THE BLOG
06/29/2011 05:40 pm ET Updated Aug 29, 2011

Is Having a "Less Than Perfect" Friend Better Than Having No Friend at All?

It's so easy to become attached to the idea of "having a best friend" that we ignore the reality of a flawed friendship.


QUESTION

Dear Irene,

There's a girl who I thought was my best friend forever whom I've grown to dislike. I feel guilty for wanting to dump her, but I don't know how to deal with her anymore. Ironically, she still refers me as her best friend (although she doesn't act like it).

We shared so much together in high school and were almost inseparable. I was rather shy and paid more attention to classes; she was more out-going and had a big wardrobe. Together, we made a perfect match.

I moved overseas for studies and work. During the ten years I was away, I made an effort to stay in touch via phone calls, emails, etc. and visits when possible. Suddenly, she started to send me passive aggressive messages, constantly "reminding" me I wasn't better than her in any way. Her digs were easy to ignore since I was far away (which is not the case anymore). I guess I didn't want to burn bridges.

I can't say I'm more successful than she is -- but she's certainly not happy with my little accomplishments. I guess she wants me to be the same person I was in high school. She never encourages me, or takes my advice or points of view seriously. She even acts shocked and annoyed that I'm in a serious relationship; she can't believe I could find someone willing to commit before she did.

I'm not sure why she always feels the need to let me know I'm not "good enough" and I'm not sure why I always let her get away with it. I used to confront her but she always plays the "innocent" card -- denying all and saying I'm just being too sensitive. I have such mixed-feelings about this friend. Sometimes, I miss her; sometimes, I want to cut her off completely. Sometimes, I feel like I'm willing to settle with her because I'm afraid of loneliness -- I'm afraid I'll never find another good friend even though this one isn't perfect.

I really don't know what to do. I'm not comfortable making plans or sharing details of my life with her anymore. But I don't want to "disappear" just like that. What should I do if she tries to contact me again? Or sees me on the street? What should I tell our mutual friends?

Thanks
Ellie


ANSWER

Dear Ellie,

It doesn't sound like this woman is a "best friend" anymore. She makes you feel uncomfortable -- she's jealous and insecure -- she puts you down -- and it's difficult to talk heart-to-heart with her without ruffling her feathers. No friendship is perfect but this one sounds particularly unrewarding.

Being away for ten years, you've had very different life experiences so it's not surprising you've grown apart. Ironically, it was easier to maintain this imperfect relationship across continents than it is now. But while you're attached to the "idea" of having a best friend, you seem to have grown detached from this one.

Given your long shared history and mutual friends, do you need to end the relationship completely? Can you just spend less time together, and downgrade the friendship (in your own mind) to an old friend from the past? That will avoid all the problems you're anticipating. Making this change will also give you time and motivation to find more mutually satisfying friendships.

It sounds like making close friends doesn't come easily for you and that's why you're clinging to this one. Maybe you should spend some timing trying to figure out why you haven't been able to make other friends.

Hope this helps,
Irene


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