• Keeping Friends

I want to be a friend, not a replacement daughter

Published: December 16, 2013 | Last Updated: December 16, 2013 By | 8 Replies Continue Reading
A woman feels like an older neighbor is treating her like a replacement daughter.



I’ve developed a friendship with an older female neighbor and for about a year it was very pleasant. But about a month or so ago, she suddenly quit communicating with me for a few weeks. Then one day I ran into her in the lobby of our building, now she’s going overboard on the friendship. She suddenly wants to buy clothes for me when she’s out shopping, refuses to let me pay anything the two or three times we’ve been somewhere to eat, and has taken to calling me some nicknames that I find very offensive (Honeybunch, etc.)!

Our phone conversations used to be so entertaining and shared, one every day or so. Now she’ll call two to three times a day, and politely grill me on everything that’s happened throughout the day, and then interrupt me every time I try to complete a sentence. She also changes every plan we’ve ever made to one she wants, including trying to change my personal plans to accommodate her schedule.

She lost her second daughter earlier this year, and I feel as though she sees me as a replacement daughter. If I try to end the conversation, she’ll keep talking right over me and then she’ll have the last word telling me to go ahead and do whatever it is that I told her I needed to get off the phone and do!!!!

I’m so frustrated right now that I don’t want to continue the friendship, but because of her age and health (67, and has some serious health conditions) I don’t want to just ‘drop’ her and cause her more issues. I really feel that if I tried to explain my feelings about these issues to her it would be the end of the friendship anyway.

The most offensive are the pet names though: Who calls a friend honeybunch, sweetheart, darling, etc.? This is the part that makes me think that I’m a replacement daughter, along with the fact that she refers to things I should be doing at my age. I’m looking for responses as to what you think and how you’d handle this. Thanks, all.

Signed, Alice


Hi Alice,

The age difference between you and your friend doesn’t explain away the problems you are having. It seems like as you have gotten to know her better, her style is beginning to grate on you.

She may be treating you like a replacement daughter or this may be the way she treats any friend with whom she feels close, particularly someone younger. Regardless of why she treats you this way, her behavior makes you uncomfortable and the terms of endearment she uses make you cringe.

This woman is a neighbor whom you are likely to run into over and over. Moreover, you feel kindly towards her and don’t seem ready to give up on the friendship. To maintain a healthier friendship, it might be a good idea to step back from the relationship somewhat and limit the time you spend with her, both in-person and on the phone. If she is filling another void in your life, try to find other ways to use your time.

Since some specific behaviors make you feel uncomfortable, you need to find a way to tell her, kindly, if you want to maintain a friendship. For example:

  • “When you call me X, it makes me feel like a child.”
  • “I’m independent and although I’m appreciative of the gesture, I don’t feel comfortable when you pay for me or buy me things.”
  • “I can’t change my plans this time, perhaps we can get together another time.”

Although it may be uncomfortable to do so, if you don’t express how you feel, you will feel smothered and have no alternative but to cut off the friendship entirely.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

Tags: , , , ,


Comments (8)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Lauren says:

    Hi Alice,

    I like Irene’s advice . Yes, it would be a good thing to “step back” and limit the time you spend with her. Then, I think, everything will be much more tolerable, and pleasant.

    Perhaps, the next time that she calls you “Honey Bunch”, or something else like that, then take the opportunity, right at the time,to say gently something like this: ” Oh, I really don’t like being called Honey Bunch or other terms of endearment, so could you please indulge me , not do that. Just call me Alice, that’s what I prefer. I know you mean well, but it bothers me. It’s not you, it’s me.” and smile when you say it to her.

    In other words, seize the moment when she calls you those cutsey nick-names, and be pleasant about it, and I think that should go well.

    I know that I tend towards introversion, although I am warm and friendly, but I also don’t like my free time being overwhelmed by others, or called nick-names/terms of endearment. Hopefully, she will respect your gently laid out boundaries.

