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Friend Poaching: How Do I Handle Feeling Left Out?

Published: November 5, 2021 | Last Updated: August 22, 2022 By | Reply Continue Reading
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Friend poaching (sometimes called social poaching) is the phenomenon of introducing two of your friends to each other and as a result, the two friends form a connection, independent of you, leaving you behind in the proverbial dust. 

When this happens, it can feel much akin to friend stealing or thievery, and it’s normal to feel hurt and left out. Some people even refer to it as “friend-napping.”

It’s not surprising that friend poaching is common though. Once you introduce two friends to each other, there is a good chance they’ll become fast friends. That’s because if you like each friend individually, they are likely to “click,” finding that they have things in common and similar sensibilities.

This is how the Urban Dictionary defines friend-poaching:

When one friend befriends another through your introduction, soon putting more effort into that person than you do, simultaneously making you seem less desirable and devaluing both your original friendships. This can happen consciously or unconsciously. Notably, one does not tend to ever make any new friends for themselves through the friend poacher.

When is friend poaching hurtful and unethical?

There is nothing inherently wrong with two of your friends befriending each other, per se. But, under certain circumstances, if the two friends become friendly and exclude you, it can feel like a betrayal. Some examples:

  • If a friend does this repeatedly or consistently in an effort to derail your friendships, friend poaching can verge on being pathological.
  • If the two friends go behind your back and get together repeatedly in secret.
  • If you feel very possessive of one or both friends and want to maintain exclusive relationships with them. 

Should a friend poacher feel guilty about befriending a friend’s friend?

If you are the one who has been poached…

Unlike family or marriage, friendships have no blood or legal ties; the good ones are totally voluntary relationships that enhance our lives. Remember that your friend has the free will to add, subtract, or realign her friendships as do you.

If you are the friend poacher…

You do have an ethical obligation to be honest if you can, without being hurtful. Bear in mind, your old friend was indeed your friend, and think about how you would feel if you were the one who got left out. To be secretive or disingenuous about the new friendship is not only hurtful but reflects badly upon you.

A nice way to handle this type of situation would be to thank your friend for the introduction and explain that you found that you have a common interest with her other friend. For example, you could say that you both enjoy skiing or hiking (provided your friend doesn’t like that, too). Don’t drop your friend like a hot potato; make an effort to see her individually or as a threesome.

In the case that you no longer want to have anything to do with your once-friend, that’s a different story and you need to find a kind way to end the friendship and let her down gently (a topic for another post).

What is the difference between friend poaching and social networking?

The rules of what is considered friend poaching can be complicated and grow even murkier when it comes to online friendships.

Social networking is aimed at creating business/work-related connections or personal connections. In a work setting, a colleague introduces you to someone whom to some degree they’ve “vetted” in advance with the idea that it would be helpful for the two of you to know each other. In fact, becoming this is not only socially acceptable but is one of the raison d’êtres of social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook.

In a social networking context, it’s proper etiquette to thank the person who introduced you and perhaps keep her posted as to how the connection is going.

Social networking veers into the domain of friend poaching when it is intentionally aimed at interfering with the relationship that brought you together. 

Can friend poaching have benefits?

Aside from two people forming a new friendship, friend poaching can be a blessing in disguise if your relationship with one of the friends is already frayed and you’re having difficulty extricating yourself from the friendship. 

Because friendships change over time, a friendship that is ‘stolen’ may actually have long been gone. It may offer the “poachee” (the person whose friend was poached) an opportunity to change, take a break from, or get rid of a friendship that was draining, all-consuming, or toxic in other ways.

How can I deal with the hurt of being friend-poached?

  • Recognize that friendships are dynamic and change over time. They don’t have to be exclusive and shouldn’t be possessive.
  • Try not to take the loss too personally if two of your friends hit it off with each other. If they haven’t purposely tried to hurt or exclude you, you might even take pride in making the match. 
  • Don’t automatically diminish your own friendships with each of them just because they have become friends with each other. You may still enjoy their company one-on-one.
  • If one of your friends is a habitual friend-poacher, be cautious about introducing her to other friends. Don’t give her the opportunity to hurt you again. 


Have you had an experience with friend poaching? Leave your comments below.

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