A case of friendship fatigue?

Published: December 8, 2010 | Last Updated: December 8, 2010 By | 5 Replies Continue Reading


Dear Irene,

I stumbled on your blog today, and wish I’d seen it before. I’m in my 50s; consider myself a good, loyal, and fun friend; and have had many friends, lost plenty, and held onto quite a few. Along with the ‘old’ friends, I’ve made newer friends over the years too.

Lately though, I am feeling weary about friendship. That probably sounds odd. But I think I might need some kind of a break from friends, people, and all the effort and confusion that goes into relationships. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not about to go live in a cave–and other aspects of my life (work, marriage) are going well.

I’m feeling a new sense of fatigue and frustration in many of my relationships with friends (and a number of my siblings). I’m not extremely extroverted. I need plenty of quiet time (I’m a writer), but I do need people, and my relationships are very important to me. I make time daily for my friends (and family and neighbors), think about my friends frequently, and am, generally, a reliable and responsive person.

So what’s the problem? Over the last few years I too often feel responsible for keeping many of my friendships going—despite trying to be alert to early signs that a friendship is becoming off balance and even deliberately seek out women who seem capable of mutual friendships, too many of my relationships seem to drift into ones in which I am the person who ‘keeps it going’.

I’ve been told that I’m energetic, intelligent, and well-organized. Is that the problem? I’ve been also told that I expect too much from others. Finally, I’ve wondered if I’m imagining all of this, and have asked others for some reality testing. The one or two people I’ve confided in have agreed that, yes, they too would be frustrated with some of my friends.


All of these approaches have helped, especially focusing on relaxing my expectations, and recognizing how different others can be in the time and energy they have for friends. Still, I get blue and down, and begin to think something is wrong with me, or with them, or with my whole notions of friendship. Especially when, as is the case recently, I could use more reaching out and contact and connection (I’ve been having some serious problems with an aged parent and my young adult kids).

I was raised to be very self-sufficient–both emotionally and in terms of taking care of my needs–and I’ve been told (too many times!) that I seem very competent and independent (this despite being talkative and frank about my feelings). It is very difficult for me to ask another (especially a woman friend) for help. I may be able to talk openly and expressively about my feelings, but it is next to impossible for me to ask someone for aid.

I really am not happy curbing my impulses to reach out to others, but I am tired of feeling hurt and, sometimes, used. Sound frustrating? Confusing? It all does to me. Can you help sort this out?

Thanks much,


Dear Frustrated,

I don’t think you have a friendship problem, per se. You seem to have a pretty good track record of satisfying friendships but perhaps you’ve been spreading yourself too thin and need to focus on one or two of your most emotionally satisfying friendships.


You have a lot of pressures right now. You’re working and, at the same time, struggling with the problems of an aging parent, sibling conflicts, and offspring who are "adults" but who aren’t yet on a solid footing. I’m assuming that you work at home under the pressure of deadlines and if you’re checking in with friends daily, that may be adding to your level of stress. With all the options for connecting with friends—texting, cell, email, social media, IMs, in-person—it can feel overwhelming to keep up with all the "friends" we accumulate.


At various times, each of us has more or less energy to work at relationships. While you don’t need to go into a cave, perhaps you shouldn’t be expending as much energy as you do trying to nurture all these relationships right now. Give yourself a break and spend more time relaxing alone, addressing your work and family problems (to the extent you can), and being with the person or persons who seem to best understand and support you.


If there isn’t anyone you feel comfortable asking for help when you need it or simply feel down, perhaps you could benefit from some short-term therapy to help you get over the hump. One last suggestion: Find ways to lighten your load over the holidays and try to relax your tendency to be the perfect friend to everyone.

My best,


Related prior posts on The Friendship Blog

Saying no to friends: An interview with Dr. Susan Newman

Guest post: Friendship bucket fillers and bucket drainers

PATH: The less social approach to TMI


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: Uncategorized

Comments (5)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Frustrated In Friendship says:

    Thanks to all, especially to you, Irene, for your replies to my post. I didn’t see them until today(!).

    Irene, your suggestions re perhaps limiting my efforts to a narrower group of people who are meeting my needs now (and trying less to be a friend ‘to all’) is spot on. Interestingly, it’s what I started doing, on my own, around a month ago, after sending my email to you.

