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Is a less-than-perfect friend better than no friend at all?

Published: June 27, 2011 | Last Updated: May 14, 2020 By | 17 Replies Continue Reading

It’s so easy to become attached to the idea of "having a best friend" that we ignore the reality of a flawed friendship.



Dear Irene,

There’s a girl who I thought was my best friend forever whom I’ve grown to dislike. I feel guilty for wanting to dump her, but I don’t know how to deal with her anymore. Ironically, she still refers me as her best friend (although she doesn’t act like it).

We shared so much together in high school and were almost inseparable. I was rather shy and paid more attention to classes; she was more out-going and had a big wardrobe. Together, we made a perfect match.

I moved overseas for studies and work. During the ten years I was away, I made an effort to stay in touch via phone calls, emails, etc. and visits when possible. Suddenly, she started to send me passive aggressive messages, constantly "reminding" me I wasn’t better than her in any way. Her digs were easy to ignore since I was far away (which is not the case anymore). I guess I didn’t want to burn bridges.

I can’t say I’m more successful than she is—but she’s certainly not happy with my little accomplishments. I guess she wants me to be the same person I was in high school. She never encourages me, or takes my advice or points of view seriously. She even acts shocked and annoyed that I’m in a serious relationship; she can’t believe I could find someone willing to commit before she did.

I’m not sure why she always feels the need to let me know I’m not "good enough" and I’m not sure why I always let her get away with it. I used to confront her but she always plays the "innocent" card – denying all and saying I’m just being too sensitive. I have such mixed-feelings about this friend. Sometimes, I miss her; sometimes, I want to cut her off completely. Sometimes, I feel like I’m willing to settle with her because I’m afraid of loneliness – I’m afraid I’ll never find another good friend even though this one isn’t perfect.

I really don’t know what to do. I’m not comfortable making plans or sharing details of my life with her anymore. But I don’t want to "disappear" just like that. What should I do if she tries to contact me again? Or sees me on the street? What should I tell our mutual friends?



Dear Ellie,

It doesn’t sound like this woman is a "best friend" anymore. She makes you feel uncomfortable—she’s jealous and insecure—she puts you down—and it’s difficult to talk heart-to-heart with her without ruffling her feathers. No friendship is perfect but this one sounds particularly unrewarding.

Being away for ten years, you’ve had very different life experiences so it’s not surprising you’ve grown apart. Ironically, it was easier to maintain this imperfect relationship across continents than it is now. But while you’re attached to the "idea" of having a best friend, you seem to have grown detached from this one.

Given your long shared history and mutual friends, do you need to end the relationship completely? Can you just spend less time together, and downgrade the friendship (in your own mind) to an old friend from the past? That will avoid all the problems you’re anticipating. Making this change will also give you time and motivation to find more mutually satisfying friendships.

It sounds like making close friends doesn’t come easily for you and that’s why you’re clinging to this one. Maybe you should spend some timing trying to figure out why you haven’t been able to make other friends.

Hope this helps,


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Comments (17)

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  1. LaTrice says:

    Having horrible friends can be physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. Although having no friends is way better than to be surrounded by those that are negative, it’s important to maintain your self-respect.

    Instead of wasting your time and energy on someone who doesn’t appreciate the true meaning of friendship, continue to find new friends. I’m talking about those who are supportive, positive, and would bring out the best in you. Besides, there’s no need to settle for someone who doesn’t know how to be your best friend.

    It’s important to be honest with yourself, and ask if this friendship is worth salvaging. You need to understand that your best friend isn’t the only best friend in this world.

