The Friendship Doctor

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I'm Her Friend, Not Her Mother!

If you allow someone to depend on you too much, it can become a habit.

 

Hi Irene,

My best friend and I have been buddies for nearly twelve years, having met during our freshman year of high school. We're now in our mid-twenties. I can't help but feel like she never quite grew up. This feeling stems mostly from her dependence on other people and I'm a little ashamed to admit that it really annoys me.

To be clear, when I say she's dependent, I mean she cannot function on a daily basis without some sort of assistance. For one, she doesn't know how to drive; this has become a huge argument between us, as I have offered to teach her for several years since I got my full license, but she steadfastly refuses, often on the grounds that she either doesn't have the time or is too afraid to learn. I could get past that (at least the fear part) if it weren't for the fact that she complains that we don't spend enough time together. Personally, I don't want to be the designated driver every time we go out, and I don't think her husband wants to drive her to and from girls' night, either.

Her inability to drive became a bigger issue when we were planning on getting an apartment together, since she would need a ride to work every day. Since I work two jobs, there was no way I'd be able to accommodate her, which meant we'd need to be near a bus route, and the apartments within range were too far out of our price range. The plan had to be scrapped. Now, since they are living with her husband's parents, she's relying on MY boyfriend to drive her to work on the days no one in her household can give her a lift. I appreciate his generosity, but it isn't encouraging her to learn how to drive.

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The second half of this problem involves money. Long story short, her husband was laid off and unemployed for about three years (which is why they live with his parents) and just recently re-joined the workforce. It's a great relief, but as a result, they are in debt up to their eyeballs. And she only works part-time. This means that, when it comes to paying for things, she either lets me or one of our other friends foot the bill, or spends money she really doesn't have. She's also buying things she doesn't really need (for example: a huge box of Christmas ornaments when they don't even own a tree to hang them on; they've been in storage since she bought them a couple years ago). I gave up confronting her on it, because yes, it is her money, but I still can't help but worry when I know the only reason she isn't flat out broke is because of her husband's income barely keeping them afloat.

I've told her that I'm worried about her, and I've tried to be helpful in encouraging her to learn to drive and to start keeping track of her finances better, but she has made it clear that she doesn't want my help and I have backed off. Still, every now and then, one of the subjects will come up in conversation, usually when she wants to plan a date and I tell her I can't pick her up/can't afford it. She immediately becomes defensive with "I know! I know! I need to learn to drive/get a better job/get out of debt! Okay! I get it! Leave me alone!" and I don't even have to say anything.

I'm worried this is going to get worse, and having been friends with her for so long, I don't want to see her fall. If the worst were to happen and she was left alone, I know she'd come to me first, and I can't support her. I can't afford it. It's just that I feel like I'm dealing with a whiny teenager instead of someone two years older than me. I can count the number of friends I have on one hand, so I'm reluctant to simply call it off with her, and deep down, I don't think I want to. It just feels like I've out-grown our friendship, and she needs too much.

I just don't know what to do. I don't know if there's anything I CAN do.

Signed,

Juliette

Answer

Dear Juliette,

My sense is that you have allowed this very dependent relationship to go on, largely unchecked, for too long. Although you have tried to assume the "adult" or "maternal" role in relation to your friend, she doesn't seem to be "growing up" or taking responsibility for herself.

It's unlikely that anyone can make a friend work more, learn to drive, or become more independent, either by doing things for them or simply by telling them what to do. Change needs to come from within. Ironically, your friend has found a way to get her needs met by the people around her (including your boyfriend) -- and you haven't done the same.

Because this doesn't sounds like a healthy friendship between equals, I would recommend that you create more distance between you and your friend. Would you feel comfortable diluting the intensity of this friendship and connecting with other people who are less needy?

At minimum, you need to be better about setting limits and saying "no" to her. If you are unable to do this on your own, you may want to speak to a mental health professional to better understand the reasons.

I hope this is helpful.

Warm regards,

Irene

Other posts about needy and dependent friends:

 

 

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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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