• Handling Breakups

How can I break up with a needy friend?

Published: October 18, 2013 | Last Updated: October 18, 2013 By | 39 Replies Continue Reading
It’s difficult to break up with a needy friend. It’s even more challenging if the friend was kind to you when you were down.


Dear Irene,

I need to end a “friendship” with my next-door neighbor and I need advice on the best strategy to go about doing that. She is 30, pregnant and has mental issues. I’m 40, single and work as a physician.

We got to know each other Christmas 2012, when I was suffering from depression and my neighbor helped out with grocery shopping, vacuuming, etc. Things escalated quickly and soon she came for coffee every day, sometimes twice a day. She would get panic attacks in the middle of the night and wake me up to make her calm down. She tells every one that I am her Sister, that she loves me, and that I am her family.

When she invited me to her planned C-section this December, I lost it. I want to get rid of her, but how? I am moving to another part of the city and she is already talking about moving her own family to my street. Should I write a letter or just tell her when I move out? Another neighbor told me that she already has had one “breakdown” because of me moving. I want out. What do I do?

Signed, Marina


Hi Marina,

What a tough dilemma! You met your neighbor, a very vulnerable woman with emotional problems, when you were quite vulnerable yourself. When you were depressed and needed help, she jumped right in and helped you out. She sounds like a person who has great empathy for others dealing with emotional struggles.

From there, it wasn’t a huge leap for her to assume you were friends and that you would want the same closeness on a continuing basis. However, now that you are on more of a solid footing, things seem to have changed for you. You don’t see this as a friendship between equals, view it as one-sided, and want to end it—despite the fact that in the past, you were probably somewhat lax about setting boundaries and may have even been encouraging.

I can understand how you might not want to continue this relationship and that is your right; friendships are voluntary relationships and don’t work if they are one sided. On the other hand, you realize that a sudden change like this could be very upsetting to your friend.

Given this background, I think you owe it to be as honest—and as kind—to your once-friend as you can be. Don’t put it in writing. Instead call her on the phone to let her know that you need to end the friendship. Ordinarily, I would suggest meeting face-to-face but I think it can be an awkward and uncomfortable discussion to have in a public space. On the phone, if she gets upset or angry, she also has the option of hanging up on you.

Tell her you appreciate the help she gave you when you were depressed but you need to have a more distant relationship going forward. Perhaps, you can tell her that you don’t think the relationship is a healthy one for either of you. Let her know you don’t want to be involved in the birth of her child but truly hope things go well for her and her family. Encourage her to seek support from her husband and, if need be, a therapist, instead of from you.

This sounds like a sad and difficult situation for both of you.

Best, Irene

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Comments (39)

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  1. BOB20902 says:

    The first article was great, but what do I do if my neighbor is deaf [100”5 [wears c implant] & tells me we are never breaking up, if we do then I do it, also the reason I used bob20902 is because she seems to spy on me. She tells me that her family does not seem to help as they think she is not disabled & has problems, they will not let her get medications for her charge syndrome, & she told me she does not want to get pills.

    She forces me to do things & wants me to do as she says, but I do not like her bothering me [we do go do our own things sometimes as she does know she bothers me [thank God].

    Also, read one post or reply about friends helping friends, well God wants us to help each other.

  2. BOB20902 says:

    I have a special friend & next-door neighbor, she has CHARGE SYNDROME & is calling me every day a lot of times, & on my cell phone too. She even got my e-mail account because I type slow, she says she will not use it, but in 2010, my dad & I went on a cruise & she decided [from her computer] to log in as me on gmail & r
    ead everything.

    wow answered right when I was typing – cool. But moving is not in my plans as it cost too much & I live in section 811. But thanks. Oh well, people do say things have a way of working out on their own. I read on some sites where someone [think ehow] says to let it just fizzle out on it’s own. Thanks for the chat part.

  3. Josefin says:

    I think we should always help our friends as well as others in difficult situation.

    • BOB20902 says:

      I was married once & if she fell while running from me [eletric wheelchair going down a hil], I would call 911 then stay with her]

  4. Stella says:

    Obviously Marina knows she let it get out of hand hence her guilty feelings.

