• Resolving Problems

Avoiding A One-Sided Friendship

Published: February 28, 2012 | Last Updated: January 18, 2024 By | 29 Replies Continue Reading
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A one-sided friendship can feel very draining. Perhaps you should consider whether this is really a friendship?


Dear Irene,

I have an acquaintance at church who is a real sweet gal, and often calls for a chat or asks me to coffee. I can’t call her a friend because it’s a bit one-sided.

She spends almost all the time talking about herself or her problems. While I realize she just wants to vent or offload, I don’t want to meet with her so often. How can I refuse to get together when I know it’s not going to be fulfilling for me?

Signed, Rebecca


Hi Rebecca,

Unlike family, we choose our friends—and we don’t have to befriend everyone we meet or everyone who wants to be friends with us.

Friendships are completely voluntary relationships and for a friendship to deepen and become more than an acquaintance, it needs to be two-sided.

It sounds like this is a one-sided friendship. Your acquaintance may be a nice person but she wants a different type of relationship than you do. Agreeing to see her outside of church, even if it’s now and then, may be giving her the wrong message.

My suggestion would be to back off the relationship—since you really don’t want it to deepen.

Simply “say no” when she asks to you to coffee (you’re too busy or need time alone) and tell her you only have a few minutes to chat when she calls.

Hopefully, if you’re consistent, she’ll be able to read the social cues and you won’t have to be blunt. If push comes to shove, you may need to simply tell her that you have more friendships than you can manage. I know this is uncomfortable for you but I don’t see any way around it.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

Also on The Friendship Blog:

Handling Pushy Overbearing Friends

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Dealing With a One-Sided Friendship

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Comments (29)

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  1. KC says:

    Sorry for the late late post, but I found this on my search results and thought it’d be great to give you an advice.

    You did say that you met this acquaintance at your church. I’m assuming that you are both Christians who go to the same church. If that’s the case I beg to differ your opinions.
    A church is a family of brothers and sisters all purchased by the blood of Jesus. It is more of a family than a friendship, which means you cannot choose who you want to be with. In fact, you may face personality clashes.
    But not to worry. I encourage you to be more accepting to her, even if at the surface she irritates you. “We love because it is God who first loved is” it is the love the is unconditional, not dependent on ones strengths and weaknesses.
    If you are concerned with her behaviour, don’t be afraid to tell her how you feel. On the other hand encourage her to be better, be more humble to you. And Pray for yourself and her so both can improve your relationship.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Any suggestions on the wording of this ballsy behavior? How do YOU tell people “I don’t want to be friends anymore”? I’m a firm believer in being forthright and candid, but with a ton of diplomacy, to avoid sounding like a rude, mean asshole. So do tell give us some specific examples on this ballsy statement you think should be used when someone wants out of a friendship. Can’t wait for the reply.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I agree “weeping into a pillow” doesn’t equal “low self-esteem.” But so what if it does? I don’t know a lot of people who truthfully do NOT have “low self esteem” and it has not hampered their ability to be kind and sympathetic friends. Yes, it causes problems sometimes, but more for them than for me. The world is filled with people with crippling self-image, self-esteem (whatever word) problems, and many of them thrive, survive, and excel in spite of it. When did our society decide that people have to be completely “whole” and “healthy” emotionally? I think this is a mid-twentieth-century FANTASY, fueled by a glut of crappy self-help books telling everyone they MUST be like this or like that, must be totally happy and fulfilled and satisfied with themselves or else there is something “wrong”.

  4. Anonymous says:

    One sided friendships are a terriable thing to happen in a friendship today. i recently had a experience with a friend that turned out to be one sided where i was always the person who contacted this person and he never showed interest in contacting me personally. so i did what is best and ditched that Fake Friend. any toxic friendship is bad news rather it’s one sided, a Fairweather – User friend or plain out somone being a Fake friend. just drop them their not healthy to be in someones lifetime.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hello, but “weeping into a pillow” over a friendship does NOT mean the person has “low self-esteem.” Please. It means they have feelings. Please. I think the word “low self-esteem” is another word that gets bandied about every five minutes and the meaning has become lost.

