• Keeping Friends

Saying No To Friends

Published: September 6, 2013 | Last Updated: April 19, 2023 By | 5 Replies Continue Reading
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Saying no to friends is never easy but may be necessary to save a friendship. Friendships should be mutually satisfying.


Hi Irene,

I have trouble making commitments when friends ask me for plans in advance especially on the weekends. I was not like this when I was younger, but I have a demanding, stressful job and like to keep my weekends open to spend time outdoors, being active and seeing local sites.

Sometimes I spend time alone. I need the weekends to clear my head and refresh. Also, I am older and I never had children, so I like to spend as much time with my nieces and nephew as possible.

I have one friend who asks me over for dinner with friends fairly regularly, and I find myself saying no a lot. I also think she would like me to invite her over for dinner to my house more often. But it is just not how I want to spend my time, especially my weekends when I would rather do other things.

I think she gets mad about this. I have developed some social anxiety, and I am not comfortable with the political confrontations when we are sitting around the table, even though I am very interested and involved in politics. She likes political confrontation. For me, it is not a relaxing Saturday night after a stressful workweek.

I feel guilty, bad, and selfish that I say no, so I find myself trying to do other nice things for her. I tried to help her get a job, I buy her granddaughter presents, bring her flowers on her birthday or holidays. I have known her for many years from when we were in college together.

She is a good, caring, generous interesting person, and I care about her, but she has a strong, controlling personality, and I find that I only want to get together with her once in awhile, and for a short time. She is married, but I do not think she is that happy in her marriage now. She does not have family in the U.S. because her son and granddaughter live out of the country. She does have many friends.

I think she would like me to be closer to her, but for some reason I am just not able to offer her more friendship or more time together. I always feel that I should, but it just does not come naturally or easily.

I always feel anxious about this. If you have any advice about how I could reduce this stress and handle this better I would appreciate it.

Signed, Sheila


Hi Sheila,

Saying no to friends is never easy. But if you’re working and your friend isn’t, this means there’s already an over 40-hour gap between you and her in terms of discretionary time.

In your downtime, you have a number of interests and enjoy being with family. You also seem to tend towards introversion. You describe yourself as the type of person who needs time to recharge and refresh from your hectic schedule. Beyond this, and probably most importantly, you aren’t interested in spending as much time with your friend as she is with you.

I’m sure it’s hard for you to continually turn down invitations and you shouldn’t allow yourself to be placed in the position of always having to say no. Since your friend hasn’t gotten the message, you need to be more direct.

Friendships are voluntary relationships that should be mutually satisfying. Deciding how to spend your time, with or without friends, isn’t selfish. If you continue to acquiesce to get-togethers when you don’t want to, you’re going to eventually become angry and resentful.

You are stressed and uncomfortable because there’s such a mismatch between your needs and those of your friend. Since you have known her for so long, I suspect you want to maintain this friendship on some level rather than break up completely, but you are entitled to set boundaries that work for you.

Have an honest conversation with your friend and let her know you value her friendship and respect her. Tell her you feel uncomfortable always declining invitations, but you simply need more downtime on the weekends to spend alone and with your family.

Would you want to get together with her, or with her and the group, once a month? Every other month? Let her know what feels right to you.

It may turn out that she will appreciate your forthrightness and focus more on other friends. She probably doesn’t like to always be on the receiving end of hearing you say no.

If this can’t be negotiated and she is unable to respect your needs, the friendship may not be salvageable.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

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Category: Creating and maintaining boundaries, KEEPING FRIENDS

Comments (5)

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  1. Amy says:

    Are you a caretaker? You seem to have a lot of concern that in setting boundaries with your friend, that she’s feeling hurt and/or angry.
    From your letter, it seems go me that the limits you’ve set in the relationship are healthy and appropriate, but you’re feeling guilty because she keeps asking for more plans than you want to accept. Do you think it’s possible she’s fine with your refusals, but simply wants to extend the invitations in case you’re interested? If it’s a case of her not wanting to hurt your feelings by excluding you, which you won’t know unless you have a discussion, then you can probably solve this by clearly talking about your time constraints (and yes, those constraints that are by choice are as important as those that aren’t). It doesn’t sound, from what you’ve written, that your friend tried to manipulate you by making you feel guilty, so I have a feeling this can be easily solved. I think sometimes people, women in particular, weren’t culturized as children that establishing and maintaining boundaries was healthy and appropriate, so we sometimes feel guilty (or angry that others don’t pick up on tacit limits) for no reason. If you can talk to your friend using a nondefensive approach, I’m sure everything will work out.

  2. Judy Kirkwood says:

    I have a friend who has called me almost every day for years. I don’t have that much to say – to anyone but my sister – every day. I finally told her to cut it out for that very reason. And she did. But she started again a couple of years ago and I have to say things are different now. Before, there were many things I did not want to share with her that were troubling me: my marriage, my kids, my health. I needed to be with strictly positive people who also understood my situation. But now I live alone and far away from friends and family and I find her calls are not as irritating as they used to be. Still too many, but I can make the choice not to pick up every day. The point is that things change and needs change. You can take a risk without necessarily cutting of a friendship so I agree with your advice. Set some limits and see what happens.

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