    This can happen easily.

    You meet and it all seems nice and enjoyable, but then as you become more open and yourself with each other you start to realise your not compatible.

    Unfortunately for both parties by then you feel your in to deep.

    Because you do find the other caring and genially a nice person you don’t like to say you need your own space.

    So you let it carry on because you don’t want to disappoint and upset the other. You think by keeping quiet your doing the other a kindness but in reality your not.

    Little things start to irritate more and yet you feel your unable to discuss this.

    If the other friend is a more emotionally open- affectional type you can then start to feel caged and smothered.

    These feelings can be very stressful and negative.

    Marina you should have set boundaries from the start and you should have spoken out honestly if something felt uncomfortable.

    But it is to late now.

    It is sad because the other girl is obviously more emotional then yourself and will end up being hurt deeply.

    Its a lesson for the future, also for the other not to be so open and bubbly for her own protection.

    If I where you I would be as gentle and honest as possible.. make sure you let her know its not her fault but that you both are simply not compatible.

    Good luck


  5. Constancia says:

    I think it would be good to read up on Codependency. This is a textbook case. The emotionally dependent person often does great acts of service for the ‘stronger’ friend. They may believe it is out of real love but there are strings attached and sadly often manipulation. The emotionally dependent friend desires intimacy, acceptance and deep love from her friend. Unfortunately this need runs too deep for any human to really fill.

    The other friend, who is the stronger friend, can sometimes become “codependent” on the needy friend for other reasons.

    In any case, these relationships are not healthy friendships for either one involved.

    Wishing you well Marina.

    Try the book, “Please don’t say you need me” by Jan Silvious

  6. Padhma says:

    I really can relate to this post in some ways. I have a friend of 5 years who I’ve had to break up with because it feels like I am her non-stop therapist. I broke up with a man once and yes, I went to her for support. That time I went to her for support in no way balances out the countless hundreds of hours I’ve spent on the phone, listening to her cry about self made drama. It is in no way reciprocal. So yes, friends can be there for each other..but if you get help from someone but are expected to pay back a debt forever by being a free therapist…I just don’t agree. Everyone knows when the situation is not balanced. When she calls you her sister, she is doing that because she is trying to draw you closer, in a way, as family and sisters will put up with stuff that regular friends do not. (I’ve had that too! My toxic friend cried to me for two weeks solid, about things that were based on her poor decision making, and then she sent me flowers. Talk about guilt…the flowers are nice, but they don’t give me the 16 hours of my life back….

  7. Lauren says:

    Sometimes that is what happens when you befriend a next door neighbor. Good fences make good neighbors. It is easier to break away from a clingy friend who does not live close to you. This is a bit of a nightmare. I like Dr Irene’s advice. I would follow Dr Irene’s advice to a “T”. Good luck.

  8. Sheryl says:

    Great advice, Irene. Honesty is tough, but it really seems like it’s the only way to go in this situation.

  9. CB says:

    WOW – I am just a lurker but have to pipe in on Marina’s behalf to say that for the most part, you are attacking her without looking below the surface. Take a step back.

    Marina, I have been where you are – twice. You are doing the right thing. Friendship and codependency are two separate paradigms. The women who are criticizing you here simply reinforce my belief that so many people take things at face value and fail to even attempt to read between the lines.

    Thank God for Irene’s level head. Good luck, Marina. You are not alone.

    • Gina says:

      I find it odd that Marina has not returned to respond but also odd that her original email has been shortened and changed. What is going on?? And why was the original email changed part of it has been removed. The part that is missing is the part where she says they were there for each other which means she was part of the friendship as well. Who removed this and why?

      • Irene says:

        For your information, Gina, the original email wasn’t altered in any way from when it first appeared.

