• Keeping Friends

Friend Poaching or Social Networking: What’s the Difference?

Published: August 10, 2008 | Last Updated: November 5, 2021 By | 27 Replies Continue Reading

Friend poaching is complicated. The distinctions between friend poaching and social networking can even be murkier.

Have you ever poached a friend or had one poached from you? This is how it happens: Your friend introduces you to her friend and the two of you develop a friendship—independent of the friend who introduced you. If you’ve been there, done that, you’re a poacher. Or if you have introduced two friends and one of them snares the other for herself, leaving you in the dust, you’ve been poached.

Is it ethically wrong to become a ‘friend of a friend’ or is it a legitimate way to expand your friendship network? What are the rules and could they be changing?

CNN.com recently ran an article called When social poachers snatch your friends, that posed both sides of the issue. Through one lens, poaching can be viewed as the ultimate betrayal, akin to “friend-napping.” Through another, it can be seen as a reasonable way of making new friends through vetted introductions.

A 2004 essay by Lucinda Rosenfeld in New York Magazine, Our Mutual Friend, expressed the jealousy and hurt the author experienced after she had been poached. When she learned that her two friends were planning a ski trip together—without her—she felt excluded (even though she had no interest in skiing). It harked back to the days of junior high school.

I’ve been poached, too. I had two close friends, let’s call them Marcie and Hayley, whom I decided to introduce to one another. I knew they would instantly “click” because they had so much in common: neither worked outside the home, both loved competitive tennis, and each had two kids around the same ages. It was a good hunch because they soon became best friends as I drifted into the background.

Admittedly, the first time I bumped into them, together, at Starbuck’s having coffee without me, I felt a bit strange and awkward, even hurt, but as soon as I regrouped mentally I realized that I didn’t have as much time or motivation to spend with either one of them as they did with each other. Now we get together as a threesome occasionally.

Rosenfeld also found that being poached can be a blessing in disguise. Prior to the treachery, she had found herself in the unpleasant role of constantly ministering to one of the women who was needy and always crying on her shoulder. It gave her a way out.

With the booming popularity of social network sites like Facebook  or LinkedIn, the ethics and etiquette of friend poaching may be turning upside down. In cyberspace, becoming a friend of a cyber-friend is not only socially acceptable but is actually one of the raison d’êtres of participation. This can make friend poaching or social networking close cousins.

Being poached offline isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. Because friendships change over time, a friendship that is ‘stolen’ may have long been gone. It may offer the poachee an opportunity to change, take a break from, or get rid of a friendship that was draining, all-consuming, or toxic in other ways.

The corollary: Don’t feel guilty about poaching. Unlike family or marriage, friendships have no blood or legal ties; the good ones are totally voluntary relationships that enhance our lives. Feel guilty? Remember that your new friend has the free will to add, subtract, or realign her friendships.

One caveat: Friend poaching is unacceptable, and maybe even pathological when an individual consistently tries to derail friendships, purposely exclude, and hurt people around her.


Also see: Friend Poaching: How Do I Handle Feeling Left Out?

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Category: KEEPING FRIENDS

Comments (27)

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  1. Nancy says:

    I completely agree. It’s a friendship, not a marriage.

  2. Anonymous says:

    have you ever lost a friend to another friend? just wondering, because i can’t imagine it not having some kind of impact. i agree, we don’t own our friends, but if they seem to callously flit from one person to another, i’m not so interested. i’m more interested in maintaining long-term friendships.