    All the best, Lauren

    • Alice says:

      I am stepping back, but maybe I’m being slow to get the message! In my original posting I mentioned that my friend stopped communicating with me for about a month, and then she’s suddenly ‘overdoing’ everything-wanting to shop for me, calling me a LOT more pet names, etc. Then the other day when we talked, and she told me that she was back on her meds she was very reserved. I know that I’ve left at least one message during this time, but she still hasn’t called me back. So I’m wondering if she’s going to pull the silent treatment again.
      I don’t play games with relationships, I believe in being honest with each other- in a very civilized way (not in a mean, backstabbing kind of way). I haven’t been able to talk to her because of my concerns about her emotional health so now I’m glad that I didn’t because obviously she needs meds for her mental stability. But maybe she was playing a game all along, and this silence is her way of telling me that she’s not really a friend anyways. Don’t know and don’t have the energy to play these games. I will be nice to her if I hear from her or see her, but no more planned outings (she always changed them anyways), no more worrying about her health- her family seems to finally be stepping up to the plate in that area. I have other friends to interact with, and I enjoy my time alone. As Lauren stated, I too am introverted, but will be friendly to everyone I meet or see. I was extremely shy and very socially inept until I got married to someone who was very sociable.
      Anyways, I may or may not be able to have that discussion with her. The ball’s in her court- see if she makes contact with me or not and progress from here. I do care about her as a friend only, but if she needs to go her own way that’s also fine with me. Life cannot remain static for me-I have new roads to travel, new friends to meet and more adventures to get involved in. So I’ll wish her well and remain friendly with her, and focus on the friends I still have and remain close to. I cannot nor would I want to hold her down if she feels the need to let go of this friendship. Maybe she truly needs a surrogate daughter and I’m not fulfilling that role for her, so she needs to find someone who will fill that role. That just means that this friendship hasn’t been right on either side-very unequal. Although my mom has been gone for quite a few years, I still miss her, but have no desire for anyone to take her place because she was special and unique. I “lost” my daughter years ago, when I divorced her father and I would love to be able to talk to her again and regain a relationship with her. I cannot imagine trying to have a replacement daughter because there’s no one that’s like her. And since we can’t make or remake people, those who look for replacements are going to be very disappointed- which may be what has happened with this friend of mine.
      Oh well, I guess it’s time to move on. I really appreciate all of the comments and responses to my situation, and I have been comforted by and learned a lot from them. Thanks to all of you for responding.

      • Lauren says:

        Hi Alice,
        You really have handled this very well, and your final analysis is excellent. I wish you all the best in everything,

  2. Amy says:

    I think you have to have some patience with this friend. Her use of words like “honeybunch” is probably part generational, and if you can take it in the manner in which the word is used, rather than as personal assault. You can use Irene’s statement about how you feel when she calls you that, but don’t take her non-response as disregard for your feelings as she likely doesn’t know that she’s using the phrase. I had an issue with a friend who constantly called me “honey”, and she was young enough to do be my daughter. It drove me nuts, and I was constantly calling her on it, frustrating both of us. I finally just gave up and stopped letting her verbiage get to me and I was a lot happier. It’s really “small stuff”. The older I get, the more I realize I don’t need to micromanage other people’s quirks (because it never works anyway, LOL).

    As for the gift thing, realize she is doing this of her own free will and that doing so likely gives her pleasure. If it’s uncomfortable, suggest she buy something for a woman in a battered women’s shelter, someone who really needs the gift. In fact, maybe she’d enjoy volunteering with folks who could use all the love she has to offer.

    I cannot imagine the pain of losing a daughter, and if she sees you as a surrogate daughter, I don’t think that’s a terrible thing. She might see you as a surrogate daughter even if she hadn’t lost her own, simply because of the age difference. I feel maternal toward younger women, though not in a smothering kind of way.

    You are not responsible for her mental health, and if you need to back off, you’re not responsible for her reaction to that if you do so respectfully. She sounds like she needs some gentle, yet firm boundaries and that you’re already learning how to do that with her. She’s lucky to have you.

    • Alice says:

      Thank you Amy for the encouragement. Before the month-long silence, she wasn’t calling me ‘honeybunch’ or trying to go shopping for me. I think that was when she went off her meds, and then when we ‘re-connected’- she just went hyper- for lack of a better word. Since I’ve just learned a day ago that she’s gotten back on her meds, I think that I understand why she was so unorthodox compared to before the month of no contact. Now, she’s back to not calling me again. We had made tentative plans for Christmas, but she changed them because “I’d mentioned lack of money” – which I had not done, but maybe that’s HER situation. So I reluctantly agreed, but now I think that I’ll have to back out since I haven’t heard from her. Now my concern is – if she’ll even remember inviting me to dinner? If so all well and good, if not I’ll have to come up with a way to decline without making her doubt her sanity. If I knew for sure that she didn’t remember, then I wouldn’t even have to decline, but if she’s still expecting me I need her to know not to expect me! What a tricky situation! I definitely need to make space between us, because this is way too much for me to keep dealing with. I cannot keep trying to second-guess her.
      I’m so glad I found this blog! I really appreciate all of the encouraging things that I’ve learned on here -mainly not to feel guilty about being myself, and not being responsible for other people’s issues. I’ll just be respectful to her and let it go at her pace. I think that’s best for both of us!