        Best, Irene

        • mt1130 says:

          I’m currently on the other side of the fence in this situation. I started noticing that my friendship with a co-worker started to grow distant. I felt like we had similar mental issues, paranoia, insecurity, always trying to please ppl. We both have our moments of spiraling out of control. I was always there for her and she always expressed her appreciation for that. But lately she’s been blowing me off. Kinda just going through the motions bc she feels obligated when I need her. My father passed away a few months ago so I’m sure she’s just trying to be nice when she really doesn’t want to deal with me. Her responses always sound abrupt and routine. Not sincere and heartfelt.

          I’m trying to figure out how to just accept it for what it is and move on. I’ve realized that our expectations for each other are at different levels. I have a tendency of overreacting and jumping to conclusions. I react the moment I feel a certain way. But how do I control my emotions and move on without letting this consume me? I want to avoid the situation that Marina is in. I don’t want to be the ex neighbor.

  10. Katrina says:

    She is well rid of you, Marina! You are a USER who took advantage of that poor woman who comforted you and supported you when you were down. What a loathsome thing to do to now DUMP her when she needs you. Your friend has PROVEN herself to be reliable and a good friend in need. YOU on the other hand, have not. What goes around, comes around, dearie. Next time you get depressed, remember that good friends like her come around once in a lifetime. She may be needy, she may even have a slight mental issue but, at least, she has SUBSTANCE and value. You, I believe, feel superior now that you are back to your self-possessed self and no longer needing a shoulder to cry on. Even after someone told you that she is desperately unhappy that you are leaving, you move on regardless. Nice one!

    • Skye says:

      Once I read a quote that said “the takers always seem to find the givers” and it seems like Marina used this “friendship” while it was convenient for her. Now that she had no need for her neighbor’s attention, dump her. Selfish woman; she doesn’t deserve the friendship her neighbor offers. Marina is the one who should be dumped.

      • Natalie says:

        You both seem to be people who more closely resemble Marina’s friend, and are butt hurt about it, too. Coming from the other side of the fence, both sides have valid feelings, to themselves only. Get over it. Everyone is the center of their own world. People like the ex neighbor want to convert others to revolve around them, much like commenters like you. Can’t take no for an answer. Need to validate your neediness constantly.

        • Someone says:

          HAHAA, I thought the same thing, Natalie. Projecting much, Katrina and Skye? Maybe you two should become friends and suck each other dry instead.

  11. Tracy says:

    Yuck, you seem pretty confused as to what a friendship
    ( or “friendship” as you write ) is, allowing it to spiral out of control then seeing the only option as to drop the friend/move. Christmas 2012, so full-on to full-off in less than 10 months?

    You used your neighbor when it suited you then did not want to reciprocate. It sounds like you see her as a different class of person than yourself.

    That’s fine, it can happen when we go through a bad patch we make bad choices, but don’t use sophistry to dress it up as anything else.

    And be more thoughtful in future for goodness sake, she’s human too!

    • Mary says:

      I think it’s wrong to assume that Marina is being judgmental and just used this woman when she needed her. I’m surprised so many people agreed with you and took her meaning this way.

      Physicians have a lot of demands on their time, and it can be an emotionally taxing career, especially if you own your own practice. I think what she was trying to communicate was that “This woman has a lot of physical and mental needs and I have an involved professional career which I need to concentrate on. We’re not very close in age and we aren’t in the same situation in life so we don’t have much in common to bond us together except that we’re neighbors.”

      Acts of kindness do not need to be reciprocated. I don’t bring a plate of dinner to a sick neighbor so that she’ll do something for me in return. I do it to be kind, and then respect her boundaries and needs. Anything beyond that is selfish manipulation. True, Marina didn’t establish her boundaries with this woman early on. Oh well, live and learn.

      This woman’s relationship with Marina screams of co-dependency (“I am moving to another part of the city and she is already talking about moving her own family to my street.” “She would get panic attacks in the middle of the night and wake me up to make her calm down.”)and it sounds like it would be healthy for both of them to get out.

      • Tracy says:

        *Everyone* has a lot of demands on their time, and frankly if anything a physician or other worker in a people-profession should be better-skilled at dealing with boundaries.

        I don’t approve of fast intense relationships for myself- they always end like this with one or both parties feeling over-committed or over-involved.

