• Resolving Problems

Some friendships work better in small doses

Published: October 27, 2013 | By | 7 Replies Continue Reading
When a long-term friendship seems one-sided and frustrating, it may be time to gently scale it back.



I have been friends with Bridget for 40 years, with a 15 year sabbatical in the middle. I had actually forgotten why I pulled away but am now reminded. We live in different cities but I try to call at least three times a week as she is in an unhappy marriage and I am her only close friend. Bridget and I are both 63 years old. She has many ailments and does not look after herself. I am very healthy; I work out and look after myself.

Most conversations leave me frustrated and feeling hurt. Bridget uses comments like “So ya think?” if I question myself on a personality trait that I don’t like about myself. She calls me “Hollywood” because I like to wear a bit of make-up and dress nicely, and, get this one—If we are together, she is always saying ” take off your bra and relax.” I am not comfortable going bra-less, but she never stops pushing it!!!!

I bought myself a little sports car and she makes a joke about my having a mid-life crisis. If she comes to visit, she makes alternate suggestions about everything I do from cooking to mowing the lawn. She talks non-stop, but if I talk she becomes involved in something else, looks away, or says “Uh huh” and doesn’t listen. This happens on a regular basis. I become frustrated and angry and I always feel badly and apologize!! Even on the phone, she will admit that she is on the computer when we are speaking. I believe this is passive-aggressive behavior but I’m not sure how to deal with it. I don’t have this problem with my other friends and I have some lovely friendships.

Thank you for any advice you may have.
Signed, Fran


Hi Fran,

Over this long friendship, even with the lengthy sabbatical, it’s likely that you and Bridget have shared many memories and milestones. But after forty years of friendship, it’s likely that your interests and values have changed over the years (which is to be expected). As one example your friend seems a bit more “au naturel” while you are a bit more concerned about your health and appearance. It’s okay for friends to have different lifestyles and ways of thinking if they are able to respect the differences.

However, the communication between the two of you seems to be an ongoing problem. You feel like you listen to and are supportive of her health problems and marital woes, while she trivializes your insecurities. She may feel that your life is much easier than hers, which may actually be the case, although it doesn’t excuse her self-centeredness.

Short of asking Bridget to listen to you more attentively (which I assume you have already done), you probably can’t change her life and ways, or her perspective on yours. I think you might enjoy the friendship more in smaller doses. Can you gently scale back your phone calls to a once a week (and/or make the phone calls briefer) while you concentrate on your relationships with friends who are more emotionally available to you?

You clearly value this lifelong friendship but some friendships are better in small doses.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

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Comments (7)

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  1. anne says:

    Sometimes we stay in these long term friendships because of history, and often that’s all that’s left. I had a friend of 25 years and she had always been a bit over critical, often negative, though she had constant relationship issues with her own family or partner. I mostly overlooked her comments because I enjoyed most of our time together. We could spend an entire day discussing her problems and solutions and I was happy enough listen and offer gentle advice. But I noticed that if I had a problem is was covered quickly and she would even say, “Enough about you now back to me”. It wasn’t until I started having children and by the 3rd child I found I had less tolerance for it. I was exhausted from motherhood and she drained me as well. She would visit and expect me to wait on her hand and foot while I was juggling 3 young children. I realised it had become a toxic friendship but with 25yrs history it was hard to walk away. She was always a fairly blunt person, and questioned my parenting and my relationship often. She did have a good heart and we often laughed, but with her being so unhappy with how her life turned out it just made her bitter at times. I let her go about 5 years ago. Over time I slowed down the calls, had less to say, shared less, to the point where contact ceased. I had sent her some earrings for her b’day and she called to say that her friends wanted to know if they were real. Sigh! She has sent the occasional birthday text etc and I respond. Although I miss aspects of her it’s not enough to re-engage. Your friendships can’t trade on history alone, its not enough. When you spend a lot of time with someone who is bitter, it seeps into your life too. I think your friend has become very self centred and is fine when its all about her and disinterested when its about you. Save your own sanity. I could write a novel about the digs my friend has had at me and I just let it go. I was tired of letting it go. She didn’t have many friends and that guilt made me hang in there. I hope you find a gentle way of distancing yourself. I even had a few lines ready to respond with during phone calls to let her know I wasn’t a door mat. She didn’t like the subliminal challenges and also called me less. She would have told everyone that my marriage was in trouble or I wasn’t coping with parenting as my reason for being short with her. It was never her, always someone else’s fault. I felt a huge weight lifted off me and peace when it all stopped. I hope you do too!

  2. Jas says:

    I think it doesn’t matter how long you have know that person, if you have the trust and honesty, I believe that all problems can be resolved. Never get suspicious that one day she might leave you.

  3. Sheryl says:

    I so agree with you, Irene. A friendship of 40 years is probably worth saving, and to do it “differently” might be worthwhile. Scaling it down makes a lot of sense.

  4. Denise says:

    Hi Fran

    Little jabs like “so ya think”, “Hollywood” and you having a mid-life crisis, I agree can get really annoying if the person continues when/if you’ve said several times to stop or you’re uncomfortable. If I were teasing someone like this, I’d stop when they asked me to because I wouldn’t want to drive them away if I really wanted us to be friends.

    On top of that, suggesting you do things differently, talking too much, not listening to you and staying online while talking on the phone is disrespectful. She may not see it, but acting like this tells you she is uninterested in your company. She’s taking more than giving. Are her good traits stronger than these negative ones? Do you just feel sorry for her or feel some obligation?

    Try calling less often. Tell her more assertively what specifically you’re uncomfortable with. Stop talking when you see she’s not listening and shorten conversations when she says she’s online or you sense she is. People who continue behavior that offends you or shows too much selfishness are not friends.

  5. amy says:

    Irene has sage advice. Calling someone who doesn’t pay attention to you three times a week is probably too much. She might be a lot more interested if you spoke once or twice a month.
    I have friends that I love seeing. Occasionally. In small doses. We’d drive each other crazy if we saw each other more often, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care and or that I don’t want to be friends.
    It’s frustrating when you feel like you don’t have someone’s undivided attention, but I’m afraid in the digital age, that’s not uncommon. I’m not someone who needs to check text messages the moment my phone sings, but I have friends who do so. I think it’s rude, but I don’t think the intent is rudeness and I don’t hold it against them. I try to concentrate on what I know I can expect from them. I find whenever my expectations for the person are realistic of that person, I’m much more satisfied in my relationships. I’m not going to pour my heart out to someone who’s playing words with friends while I’m talking, but I’m also not going to throw away years of history with that person if that history means something to me. I still long for the days before everyone was plugged in 24/7 and an effort had to be made to find out how someone was doing, rather than frequent FB updates, but I also love that I don’t have to wait to have a phone call or in person date to catch up. I think those of us who are older, who remember using the telephone attached to the kitchen wall to talk to a girlfriend, the days when if no one answered, there was no machine to leave a message, have various speeds of adjusting to changes in technologies and life styles.
    When you feel like she’s insulting you, shoot back humor with, “If this is my mid-life crisis car, then I’m gonna live to be 126!” Levity, as long as it’s not mean spirited, can be a great diffuser.

  6. Alberta says:

    Just curious what makes you stay in this friendship-relationship – when it sounds like she doesn’t listen and just puts you down? It comes across that she doesn’t respect you and is mean like some alcoholics are. Are there some super good qualities about her that keep you friends, like she maybe has a good sense of humour? What makes you stay?

  7. What a great solution for situations like these!

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