  3. Anonymous says:

    my best friend and i have been friends for 38 years and there have been 2 times that were very obvious when a third person entered the picture and was blatantly trying to come between us.they wanted her to themselves…they came and went. now there is a new third person around and i get a very strong sense she is trying to do the same thing. only i am not around as much because my friend has a daughter and so does this other woman…i do not have a daughter. their daughters are friends and do things together so of course my friend and this other woman are constantly together and it feels like they are getting close and my best friend and i are drifting apart. in the past i have spoken up about this but this time i refuse to because i do not want to seem like the clingy friend holding on to the only friend i’ve got. i unfortunately have put all my eggs in one basket and she knows it i think to the point where she acts like i am the one doing something wrong if i worry about us losing our friendship. our families have vacationed together for 12 years and our husbands are friends (they actually see each other 10 times more often than her and i see each other). we use to talk on the phone everyday at least once and we have gone to maybe talking once a week if that. she has said in the past that everything she does with all these other women is for her daughter because she has to take her whenever there is something going on and i know that but i was under the impression that friends make time for their friends. we have not been out for a girls night out for 8 years! am i suppose to just wait around until her kids are grown until i get my friend back? unless someone else steps in that is…which i feel is already happening. i make a point to keep in touch with her but it is strained feeling. i am about to just say screw it she is not being a friend to me anyway…what do you think i should do? should i broach the subject with her? i don’t want to lose the only best friend i’ve ever had, but i cannot be a doormat to her when she feels like giving me the time of day either. it use to be so different and we have always felt like sisters (we both have one brother and no sister so we always tell people we picked our own sister), i really miss the close bond we always have had and don’t have a clue what to do. thanks for your help and advice.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I see your point we shouldn’t feel the need to compete with one another but that’s part of human nature. I’ve been there recently noticing that my best friends is becoming very close with my other friends (my housemate, friends from my hometown etc) and its not even that I am excluded it almost feels like she is taking over my life. She asked to be introduced to more of my friends but I politely said no as I feel i need to have some aspect of my life that does not involve her. Perhaps it would not bother me so much if she had introduced me to some of her friends- she actually told me one day that she “likes to keep her friends separate” and I am starting to get the impression that she needs to be surrounded by people and have activities planned with others to feel included and wanted. I know many people think that the insecure person is the one how must be involved in every aspect of your life but I have started to feel like that its me who is insecure as I have let something that is so childish really aggravate me!! its difficult to deal with this situation- if you speak up it will ruin the friendship, if you keep quiet it will keep annoying you. I have found that because I have been excluded I’m now reluctant to spend time with any of these people as i don’t want to be the “add-on” in the group even though i introduced them.

    • anne says:

      exactly how I feel!

    • red says:

      exactly !! i removed my self from the whole situation !!

    • Anne says:

      I totally feel like this is my situation.

      I have a best friend, we used to do everything together. Now we hardly see each especially since I went back to work. I included her in everything introducing her to all my friends, she has not introduced me to any of the new friends she’s made and organises social get togethers with friends whilst I’m at work. I understand life moves on and you meet new people but to be left out is very hurtful and to not make time for old friends is most painful.

  5. russ says:

    I agree,if a friend you introduce to another friend hit it off good for them,your friend is not your property and you may be the problem to start with.Were talking about just friends,if your a real friend you would not have a problem being excluded…why blame others?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Its been interesting to see that this seems to be quite a problem out there. I too have had a friend who has done this but I didn’t realize that obviously there is something psychologically going on with these types of friends for them to feel the need to do this. Friendships should be cherished…..forget the competition! Its the poachers that are the insecure ones….not the person that has had this happen to them.

  7. Anonymous says:

    A couple of years ago, we introduced family A to family B, thinking to expand the social circle and both adults and kids would have fun together. Then we noticed that family A & B started doing things together more and more and eventually we simply don’t get invited anymore. I understand friends are not properties. Initially, we were glad that they hit it off. We did not expect to be excluded. And how do you explain that to my children who noticed that they don’t get invited to do things with the other kids anymore? Especially when we know both families for years and IMO got along well before. It’s frustrating since I would never think of treating friends like that.

  8. Irene says:

    You’ve really answered your own question. The qualities that initially drew you to Frank attract other people as well. It isn’t likely that he will be able to have sustaining relationships with these people either—once they get to know him better.

     

    I agree with the other poster who said to stay clear of him. He sounds very toxic!