        ‘Acts of kindness do not need to be reciprocated.’ No, small one-off acts of kindness certainly don’t, though it would be a better world if more people did. But cultivating or allowing to develop an intense close personal relationship then almost immediately deciding it’s not for you…and especially as others have pointed out seeing someone else’s ‘mental problems’ as different from your own. That’s very thoughtless and I can quite see how the other party is responding- with a certain amount of panic and desperation, having apparently completely misread the situation…

        • Mary says:

          You’re right. We all have a lot of demands on our time, and it’s our responsibility to regulate our schedules according to our mental and emotional capacity. And yes, I agree that we would be a better society if we both initiated an reciprocated kind acts towards our neighbors more often and willingly.

          I don’t think that Marina is a complete victim in this scenario, and I don’t think Marina thinks that either. In a comment below she admits she didn’t set up any boundaries at the beginning of the relationship as she should have. It stinks because she lead the other woman on, but what’s done is done.

          I’ve been in a suffocating friendship that’s stirred up similar frustrations. I’ve made many unfair declarations about that person to family members that I trust as a way to vent. I recognized that I was partly at fault for what I allowed our friendship to become, but it didn’t make my friend’s actions any less maddening. Once I was out of the relationship it was much easier for me to see the picture clearly and see my friend in a kinder light.

          I just don’t think we have a place to judge Marina as a person when we don’t even know her or the whole story. Some people on this thread have said some pretty unkind things and I just don’t think it’s productive or really adds to the conversation.

          • Natalie says:

            Mary has it right. No offense to those arguing with her, but she has her head screwed on right and arguing with her makes it look like you have a disorder. She is understanding of both sides. Her friend could have a personality disorder or type that she isn’t prepare to handle. And vice versa- her friend doesn’t know the first thing about handling a friend appropriately. Sometimes friends bring out the worst on each other. When one can see it’s time to step back and the other wants to hang on and force things, you are taking it too personally to blame one for her exit tactic. And it’s ok that she wants an exit; it sounds like her friend has done everything to keep that option from her.

    • Katrina says:

      Well said, Tracy. My feelings exactly! Marina sounds just like the toxic friend from hell! In the long run, she will be doing her poor friend an enormous favour exiting her life. People like Marina only care about themselves.

      • Natalie says:

        People like you are butt hurt because you can’t force people to revolve around you. You are toxic, too.

  12. Arrie says:

    Why on earth did you tell her exactly where you are moving?

    • CB says:

      Good point. I made the same mistake when my toxic friend moved back to town. She decided to move across the street. So thankful for a gate at the complex where I live.

  13. Bronwyn says:

    I am going to have to agree with the other folks who pointed out the glaring difference in how you characterize her difficulties as, “mental issues” while you were suffering from “depression”. It also occurs to me that you are making a class distinction by describing her as 30, pregnant, with “mental issues”, while you are single, 40, and work as a physician. Clearly, you want everyone to know you are better than she is. You even make the helpful things you allowed her to do for you sound like faults, saying they escalated while it obviously took time for this list of favors to accumulate.

    While I agree with Irene that friendships are voluntary relationships, no one forced you be to friends with this woman when you were depressed, either.

    What strikes me is the unkind fashion in which you refer to her, needing to get rid of her, etc. It does sound like an unhealthy relationship, but it’s one that you also participated in until it no longer served your purposes.

    I have a hard time offering advice on what’s easiest for you because you seem to be taking care of you just fine.

    Also, as a physician, I would expect you to be able to see that inviting you to her C-section, was just a way of inviting you to the birth of her child. There’s really nothing unseemly about it except that she was unaware of the low esteem in which you held her when she issued the invitation.

    I do think you need to be as honest and kind to her as possible — for her sake, not yours.

    You do owe her that much.

    And may she never have the misfortune of becoming friends with such a utilitarian person again.

    • Natalie says:

      Or maybe she’ll realize she expects too muh out of everyone and there are some people who can take those expectations and some that can’t.