  2. Julie says:

    Do NOT stay with a bad friend..I have been there and I have totally regretted it many years too long! It’s just time to find other people who are happier and absolutely positive and in YOUR cheering section!!!!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Im glad you found some support in my post…this site as helped me so much…your right…at some point you just reach your limit…you know when you have to walk away and not even try anymore…my time came a few months back…she told me herself that she wanted open communication between us…but when the chips were down and I really needed to do this, she pulled the rug out from underneath me and turned it around and made me out to be the bad guy…and even after all that, I still tried to reconnect..called, invited, etc…only to get back text messages for months..she never called or reached out other then texting….I finally told her to call if she ever want to talk or say Hi…that was one month ago tomorrow…I have heard nothing. I dont understand it, but need to accept it.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I read all your descriptions, and I think ‘she is reading my mind about what happened to me!’ ๐Ÿ™‚ Really and truly, sounds so much like what I went through – totally agree that it doesnt have to be ‘perfectly even all the time’ – I accept that people have flaws and in my friendship with my “BFF”, I just told myself ‘well, I’m better at arranging get-togethers and extending the invitations so I’ll take on that responsiblity for us’… and it is ok to do ‘more’ of some of the things needed in a mutual friendship. But she really didnt try at all – and it was MY fault to accept that from her all the time. Sometimes her ‘apology’ for her behavior would be “I’m not a very good friend, I dont know why you put up with me.” And then I’d feel guilty that she felt that way about herself, and I’d tell her how wonderful I thought she was. I guess if there were other ways she was giving to the friendship, that would have been ok – but she really didnt give much of ANYTHING. Still, when we were together, we laughed, talked about anything and everything, and she verbalized support of me. She just didnt actually give any, (especially when I was going thru a very painful time in my life – a divorce, at the same time I was going thru difficult end of a work friendship). In the midst of the divorce, her last words to me were ‘I will do anything I can to stand by you’ – and then I never heard another word. I called, texted, emailed, stopped by her house (she didnt answer the door but I know she was home) – well, I shouldnt even re-hash it. she just never responded to me ever again. Slam the book shut. Along with the divorce and the other friendship ending, it was just an awful time. It’s been over 2 yrs but it is still upsetting. but I have learned a lot about myself. I had always been sooo afraid of being ‘friendless’ that SOMETHING felt better than nothing. I’m learning more about standing on my own two feet. I do wish it didnt have to be a lesson learned in such a painful way.
    You are so right in the things you say – you need to be yourself without fear if a friendship is geniune, and you shouldnt have to always walk on eggshells (i’ll put up with some of that, if a friend is going through difficulties – it just shouldnt be like that ALL the time). You are totally right in what you say, and I think you are going to find much better friends in the future, because you know yourself better now! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Anonymous says:

    So true…I did all that as well, and it only took me this time away step back and realize all the things I should or should not have done….I apologized all the time, even if I wasnt wrong, I did so just for the sake of the friendship…I walked on eggshells not to upset her, really bent over backward to call extend invites and include her…yet in thinking about it, didnt get all the back. Not that it should be like that, all even all the time…but you just shouldnt work so hard to maintain a friendship..you should be yourself without fear and insecurity. It wasnt always like that with us…and I think I held on in hopes that things would go back to being great again…also…most importantly…you need to be free to be open and honest…hear and say the good, bad and ugly with respect of course…when that can no longer happen..that is a glaring problem…

  6. Anonymous says:

    You are so right, I CAN relate! And I agree it’s hard to find new ways to make friends when you’re in your 40s, or older – I feel less inclined to be trusting at work with potential friends, as one of the friendships that went badly for me recently was a work friend – when things went badly, work took a nose-dive for me, and I really like my job. These days, I mostly keep my head down and just try to focus on getting work done and though there are a couple other nice people here I like, I feel very very cautious about putting myself ‘out there’ too much. Other than work, it is more difficult to find ways to make friends as I live in a somewhat rural place – I do some volunteer stuff, I take a training class with my dog – and I meet people that way but nobody who has really felt like potential BFF material. Or maybe I’m too afraid to try right now. with my previous BFF, we felt like soulmates too – we’d joke about being long-lost sisters! But looking back, I really did almost all of the work of the friendship – and I wonder why I didnt see that then? anyway, here’s hoping that with the new things we get involved in, now that bad friends arent sucking us dry, we’ll eventually find like-minded friends! ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Anonymous says:

    Yes, I can so relate to what you are saying! ๐Ÿ™‚ I let things go too, and with one friend in particular, I also felt that we were soulmates; we would joke about being ‘long lost sisters’. It was hard to let go, but when then in analyzing the yrs of friendship with her over and over again, I realized that in all the small ways and many of the big ways, I had really done all the work (and made excuses to myself about her lack of input into the friendship). When I ever tried to talk with her about it, she had a million excuses, and I guess I just wanted to believe them all. Live and learn. It has been a very hard lesson though. I wish I knew people like you too… ๐Ÿ™‚ And I do wish you (and me) good luck on finding BETTER friends! Somebody else posted good comment that I also agree with: no one is perfect, so there is no “perfect friend”. I know we all have flaws and imperfections, and I’m willing to accept that. But when somebody is a BAD friend (not simply imperfect), it’s best to cut your losses. Anyway, I hope the best for you!!

  8. Anonymous says:

    I agree that a less-than-perfect friend is better than no friend. In fact, all of us are less than perfect! Now, if we’re talking about a bad friend, I would say no friend is better than a bad friend. We can have differences and disagreements but to be a toxic (aka bad) friend is stressful on both parties. It can even lead to mental health issues.

