• Handling Breakups

What Do You Make of a Friend Who Is Only There To Listen?

Published: August 17, 2021 | By | 24 Replies Continue Reading
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A young man finds a supportive female friend at work, who is there to listen to problems but otherwise standoffish.

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

I’ve been working at this company for nearly three years now. A year ago, I was having a lot of personal issues that involved my family as well. So I started to ask one of my co-workers for advice. She was more than willing to help and be there to listen. I felt like she was like an older sister to me.

I never expected her to consider me as a friend even though she meant a lot to me. However, she says we are good friends and that I’m like a little brother to her. I don’t believe that’s true.

I’m always the one who takes initiative if I wanted to talk for whatever reason. It could be something serious or just friendly conversation. She rarely if ever comes to talk to me. If she does, it is simply to ask how I’m doing.

I notice that whenever I talk to her, her energy is low, somewhat unhappy as if she has no interest in talking to me. As soon as somebody else speaks to her, her energy level goes up and she is playful and somewhat happy.

I’ve questioned her about it and she says that she does like talking to me and has no idea what I’m talking about. Can give me your perspective?

Signed, Jason

ANSWER

Hi Jason,

It sounds like your co-worker was compassionate and helpful when you had problems and you needed her advice.

[Your note doesn’t mention whether or not you are married—or, if you are, whether or not your family problems involved your spouse. Let’s assume no on both accounts.]

Now that your personal situation is more settled, you are sensing that your co-worker’s interest in you is waning. Perhaps, she felt like you needed a friend and truly was acting like a big sister. Now she feels you can make it on your own.

If your friend doesn’t initiate any conversation and seems disinterested when you start talking, you can only assume you need to step back from this friendship. Since she is a co-worker, remain cordial, appreciative of the support she provided you in the past, and respectful of her wishes. If she wants more from the relationship, she will let you know.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene


Previously on The Friendship Blog:  When It’s Time To Shut Up and Listen

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Category: HANDLING BREAKUPS, Signs a friendship is going sour

Comments (24)

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  1. donna says:

    I have a friend who I like and care for. I realize there are some moments when I get confused by her interactions with me. Most of the time she will continually interrupt me and talk over me. Other times there are exaggerations and contradictions with the relaying of information to me. She’ll say someone told her something, but she only overheard the person speaking to someone else. Previously mentioned “facts” are now revised. When we are eating out, she will question me, “do you want more? – go ahead- go get something else- go ahead! ” I am a grown woman and know if I had enough or want more. I don’t need her input or approval. Even in our casual talks, I feel like I am being quizzed and am asked to give a blow by blow account of the events or non-events of my daily activities. I have told her how I feel about some of these things as I becoming more aware of the situation as time goes on. Is it an emotional illness, or something else? I don’t know what to do about it. Any knowledge and understanding of this situation and some 411 would be appreciated. Thanks

  2. Kim says:

    maybe you need to let your friend talk? who knows maybe she feels like you always talk that’s why she only just listens

  3. Denise says:

    Jason,

    As I read your replies to other posters, you mention what your office friend does when you try different approaches. The pattern I see is that she is different with you in the same situation with others. For example,
    saying Hi or Bye or How are you? will bring different results with you than with others. She responds to the same questions or actions differently with you than with others. Whether you speak to her or give her space, she turns it negatively towards you. Overall, whatever you do, seems to be “wrong”. Is this a correct summary?

  4. A says:

    Jason, I can understand where you’re coming from. I’ve been in your position but also your co-worker’s. As mentioned before, give her space. Don’t push for answers. There are many reasons for your co-worker’s actions. Maybe she doesn’t want to talk to you or be open with you because she doesn’t feel comfortable. Maybe she doesn’t trust you. Maybe she thinks that you can’t relate to her. Maybe she thinks that you don’t listen to her. Maybe she’s creating boundaries. Or maybe she simply doesn’t feel like talking to you. Whatever the reason may be, let her be. Don’t take it personally. She will come around when she wants to.