     

    My best,

    Irene

  9. Anonymous says:

    Stop introducing your friends to Frank. Stop initiating contact with Frank. Let this friendship fizzle – he sounds like the type who would drift away anyway, on to the next conquest. Then you can block him on FB etc.

  10. middleaged&gay says:

    This article was wonderful, and I identify greatly with the second comment above, since I too have been the victim of a predatory friend poacher. If you had talked to me about ‘friend poaching’ in the past, it would’ve seemed like a whiny, adolescent sort of rant, but about five years ago a new friend came into my life, and the relationship gradually went from honeymoon to hell.

    This person is very “special” let’s just say, and has an incredibly strong personality, always needing to be the star of every social group, the funniest person at any dinner, etc. Well, I am very laid back and enjoy just sitting back and watching the show sometimes. In the beginning it was fun, and this ‘frenemy’ still makes me laugh easily, but over the years, this person has literally taken over ALL of my friendships one by one. The pattern is always the same, as with poster #2 above, but maybe a modern twist: the use of Facebook.

    Every time my husband and I have introduced “Frank” and his husband to anyone, they immediately start chumming up, calling them, adding them to Facebook, inviting them to dinners, and even going on trips together! We are always edged out or made to seem unsocial (mainly because I don’t like doing things with huge groups all the time). And then there is the Facebook thing. From time to time, “Frank” simply friends somebody on my friend list or my husband’s out of the blue, and starts working them. He has so much free time that he always ends up becoming great pals with them and we get greatly sidelined, to the point where we are ignored altogether because we’re just not as funny and exciting, or as gossipy. He also creates situations where he becomes everyone’s “confidant” and knows all their private business (which he then uses as gossip to dazzle more people…despite the fact that he is so untrustworthy with information). He is constantly criticizing everyone behind their back, but to their faces he showers them with praise, which always makes me wonder what he’s saying about me when i’m not around.

    All of this seems so petty to me, even as I write it. The problem with “friend poaching” lies in the QUANTITY. We all introduce some people to others, trade friends around and gossip a bit, but this one individual is so EXTREME about it. If he hears that my husband and I have had dinner with someone, he immediately calls them and tries to meet up with them several times, and posts photos of it on Facebook to make sure everyone knows about it. It’s so immature but his 14-year-old mindset ends up dragging you in, since in a way you are forced to compete to “save” what’s left of your tattered friendships. And if you say anything about it to anyone, it sounds like you are just a sourpuss and a complainer. So, you get fewer and fewer calls, fewer and fewer invitations, and all the while you get to watch constant photo shoots of your old friends with “Frank” on Facebook, captioned with sickening messages of mutual adulation that never include you. It’s very awkward, but because “Frank” is also vindictive and an extremist, the only solution I see is to gradually remove him from our lives.

    And this is only one facet of the “Frank” problem! He is also jealous, competitive, deceptive, has huge personal space issues, and many other negative things… So what I might ask Dr. Levine is why everyone gravitates towards a person like this? (He is not at all physically attractive, so it is not that!) It seems like everyone LOVES him and fawns on him, even though they all can kind of tell he is too good to be true. What can be done? Help!

  11. Anonymous says:

    I have a so-called long-time friend (we`ll call her S) has a pathological habit of instantly trying to become best friends with any friends I introduce her too. S and her hubby and me and my hubby have a history- we`ve spent a lot of time together- not really coz we have much in common- more like companionship- and unfortunately that relationship gives rise to basic expectations of social convention.

    The worst part is- she is fairly sociable, and in the 5 years I`ve known her, somehow- I`ve never met anyone through her. Not that I care. I was for the most part of the `more-the merrier`mindset- and make friends fairly easily and independently- never through others- but now, I feel she intentionally avoided introducing me to any of her friends.

    A few years ago, I welcomed S (new to the country and city) into my social circle. At her first party- she had set up a party at her house instantly. She was inclusive though- so I didn`t mind. The next time I introduced her to another friend, she started hanging out with her exclusively -almost immediately. I didn`t think anything of it then either since I thought they had a lot in common with each other.