  9. Anonymous says:

    You too…I wish I knew more people like you…where are all the “great” potential friends when you really need them…:)…25 years is a long time…my friendship was just 7 years, and I felt like we were soulmate best friends…joined at the hip..families were close , etc…Im in my 40’s and find it hard now..I feel like everyone is spoken for already and knowone is really looking for a friendship…I am on my gaurd too…just as you said. Sometimes Im lonely..but I remind myself just what you said…I felt alot lonelier with this friend in my life…she made me feel bad about myself, she pulled back and avoided me when things werent going her way, etc…Im busier then ever now and wonder how I had so much time for her in the first place…I think I really let so many other things go in my life for her…Im sure you can relate…;)

  10. Anonymous says:

    Hi… I appreciate your post too! It is so hard not to do this, I think, as we are rather conditioned to think we need that ‘BFF’ who should be perfect for us, for life. I’ve learned the hard way that this isnt really the case, after the breakup of 25+ yrs of friendship. I am trying to branch out a bit more – which is hard for me because I spent so many years being reliant on just a couple friends who are now no longer there – and I still have real trust issues (after the way the friendships ended, I plan on being very very careful about what I share about myself, and how soon I share it). sometimes makes me feel like I might miss new opportunities to find friends, by being so cautious – but alone doesnt have to be lonely, and if you are surrounded by bad friends that can cause a lot of loneliness anyway! Good luck on your search for better friends! ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Anonymous says:

    Hi…I really love and appreciate your post. I too have often thought I put all my eggs in one basket and unfortunately didnt see it at the time..I was too caught up in the emotion and need for this friendship, I couldnt see how terrible it was for me…I felt awful in it for years, yet kept going back for fear I wouldnt have it. I was so in love with the idea of a best friend, I lost sight of whether it was even healthy for me. I didnt care about anyone except her…I forgot my other friends put all my energy and effort into this one person…I feel so foolish now. Since the friendship has been down graded (not sure to what yet)…I have a sense of relief and peace..which should be telling me something…

    I would rather be alone…then with a bad friend. You cant put a price on harmony and peace…

  12. Anonymous says:

    I would agree that simply staying with a ‘bad friend’ out of fear of no friends will not ultimately help you make new and better friends. I wish I had learned this when I was still a young adult – I didnt come to this realization until in my 40s when I had some friendships really fall apart and cause me much pain – when I took a serious look back on them, I had to realize that they were seriously flawed friendships in many ways. I may have been able to put up with some of the flaws if I had downgraded and treated those friends as more casual friendships, and continued to work on having other friends. Unfortunately, I ‘put all my eggs in that basket’ and limited my opportunities to find other friendships. If you can seriously downgrade this bad friendship, far enough that she doesnt really affect you negatively, maybe you can just keep her on the periphery. In the meantime, find yourself other friends, and in particular, friends who are kind and caring and give you support for your achievements – you deserve kind treatment!

  13. Anonymous says:

    Laura..I am anonynmous #2…thanks for sharing your thoughts and being on the same page as myself. I miss my friendship alot…I miss the bond and closeness we once shared…I say “once” as this was along time ago…the slow errosion over time…the feeling like she deliberately pushed my buttons and knew how to hurt me in very subtle ways…also the inability to ever have an open and honest conversation with her…and whenever attempted, the situation was turned around in any effort to make her the victim…Our families were clsoe as well…this was a huge loss for me…but I felt I had no choice…how something that was once so great..be so awful???

  14. Laura says:

    I have to agree with Anonymous #2. Bad friends can cost you in terms of sanity and health, especially the really bad ones.

    Ellie, you have a boyfriend now – that can open the way for more friendships to form. You can volunteer with organizations that mirror your values – another source of friendships since people who make time to volunteer generally are more well-adjusted than the current crop of narcissists running around. You new job might be a source of friends – if and only if – you’re happy at that job.

    I guess my advice is: you should never be beholden to bad situations for fear of a new one. Bad friendships are those that are not reciprocally beneficial -where the other party is appreciative of you as a person; they are competitive and not up-building. You deserve a good friend not someone who has a flawed value system and treats others less nice than they would treat themselves.

    Downgrade, downgrade, downgrade is my mantra. You don’t have to cut them off, but you can distance yourself as humanely and mutually beneficial as possible. This person must be petty; how can she enjoy having someone who in her estimation, is not that “good enough.” Better to move on instead of being dragged down.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Bad friends are just too much work. They make you feel anxiety, worry and those feelings arent worth the effort involved. The mized messages, passive agressive bahvior…all for what? Just to say you have a friend. I was there for a long time with my ex-bff… can honestly say I miss the friendship..the thought of a best friendship and someone to talk to and do things with…but I dont miss my ex-bff…the person. It all became so much work…the tears, worry, feeling badly, unable to talk openly and honestly…those feelings arent rooted from someone that is suppose to be a friend, let alone a best friend. I would rather have no friends at all for the time being and feel relief and peace, then wake up and go to sleep with the daily struggle I was in…

  16. Anonymous says:

    One of my friends told me one time, “Bad friends are better than no friends.” I think he was right. After that, I started being less selective about my friends and I started meeting a lot more people. Sometimes bad friends can lead to others who can be good friends.

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