How To Deal With One Sided Friendships

By Anni


Let’s talk about how to deal with one sided friendships today.  A dear reader wrote to me with this:

“I have no friends, but don’t seem to have the energy to make any? When I do, they seem so self centered, everything seems to be on their terms, and I am the one making all the effort, which I don’t mind initially, but then it becomes the norm and I get annoyed quickly and drop them. What can I do to change this?”

I had to do a double take when this message came in, as in “Did I just send myself an email?”

Because I have been there.  I have SO been there.

I have shown interest.

I have listened.

I have accommodated.

I have said “oh, it’s fine” and “no problem” and “it’s up to you”.

And then I have gotten tired.

I have faded away.

I have disappeared.

I have never called again.

Over. And over. And over again.

Until I finally cracked the code.  I figured out why one sided friendships kept happening to me and how to make it stop.  And in this article I want to share with you everything I have learned.

Friendship lessons: How to deal with one sided friendships from someone who has been there. :)

How To Deal With One Sided Friendships

1. Know That There’s No Set Number Of Friends You Are Supposed To Have

I used to maintain friendships – even ones I was getting nothing out of – just because it was the “normal” thing to do.  In our extraverted society, a large number of friends and acquaintances is the norm.  Networking is all that and more.  Nobody wants to be labeled anti-social.

But you know what I have come to realize?  Normal schmormal.  Normal doesn’t matter.  What matters is what you need in order to be satisfied with your life.

Some people only need a few close relationships to thrive and I happen to be one of those people.  It’s not anti-social to favor quality over quantity in relationships.  It’s just a different style of socializing – the introvert style.

2. Recognize The Role Of Personality Traits In Friendships

I’m of the opinion that a lot of one sided friendships can be traced back to personality differences.  Human beings are simply wired differently and we end up banging our heads against the wall a lot whenever we encounter someone who’s wired differently from ourselves.  Below are some examples of how personality differences can lead to one sided friendships.

Introverts Need More Alone Time Than Extraverts

Introverts need more alone time to recharge than extraverts.  This can easily lead to an imbalance of needs in an introvert-extravert friendship.  Especially for introverts with people-y jobs and introverts with kids, it can be really hard to get even the bare minimum of alone time, so friendships fall by the wayside.  And the extravert is left wondering why the introvert never initiates contact.

Even though I’m an introvert, I used to have tons of time and energy for friendships in high school and college.  After a full-time job and especially after kids came into the picture…  Not so much.

Extraverts Think Out Loud And Introverts Think Before They Talk

Introverts and extraverts also tend to have different communication styles.  Extraverts like to think out loud.  Introverts like to think before they talk and need pauses in conversation to gather their thoughts.  This can create a dynamic where the extraverts keep talking and the introverts end up feeling like they never get a word in.

I’m really good at being the audience, so I used to get adopted by extraverts all the time. 🙂 I’m interested in people and their stories, so it always worked well initially, but inevitably I would end up feeling like I was just a set of ears and the extravert actually had zero interest in me as a person.

Some People Are More Sensitive To Other People’s Feelings

Some people are naturally sensitive to other people’s feelings and desires.  Some of us are born that way.  It’s our gift.

But not everyone is wired that way.  Other people have different gifts and sensing what a friend might need is not one of them.

Again, this personality difference can easily lead to an imbalance in a friendship.  The “other-focused” friend keeps going out of their way to accommodate their friend, and in the mean-time, the “self-focused” friend is just enjoying the ride, totally clueless that the “other-focused” friend might have needs too.

3. Recognize That People Have Different Expectations And Circumstances

Another root cause of one sided friendships is different expectations.  Simply put, different people want different things out of friendships.

Some people like to have friends they can go places and do things with.  Some people like to have long, deep conversations about common interests.  Some people like to have friends they can rely on for emotional support.  Some people like to have superficial acquaintances they can chit chat and joke around with.

Some people want all of the above.  Some people only want one of the above.

Some people have a lot of time to devote to friendships.  Some people are busy with work and family and they have less time.

Some people want friends they can hang out with every weekend.  Some people are fine seeing their friends every few months.

What we look for in friendships also evolves over time as we get older and our circumstances change.

4. Stop Waiting For People To Change

People are who they are.  They have been shaped into the person they are today by their genes and by their experiences.  Some people stretch beyond their inborn personality, but most people don’t.

