Hi MR. How do I deal with an energy-sucking friend? I love her. She is someone who I consider to be one of my best friends since high school! But she requires so much attention. She’s so dramatic. Sometimes I feel like we’re dating because she gets mad if I don’t answer my phone, or if I’ve been busy for a few weeks and can’t hang out. When we do hang out, it’s often a one-way dialogue where I sit and listen to her boy problems. She’s a great person and a good friend when push comes to shove. Like I know if I needed her she’d be there. But she is so exhausting. What do I do? (And please don’t say “cut her out of your life!” like everyone else.)
A truth of life is that some very good friends suck. They suck the energy right out of your body, mind and soul no matter their loyalty nor your joint history nor their humor, which can feel like a crap thing to admit. Aren’t good friends meant to energize? Shouldn’t best friends replenish empty emotional wells? Is a friend even a friend if they don’t fill you all the way up?
Yes, yes, and in theory, yes, but another truth of life is that friendship isn’t that black and white.
First thing’s first: If your friend is in any way abusive or routinely puts you in unsafe/uncomfortable situations, then she is a toxic force in your life, and it’s then that I’d tell you to “cut her out.” If it turns out you don’t like your friend at all (because she’s annoying, or because [insert other vague, hard-to-pinpoint descriptors]) then maybe she isn’t actually your friend? Evaluate this part and we can talk later if need be.
But if a true friend’s only friendship flaw is that she drains you, cutting off her supply to the well may not be the answer that revives you — not if this is someone who also brings you joy. If this friendship, albeit a sometimes tiring one, is mutual in respect and love; if there are giant chunks of this person that not only reassure you why it is you like her but also make you feel inherently understood and comforted and happy, hold on tight. I believe that you can keep the exhausting humans in your life so long as they are true friends, but you have to manage your time with them and around them. You have to set boundaries. This is a fun thing my therapist and I are working on right now!
Setting boundaries means getting really clear about what you need. What do you need to make this friendship feel like an equal partnership rather than a one-woman climb up a steep hill with a whiny human backpack asking for dating advice she’s going to ignore anyway? More alone time? More independence? To be less “on the clock” for your friend’s every whim? Then try to understand what it is about her that exhausts you. Is it the endless phone calls about her problems? Is it her incessant complaining? Her habitual gossiping? Does she get upset with you for not giving her enough attention? Identify these things, decide where your comfort zones are versus what sets you off, and then, before she begins another round of emotional straw-sucking, lay out what you can and cannot handle. It doesn’t have to be so heavy; she doesn’t have to know the rude inner workings of your brain. Here’s what she can know:
– That you love her.
– That you care about her.
– The things you love talking to her about.
– That you’d love to talk about literally any other topic with her besides X — not because you don’t love or care about her, but because friendship is about respecting wants and needs, and these are yours, and you’re trying to find mutual ground.
If it’s not the topic that drains you but the amount of time she requires, give her the friendship equivalent of office hours and stick to them. Let her know that you’re a better friend when you’re otherwise rested, clear-headed and decompressed and then, this is the hardest part, do not give in. Don’t answer the phone if you don’t want to. Texts are not ticking bombs waiting to be detonated — they can go unanswered. Don’t engage when she’s in “a mood” and you’re feeling passive aggressive.
The kind of friend you’re meant to keep will understand, even if it’s an “eventually” situation. Be patient. Sometimes friendships need a software update. You can charge your battery while you’re waiting.
Ask us questions by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “ASK MR A QUESTION,” or leave yours in the comments.