• Keeping Friends

When our go-to friends disappoint us

Published: May 6, 2015 | By | 13 Replies Continue Reading
There are a variety of reasons why friends disappoint us.


Hi Irene,

I wanted to get your take on the increasing trend I’ve noticed in people, to avoid negativity and abandon friends because of it. The type of negativity I’m talking about is when you are going through a rough stretch with health, financial and family problems.

I am 61, unmarried, and alone right now. The three people who used to be my go-to people when I was having troubles all suddenly bailed on me. My mother basically told me her own plate is full and “you’re on your own.” My sister implied that my reaching out to her was “bumming her out.” And my supposed best friend in another part of the country sent me a very brief email saying she was sorry to hear this, and I’ve never heard from her again.

What is going on? I don’t think my life has always been negative and riddled with problems. I’m the kind of person who always felt a friend in need was when it was time to be true friend. Are counselors the only “friends” unhappy people are allowed to have nowadays, people who are paid to show compassion and listen for a price? I feel like a pariah because I have problems, and that there is no one I can turn to.

Signed, Cicely


Hi Cicely,

It feels rotten when family and friends disappoint us—especially when we feel like we need them most. It’s impossible for me to speculate about what went wrong in each of these three examples. However, speaking in general, sometimes friends are dealing with their own problems and really have nothing left to give to anyone else, in terms of either their time and/or energy.

From your note, it sounds like you have had a cascade of health, financial and family problems. Is it possible that your problems feel so overwhelming to your go-to friends and family, either in terms of the number of these problems or because of their intractable nature, that they don’t feel up to the task of helping or don’t know what they can do?

Even though these three situations occurred contemporaneously, I would caution you to not lump all of them together. Try to step back and figure out why each of these individuals, family and friends, wound up disappointing you. When you’re feeling alone and vulnerable, you don’t want to come to rash conclusions about your relationships with family and/or friends.

Hope this helps a bit.

My best, Irene

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Comments (13)

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  1. Jannie says:

    Great post. As I’ve turned 65 I find friendships the most difficult and disappointing. I have a good relationship, hobbies and health challenges. I’ve never complained, Lent an ear, remembered important dates, hosted parties and dinners. I’ve had toxic friends which I’ve let go. Sadly I never get invited and wondering what’s wrong with me. I’m not into gossip, perhaps that would be a game changer if I was but no thanks to that.

    I’m currently looking in a nearby town for events interesting to me in hope of meeting new and interesting women. A coffee or lunch is nice to have once in awhile. Any thoughts or comments out there?

    Enjoy your day wherever you are!

  2. PollyPau says:

    I think people have an emotional bank account in terms of how much they can give without receiving. Friendship is a two way business, and being always the one there for others, and never having support when needed it’s not the way a healthy friendship should be.

    Unfortunately, we live in a world where not much is taught about human relationships and most of us have to learn the hard way.

    I would say take with a pinch of salt of those people who are not there for you when you need them and seek support in those who are ready to give it. If you feel strong enough to give without expecting it, go for it, but be aware that when you’re vulnerable and unhappy you need real friends around you. A counsellor might help too, but it’s unconditional love from people that keep us going, not paying to be listened to.

    I hope the OP can find that support if not in old friends, at least in new ones in the future.

  3. GraceW says:

    I think a lot depends on whether or not only one friend in the friendship is always the one asking for help. If you have given help and not received it, then you’ve been screwed. But if you believe “a friend in need was when it was time to be true friend” and you are always “the friend in need,” yes, people will have limits to how much they’re willing to help. I have a friend who has been “going through a rough stretch” pretty much since I’ve known her. I know she believes she would help me out if needed. In reality, it’s highly unlikely she’ll ever be in a position to help me if I need it. In reality, I can’t really rely on her, and I know that, even if she doesn’t.

    I feel for people who have gone through cancer or some other scary, serious life event and had friends abandon them. That must really, really suck. I hope when the time comes, I will be a friend who steps up and does things “right” for my friends in those moments.

    On the other hand, I get really frustrated with adults who always expect other adults to fix their problems. Similar frustration with adults who expect people to listen to their problems over and over and over while they refuse to fix anything themselves. Then they decide someone is a bad friend if the person won’t set aside her own problems to fix (or listen to) theirs. If you are in your sixties, I’m guessing your mother is in her eighties, so yes, I can imagine her “plate being full” with her own health and financial issues. There is a limit to how much support friends and family can offer, especially someone in her eighties! I agree with Maddie that friends and family are not therapists. They’re also not financial advisers, ATM machines, or health care professionals. I also agree with Amy F about pulling back when a friend is creating her own chaos.