People’s goals in life, their expectations, and their circumstances are what they are.  Some people are willing and able to go above and beyond for a friend, but many people aren’t.

The sooner you accept this reality, the sooner you will cease being disappointed by people.

The sooner you start recognizing how people’s personality and circumstances affect what kind of friend they are going to be, the sooner you will stop expecting the right things from the wrong people.

The sooner you stop wasting time on the people who were never meant to be in your tribe, the sooner you will find your way to the people who are actually willing and capable of being the friend you deserve.

5. Become More Choosy About Who You Make Friends With

For a long time, I made friends with anyone who wanted to be friends with me.  I thought I was being kind.  I thought I was being open-minded and accepting.  I thought it was wrong to discriminate.

But those days are over and my definition of kind has changed.  It’s not kind to start friendships that I ultimately don’t have the energy to maintain.  It’s not kind to start friendships with people I can’t be genuine with.  It’s not kind to start friendships with people who would be better off with a different kind of friend.

So these days, I’m in charge.  I put great care into deciding who I spend time with.  I have boundaries and certain criteria have to be met to get inside those boundaries.

And this is what I would recommend for you, too, dear reader.  Paint a picture of the kind of friend you are looking for.  What qualities does your ideal friend possess?  How will this friend behave when you first meet him or her?  What signs will be there to let you know this person has good friend potential?

And how does the person who is not your ideal friend behave?  What are the signs that will alert you to nip this relationship in the bud?

The answers to these questions will help you find your way to the people who are capable of offering exactly what you are looking for.

6. Become More Intentional About Where You Look For Friends

For a long time, I just sort of expected the right kinds of friends to fall in my lap.  And for a long time, I was left disappointed.

Until I came to realize that what I was looking for in friends was pretty specific and not mainstream and those friends were not going to just fall in my lap by chance.  I was not going to run into them in the grocery store, the neighborhood potluck, or the kids’ dance class.  Or maybe I would eventually, but I would have to weed through a whole lot of people to find the friends I wanted.

If you are the same way – if you have pretty specific wants and needs – don’t leave it to chance.  Ask yourself where your ideal friends are likely to hang out.  What kind of get-together would they go to?  What kind of class would they take?  What kind of organization would they join?  What online forum would they participate in?

7. Lead With Your Authentic Self

People who are sensitive to other people’s feelings will adjust their behavior in order to make whoever they are with comfortable.  This is a great skill to possess, but it can also get the wrong people to like you.

The quickest way to weed out the wrong people and find the right people is to lead with your authentic self.  Let your personality shine.  Speak your truth about politics or religion or whatever topic gets you fired up.

Yes, you will turn some people off, but those people weren’t meant to be your people anyway.

And YOUR people will recognize you instantly.

What Happens When You Put Your Authentic Self Out There

I used to feel pretty alone in this world.  Like I was different from everyone and didn’t belong anywhere.

Wanna know when that changed big time?

When I started putting my authentic self out there.  When I started copying and pasting my thoughts from my brain onto the computer screen and publishing them on the internet.  Without censorship.  Just putting out there exactly what I think.  No filter.

Yes, some people disagree with me and tell me so and never visit my website again. Those are not my people.  They belong in some other tribe.

But then there are the comments and emails from dear readers all over the world who tell me I have captured their feelings. Who tell me they GET me. Who encourage me to keep going. Who make me feel less alone in the world.

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About the author 

Anni

Hi! I'm a life coach, a Certified MBTI® Practitioner, and a mentor for stressed out introverts and highly sensitive people. I used to be one myself! My mission is to help you discover your true self and create a life you ACTUALLY like.

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  1. Hello Anni, I doubt that this will go through because my Disqus password isn’t accepted, but here goes: I think we are in the same”tribe”; I don’t really know if I’m an introvert or extravert, but your thoughts resonate with me: I’d rather read a book than go to a party; I more alone in a crowd than when I’m alone; I’m not a people pleaser, and never ingratiate to be accepted; I’m a political, neither liberal nor conservative, neither Democrat nor Republican. So what am I?

