Most of us have at least one friend who expects a little bit more than we can give. She usually describes herself as “sensitive”- meaning easily offended and let down when her expectations are not met. This not only pains you and makes you feel like a terrible friend, but it also exhausts you, trying to keep up with her demands, - all the while seemingly failing at every turn.
You know your friend is a good person. You know she probably holds these expectations because these are the kinds of things she would do for you. You know she doesn’t think she is demanding and she doesn’t think her expectations are unreasonable!
She might be the perfect friend. She might cook for you if you are sick, offer to watch your kids while you are away, loan you money, visit when you are in hospital and do many other things you are thankful for (but unable or unwilling) to offer in return. You question if you are selfish. She will always make time for you, and always prioritises you, and you feel awful when you are too busy or tired to do the same.
You’re not a bad friend or a terrible person. You are normal. So is your friend. You are just different. You know she is a good friend, and you want to keep her, but you don’t know how to stop letting her down, or how to be an equally good friend to her in return. So how do you navigate this?
Firstly, don’t accept more than you are willing to give. Examples include: Don’t ask her to babysit your kids all the time if you don’t have the time or desire to return the favour. Pay your own way and spend only what you can afford. Set financial limits on gift giving. If she cooks for you when you are sick, repay her by having her over or taking her out for dinner when you recover. Don’t borrow money from her if you wouldn’t or couldn't lend it to her if she needed it. Spend time with her as often as you would like instead of as often as she would like – but do make sure there is consistency in your commitment to spend time with her, and there are times you invite her for no other reason but to spend time with her.
Of course, it doesn’t need to be an eye for an eye either! One of the most important thing your demanding friend wants is acknowledgement. Sing her praises and she will purr like a kitten, I assure you. This alone, on a consistent basis may be enough. Of course, with your demanding friend, there will always be times that you didn’t meet her expectations. She will usually let you know this in no uncertain terms! She is “Sensitive” remember?! Lol Being angry at her for feeling hurt will not help the situation and you wont feel very good about yourself either if you respond in anger! In extreme cases, you may lose her. Only time would tell if that were such a bad thing, but I hope you don't want to lose her and feel you'd miss her. She would miss you!
When you let your friend down, and you will, make an action plan to help her feel better. Essentially her feelings are hurt because she doesn’t feel important to you, or that her level of friendship is reciprocated. In this instance, praise is needed, but words will not be enough. If you weren’t there for her when she needed you (for any reason) acknowledge it and apologise. No justifications, excuses or reasons. Instead of going over all the things you can’t do for her in your mind, and justifying them, spend time thinking about what you CAN do. Then do them. All your friend wants is to feel valuable to you. There are many ways to tell someone this, or even show them once, but consistency will be key.
The chances are high that your friend is insecure. She probably has low self esteem, internalizes many things as rejection that are not really about herself, and thinks she needs to be perfect to have friends – which is maybe why she does everything that she does. It may be a relief to her if you say no to some of her generous offers, and find ways to let her know she doesn’t need to be perfect. If she stops expecting herself to be perfect, maybe she will stop expecting you to be perfect too! If you can get her to feel secure, you may find her neediness disappears almost instantly. If not, encourage her to find other hobbies, and social outlets because sometimes neediness can stem from loneliness. You can’t fix that alone, but you can help by offering to join a book club with her (even if you don’t intend to stay joined) or encourage her to sign up to a class at her local gym (or whatever other interest she has that may lead to more social interactions.) Maybe you have a friend with similar circumstances who would be better suited to her? Introduce them!
Of course, insecurities and poor self-esteem, self-worth and loneliness may not be the only issues or reasons causing her to be quietly, (or not so quietly) demanding as the case may be! Sometimes our ability to be there for others is tied to our own lifestyles. Some people have more time to put in more effort, and their situation may allow them to prioritise friendships more than yours allows you to reciprocate. Neither of you may have consciously realised this. Perhaps if you were single with no kids you’d be more available, or if you didn’t have to work, or if your partner didn’t work away, or if he was more like her partner, or if you had a partner. Maybe if you could drive and lived closer, or earned the same amount of money, or didn’t work shifts….. You get my drift. All of these things will affect our ability to be the friend we want to be… in a perfect world.
Alas, the world is not perfect, so just focus on what you can do consistently, then put your money where your mouth is and do it!
Note: Sometimes your friend may be upset by an implication that you aren’t close friends, because you are too busy, because you didn’t turn to them in a time of need, because you didn’t seem upset by something she would find upsetting. Don’t get into the semantics of what happened or didn’t happen or why. You don’t have to be as close to her as she wants you to be, but if she is important to you, set about showing her that with words and actions. Don’t tell someone they are important to you and do nothing to support that with actions. Sometimes a gesture, however small, especially when met with consistency, understanding, empathy and kindness is all it takes. Maybe just remind yourself to ask her how she is at least once a week?
What are your ideas on small things we could do to help our friends feel secure, valued and important?
Your best Friend ForNever