  14. Marina says:

    Thank you for taking time to answer. You have reassured me that a letter is not the way to go and you ladies are right-its my responsibility to set and enforce my own boundaries. And yes, I should have drawn those boundaries much much earlier, but I was so ill with depression I didnt have a clue. It litterally felt like this woman came by with a bag of groceries (once!) and then *snap* I´m considered to be her sister, her best friend, her in-house therapist, social worker and go-to trouble shooter. I´t DOES feel like she expects me to reciprocate in ways I cant afford or wont do (lending her money for rent, giving her pocket money, bying her clothes).I know she will upset when I move, but it is not my intention to hurt her. I want to thank her for being there for me and for introducing me to her family. We have been there for each other and she has been a lovely neighbour. When I move, I want our relation to be just that: former neighbours. I need a break and so does she-she has already skipped therapy, thinking I could take over. It is extremely unhealthy. Thank you for your time, your advice is very much appreciated

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s somewhat odd that while you describe yourself as having struggled with depression, she instead has “mental issues”.
      Wow. That’s a rather uneven handling of problems.
      Does she have any family/friends besides you nearby? If I was pregnant & alone, I might invite my only friend to my cesarean, too. Your initial letter sounds like she did a lot more than just get you groceries *once*, but now you’re backing away from that?
      Why? Your inconsistancies don’t make sense.

    • Gina says:

      I totally agree with Brownwyn and Amy. To me, you sound very, very angry,Ihear it in your words. You act as if you are above her because you are a physician.
      I am trying not to judge you but if you were that ill with depression , and she was kind enough to bring you a bag of groceries when you were the one making more money that she obviously was, I would think you would listen to the ” Physciian Heal Thyself” and heal the anger inside you before you do anything to your neighbor.
      She sounds lonely to me, kind, caring and giving and you had to do something to encourage the relationship because one bag of groceries would not give me the right to call someone “like a sister”.
      I am giving you tough love here, and right now I think you need to heal yourself before talking to her because you sound angry and out of control, ie: making assumptions about what she thinks you want her to do, clothes buying, groceries, parying her rent etc…HAS SHE EVER asked you to do that??

      You stated many contradictions such as one “bag of groceries”, and then later ” we have been there for each other” I think it is time for ” Physician Heal Thyself ” .
      And obeying your Hypocratic Oath not to hurt someone.

      After working in medicine myself for 30 + yrs…and in Psych/communications…I suggest you talk to a therapist yourself. You state you are an MD & being one I am sure you know a good one you could talk this over with, for free yet.

      How do you know she skipped therapy thinking you could take over?? Did she ask you to? Or are you the typical FAMILY HERO who thinks they need to take care of anyone and everyone…since you went into medicine that role would fit giving her that idea from you. How much advice did you give her without her asking?
      You have made many assumtions about her actions , I want to know if she really asked you to do those things or is it just you making assumptions about what you think.

      • Natalie says:

        Why do needy people always play the “I care and everyone else should care” card? people are different and you can’t expect all to admire the effort you put into friendships. Don’t hate because it doesn’t always get the result or validation you were seeking.

    • Katrina says:

      When you next suffer from depression, Marina dear – we will all sit back and scream: DOCTOR, HEAL THYSELF! You really are a nasty piece of work. I don’t know what type of doctor you are but obviously your bedside manner leaves a lot to be desired and your empathy is NON-EXISTENT. Shame on you!

      • Natalie says:

        She is a physician. She can get care and will. She was, however, depressed. That’s a mental issue. Let’s not pick apart every work Marina wrote. She didn’t ask her friend to show up with groceries. You don’t just expect people to do that. She was probably surprised it happened and caught off guard, but pleasantly surprised. I know people like the neighbor she describes. You are clearly the neighbor here if you call Marina heartless. Her feelings are 100% valid. You needy folks looking to validate your own butt hurt feelings should stop googling “need help with my dependent friend.” Because marina is exhausted too. It’s not about YOU.

      • Natalie says:

        Also, you sound like you need a physician.

  15. Gina says:


    I think it is important to remember that WE ARE ALL NEEDY AT SOME TIME or ANOTHER in our lives and to say we are not, we are lying to ourselves.