      1. No, Anni I haven’t read the book that you cited, but I’ve read most of the works of Sigmund Freud with whom I largely disagree with, and Dr. Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Karen Horney, but the one I most appreciated is Viktor Frankl and his “Man’ Search for Reason” and M. Scott Pecks’ “The Road Less Traveled”. Mostly I benefitted Dr. Frankl’s books, his Psychotherapy method which he called “Logo Therapy”, and in that book he wrote “to accept unavoidable suffering is a pathway to peace, and everything can be taken away except one thing, “Our perception of what one’s suffering about” I strongly recommend his books.

  2. Hey Anni, I’m an HSP & INFJ and always felt embarrassed that I didn’t have a large group of friends, but as I got older I realised that quality over quantity trumps! Extroverted family and friends still sometimes drop the “you’re so anti social” but I enjoy having only a few friends and staying in. I do have one long term friendship that is very one sided and am tactfully trying to let the friendship fade. Any advice on that? (PS love your blog!!)

    1. Hi Sian! Thanks for the kind words. 🙂 Another INFJ reader actually used the phrase “gently fading from their lives”, which I love because I’m not into confrontation or hurting people’s feelings when they haven’t really done anything wrong other than not being a good match for me. So here’s what has worked for me. Simply don’t initiate contact and politely decline any invitations with a plausible excuse. That’s all it usually takes and the invitations will stop after a while. In the few cases where that hasn’t been enough, I’ve gone with a version of the truth that puts the blame on me rather than the other party: “Sorry, I’m not able to be a very good friend these days. [INSERT EXPLANATION, SUCH AS: I’m going through some crap right now. / I just need some quiet time and I’m having a hard time making that happen. / I’ve been really stressed out and I just need some time to get my shit together.]”

      1. Such wonderful advice that I will actually use!! I’m definitely not into confrontation and you worded it so well, that they are simply not a “good match’ for me. Thank you very much Anni, I feel prepared now 🙂

  3. Hi Anni, such a helpful article. I have friends who want to “dump” all their stress and emotional issues on me but if I try to share my struggles it’s time for them to go. It’s like I’m an emotional dumping ground. Drop off the trash then,”I feel sooo much better, see you later”! Infj by the way.

    1. Hi Patty, thank you for commenting and thank you for making me laugh. Your description is dead on and sounds so familiar to me. 😀

  4. i absolutely love your blog. i get so much out of it and they help me navigate what would ultimately be a very difficult social life. i am from Belgium and relocated 30 years ago to the States. Like many Europeans, i am an introvert. I am also an artist who lives in a type A world of high achievers in a very affluent suburb of Chicago. It has taken me years to find my tribe but my tribe is now very small. I try to branch out but it is much harder when you are in your 60’s. Lots of my friendships have come and gone over the years, so much so that I sometimes wonder if it was even worth it. Like you, i kept listening and being a good friend until i realized that everything i did with others was in their own terms. I no longer accept that. I set my own agenda and do not keep relationships that are inherently lopsided. I think art helps me cope with these difficulties. Yes, i totally get you and hank for your wonderful articles.

    1. Hi Christine, thank you so much for reading and sharing your story! I think being from another culture adds a whole other layer of difficulty. I have lived in the US for more than half of my life now, but I think being an introvert + growing up in one of the most introverted cultures in the world (Finland) has definitely made it a difficult adjustment. To the point that I don’t think I’ll ever fully adjust. 🙂 But yes, there are ways to cope!

  5. Excellent article – you’ve captured so many of the underling dynamics of one-sided friendships.

    I have been through a friendship where 1) I’m not sure it was a real friendship, 2) my awareness and expectations of who this person really was was entirely wrong, 3) I’m not sure if I did anything to bring about her rapid change in tone with me, and 4) I’m sure I was dealing with a person with one or more personality and mood disorders.

    Let’s call this friend (or should I say “friend”?) Tara. Tara works with me in the same company. She’s a couple years older than me, now in her mid-40s, and has been in this company a couple more years as well, not a supervisor, more of a senior colleague. Tara was divorced/single when we met, and I am married.

    Some background: Tara had married young, she married her husband when they were classmates in grad school, and then were classmates during an arduous 5-year training program, and then another year in practice working together until they had – what I heard to be – an ugly divorce (he had taken money from her, I heard). She never spoke much about him, occasionally mentioned she thought he was an alcoholic, but said they probably would have stayed together if they had had kids (they never did, she didn’t talk about that).

    So she had been in her early thirties, divorced and single. She proceeded to go through several relationships, none lasting more than two years (one man she mentioned she had been “almost engaged” to, not sure what that means). She had also been through several jobs in the same field, with different companies.