    I don’t suggest that you keep asking her if everything’s okay. Ask once and leave it at that. She may get irritated. When I was in your co-worker’s position, I had a friend who kept on asking if everything’s okay with my life. I didn’t like that. It made me feel as if she assumed that something was wrong. Everything was perfectly fine with my life except for the fact that I wasn’t content with our friendship. I stopped being open to my former friend because I no longer felt close to her. And since I do this, when I was in your position, I tried not to take it personally. As cliché as this may sound, only time will tell where your relationship with your co-worker will lead to. Don’t fret over it.

    • Jason says:

      A,I hear what you’re saying but I can’t help but take it personally. I had gave her space in the past. Did what you just said. I found out later she thought I was trying to avoid her. I told her that I thought that was what she wanted. I ended up hurting her instead. I am so confused. If I talk to her, I end up hurting myself. If I don’t talk to her I end up hurting her. It’s a lot more to it than that, very complicated you know. Thanks though

  5. lottie says:

    Hi Jason,
    May I suggest to back off. She still is friends but to be blunt you might be getting on her nerves, and she will start avoiding you if my guess is right. Stop mithering. Maybe take in a small box of chocs or something or flowers and say something like “These are for you for all your help and letting me bend your ear,I am sorry if I got on your nerves talking too much”. Do it quietly, and probably let the office gossip know what you have done and TELL them how helpful she has been She probably will be pleased or should be then SHUT UP for a week. That way she wont think you are coming on to her. Out of curiosity what sort of job are you all in whose boss allows all this talking. Best of luck Lottie

    • Jason says:

      Hi Lottie,
      Thanks for the advice. I have done that in the past what you said. She was grateful, told me I deserve more. She kind of took out her bad moods on me. I’m not mad at all, I just wanted to check in on her to see if she was okay. I can’t just ignore her either. Saying Hi and bye isn’t enough, I did that before too. I thought that was what she wanted, some space. Found out later she was really hurt by me doing so.
      She is really going thru a lot right now. I don’t want to make that same mistake and hurt her.

      • lottie says:

        Hi Jason,
        If this person is telling you that you deserve better then take her advice. You do.She sounds like she is game playing but whatever it is it is screwing you up. Like I said before just leave her be. Move on and switch off. As for others in the work place they probably all know and cant wait for your next move or instalment. You might be the office laugh. You have done enough stop wasting your time. If you get the sack for talking she wont be there for you and you wont have a job. TRY not to bother for a week and keep your head focused on your job.PLEASE TRY. Lottie

  6. jacqueline says:

    Jason, it sounds like your relationship with this woman is all about YOU and your problems and how YOU are feeling. It can be draining and depressing when a person only talks about himself and all his problems. She always asks how YOU are…. Why not approach her and ask her how SHE is for a change. And then listen. Friendship is a two way street. She could be having a bad day….ASK her how HER day is going.

    Hope this helps.

    • Jason says:

      Hey Jacqueline,
      Thanks for the reply, but it’s not all about me. I asked her all the time about how she’s doing, her family, her interest, etc. That’s the problem though, I’m always asking. Our co workers didn’t have to ask, she speaks freely to them.I have to put forth effort to get something out of her. If she doesn’t want to be friends with me, I can respect that. But she says we are more then friends. So I keep on trying. This must sound pretty vague to you. I just don’t want to write a book right now. I am really hurt right now. Please tell me what you think. I appreciate it.

      • jacqueline says:

        Hi Jason,

        It doesn’t matter what she says, it means nothing.

        Hi Jason:

        What she says means nothing if she makes you feel the way you do. I would stop trying with her. Just be normal and when you see her say “hi”, ask her how she is and walk away.

        Maybe that will make her notice that you aren’t bending over backwards for her.

  7. blgrn8 says:

    Interesting perspective that I can somewhat relate to. In this case, it’s the reverse – a male co-worker friends just suddenly stopped talking to me outside of work matters. He stopped sharing things with me like he used to even though he openly does this to other co-workers of ours – about his hobbies, non-work activities, family events. It’s hurtful to feel excluded or ignored and he doesn’t make the effort to reach out. It’s exhausting for me to always be the one breaking the ice, and the one-sidedness of this friendship makes very disappointed and sad. I have backed away and although I truly miss the friendship (and it’s harder because I see/hear him at work practically every day), his disinterest is very alienating. He’s still a colleague and I respect that and I feel his respect in that regard, but I feel truly at a loss why he’ll just abandon the friendship, without even us talking about it.

