- It’s clear to you that they’ll cancel in a moment’s notice if something better comes along or if their mood shifts. Or lots of plans with them feel tentative and they don’t follow through with finalizing things with you.
- They often dismiss things you say, minimize your feelings or act condescending and superior with you. The message: you don’t matter as much as them.
- After you’ve spent time together you might notice that your self-esteem has taken a hit. You don’t feel built up by them. Instead, you feel torn down and doubting yourself.
- You’ve noticed that when you’re having a hard time, they almost seem to be enjoying it. Or they show no empathy. They say things like, “I told you not to get involved with that guy” or “I tried to warn you, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself.”
Now, you might have already tried to speak to them about this issue in your friendship and one of these things happened:
- They got angry and defensive and the conversation ended up being about how you’re the bad friend, not them.
- They promised to make changes (maybe they even showed up for you a couple times), but then they reverted back to old behavior.
So What Do I Do, Abby?
Step 1: Figure Out Your Why
You need to have an honest conversation with yourself about why you stay. Here are some reasons I hear:
- Longevity: We’ve been friends for so long; I’ve invested so many years – I don’t want to give it up. We have so much history and shared memories.
- It’s really my fault: It’s really not that bad. In the moment I get angry but they’re really a good friend when I look at the big picture. I’m probably just as self-absorbed as they are. I think about the negative too much. You end up taking the blame and minimizing your own needs and experience.
- They Stick By Me: No matter what, they’ve always been my friend. I need to be loyal and stick by them.
Here’s the problem. These reasons are likely not true (except for the fact that you’ve maybe known them a long time). It’s not really your fault and they actually aren’t sticking by you as a friend. They’re sticking by you as a taker.
It’s time to get very real about your relationship with this person. Why do you hang on? What are you really getting out of it? You’re going to need to dig deep here and there might be some harsh truths you need to face.
- Maybe you like to feel needed.
- Maybe they’re your entry into a certain friend group you’d otherwise not have access to.
- Maybe you feel more important because they count on you.
- Maybe you think this is the best you can do and that it’s better than nothing.
There’s something you’re getting, and you’ve got to get clear on it.
Step 2: Track Your Feelings
The big issue is that you’ve been minimizing your needs and taking blame for things you shouldn’t. So, it’s time to get real. If you were gaining weight and couldn’t figure out why, I’d tell you to track your food so you could get a reality check and some perspective. The same holds here.
After each interaction with this friend, track how you feel. You can write down an actual feeling or make it really simple, with a scale of 1 to 6 with 1 feeling drained, alone, resentful and frustrated and 6 being uplifted, nourished, connected and loved after any type of interaction with them.
So after every interaction (including if they don’t text you back for seven hours), make a note of how you feel. Track this for at least two weeks but no longer than one month. Use a calendar or something else visual where you could see the whole month at a glance. If you’re noticing 1’s everywhere (even multiple times a day) and very few other numbers, you’ve got to take stock.
Tracking your feelings in this way is important because friendships are there to support us and help us feel loved and safe. If you’re consistently not feeling that way with this friend, IT DOESN’T MATTER WHY – it just matters that you feel that way. So, even if it is “your fault because you’re too sensitive” (which I think is likely bullshit, by the way), the fact that you feel this way is important and needs to be addressed. That might mean that you need to go to therapy or take a self-esteem workshop but moving forward with nothing changed needs to not be an option.
Step 3: Talk to Them
Now that you’re clear about why you stay and how you feel, it’s time to do something inside the friendship.
- First, be honest and talk to them about how you feel using the I Feel Formula (you can download it on this page – see below).
- Don’t blame or criticize but be clear and forward about what’s happening for you.
- Have a plan ready for next steps. For example, maybe you set a timer when you each speak for a while. Maybe you set up ground rules like no interrupting or calling out dismissive language. Maybe you have a code word for when you’re feeling dismissed.
Step 4: When to Stay
If the friendship slips back into old, negative patterns say something. You can refine or remind what you agreed to or come up with a new action plan. If this person is truly capable of friendship (which they might be) then you can move yourselves towards a mutually loving relationship. Just remember that it won’t be a perfect straight line. You’re looking for an overall upward trend, not perfection.
Step 5: If it’s Time to Move On
If you’ve done everything you can and this person just won’t make consistent changes and you still walk away with those yucky feelings after interactions, you’ve got to put on your big girl/boy pants and move on.
There are two ways to do this, depending on the friendship and your ability to draw boundaries.
- You can just stop responding or take a long time in between responses. Put off getting together or just keep saying you’re very busy. You don’t have to make some big declaration or draw some huge line in the sand. Don’t unfollow or block them on social media. Just slowly disappear from their life. If they’re not getting what they want, they’ll move on to someone else.
- Ask to meet for coffee and let them know up front that you need to discuss some thoughts and feelings you’re having about your friendship. Don’t blindside them if possible. Get yourself into a very loving state before you meet. This isn’t the time for telling them off or you feeling abandoned or resentful. This is the time for love and compassion for both of you. Your friend did the best they could with the tools they had. Their tools just sucked for you. However, you have full responsibility too. You co-created this relationship with them and allowed this treatment. There’s no blame here – you were doing the best you could with your own tools too.
It’s a great time to tell them how much this friendship meant to you and how hard this decision has been. You might say, “I’m just not getting what I need. I walk away from our conversations feeling resentful and I just don’t want to have that with you. I love you but the way we interact isn’t working for me right now. This could all be me and my issues but, either way, I need to take care of myself and take responsibility. I don’t want to get to a yucky place with you and I can’t seem to change this dynamic no matter how hard I’ve tried.”
This is NOT a time to get into an argument or discuss the different points of view. This is not a discussion. You already know the outcome so don’t focus on convincing them or defending what you’re saying. Don’t get into explaining, justifying or proving why it’s OK that you’re ending the friendship. Make this meeting as short and sweet as possible.
Also, don’t leave any room for questioning how you’re leaving things! Don’t try to “soften the blow” – you know how it feels to be on a date and have someone say “I’ll call you next week” and then they never do. It’ll only create anger and resentment and drag things out. Wish them well, keep liking their Insta posts if you want, but don’t leave it open-ended. Be firm with your boundaries. If they continue to ask why or push, end the conversation.
You are not responsible for their reaction to all this. It’s likely that they’ll be upset or angry with you. You can only keep your side of the street clean. Make sure you’re coming from love, not fear and that’s all you can do.