The Friendship Doctor

Send in your friendship questions and quandaries and get expert answers and solutions

Changing places and changing friendships

True friendships develop over time

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

I have never been the type to initiate friendships, although I can usually guess pretty accurately whether I'll end up being friends with someone from the moment we meet. I just wait for the friendship to 'happen' or for them to make the effort. I have very few friends and am somewhat of an introvert. A little over a year ago, I moved halfway across the world for grad school, mostly because I felt restless in my country. I considered five girls very close friends and for the first few weeks away, I kept in touch with them pretty much every weekend.

Friend A, whom I've known for about five years, made little or no effort to stay in touch. She took days to return my calls, or only called when she needed advice. I find myself in a 'shrink' position with all my friends, not just her, and this is very draining. They forget I have feelings, needs and problems too. I tell her my problems from time to time and she's 'happy' to hear them, not because she wants to help, I think, but because it makes her feel better about herself.

She's competitive (even though she doesn't admit it) and puts a lot of effort into keeping up appearances and projecting a certain image. When I first met her in college, I walked past her (she was standing with an acquaintance of mine) and she said "Thank God for make-up" implying I was ugly without it. I had just woken up and was barefaced. Years after we became friends, that remark never left my head. I mentioned it to her and she laughed it off.

She's planning to get married to a guy she admits she doesn't love. She often calls me for advice when the situation gets sticky. As soon as it gets sorted out, I don't hear from her except when she's teasing me about my looks or making jokes about my ambitions. How do I tell her I don't want her asking my opinion about her love life because she never follows my advice? It's happened so many times that I've lost count. In jest, I've told her to quit telling me about her love triangle but I can't keep myself from 'interfering' when I see the path she's headed on. What do I do?

Friend B literally makes me think for her. She asks me even the simplest thing that she could Google and find answers to for herself. Never mind we're on different continents and I'm busy with school while she has recently graduated and isn't working yet.

The common denominator with all these old friends is that they almost always let me down. I hardly ever ask anything of them, whether advice or to help me run errands. This saddens me when I seem to bend over backwards for them. We all joke about my 'shrink' role but now I'm wondering if I should let go of these friendships. Admittedly, if I met my old friends today, I most certainly wouldn't be friends with them, as we have nothing in common anymore and the relationships are too draining. One of the reasons I've hung on is so I'm not friendless when I return back to my home country.

How do I break off without hurting their feelings or creating resentment? I've since made a few new friends here and have no problems moving on from new friendships before they get too deep. What should I look out for to avoid the same mistakes?

Blanca


ANSWER

Dear Blanca,

Friend A sounds like a classic toxic friend. She's competitive, self-involved, irritating, and you can't count on her. Friend B sounds needy and dependent. It seems like after your move, you've come to realize that both these relationships weren't particularly satisfying. (You may have even come to the same conclusion had you remained at home.)

Now that you're a continent away, it's a perfect time to assess your old friendships and make new ones. You don't need to cut yourself off from these friends entirely but you can downgrade the relationships and focus more on new friends. When you return home, you can decide whether you want to pick up on these relationships again or keep them as old-time acquaintances.

Blanca, you mention that you are somewhat reserved and private but if you want to develop close and mutually rewarding friendships and break out of the "shrink" role, you need to be willing to share more of your feelings with friends instead of always being the listener. No wonder they see you as having no needs of your own. This may be difficult for you to do on your own and talking to a counselor might provide you with some insight as to why you are having problems with your friendships.

One other caveat: You are making a huge mistake if you think you can always spot a potential friend immediately. Yes, many women say they feel an immediate connection when they meet someone new and seem to "click." But true friendships develop over time. Instead of passively letting friends pick you, you need to be more active in figuring out if the friendship seems suitable from your end.

Hope this is helpful.

Best,
Irene

 

Have a friendship problem or dilemma, ask The Friendship Doctor.

 

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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