• Keeping Friends

When Expectations Differ

Published: October 5, 2015 | Last Updated: September 15, 2021 By | 3 Replies Continue Reading
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What do you do when a friend’s expectations of a friendship totally outsize your own?


Hi Irene,

How do you handle a friend who wants or “expects” more time from you than you can or want to give? How do you deal with someone who thinks of you as her BFF but you can’t reciprocate that feeling? What do you do when expectations differ?

I’m struggling with an old friend with whom I became reacquainted after a 25-year lapse in the friendship — only because our lives and paths went in different directions. I do enjoy having her in my life again and look forward to occasional visits. But I don’t want to see her as often as she wants to see me.

I make excuses about being busy, of course, and I really don’t want to hurt her. But we really don’t have as much in common as we did in the distant past.

In my effort to create a little distance, I’ve started including her more in group activities — with my other women friends. She lives nearby, so I can’t use distance as an excuse. She seems envious of the other women friends with whom I’ve spent time over the years — including a couple of women who really ARE best friends to me over the long run.

Sadly, my old friend doesn’t have as many other friends as I do, which doesn’t help, as she is retired and spends time babysitting grandkids.

Signed, Maura


Hi Maura,

This sounds like such an uncomfortable situation for you—and possibly for your friend because you both have different expectations of the friendship. As much as you don’t like turning her down or saying no, I suspect she doesn’t like being turned down either. Clearly, this friendship is far more important to her than it is to you.

For a friendship to be satisfying, the relationship needs to be somewhat reciprocal in terms of give and take. If one person is consistently expecting more time or involvement than is comfortable for the other, it only leads to frustration and disappointment on both sides.

In this case, the only thing you can do is to try to establish reasonable boundaries. It sounds like you’ve attempted to do this by telling her you are busy but she’s been somewhat tone-deaf to your message. She may have misinterpreted your kindness in inviting her to participate in group activities, thinking that you are interested in maintaining more frequent social ties with her than you want to have.

Given that your friend lives nearby and you are likely to bump into her now and then, I think the only thing you can do is to continue to say no when you don’t feel like getting together. I’d also lighten up on invitations to have her join you with your other friends. Bear in mind that the onus isn’t on you to create social networks for someone else.

I’ve been in a similar situation myself with someone who is a nice person, but with whom I’d prefer not to spend time, so I know how tough this can be. If there was something kind you could possibly say to have her back off, I think you would have said it by now.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

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Comments (3)

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  1. Amy F says:

    I think being direct while kind is the the best way to go, “I appreciate the invitation, but honestly, with all I have going on in my life, I only have time to talk/get together about once a month. Nothing personal, I barely have time for myself some days.”

  2. Maura says:

    Thanks very much, Irene. Everything you said makes perfect sense. I think I just needed “permission” to feel this way. Your solutions are great!

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