    However, over the past few years, every time I`ve introduced her to friends of mine, she has tried to `compete` and wants to be “instant best friends“ with my friends- NONE of whom she has much in common with-this has happened with 8 friends of mine, that she met through me. I was still unconcerned- because I think it takes two to tango- and I am a very busy person.

    However, last year, I wanted to throw a bday party for my new husband. Her husband and my husband are also in our social circle- and their bdays are a week apart. in fact her husband, met my husband also through me, and we were all friends before she was in the picture- we all worked at the same place. Then, we casually talked about celebrating the boys`bdays together- I actually just said that she could do it all (she wanted to) and that I`d pitch in because I had entertained a lot already that year- and was recovering from numerous wedding parties. She asked me for some friends` phone numbers (all of whom she had met maybe once or twice through me)-so the invitee list was, in its entirety, all my inner social circle. That was fine too. But then, she basically made up every excuse in the book, to not celebrate our hubby`s bdays together, To quote , Òh, shit- I forgot we talked about that, or- “but I wanted to invite his (her hubby`s) work friends as well, and the low-“I`m worried one of them (our grown up, adult, 34 year old husbands)will feel bad if they celebrate together.“

    I was basically disgusted, and backed out (graciously) from celebrating my hubby`s bday by making an excuse- but it upset me that every single person at her party, she had met through me and in fact, most of them, barely new her and her husband- and I felt she had acted inappropriately and insensitively towards me. However I remained cordial, and we attended her hubby`s bday.

    Soon after though, she started to try to get all chummy with my other friends (now our common friends). I still let it go. This past year, a family death, put me in a situation where I had to negotiate a house move without my husband- it so happened that I was moving into an apt directly opposite S`s home. She and her hubby helped me in the move. Me and my hubby had helped her in her move as well. I am trying to say that we have a `give and take`reln with this couple otherwise- not everything is bad.

    The next day, I had no working kitchen, was alone (hubby away dealing with family death and visa issues pending to join me again)not unpacked, and had no internet. It was the day of an important religious festival- one that we had celebrated together a few times in the previous years- and I was alone and miserable. I had come back from work, and casually called S to ask if I can use her internet (since she`s across the street). Usually, in the past- she would ask me to come over. This time, she basically said nothing. When I arrived, I found that she had made all kinds of prep for a small dinner get-together. One of my long-time friends was sitting there already (yes- she met him through me as well). when I arrived she said, “Now that you`ve come, you can stay for dinner.“

    Of course I did not stay for dinner because I was not invited- I have more self-respect than that- I just said I was busy- but I was hurt- in that situation. Later that night, I called up another friend, M, who`s first words were`Oh, you at S`s placeÉ. She had called me too.“ S had met M maybe once before, through me. I had to tell M that Ì was not invited.“ I was alone, across the street, miserable, and one of my so-called best friends, S knew that, and was throwing a party, inviting friends she has met through me- and excluding me. A friend does not do this to you- only a frenemy. I don`t understand what she gained or wanted to gain from it….but she lost me, my trust and my respect.

    Anyhow, at that point, I began to think about the past, and I clearly saw the pattern- her clinginess- and all the other back-handed compliments, and belittling comments. I started to gradually disengage. I am still civil, but I no longer trust her- and I will not, if I can help it, ever introduce her to any of my friends again.

    -Also poached, one too many times

  12. Anonymous says:

    I am the type person who likes to have many friends who all click and enjoy each others company without making anyone the odd man out. In fact that is my idea kind of circle of friends scenario.

    I have a friend, who I will call “Sally” that since I have known her is on the one hand extremely helpful and almost makes an effort to make all of her friends very dependent on her. She is very sweet and loves to help on the one hand but there seems to be always be a price.

    Over the years, when I have mentioned anything about a long time friend of mine and how I would like Sally to meet this long time friend, when I do introduce them,Sally goes on a campaign to make herself the best best friend.