  6. Anonymous says:


    If you don’t want to be friends with someone, you should have the balls to say so. Not everyone has low self esteem and is going to weep into their pillows – and it lets the other person move on to better, real friendships!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Irene for allowing me to comment. I hope your doing well. With this frendship I have its hard. We used to have this amazing friendship. I know shes a girl and I am a guy but I do not see why that should completely alter it. We use to talk all the time and hang out. Now we barely talk. My last 4 text messages to her were not answered. Not even a “Hey I would love to talk right now but I am busy.” I would respect that more then no answer at all. Before those 4 texts,last year I talked to her twice about how bad our friendship is getting.
    Her first main response the first time was you should not look to highly of me and I (her) miss it too though.Her second response was I am just too busy. I believe a true friend would grow in the friendship and be able to most of the time talk. Those 4 times she didnt text back I wanted to talk to her about her and her life not mine. I want to be there for her but she is not being open to me or asking for anything. One of those 4 texts I gace her this encouraging uplifting message with not even a thank you the next time I saw her.
    We even went without a conversation for two months cause she wanted to talk to others it seems and not me. I love her and do not want to loose her. She use to encourage me and make me a better person when now she is a distraction. Her bf is now my bestfriend (I met him through her if this helps at all). Thank you if you read this (which I am sure you will). I would appreciate your advice and good luck at the friendship awards.

  8. Anonymous says:

    My friend is in the leadership position in the Church. I will come back to this 🙂 sorry

  9. Anonymous says:

    I’m very sorry. I misinterpreted your remark. I don’t know how, but I did. I can’t imagine what I was thinking that day. I hope you’ll accept my apology for being such as ass.

  10. Anonymous says:

    your comment fair, valid

  11. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for your comment.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Ren-fair is like a Renaissance Fair? Do you mean you left the group but didn’t stay in touch with others in that group? That’s kind of the experience I’ve had, tho not with Ren-Fair. I like to think I can join groups when I have the time and interest and when I leave I can remain friends with one or two and not have the friendships rely solely upon our mutual participation in the group. Has that been your experience with groups, too?

  13. Anonymous says:

    Your original post was valid and your response to the angry one fair and rational. Just wanted you to know. J

  14. Anonymous says:

    I’ve also noticed it gets confusing with the name Anonymous. Can’t tell who said what, or who is talking to who. I have seen what is clearly one person acting like they are more than one person. Should we all get a name and stick to it so it’s less confusing to everyone? What does everyone think?

  15. Anonymous says:

    I’m not the person who said anything in the first place, who made any comments or asserted anything. I’m a totally different person just commenting on what a number of other people said. Anonymous is many different people, not one. I see this happening a lot, where people treat anonymous like one person and treat discussions of many anonymous people like it was one person arguing back and forth when it isn’t at all.

  16. Anonymous says:

    If you like to make comments and assert things that are opinion as facts, be prepared for people to comment on that. You can’t just state what you want to state and expect people to keep quiet if they don’t agree. It’s a diversionary and manipulative tactic to respond to someone who has questioned something you’ve said as “aggression” and to lecture people on manners, etc. Look to yourself. Do you always display good manners and are you always loving, or do you just throw out those words and lecture others? How would you like it if someone told you to “be nice” in response to you stating your opinon? Would you like that? Would you like to be lectured on behavior? No, I doubt you would. Would you like someone to bossily tell you where to post your comments? No, I doubt you would. Golden Rule, Golden Rule.