    So when you met your neighbor you were the needy one and she was there to help you through it all correct? While you stated she had mental problems, I felt a bit miffed because when she helped you,you had depression. Is there any difference now because you are well and she is not?

    She obviously looks up to you a great deal and respects you or she would not call you when she needs you. She has trust in you.
    It sounds like she is very lonely and just needs friends in her life and considers you that.

    You did her at one time too, so now that you do not need her any longer , I would really use caution on how to walk away from this friendship to really avoid hurting someone who helped you when you were down.

    Be gentle, take your time in walking away, and setting boundries slowly or you will hurt her very much. It sounds like now you are well, you have the strength to set boundries.

    Did you ever stop to think she thought it was an honor to invite you to her C section? You may not have thought so but she might have. Try to consider both sides….you are in two different places right now and loosing friends can really hurt.

    Especially if she sees you as her sister ( why did you allow her to continue to let her call you her sister and say no I am her friend or neighbor, just curious and not judging. ) I think you have some responsibility here as well to take care of your issues with boundries that you did not set long ago.

    How does she know where you are moving to, you must still be talking then. I know this sounds like tough love and it is…..
    you need to take responsibility for your actions. Both of you do.

    I would slowly detach and not tell her or anyone else where you are moving to or when. It is your business not hers.

    If I were her, I would not want to read it in a letter. I would rather have someone talk to me so I could ask questions and get answers I would need for closure if you break off the friendship.
    But that is me….Tell her that you care, thank her for being there when you needed her, and tell her it is time for you to move on in your life, and start over.
    Are you sure she would move her family to be near you or is she just saying that or is a neighbor saying it to get you both in trouble with each other….give that a thought. Maybe she is jealous.
    Anyway, you are in a tough situation but I always believe honesty is the best policy, that way someone can move on, you can always say you will care about her , wish her well !
    Good luck in whatever way you decide to do this.

    • Natalie says:

      Good points; but it seems to me that her friend will never truly be satisfied with anything Marina does that doesn’t result in a codependent relationship with her. So continuing to consider her neighbor’s feelings could just be continuing the cycle of walking on eggshells around the neighbor. From what I gather, Marina had every right to say . But she doesn’t know that, and if it weren’t for her friend and these people attacking her for being inconsiderate here, she could allow her neighbor to realize she ends treatment instead of seeking it from unwilling others or move on to her next target.

      • Natalie says:

        *marina has every right to say “I don’t have to care about your need for validation.” What baffles me is that so many clearly think people don’t always have the right to walk away. My greatest friends have seen me walk away and right back into their lives, when it works For both parties.

  16. Amy says:

    You weren’t in a healthy place when you established the relationship, and you are now so that you realize the friendship isn’t beneficial. She’s too dependent on you, although it doesn’t sound like you’ve set clear boundaries to help delineate the limits of the relationship. Your friendship doesn’t have to be so black and white, all in or all out unless you set boundaries, stay with them, and she doesn’t respect them. From the way you describe the friendship, I don’t see anything wrong with her asking you to be part of the birth. It sounds like she doesn’t have a clue you want to step back. It could be because you haven’t expressed this, or it could be she’s misreading your signals.
    You can give her some hotline crisis numbers, or tell her to call 911 and say you won’t be available if she calls in the middle of the night. This is both reasonable and helpful to her, because you talking her down from anxiety repeatedly enables her not g
    to seek the professional help she needs.
    I strongly agree about not doing this is writing (except for the phone numbers), there’s too much that can be misinterpreted in writing. Phone or fade to face is the way to go.
    First, decide what you want and be decisive. When you tell her, be firm and kind. Say that you don’t want her to move to your new street, and that if she does (which is her right), you won’t have the time or inclination to have the same relationship. Keep your tone kind and non-accusatory, the last thing you want is for her to move to spite you. If you view this as an issue between the two of you, rather than her fault alone, it’ll help both of you moving forward.
    While her kindness to you during your depression doesn’t come with an obligation to reciprocate, it should earn her respect if you chose to end thr friendship.
    Good luck.

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