    This has happened more than 3 times. I don’t try to compete and when I don’t Sally is off to the next friend that she can poach and try to make exclusive while making me feel the odd man out.

    Recently, I have as described by another person who posted here, felt as though I have been thrown a bone, where Sally makes me feel by certain comments that the long time friend prefers her friendship to mine, but she is “trying” to encourage long time friend to include me

    It is so weird and uncomfortable. When I pull back from the situation, then Sally drops the whole campaign with whatever particular long time friend it happens to be, and the other friend resents me because i suspect that this friend tells my long time friend that the reason I have pulled back is because I am jealous of their friendship.

    Then she pulls back making me seem the bad controlling person. When in reality it seems it is the competition that is the thing. If I don’t compete, then she drops off in her intensity with the friend I have introduced her to.

    In reality, I haven’t spent an excessive amount of time with Sally for years and am not a person that calls or needs a call everyday from any friend. I don’t like to feel someone wants me to be exclusively their best friend. That is high school stuff. Never liked high school.

    I am certainly not jealous of Sally. It makes me feel uncomfortable to be around her because i feel she makes little comments to make me feel insecure or rejected.

    However, she doesn’t make me feel as though she is making the choice to leave me out, but implies it is the other friend who doesn’t want me around..

    Another friend that she tried to poach made the surprising out the blue comment about Sally after being pursued
    in the same manner after I introduced them.

    The same scenario. When I didn’t get into the competing for the better friend spot thing then Sally pulled away suddenly from another of my long time friends. However, this friend knew me well enough to know it wasn’t my doing.

    This friend said, “Sally (not her real name) only seems to want to be your friend when you are needy. She seems to have some radar for people who are needy.

    She is on the one hand someone who will come if you need her but on the other hand needs to always feel or make you feel that she is the number one friend both mine and the other person. It is very tiring.

    Recently I have made a new friend with a very sweet young woman from church. She told my Mom that she missed seeing me and that she wanted me to come visit them and to remind me that she really wanted me to come visit her at her new home.

    Sally overheard this conversation (as I asked my Mom if she was standing there). I got a call later that week from Sally asking for this new friend’s phone number. I told her it was in the phone book as far as I knew. It will be the same scenario. What could be the root cause for this sort of seeming compulsion?

    Now honestly, I just don’t talk about my friends or let her know of friends who I feel close, because the pattern is so weird and potentially hurtful as she seems to say just the things to either me or the other friend to cause some distrust.

    Also I make it a point never to talk negatively about Sally to any of my friends. I don’t want to hurt anyone, I just wish she would grow up a little and drop this behavior.

    I never knew there was a name for it.

    Helps to know I am not the lone ranger.

    Annie

    • Anonomys says:

      Oh My goodness, you just described what I am going through with my friend. I didn’t know how to express it w/o sounding jealous. Jealous is not what I feel, it is more confusion! Why does she seem to want everything and everyone in my life. I will gladly share, friendship doesn’t have a limit. Exactly what you said, it is as if she needs to the more important friend and then you have to go thru her! Reading your post makes me feel less crazy~ someone else gets it! I also back off. I live in a different state and now she is going after my fb friends! =}I have one girl friend who luckily saw through it. The poaching friend would make comments to both of us as if she was in the ‘know’ and it was like she was trying to put a wedge between us. Luckily the my friend called me and we were able to see it for what it was. I still love my poaching friend, i just don’t understand it at all. She is prettier than me, has more money, has more friends, has everything going for her, yet she seems to want what I have…so strange

      • Shaz says:

        I know someone exactly like this who wormed her way into my church (I invited her along as she was interested in faith related things) and suddenly she’s barged me out of the way, is best friends with everyone, especially the leaders, and is round their houses all the time, and she takes pleasure in telling you things about those people (yes, private things!), knowing full well that you don’t know any of those details, and basically makes you look like a bad friend. Then, when she realises that those people she has befriended don’t actually regard her as close a friends as she does, she slags them off to you!