    At our company, she worked two floors above me for the first couple years after I joined. She was always friendly and cordial with me, I only saw her occasionally. But I began to hear that there was some rift between her and our other staff on her floor. I never heard what exactly had happened, but know Tara to sometimes be defensive, irritable, and territorial about her work – which she occasionally expressed in angry emails to the team!

    The chiefs of the department had to switch her office for other purposes, so they transferred her downstairs to my floor, a quieter floor.

    Our friendship started pretty quickly then. I had been one of the few coworkers who she had been casually friendly with even before she came downstairs and I felt sorry for her about how the others were treating her upstairs. Although I didn’t know the details about what happened up there, I felt that she was a good worker who was being unfairly maligned.

    We hit it off quickly. Mornings and afternoons chatting in each others’ offices, lunch together in the team breakroom, went to conferences together, walks to the company store together. We began emailing and texting quite frequently. Text conversations almost every day. Book and movie ideas, political discussions, you name it, fun chats. Her mother passed away and I spent several long phone conversations with Tara, although she later told me she generally did not like to talk on the phone. Tara describes herself as an introvert, she certainly is, and when she had her door closed and needed to just get her work done on her own, alone, I let her be. Some days she wouldn’t show up to work and I’d text to see if she was ok, she’d tell me she was having “a really bad time” and just needed to be alone.

    We saw each other at concerts, where she hung out at intermission with me and my wife. Went to a few company excursions with her, she was friendly with my wife too.

    Occasionally, I now realize more clearly, she didn’t treat me as a friend, though. Couple times going out with others from work, she drove me to the venue, and then just left me there without a ride at the end of the evening (once some boyfriend she was all nuts about came and took her away from our group, once she said she just needed to leave, and left me standing there alone in the parking lot calling Uber!). I asked her a couple times if she wanted to join me and my wife for dinner before a concert, and she always said she “didn’t want to be a third wheel.” When my wife and I went on a double-date with her and her then-boyfriend (later fiancee), to a festival (an excessively PDA-filled showing on their part), they just suddenly declared in the middle of the day they were leaving since he didn’t feel well. Another time we went on another double-date with them to dinner and a concert, at the end of the music, they just left without staying a minute to say goodnight. Except for one evening when I invited her (single at the time) to join me and my wife and my parents for a Christmas garden festival and nice dinner, I realize now she never wanted to go out with us unless it was to serve as a double-date for her and a guy! She never invited me out or over to her house.

    She shared with me here and there some relatively private details about her life and family (although I now realize she left a lot of details about prior work and relationship life to herself). I used to ask about how she was doing all the time. I really felt more and more that I cared about her. In a purely platonic way, I’m happily married! But I cared and felt sorry for hardships she was going through and wanted (and offered) to help in any way I could.

    One notable time I offered her advice I now realize may have been a major mistake. Thing is with Tara, she is very self-assured and confident that whatever she is doing is the right and smart thing to do, no matter what common wisdom says. She had embarked on her newest relationship and after only a few weeks of dating, he had moved into her house, she was planning to buy a baby grand piano to convert her home office into a music room for him, they went ring shopping, and she was planning on quitting her job and moving with him across the country in about a year to live closer to his parents. I only suggested to her that this relationship was moving very fast and she should keep her head on her shoulders – if she was sure it was the right thing, fine, but I was just hoping she wasn’t making rash decisions. (of note, I have kind of made the “instant relationship” mistake myself, and it didn’t turn out well!!). She became quiet – noticeably perturbed at my suggestion to merely think carefully about what she was doing – and tersely told me she had been through many relationships and could easily see that she had found the right man. After just over a month of dating, she knew everything that was bad about him and could live with those things.

    On the other hand, I told her about some private health issues I had. And a few months into our “friendship” my wife had a baby, my new son. And she never once asked me about how those things were going, about how I was doing or the baby or my postpartum wife! Not once!

    It’s remarkable to think now, but in the months before my son was born, I asked her (at first casually, then with a heartfelt written letter) if she wanted to be the Godmother to my son. She said yes, she was honored.

    The major rift happened about a week before my son was born. She had been dating a guy for about 2.5 months and was very content and excited to be in a relationship (the same boyfriend from the double-dates I mentioned). On Monday she was friendly, joking around with me, had a nice chat and walked to the store with me ….

