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Dr. Irene S. Levine

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Am I My Friend's Keeper?

Posted: 09/07/09 10:32 AM ET

How much neediness should one friend tolerate?

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

Hopefully, you can help me with my predicament. Over the past six months I've been "friends" with a 25-year-old girl. I'm a 37-year-old woman. Yeah, you know where I'm going with this! She is where I USED to be: bingeing, playing the victim role, can't find love, affection, or the attention she needs. Anyway, it's always about HER and I have reached the point where I don't pick up the phone when she calls or texts.

Today, I hadn't spoken to her in a week and was in a great mood so I answered the phone in a very "up" way. Immediately she said, "Oh, you're in such a good mood, that makes what I have to say even harder" and she went on about how she binged because she finally got the boot from her ex. He's done with her.

I listened, gave advice and she asked at the end like she always does, how I was. But I could tell she really didn't care. I developed a headache during the conversation and ended up eating more than I wanted to out of frustration. Thing is, I want to be there and help her, but not if it hurts me. I am the only one she can turn to help her build strength to overcome her demons. However, she's draining me and I'm just not sure what the best course of action is for me to take.

If you can shed any light on this, I would be eternally grateful!

Signed,
Grace

ANSWER

Dear Grace,

Healthy relationships are reciprocal, with give and take on both sides. Having been in your friend's shoes, you have been very empathetic -- but it sounds like her neediness and self-centeredness have become overwhelming.

Having only one person to turn to isn't good for either of you. If you are consistently getting headaches and feeling frustrated when you speak or spend time together, you need to step back and make some changes. Talk to your friend and tell her that while you care about her and want to help, you are her friend and not a therapist. Perhaps, you could gently raise the possibility of her talking to a counselor or therapist to resolve some of the unresolved issues that are making her unhappy.

Try to suggest doing things together that you both enjoy rather than giving her the opportunity to ruminate about her problems. You might also suggest that she try to find some friends who are closer to her in age. While the age difference between you isn't an inherent problem, it sounds like there is a maturity gap. It is telling that you call her a "girl" and you call yourself a "woman."

You, too, need to expand your circle of friends and find other relationships that help you grow in different ways. I know your patience is wearing thin, but try to be firm but kind. Perhaps, you need to allow her a little time to get over the trauma of her lost boyfriend before you step back. Hopefully, you can preserve your friendship but change the pattern and intensity of relating to one another.

My best,
Irene


Have a question about female friendships? Send it to The Friendship Doctor.

Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine and her book about female friendships, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend will be published by Overlook Press on September 20, 2009. She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog.


 
 
 

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