        This girl and I worked together and actually had a massive argument in the break-out room about it because she was slagging off our pastor and his wife for no reason at all. She kind of ruined my last year at that church, but thankfully my husband and I remained friends with the congregation there after we moved away. She and I remained friends somehow, and she then wormed her way into another church, got into the lives of several people (including the pastor and his wife as babysitter and best friend) and does the same thing all over again. The reason I cut her out of my life once and for all last year is because last time I saw her, she was telling me what a bad friend her sister is and how she has now stolen her sister’s best friend (because she knows how to be a better friend)! I’m done. What makes people this way??

  13. Irene says:

    Sorry this happened to you! The rules of friendship are complicated and murky. Who would have thought that this would be the outcome of your openness and kindness to friends?

     

    Best,

    Irene

  14. Anonymous says:

    I was so happy to come across this article, because there have been quite a few times that I have felt left out after introducing friends to each other. A couple of years ago, I introduced two couples to each other when I was single. Before I introduced them to each other, we would take turns inviting each other over for dinner. After I introduced them, they started having dinner parties without me. I guess they felt more comfortable hanging out with another couple. I was hoping to cultivate a larger social circle, but instead I ended up feeling left out, and still do. It is frustrating. I was thinking about this today when I searched for ‘feeling left out’ and I found this article and this blog. I feel better after reading this article and I am happy to have found a whole blog about friendship, because sometimes things get very complicated.

  15. Irene says:

    Hi Belle:

     

    You raise good questions. It seems to me when two people have a solid relationship, it generally isn’t threatened by someone new entering the equation. Among grownups, three doesn’t have to be a crowd.

     

    That said, the situation you describe sometimes happens. I once experienced a situation where I became the odd woman out, I realized that the two people I had introduced had more in common with each other than I had with either one. I was able to get used to the new arrangements which wound up working fine for the three of us.

     

    If one individual consistently poaches other people’s friends, she is someone that I would be wary of.

     

    Finally, women who are reluctant to introduce friends to another may feel insecure about themselves and their friendships. On the other hand, they may just prefer one-on-one relationships.

     

    I guess the rules are a bit murky. Hope this helps.

     

    Irene

     

     

  16. Belle says:

    I just read this entry on friend poaching and still need some clarity. What if you introduce two friends and they set off on a whirlwind of friendship romance? And what if they get so caught up in their fantastic selves that they fail to include you in any of their plans? What happens if you had been hoping to initiate a terrific threesome and instead find yourself to now be the odd woman out? What if you tell one or both of them that you are feeling left out so they offer an invite that feels like being thrown a bone?
    I think this might explain why some woman are reluctant to introduce their friends to other friends. Because they’ve been friend-poached before and they are not taking any chances.
    I have often wondered why some friends never expand a circle and keep their other friends to themselves. What other reasons might there be?
    The whole subject interests me.

    Belle

  17. Irene says:

    Thanks for your comment! I largely agree with you. The only exception is the "friend" who has a persistent habit of friending someone else’s friends without any regards for the "friend’s" feelings.

     

    Best,

    Irene

  18. Alex says:

    The entire concept of “friend-poaching” implies that our friends are our possessions. Viewing these situations as “stealing” is… well, cracked, in my opinion.

  19. Irene says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I think people either "click" or they don’t. Then they find a way for the relationship to "stick" or not.
    Unfortunately, some women believe that friendship is an exclusive relationship that has no room for others. Thanks for chiming in with your usual wisdom!

  20. Sophie says:

    I think the idea of friend poaching is kind of silly, really. Friendship has some of the same elements of voodoo and magic that love does. It works or it doesn’t work, it takes or it doesn’t take, and if two people strike friendship gold–however they meet–then I see no downside. And the nice thing about friendship is that it is nonexclusive, unlike romantic relationships, so just ’cause your friends are friends doesn’t mean you’re necessarily out of the picture.

    If your friends become friends and then cut you out, then you have another problem altogether and might want to find out what that is.

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