• Resolving Problems

Mothering a Dependent Friend: How do I change course?

Published: March 9, 2012 | Last Updated: April 2, 2016 By | 7 Replies Continue Reading
It’s frustrating to have a dependent friend who is unable or unwilling to grow up.


Hi Irene,

My best friend and I have been buddies for nearly twelve years, having met during our freshman year of high school. We’re now in our mid-twenties, I can’t help but feel like she never quite grew up. This feeling stems mostly from her dependence on other people, and I’m a little ashamed to admit that it really annoys me.

To be clear, when I say she’s dependent, I mean she cannot function on a daily basis without some sort of assistance. For one, she doesn’t know how to drive; this has become a huge argument between us, as I have offered to teach her for several years since I got my full license, but she steadfastly refuses, often on the grounds that she either doesn’t have the time or is too afraid to learn. I could get past that (at least the fear part) if it weren’t for the fact that she complains that we don’t spend enough time together. Personally, I don’t want to be the designated driver every time we go out, and I don’t think her husband wants to drive her to and fro for girls’ night either.

Her inability to drive became a bigger issue when we were planning on getting an apartment together, since she would need a ride to work every day. Since I work two jobs, there was no way I’d be able to accommodate her, which meant we’d need to be near a bus route, and the apartments within range were too far out of our price range. The plan had to be scrapped. Now, since they are living with her husband’s parents, she’s relying on MY boyfriend to drive her to work on the days no one in her household can give her a lift. I appreciate his generosity, but it isn’t encouraging her to learn how to drive.

The second half of this problem involves money. Long story short, her husband was laid off and unemployed for about three years (which is why they live with his parents) and just recently re-joined the workforce. It’s a great relief, but as a result, they are in debt up to their eyeballs. And she only works part-time. This means that, when it comes to paying for things, she either lets me or one of our other friends foot the bill, or spends money she really doesn’t have. She’s also buying things she doesn’t really need (for example: a huge box of Christmas ornaments when they don’t even own a tree to hang them on; they’ve been in storage since she bought them a couple years ago). I gave up confronting her on it, because yes, it is her money, but I still can’t help but worry when I know the only reason she isn’t flat out broke is because of her husband’s income barely keeping them afloat.

I’ve told her that I’m worried about her, and I’ve tried to be helpful in encouraging her to learn to drive, to start keeping track of her finances better, but she has made it clear that she doesn’t want my help and I have backed off. Still, every now and then, one of the subjects will come up in conversation, usually when she wants to plan a date and I tell her I can’t pick her up/can’t afford it. She immediately becomes defensive with “I know! I know! I need to learn to drive/get a better job/get out of debt! Okay! I get it! Leave me alone!” and I don’t even have to say anything.

I’m worried this is going to get worse, and having been friends with her for so long, I don’t want to see her fall. If the worst were to happen and she was left alone, I know she’d come to me first, and I can’t support her. I can’t afford it. It’s just that I feel like I’m dealing with a whiny teenager instead of someone two years older than me. I can count the number of friends I have on one hand, so I’m reluctant to simply call it off with her, and deep down, I don’t think I want to. It just feels like I’ve out-grown our friendship, and she needs too much.

I just don’t know what to do. I don’t know if there’s anything I CAN do.

Signed, Juliette


Dear Juliette,

My sense is that you have allowed this very dependent relationship to go on, largely unchecked, for too long. Although you have tried to assume the “adult” or “maternal” role in relation to your friend, she doesn’t seem to be “growing up” or taking responsibility for herself.

It’s unlikely that anyone can make a friend work more, learn to drive, or become more independent, either by doing things for them or simply by telling them what to do. Change needs to come from within. Ironically, your friend has found a way to get her needs met by the people around her (including your boyfriend)—and you haven’t done the same.

Because this doesn’t sounds like a healthy friendship between equals, I would recommend that you create more distance between you and your friend. Would you feel comfortable diluting the intensity of this friendship, and connecting with other people who are less needy?

At minimum, you need to be better about setting limits and saying “no” to her. If you are unable to do this on your own, you may want to speak to a mental health professional to better understand the reasons.

I hope this is helpful.

Warm regards,


Other posts about needy and dependent friends:

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Category: Dependent friends

Comments (7)

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  1. Juliette says:

    This is Juliette, from “Mothering a Dependent Friend: How do I
    change course?”. I wanted to give you an update, now that nearly two
    years have passed.

    My friend and I are doing much better now. Around her birthday that
    year, she got her driver’s license and the change was amazing. She
    didn’t visit any more or less than usual, but she was so happy about
    the freedom being able to drive gave her, it was practically tangible.
    By this point, her husband and my roommates were on very bad terms
    (still are, but that’s their issue to resolve), so she was worried
    about coming over because he hated to drive here. Able to come over on
    her own now, it’s not an issue. We’ve even gotten to have those girls’
    only days, now that we’re both mobile.

    She’s looking for a new job too. Being stuck with in-laws that drive
    you crazy is understandable incentive, and she’s left her part-time
    job (no small feat, since she’s been there for over ten years) to seek
    full-time work. Additionally, she and her husband are making plans to
    move out on their own again, now that their finances are more stable.

    I just wanted to say thanks again.

  2. Anonymous says:

    You may find some of us in agreement with your assessment of sheesh’s comments, but your rapping of the knuckles is just as unhelpful and is also not called for. Just as my rapping of your knuckles is not helpful and is not called for. Dig it? . Maybe we all should reconsider before chiming in to post about the posters and how they comment.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know if these video’s will help you but they helped me – I was always attracted to needy people and it was because of needing to be needed so watching the video the dance brought this to light

    emotional vampires – how to spot the evs in your life


    saying goodbye to toxic friends


    the dance


    There is nothing you really can do – except for take care of yourself and don’t let people like this suck your energy – it is one thing to help someone through a hard time, that is what friends are for, but it sounds like you are being used as a crutch, at the cost of your own life.