  17. Anonymous says:

    You sound angry. I was simply saying that there are variety of responses on this blog. That’s all.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I also find the blame level on this blog painful at times, and the level of aggression. I would personally like to see much less blame and much more charity here on the blog overall. Not to mention old fashioned good manners. Nevertheless, I understand that since it’s anonymous some people feel comfortable venting. But can’t you stick some of the hostility under Rants and Raves. Please. Kind. Gentle. Loving. Helpful. Reaching out a hand. Come on, be nice. This is solely my personal opinion and I am sure I do not represent the general public.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I know what you mean about organized groups. I had lots of friends, as long as I stayed in the group and helped out rather excessively. But Ren-fair folks were very into camaraderie and having fun. I do penpal. I post a nice ad and picture-like I’ll accept anybody or I like to garden or something welcoming and then accept who answers (not asking for money)- students from China or Brazil, gardeners from Australia, curious from Uruguay. If no people want to be friends, I love my pets, who love me and are blessed to have me in their lives, or take care of my plants. I’ve collected baby dolls and stuffed animals and made up pretend stories and personalities about them and loved them. I might even get in contact with relatives i dislike as that can quickly make loneliness be replaced with gratitude that you’re alone. I also go visit and take goodies to sick or old neighbors who are isolated socially. None of it’s free of emotional or other cost. I do understand. It’s all hard. But if you don’t keep trying, it limits options.

  20. Anonymous says:

    sometimes the “problem” with connecting with people isn’t that you haven’t joined a group or taken up some hobby or interest. I’ve seen some posters on this blog that have said they felt they tried “everything” but people still didn’t respond to them. I find it heartbreaking. Sometimes that has happened to me, too. I know in my head that I have to keep trying and keep throwing arrows out in the air hoping one of them hits, but sometimes we have to face up to the fact that not every one of us connects by simply joining things and doing things. Or even if we do (such as volunteering and joining groups) we still don’t have people from that exercise that becomes a friendly person to do things with, or a friend. I’ve read that very problem here from other people. I’m not saying this is what you are doing, but I’d like you to keep in mind that the absence of friends in a person’s life isn’t always because the person isn’t doing all of the things you have suggested. Or it isn’t because they haven’t thought of these things. Sometimes people just don’t have the knack of clicking with others beyond exchanging a few pleasantries while doing the activity. Also, not everyone is a group person or a joiner. And sometime when you join a group, you can get roped into a lot of extracurricular things. It’s a real exercise in learning to say no and set boundaries. This happened to me when joining groups related to my profession, for the purpose of making friends and contacts with like minded people. Before I knew it I was roped into being on this or that committee and it was basically a situation where they guilt tripped you into spending all of your time doing work for them. This has happened with church, too. I know you have to put into things and not just take from things, but groups and organizations, churchs, etc., like to really suck you dry. And sometimes this is overwhelming and makes you not want to go to things like that for respite from loneliness.

  21. Anonymous says:

    It’s obviously true a lot of people tend to act like jerks. BUT some people tend to act nice, kind, compassionate, good-hearted, caring, loyal… Look around every room you go into for the non-jerks. They make better friends. Also, it helps to really understand, and learn to not feel any pain about it, that not everyone is going to like you and that is normal (there’s probably nobody that everybody likes). Also, people tend to hang out in cliques, like with like, so if you are unusual at all, you will probably have a harder time finding friends, because there are fewer people like you. That also goes for being unusually bright. But some people will like you and will want to be friends. Then you have to decide if you will accept them. Some of them might be “dorks” or “wallflowers” for example, not super popular, Is that okay with you? What if they are nice anyway and would make good friends? So overall, if you are different, it is really important to interview as many people as possible for the “job,” essentially, and then to accept the best of who wants the job, even if they are not your perfect dream friend. It’s not your fault if you’re lonely. It’s a natural feeling and the way the society is now makes it hard to connect, but there are some things you can actively do to try to heal your loneliness. You could put a (created for the occasion) email address up here on the Email Exchange under forums/making new friends/, and you could post yourself up on a free penpal site like penpal world and see what unusual collection of folks want to be friends, and you could join 4H or get into the renaissance fair scene or church and go visit the old folks home or get active in politics or animal rescue, or take up a sports hobby like bowling and join a league, or take up something like chess or square dancing that needs partners. Plus yoga and meditation may help, since detachment helps, I think. And pets are a big big help, anything warm and furry that loves you. Does that help at all I hope? Summary: They aren’t all jerks. Some are nice. It’s not your fault. You can actively work on finding friends.