    • Sandra says:

      Grace, well said. I once had a friend like the one you mention in your post. She was constantly in emotional pain, or in need of some kind of help. She had a way of making me feel guilty for not making myself available for every emergency she had — which was almost weekly. Turned out, she needed much more than a best friend. She needed serious help from a good therapist, which she eventually got. I nearly needed counseling myself in order to figure out how to back away from her drama and neediness.

    • Maddie says:

      Excellent! I also think personal financial issues are not your friend’s issue and should not be discussed at length.

  4. Amy F says:

    In my experience, tough times tell you who your true friends are. When I was diagnosed with cancer, some people I considered good friends disappeared while others who weren’t as close became better friends.

    For me, I’m a loyal friend, but I pull back a bit when a friend going through tough times is creating her own chaos and rather than taking steps to improve the situation, seem to just want to complain after a few weeks. I’m not at all suggesting this is you, only saying that people have different levels of tolerance.

    Sometimes when people are stressed, rather than seeking professional help, they use their friends as pseudo-counsellors. Have you thought about joining a support group or getting therapy? .

  5. Lauren says:

    Yes, it’s sad that they are not there for you. But no-one is perfect so leave things for a little while and then contact them again. Keep it upbeat, as they don’t seem to want to hear bad news. Find a therapist that you can talk to, and then keep most of that to yourself.

    I remember when I told a great aunt about how sad I felt when a loved one died prematurely. She just said, kind of snappily, well, you know, dear, no-one wants to hear about those things. End of convo.

    Then when my father died, one friend emailed me and said that I must shut all of that away in my heart and never speak of him again. Then she went on with pages and pages about her latest shopping trip and all of the clothes, shoes and bags she bought. Sigh! Oh, well…again.

    Actually, I had a lot of other good friends who gave me all kinds of thoughtful advice and that really helped me. So she was wrong in that “no-one wants to hear about those things”. I just wrote off her callous disregard for my initial, raw sadness.I realized that she only liked gifts and happy times. Oh well. C’est ca la vie.

    The more things change, the more they remain the same. Some people never want to lend an ear. So as soon as I know that I am speaking to one of those types of people, I keep the convo quite superficial. It’s all we can do.

    I can also suggest that you google different sites for advice on your issues, and this will objectively help you. Counselling will also help you.Just know that you are not alone in this, if that helps at all. Also, another thing which may help is journaling. Write about the things that are troubling you and date the entries. This will help to strengthen you while you deal with everything. Hope things get better for you soon.

  6. Maddie says:

    Remember that friends and Family are not therapists. Constant complaints can quickly burn people out. Investing in counseling to vent may help all parties. When someone tells you you are burning them out, take heed. We are all only human and every single person has their own issues on their plate and their own breaking point.

    • Lori says:

      This!!!^^ A thousand times, THIS. If you find you are burning out your friends, it’s probably because you are inappropriately burdening them. We’re all human, and we all need support… turning to your friends for this once in a while is appropriate, but when you’re constantly bombarding people with your needs, don’t be surprised when they start to avoid you.

  7. Sandra says:

    Cicely, This sounds like a painful time for you. In your post, here’s what jumped out at me:

    “I don’t think my life has always been negative and riddled with problems. I’m the kind of person who always felt a friend in need was when it was time to be true friend.”

    I don’t know you, of course, but that part of your post got me thinking … Are you always the “strong one” who’s there for your mom, sister, and close friends? Are you the one they lean on in times of trouble? If that’s the case, it’s possible that they are not comfortable when roles are reversed and you are the one in need of help and comfort. Just a thought. As Irene says, you need to look at each of these individual relationships and how they work … At the same time, I also hope you have other friends and family to whom you can turn for support.

    • Mark says:

      Cicely, Sandra pointed out a well speculated possibility. I myself is the strong one in relationships be it personal and public. In many occasions I took on the role of being the rock for family and friends. I pride myself of able to do that for people I love and care.

      Yet, the first time Life kicked my butt I experienced exactly what you went through. It was such crude realization that I had no one to turn to but went to a professional therapist before completely broken down.

      I’ve made a few new friends met on internet through a self help group during that personal crisis. Ever since, we’d ring each other up ever so often to stay connected. It’s with these new friends I found helpful support in time of need.

      I still keep my old friends, sadly, I learned to accept that they cannot or would not recipricate. I gauge how much I could give freely and expect nothing in return.

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