    I just miss him. Other friends told me that HE is probably the one that’s giving me space. My thinking is, if he really cares about the friendship, he will at least try to communicate. I feel that he just shuts down with me, even shutting me out. I’m just having a hard time, not always, but hits hard when I feel most vulnerable. Luckily, I have other colleagues/friends and hobbies to lean to for support and inspiration.

    • jacqueline says:

      BL, why not go up to your friend and ask him if everything is ok? Tell him you care and are there for him. You cannot assume that this has anything to do with you.

      I am sure that your telling him you are around will make him feel better.

      • blgrn8 says:

        Thanks, Jacqueline. I have thought about your suggestion, offered by other friends as well. I think I’m “not there yet” without putting myself in a position of further vulnerability. I’ve always viewed myself as available and there for him that I think he just eventually taken for granted. At best, when I start non-work small talk, he would give a reluctant, obligatory response; different from spontaneous interest and warmth that he used to exhibit in the past. It is true that I cannot assume that his behavior has anything to do with me, and perhaps he’s waiting a clue from me that I’m “okay” to mutually feel and think that WE/our friendship is okay, but I’m exhausted in always making the first step.

        Perhaps he’s just mirroring my detachment, in which case, we are waiting who’s going to say hello/start a conversation first. It’s sad and exhausting and friendship shouldn’t be this hard, which has been for me in these past few months. Part of my disappointment, too, is he acts as if everything is fine…as if whatever I’m going through is MY problem and not his, so why should he care?

        It’s just hard, to feel ignored and excluded. A friend asked what if the roles are reversed; what if I was him interacting with someone like me? I said I probably would act aloof too, unless I know that it’s okay to start a conversation again. So, back to your suggestion, it makes sense. The difference is, if I CARE ENOUGH, I would reach out to me, which he never has.

    • Denise says:

      Hi blgrn8

      Yes, this is very disappointing when this happens. If you ask him about it, he says all is ok, but continues to interact with others like he used to do with you, I would definitely think something’s up.
      Why would he stop sharing non-work things with you, say everything is ok, and go to others to share? He is treating you differently, no longer as friendly as before. I’d be hurt, too. Maybe he likes to rotate the people he shares fun info with, but still I’d feel left out. I hope it goes back to the way it was!

      • blgrn8 says:

        Thank you, Denise. We’ll see. I requested boundary-setting from him months ago as far as I’m concerned, which I think he respects, but I think that’s when things began to shift. I think he has an “all-or-nothing” perspective that if he can’t share certain things with me (per my request), he’d rather not share anything at all, since what I don’t want him to disclose with me seems very tied to his identity; and that is, as a single man who flaunts about his dating life. I’m not romantically interested in him but that kind of conversation is uncomfortable for me since I don’t have such as active or even existing dating life like him (I don’t like to go to bars or flirt incessantly).

        And that’s sad, because form my perspective, he doesn’t trust the friendship to have that request excluded in the dynamic. There are PLENTY of other things we used to talk about (sports, hobbies, travel) but he’s excluded those from me as well.

        He’s become a complete stranger, and I keep grieving the loss.

        We’ll be co-workers for a long time because we both like our jobs. I just have to stop expecting that things will go back to what they were. Maybe there will be a friend-“shift” along the way where we’re both mutually satisfied about the state of events. I know that I’m currently not, and everyday, I have to learn to let go.

        • Denise says:

          blgrn8,

          Another strange angle here; you tell him you’d rather not hear about his dating life and have other common topics and he cuts you off! As if he enjoyed flaunting/bragging about his dating and since he can’t with you then he turns elsewhere, like finding another audience. To feel he’s become a complete stranger is strange indeed, however you slice it, whatever his reasons. Over the next several months you’ll see whether he turns away from the “new” people he’s talking to now.

