The Friendship Doctor

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

A Friendship that Is Too Close for Comfort?

When a relationship is out-of-sync, it can be a strain on both individuals.

QUESTION

Hi Dr. Levine,

I am about to graduate from high school. I've been friends with this guy for about three years. When we first met, something hit me that I really wanted to be good friends. We quickly became very close friends---saw each other nearly every day at school and outside of school, hung out on the weekends often. We spent summers together studying (the two summers before he graduated).

Our friendship was such that we shared many common hobbies, values, and unforgettable memories. We would never argue; at times, I thought it was too good to be true. I would even go as far as to say that he is one of the most influential people in my life.

What I noticed throughout our friendship was that (for some reason, and I believe this is my problem) I always felt as though I cared about him, liked him, and thought about him much more than he did about me. I felt like it was an unbalanced friendship; I mean, I've already told myself that I could even die for him.

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On the bright side, I know that we're best friends, and despite the remoteness between us (he comes back to visit here almost every break), we always keep in touch. Furthermore, I truly appreciate our friendship because I know that he does too, and never takes anything for granted. He might say something nice to me, and I would get extremely happy or even ecstatic. But when something negative happens, even if it's seemingly very minor (for example, him not returning a phone call), I begin to have doubts. Sometimes I get quiet upset: I get way too happy, or very sad.

About a week ago, I had a party and we both got more than tipsy (only one of many occasions). He insisted on driving home drunk (I clearly knew he was not in a state to drive), and I would never let him do anything like that. Nothing is worth the chance of risking his life. Somehow the situation quickly escalated and before we knew it we were raising our voices and pushing each other. The reason I take this quite seriously is that we were not even that drunk to have that as an excuse. What upset me even more was that he lied to me that he was going to cab home; I looked around to realize that his car was gone, and he drove home.

We have not talked since, and I know that he is an otherwise extremely mature and the greatest friend I have. This is the first "pause" we had, and I have been lately thinking very hard about our friendship. I am almost certain that he feels sorry, but I was so shocked and frustrated that a part of me does not want to forgive him. I don't know what to do.

Signed,
Marc


ANSWER

Dear Marc,

Clearly, this friendship has been an important and exceptionally close one during your high school years. You say your friend is a bit older than you: As people leave high school, friendships change---even the best of them. Graduates leave friends behind as they mature and find their way in life. While your friend may have a great deal of affection for you, he is probably doing new things and meeting new people.

I'm concerned that this relationship sounds a bit too sapping of your time and emotional energy and may be limiting your own growth. When a relationship is out-of-sync (for example, one person is needier of the other's companionship than the other or more dependent), it can be a strain on both individuals.

That you came to physical blows over this driving incident may suggest that you both have a lot of pent up feelings. I appreciate your concern about his safety but you can't control a friend's behaviors, even if he makes decisions you don't agree with.

I think this pause may be a good one. You need to step back and think about the intensity of this friendship and figure out what else might be going on. You might ask your friend if he is comfortable with the relationship as it is. It also might be worthwhile to discuss your feelings about this relationship with a counselor or mental health professional.

Hope this helps you sort this out.

My best,
Irene

 

Other posts on The Friendship Blog that touch on the need for balance and reciprocity in friendships:


Toxic friendships: It takes two

Good boundaries make good friendships

Help! My friend is too clingy

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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