  22. Anonymous says:

    How do you know that “posters on this site represent the general public”????? How could you possibly assert that? We don’t have any idea who responds. It sounds like most of the people are women. We don’t know anything about them at all. We can deduce things, but we can’t make a statement that they represent the general public.
    As you can see, it bothers me when people make statements that are actually just an impression or guess, not a fact. This is not helpful when responding to people. It comes across as rather all-knowing. I myself have not seen a BIG variety of responses. I would like to see more. But perhaps I tend to accidentally read more responses that seem to put all the blame or most of the blame on the former friend and not have insight into the poster’s contribution to the problem. But I will not assert that that’s the majority of the responses. I just know that those seem to stick out frequently when I think of the responses on this blog. I’d like to see more responses that reflect a person’s ability to put some blame on herself for some of the problems. How can we grow otherwise if things are the other person’s fault? Just my perspective, not stated as facts.

  23. Anonymous says:

    I find the site is filled with a variety of responses. Some are like the ones you mention and some are the opposite, with a handful of moderate ones. It really depends on who looks at your post and responds to it. Posters on this site represent the general public…some are kind and others are not so kind. If you encounter an unhelpful post, ignore it. You know best. At least, that’s my perspective.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Most of the advice boils down to this: “People are jerks and it’s their right to be jerks. You just have to accept it. If they don’t like you, it’s probably your fault. If you can’t make friends, it’s your fault. If you’re lonely, it’s your fault.”


  25. Anonymous says:

    I really related to this post. I had a friendship with a woman at church, we worked weekly in the same ministry but the friendship always felt VERY unbalanced. After 3 years, i could tell you everything about her, she could probably not even tell you where I worked. We no longer work in that ministry together and so I decided to let myself off the hook. I have distanced myself, answering communication but always very briefly…since I have no desire to have the friendship in my life in any form, I see not reason to have a direct conversation… It has been hard because about every few weeks, she tries to reach out..but I always felt very used after talking with her. She would call because she was having bad day, I would listen, try to make her laugh then she would say goodbye..never once even asking how I was…So I wish I had never let the friendship leave church, I was wrong to take it phone calls and get-togethers, when I already recognized how I felt about this friendship from day one..the way I handled the relationship was MUCH more hurtful to her than if I had just keep boundaries in the beginning.

  26. Irene says:

    Best, Irene

  27. Anonymous says:

    ..Friendship post

    I suggested to my venting friend to keep a journal since I have fibromyalgia and find things exhausting. It also helps one to unload so that you don’t unload on the same friends constantly and wear them out. It’s kindness to the self and others, the Golden Rule.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Hello Dr. Levine:
    I just wanted to thank you for the wonderful book Best Friends Forever: Surviving a BreakUp….it has made so much sense to me.
    My best friend and I just got into a huge fight where I think it is ended now. We have been friends for 12 yrs. and we went on a trip with several girls and she became one of the “mean girls” to me. I could barely stand it. When I approached her about it, she said no that I was acting childish and all the drama had to always be about me. WOW I was stunned. Finally she has yelled at me twice in front of others and I must admit that was the last straw. It doesn’t help that she is my boss and I see her everyday.

    We moved here from a city we absolutely loved so that I could work with her again. I should have remembered I left this same area 10 years ago because of her, but she had changed so that rekindled our friendship, so my husband and I made the long treck back to the Midwest so I could work with her again. Huge mistake.

    Anyway you book has given me comfort to realize sometimes you just grow apart from your best friend and it is ok and nothing on me specifically. It takes two to build and two to destroy.
    Just wanted to say thank you. I can sleep again at night.
    A Best Friend Abandoned but Healing.

  29. Anonymous says:

    It does! thank you for your input. I guess I need to just pull away and not feel I need to be there for her.

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