  8. Denise says:

    I’ve known a few people who, at some point, have only talked to me when I initiate the conversation. Plus, when you notice she has more energy, is more playful and happy with others, it’s natural to believe she’d rather talk with them, regardless of what she says. If someone did this with me, I would back away more to see if they approach more on their own. If not, I’d conclude they don’t want to talk with me. I agree with Irene’s last paragraph.

    • Jason says:

      Hey Denise,
      I was thinking the same thing too. I have backed away from her. A few days later, she asked me while I was working. How are you doing? I gave her pretty much the same reply she gives to me. I told her I was okay and she got mad. So I asked her why is she mad, and she said that she felt that I didn’t want to talk to her. I don’t get it you know. I am usually the one to initiate conversations with her. She goes and talk to everybody else without them asking her. Why do I have to put forth effort in order to hear from her?

      • Denise says:

        Jason,

        Just read your reply and when I got to “How are you doing? I gave her pretty much the same reply she gives to me. I told her I was okay and she got mad. So I asked her why is she mad, and she said that she felt that I didn’t want to talk to her.” , my first reaction was, “She’s nuts. YOU don’t want to talk to her? None of this makes sense. It’s a one-way street that she wants you to initiate conversation and a one-way street that she initiates with others.

        “Why do I have to put forth effort in order to hear from her?”
        You don’t, I wouldn’t, because her behavior doesn’t make sense.
        She’s the one behaving differently with you and others. She’s the one who changed her interaction with you. I’d say the best route to take overall is to find a cordial/friendly approach and don’t let her turn things on you if she reverses the ‘you don’t talk to me because you’re mad’ line.

  9. lottie says:

    Hi Jason,

    Good sound advice from both Irene and Amy, plus this lady is probably busy getting on with her work. Stay friends with her she has been great helping you.Take care.
    Lottie

  10. Amy F says:

    Hi Jason,
    I’m really glad things are better for you.
    There are different types of friendships that fill different roles in our lives. Aside from being coworker-friends, you and she developed a sibling type-advisor/advisee relationship. Now that you’re in a different, better emotional place, she seems to be pulling back. From my own personal experience, sometimes relationdhips like this aren’t permanent, even though you’ve shared many intimate conversations. I think this is because when one person changes or heals, the friendship doesn’t grow with the change and no longer fits. This can feel disappointing and even hurtful.

    I agree with Irene about respecting her boundaries. Pushing too hard usually sends people running in the opposite direction.

    • Jason says:

      Hey Amy F,
      Thanks for the feedback, I really appreciate it. We do have a bro/sis relationship. She said that herself and that I was more than a friend to her. That I do have a personal relationship with her outside of work. We’ll continue to keep in touch and I can come visit her. Her behavior is a contradiction to what she saying it seems. Other than hi, by, and work related talk, we wouldn’t be talking at all. If it wasn’t for me coming up to her and talking about non related work stuff, she wouldn’t talk to me at all. I hope this doesn’t confused you Amy. I am really hurt right now. She is going thru a lot right now. The other day, I ask her how she was doing. I try to lighten her mood and joke around with her. She told me “I’m going thru a lot” so I left her alone. Kind of felt she didn’t want to be bothered at least by me? So I walked away. Less then a minute later, one of our co workers walked by. She approached him, said something funny, and started laughing together. I thought she didn’t want to be bothered. This happen before you know, I even confronted her about it. She said she didn’t know what I’m talking about. If she did do that, it wasn’t on purpose. Maybe I should back off I said. She says no, don’t do that. Just keep talking to me. HUH? I don’t get it. At the moment I figure I write a letter and jot down all my thoughts. I tried and tried to get thru to her. It doesn’t seem to work at all. She means a lot to me and I hate to lose her. By writing, I can put everything down on paper. What do you think?

      • Lauren says:

        Whatever you decide to do, remember that she has been immensely helpful to you, even therapeutic. This could have been quite draining on her, even though she was glad to help you, Also, maybe
        her manager has spoken to her about chatting too much during business hours. It’s very possible.

        So I say, relax, play it cool. Always say good morning, etc, but don’t bug her, or she may complain to management that she doesn’t like your behavior. So be polite and diplomatic. Remember, this is your workplace, so be diplomatic, pleasant, and play it cool. then things will play out naturally. All the best.

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