THE BLOG
10/10/2010 09:33 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Help! My friend has become too needy

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

My best friend has become overly dependent on me. She's been living in another state for the last few years but we see each other, on average, once every three months and talk multiple times a day, via phone, text and AIM.

I live with my fiancé (newly engaged) and even though we talk all the time, if I'm not readily available to answer a text, she throws a hissy fit and tells me I'm not the same anymore or I'm being neglectful. My fiancé and I visited her and her hubby for the holidays and she got very angry that I wasn't coming for a couple days before my fiancé so we could have "girl time" (My fiancé was the one purchasing the plane tickets which enabled me to see her.)

Lately when we talk, she asks me to tell her "sweet nothings"---constantly. For example, she will say multiple times, "I miss you. I can't wait to see you. Do you miss me? I wish I could just be there with you. I wish you weren't getting married. All my plans for us are ruined now, etc." When I don't acknowledge these statements or reciprocate, she gets upset and tells me I've changed and alludes to the fact that I need to "change back".

To me life is all about change, people grow, they move, they build lives for themselves. To me, a true friend is one that can be happy for you and be there without giving you a guilt trip or constant nagging. Every recent conversation is an invitation for her to complain about life's circumstances. I find it completely draining of my energy; I don't understand why she can't focus on the positive; instead, she makes everything negative.

Another friend (to whom I haven't talked in over a year) recently reached out to me. My best friend became openly jealous: She has flat out told me that it bothers her and this also seems ridiculous.

I got to the point where I told her I needed a few weeks to myself. After that, she told me I don't reciprocate the loyalty that she has shown me in the past, that I'm not a good friend, that I'm one sided, that I'm selfish, and that I've ruined her life. I've tried to explain that we need to have boundaries. The whole relationship just seems to be completely dysfunctional for me and I'm not sure how to fix it. Any advice would be great.

Signed,
Meg

ANSWER

Dear Meg,

Long-term friendships can be immensely rewarding; a chat or laugh with a friend can make a bad day better. But when friendships change or sour, they can be as draining.

It sounds like your relationship with your best friend has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. I'm not sure if your recent engagement set her off because it's made you less available. Assuming she was never excessively needy or demanding in the past, could the change in her behavior be unrelated to you and stem from other aspects of her life? For example, if she is having problems with her marriage, job, health or something else, she may be seeking constant reassurance from you to make her feel better.

When you both have time and don't feel pressured, perhaps you could talk to your friend and ask her about her life. Is she happy? Is she satisfied with her marriage and job? Could she possibly be depressed? If she does have real problems or complaints, listen and offer advice. But don't be surprised if she turns the conversation back to your friendship and how you've let her down.

Since this conversation alone won't change her behavior, you need to determine how much more of this clinginess you can handle. Depending on what she says, you may decide you want to remain connected and help her through this rough spot. If so, you need to set clear limits about the type and frequency of contact you want to have. It also might be worthwhile to suggest that she also needs other friends who live or work nearby, and that she seek out professional help.

In the end, you may realize you simply need to take a break from the friendship or end the friendship entirely. While neither of these are pleasant outcomes, feeling "sucked dry" by a friend can be very painful (and potentially damaging to other parts of your life.) Not all friendship problems can be resolved in a way that satisfies both parties; long-distance friendships can be particularly challenging. While you want to be a good friend, it's also important to protect yourself as well.

Best,
Irene

Other posts on The Friendship Blog about needy friends:

Needy friends: A friend indeed?

Getting out of a sticky friendship

Why don't friends just talk about it?

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