    Once you distance yourself you may find yourself a much happier person and you will recognize red flags right off the bat so you don’t get caught in the web of someones drama.

  4. Anonymous says:

    My read is completely different.

    Juliette – You say that you “could get past that (at least the fear part) if it weren’t for the fact that she complains that we don’t spend enough time together.”

    Deciding not to drive is 100% your friend’s call. If she learns to drive, it will be when she’s ready. Many people chose not to learn. It’s not that unusual. It takes my breath away that you are judging her fear, and that you’ve expressed your disapproval so clearly and so often.

    While it’s entirely your choice whether you and your boyfriend to give her a ride, it’s not appropriate to speculate about whether HER husband wants to or doesn’t want to “drive her to and fro for girls night”.

    Telling your friend that you worry about her is adding to her stress. She shouldn’t be expected to shoulder your worry about her financial situation. After all she’s living it.

    Her husband was out of work for 3 years, they had to give up their home, move in with her in-laws, she’s only working part-time and they are heavily in debt. My goodness, just one of those is enough to make a person blue and in need of genuine support. Do you have any idea the blow her self-esteem has taken? She misses the friendship you once shared and is reaching out to you which indicates that (1) by some miracle she isn’t clinically depressed and (2) is needy enough (and who won’t be under the circumstances?!) to, despite your critical attitude, accept any crumb of friendship you reluctantly bestow.

    Three years is a long time to not ever buy anything frivolous. So she bought a big box of Christmas ornaments when she doesn’t “even have a tree”. You say she bought them years ago. Is she suppose to have known then that it would take years for the economy to rebound and that it would be three long years before her husband found work? Many people collect ornaments in anticipation of having their own place and their own Christmas tree. What do Christmas ornaments represent? Friendship, family, good cheer, good food, and happy times. That she bought them is a very good sign. Someday things will get better and she will have a tree. When she eventually hangs those ornaments, what would you like her to think about – fond memories of a shopping trip with a dear friend, or regret that the friend sat in judgement and dumped her?

    It’s not good that she allows you and others to foot the bill. She could reciprocate by inviting everyone to her place for a meal. Oh no, wait, she can’t. She doesn’t have a kitchen to call her own, and may feel it would be a further imposition to invite her friends into her in-laws home. The dynamics of the evening are not going to be the same. Would you and your friends want to go? Anyway, you don’t want to/can’t afford to drive over to the in-law’s place. Have you tried scaling back entertainment plans to something that fits her budget – coffee and dessert instead of a meal or drinks?

    The events in your friend’s life are not running parallel to your own. That’s life. Where is it written that her life should be lived according to your expectations? True friendship is strong enough to navigate the bumps, twists and turns in life’s road.

    Perhaps your friend is coping as well as she can given everything that’s happened. Perhaps she could do it better but who among us lives our lives without mistakes. A true friend doesn’t tell a friend what they should do, but accepts their weaknesses and celebrates their strengths. After all, she’s doing nothing to harm you — except putting your blood pressure up because she’s not doing what you think she should. In a short time, she and millions around the world, have experienced many of life’s most stressful events.

    It’s great that you are helping by giving her the occasional ride and free meal but it’s a crying shame you resent it so much. You’re harming her at a time when her life is stressful enough.

    When times improve she may wake up and then your friendship really will be in trouble. If you can’t be truly supportive with an open heart, leave her alone. She’s better off without you.

  5. Anonymous says:

    To “Sheesh don’t see how anyone” – Your remarks are unkind, not helpful and uncalled for. You’ve added nothing constructive to the conversation, and have shown yourself to be someone sorely lacking in compassion and the milk of human kindness.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Sheesh, don’t see how anyone could see such a needy, incompetent woman as friend material. Birds of a feather flock together–both writer and dependent "friend" are sorely lacking.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Hopefully the act of writing this letter has made you realise how bad things have become and that it would be healthy for you to distance yourself from this person and widen your social network.

    I don’t usually comment on websites but feel moved to do so as this reminds so much me of my own situation with a sibling who refuses to grow up. I could write an essay about all of the things I have done to try and help and support him over the past five years, I’m not going to go into details. But the one thing I will tell you is that you cannot help somebody who does not want to help him/her self.

    It is interesting that you say you only have a handful of other friends – could this partly be because of the time/energy you have invested in this one needy friend? I also have few friends and in retrospect I can see that this is partly because I was too busy trying to help my brother to live my own life. It has not been unusual for me to turn down social invitations because I ‘had to’ drive 3 hours to visit him at the weekend because he was going through a bad time and I wanted to support him (like your friend he also cannot drive and he could not afford to come home on the train). Or there were the times when I did make plans with would be friends but was bad company as he had called me at 2 in the morning the previous night depressed and drunk and I had felt like I had to be there for him – when you invest yourself in someone else’s emotional turmoil you are not great company.

    My brother has recently quit a fantastic job and is now unemployed living with my parents. We are not speaking as he refused to pay me back some money I had lent him . It was not always bad – when he is sober and happy he is a great person but like your friend he simply lacks the maturity to address his problems. I have come to realise that even if he apologises for his behaviour it was unhealthy for me to have invested so much in trying to help him – at least I can walk away knowing that I did everything I could.

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