    I’m relaxing my standards with some people–realizing that especially with all the ways there are to stay in touch today–that I can’t be the ‘best’ friend to all. I’m also thinking twice before calling/contacting, asking myself if this is the person I really want to talk to/be with right now.

    I’m also focusing on simply accepting people for whatever/whoever they happen to be at a given time…an familiar effort, I know, for most of us, but a smart one. I just can’t control, for example, one sibling’s painful lack of response to me (and the rest of my family). I don’t have to like it, indeed, I really dislike it, but it’s not my responsibility.

    Finally, I’m really trying to focus on all the relationships–family and friends alike–that are working, and appreciating them for what they are. I was very in touch with that over the holidays.


    I’ve come to believe that close friendship and intimacy (with anyone) is a true gift–to enjoy in the moment, honor, and value. And then let go of!


    Now, that’s a tall order for 2011!

  2. Irene says:

    Thanks for such a personal, thoughtful and supportive response~



  3. anonymous says:

    This post really hit home. When my chronic illness became seriously disabling a dozen years ago, I was still on hand to be the listener (at all hours) to my friends’ routine marriage and work dramas, which to me, in real crisis, began to sound overblown. But I kept up my end.

    Unfortunately, most of my friends were so self-centered they couldn’t even see or hear me when my own issues and prioreties no longer mirrored theirs. Two friendships with very high powered girlfriends ended, rather abruptly in both cases. The friendship that lasted was with the single friend (rest of us married) — who herself was “imperfect” in her serial jobs and boyfriends. Because she wasn’t defined by work success or marriage/baby goals — we carried on as usual with our mutual interest in books and writing and shared flakey sense of humor.

    If friendships are tiring instead of boosting in the midst of your eldercare stress — I’d seek out support and company around that issue. Your local hospital may have an eldercare support group. I’m on a caregivers list serve myself as I have several old people “on the blink.” Also — because my chronic illness gives me special and permanent life stresses — I see a therapist twice a month, and I joke that she’s a friend I pay to see, as people in my situation aren’t in abudance. She helped me spot a “princessy” girlfriend that was taking, and not giving.

    When you have your own life stresses — you don’t have the energy to let others use you as a dumping ground. Maybe it’s better to let these fatiguing friends gradually recede — and more appropriate people will enter your sphere.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I’m a writer too and get friendship fatigue when people don’t seem to realize I actually work sometimes during the day and don’t have time for long conversations. Working at home is deceptive; people think you’re available. Of course I don’t answer my phone when I’m on a deadline, but because I’m so isolated I often do want to talk and listen — just not for so long.

  5. kris says:

    Years ago when I took a Myers-Briggs test, I was classified as an INTJ, with the first letter signifying “Introvert” (vs. Extrovert). Myers-Briggs explains this does not mean I am a hermit or have no social skills. It means that I draw my energy, or recharge my batteries, from solitude or one other person. Other people who are classified as “E” extroverts draw their energy from being with groups of people. I guess I always think of someone like, say, Bill Clinton, who always has to be with people to recharge.

    This really helped me understand myself and my needs. Fortunately, my husband is also an INTJ. Even though he has a very public life, with travel, speaking in front of large groups, and TV and radio appearances, on the weekend we curl up, cook at home, watch TV, read, write our blogs, hang with our pets (our son is at college). This is absolutely crucial to both of us to “recharge” together.

    I am an independent college consultant working out of my home, so I have a lot of control over my time and it is one-on-one. I also have a large group of close friends and am close to my twin sister (many people are envious of how many “close” friends I seem to have). But
    here’s the thing:

    I communicate to my friends that I need a great deal of “down” time. They know this about me. One friend once said, “Are you going ‘under’ again?” We always laughed about that. Another says, “Are you going into your cave?”

    I have known most of these women for a long time, and they know that this is just how I am. I make sure they understand NOT to take it personally!

    I think it’s critical to give friends a heads-up that you are only meeting your own needs or the needs of your family, so that a good friend does not have hurt feelings or believe you want to abandon the friendship. If you leave a friend hanging, not knowing why you are distancing, that friend could be left wondering that she might have done wrong. You don’t want to let a good friend go through that kind of self-doubt torture. Just be honest. That’s what friendship is all about–understanding each other!

Leave a Reply