  3. Leah says:

    Hi Alice.
    The situation you described struck me as a chemical imbalance. Having been on and off certain medications myself, I don’t underestimate the impact they can have on behaviour, cognitive function, memory etc. It could also be brought on by stress. It sounds like your friend really is having a tough time with the loss of her daughter.
    Your intentions sound good and I hope you can gently set your boundaries. I often tell friends what kind of person I am and what I like. It’s a gentle reminder to people letting them know how you like to be treated. Time alone etc.
    I have people my age and younger calling me pet names I don’t like, I decided this was something I could live with as it is their way of showing they care for me.
    It must have been hard to deal with. I hope it improves for you both.

    • Alice says:

      Thank you, Leah
      I agree with your assessment about her dealing with the loss of her daughter. I don’t think she has truly accepted that her daughter is gone yet. The fact that she called me ‘honeybunch’ seems to me that she feels it necessary to retain her ‘mother’ status and since her daughter is not available she ‘becomes’ my mother-worrying about me going out in the cold weather, telling me to get some sleep, or that I need to go eat something (even when I’ve told her that I’ve eaten) -everything a mother does for her child. What doesn’t help the situation is that she and her family still have not determine what they are going to do with her daughter’ sashes, so there is no closure that way.
      I suffer from several painful conditions and have learned that on my bad days it’s not good for me to interact with others, so when she was going through this phase ( I hope that’s all it wa) it was very hard for me to tolerate her actions. I hate the fact that she has to be on such medicine, but I do see how it helps balance her mental and emotional health. I hope this is the answer!
      Thank you for the inspiration -I am learning to share my limitations with others-even though a couple of long-time friends have basically shut me out afterwards. I try to be supportive, if they can’t handle the truth about me and my conditions, then it’s so much easier to let the friendship go than dealing with the drama that goes along with trying to keep a friendship with some whose not strong enough to even try to be understanding.
      As for pet names- some are acceptable, or tolerable even if I don’t like them. But then again I think it all depends on the intention of the person using those pet names. Babe I hate, but I can tolerate it from the one friend that calls me that. I draw the line at honeybunch, and sweetheart-especially as I feel those are more intimate names to be used between parent/ child or lovers.
      I think it’s great when someone acknowledges how much meds can impact a person- as you have. I appreciate that very much. In my friend’s situation, I think she felt she was taking too many pills and decided to cut down, but cut down on the wrong ones. I’d like to share my concerns about her with her sister, but I’m not sure how that would go over. I think her family knows some things about her conditions, but not what I know. I think it would be helpful for them to know what I know, but I’m afraid that they would say something to her and then she’d feel betrayed and may refuse all efforts from all of us who are trying to care for her. What to do?!

  4. Thank you for the response. She had talked about her BFF, but then admitted to me at one time that they don’t talk like she does with me. I just found out (today actually) that this sudden change towards me may be because she had stopped taking some of her medications about six weeks ago. When I talked to her today for the first time in about three days, she had been back on her meds since I’d last talked to her and I’ve already noticed a difference in how she talks to me. I noticed that she’s not so hyper (not interrupting), she’s calmer and seemed to be able to listen and focus better on what I was saying. I have hope that we can resume our interesting although not as lengthy conversations.
    Our relationship has been mostly via the phone, but I am slowly backing off from so much contact with her, and I think that now that she’s back on her meds she’ll be a lot less ‘needy’ (?).
    I am very comfortable being alone, and I like spending time with my pets. I will do anything in my power to help someone who needs help, but I don’t respond well to others trying to control me. I’m not looking for anyone to fulfill a role for me because I’ve had a pretty full life so far, but I’m open to being friends with someone who has the same interests as I do -until they try to control me or run my life. That’s the biggest friendship-killer for me.
    My big concern about telling her how I feel about the pet names, etc is that I’m not sure at this point if she’ll even remember or be aware of saying those things. She even ended our conversation once by calling me ‘Sis’ and telling me she was glad I felt better ( her sister had been I’ll earlier that day). So that’s when I feel frustrated because I’m not even sure if I would be harming her mentally by telling her my concerns. I just hope that being back on her meds will help.

Leave a Reply