    Tuesday morning … not a word. No good morning, no nothing. She shut her office door all morning, seemed very angry when I saw her come out of office in afternoon, I tried to talk to her and she abruptly and rudely cut me off in mid-sentence, closed her door in my face. And she remained like that the next week until I had to leave work for the birth.

    I texted her a few times, I was concerned about her very sudden change in behavior. After my son was born, she never texted back. I was reading about depression and noticed her symptoms seemed to match almost entirely (at least from an external view). She finally wrote me a text saying she was overwhelmed and needed some space. Although she said she knew I was trying to be a good friend to her, my periodic checks on how she was doing were increasing her stress, she needed space. I understood. I sent her an emoticon text every week or so to let her know I was there if she needed to talk, but I otherwise kept silent and gave her space all that time.

    When I got back to work a few weeks later, I found out from another coworker that after a couple weeks when she was very upset, people had thought she and the new guy had broken up, she came in one morning to announce they were engaged. Other than flashing the ring at me with a smirk over her shoulder, she never mentioned it to me.

    Continued silence from her. A few weeks later I wrote to her, congratulated her again, but said I hoped we could clear the air between us. I said I had valued our friendship, and hoped we could resume more cordial interactions, if only for workplace harmony. She eventually replied, again stating that she was an introvert and my interactions with her were making coming to work difficult. My “constant need for attention from her” were “very draining.”

    Brief list of possible reasons for all this:
    1- self-centered, borderline/narcissistic personality disorder(s)
    2 – insecurity/desperation being single for so long
    3 – involuntary/circumstantial childlessness
    4 – jealous/controlling boyfriend/fiance

    I’m curious your thoughts on this painful/confusing situation.

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Rick,

      Thank you for commenting and sharing your experience. I don’t really want to speculate about what the deal is with Tara since I don’t know her, but here’s what I can say.

      Before I fully understood what introversion meant and realized that it was okay for me to focus on just a few close relationships, I tried really hard to be friendly with anyone who attempted to initiate a friendship with me. This meant that I acquired a lot more friends than I actually had the time and energy for. Inevitably, I would get exhausted by all the interaction and then I would hurt people’s feelings, when I would have to back away.

      Again, I don’t know if this is what might be going on with Tara, but I do know that I’m not the only introvert who has experienced this pattern in their lives.

      Eventually, I learned to not get involved in relationships I didn’t have the time and energy for, but this can be a hard place for many introverts to get to, because of societal pressure to act in a more extraverted way.

      If I were you, I would just move on from Tara and look for friends whose expectations more closely match your own.

  6. To be fair after reading this I feel even more hopeless about friendship. I do all of the things you say but im still the initiator and it seems like no one responds or acknowledge my existence unless something bad happens to me. I tried looking every were and nobody seems to be connected anymore. It seems like everyone is so disconnected that they don’t realize how it effects others. All I want is someone who enjoys my company, I enjoy there’s, have mutual respect for each other, and most importantly initiates any sort of planning, conversation ,or anything with me. Oh and incase you were wondering all the things I enjoy I only enjoy when seeing it from someone else’s view or doing it together.

  7. Hi, I’m reading your article and it’s so spot on to what I feel. I have 2 friends that I feel I would always initiate our outings and invite them and plan things and I was fine with it. But now I grew tired of me always doing it. I stopped the initiating to see if they reach out to me but they really don’t. And NEVER invite me to do anything. I hate being the one to do all the work and when I back off don’t feel like they need me in their life to actually do something to have me in their life. It’s so sad and I’m so over this happening to me. I like what you said about being specific in looking for new friendships and not just friending anyone who gives you the time of day.

    1. Hi Monica, thanks so much for writing and sharing your experience! It really is very similar to searching for a romantic partner. You wouldn’t just marry a random person you run into at a bar either. 🙂

  8. Thank you so much for this article. I have never thought about what I wanted in a friend before, but defiantly know what I don’t want in one. I have been struggling with my best friend recently cause it feels like I am only talking about myself for a little bit and then it’s all about her and she hasn’t been like this before. I want to talk to her about it, but I am also nervous because I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but I just feel we are in different places. Plus she is my only friend that is a girl right now and with COVID I haven’t been able to meet anyone new. What would you suggest?

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