Friends can offer support in so many ways: soup when you’re sick, words of comfort or distraction after a bad day, or a spare bedroom when you need to get away.
Strong friendships are based on mutual support, however. In a one-sided friendship, the communication, time, and effort needed to sustain the connection typically falls to one person.
“They will seek you out when they need you. You can’t seem to reach them when you need them.”
“One-sided friends can leave you confused and hurt. You show interest in their well-being, but they don’t show interest in you or your needs.”
If one of your friends feels unbalanced, we have strategies for keeping them from draining you dry.
There are different forms of healthy friends.
These signs can help you identify a friendship.
It’s all about them
A good friend listens with empathy. If you catch them in a crisis, they might say so, but they’ll make sure to check in with you later.
In a one-sided friendship, most conversations are about their needs and interests. When you ask how they have been, they will share their most recent struggles and then offer a token.
They will turn the conversation back to themselves if you start talking, saying, “Oh, that reminds me of…” or “That\’s just like what happened to me the other day…”
They tend to decide what you do and insist on having things their way, instead of considering your opinion.
They don’t open up
“When one person doesn’t share much, friendship can feel unbalanced.”
Some people have a harder time opening up about emotional distress or other difficulties. They might deflect questions about their personal life and avoid sharing anything beyond superficial details about themselves.
They spin it back to you, creating a different kind of awkwardness.
“Your interactions might feel incomplete, even though their reluctance to share doesn’t relate to your feelings toward you or your friendship. It is difficult to relate to someone when you don’t know who they are.”
You can’t count on them
In times of distress, support from friends can be crucial.
True friends make an effort to help out whenever possible. Feeling unsure whether you can actually turn to someone when you need them, on the other hand, provides little relief. An absence of emotional support can leave you feeling isolated and more miserable than before.
Perhaps you recently volunteered to help your friend move at the last minute. But when you find your dream apartment and ask for moving help, they fail to reply to any of your messages.
They could also.
- Cancel or forget plans frequently.
- You can show annoyance or frustration with no reason.
- break your trust by sharing personal information with others
Their behavior follows a pattern
People need more from others than they can give. A friend who is in a lot of stress might lean on others a little more than usual.
Of course, that’s exactly what friendship means. You help friends when they need you and lift them up when they’re feeling down. With healthy friendship, however, this typically balances out. When you need assistance, you shouldn’t doubt their willingness to help when possible.
A friend who accepts your support but fails to reciprocate may not have your best interests at heart.
It’s convenient for them
You may notice that you are always the one to make contact, and your friend only gets in touch when they need something. They may need help, someone to talk to, money, transportation, or another favor. They never text or call to see how you are.
“You might have to go to them. They don’t come to your side of town to hang out. Sometimes, where your friend lives, it can be a good reason to go there. It is possible that they are just using you.”
It takes work to be friends.
Life circumstances can temporarily stop someone from devoting their energy to a friendship. Good communication is a key component of healthy friendship, so you will probably have some idea of what is going on.
“It can be pretty painful when someone keeps taking but never giving, even if you don’t offer time, affection, or gifts. Wanting affection from someone who claims to care is not unusual.”
It is normal to be upset by an unbalanced friendship and not be needing more. You put in the effort.
Your friend says they care, but their consistent disinterest loudly suggests otherwise. This can cause plenty of emotional turmoil.
They leave you questioning yourself
A balanced friendship can help strengthen your feelings of belonging.
“It may be better to believe a friend doesn’t care about you. You might be feeling supported and strengthened instead.”
- You have offended them.
- feel rejected
- You have interests or a personality that are not there.
When you start wondering if the fault lies with you, you might start to criticize perceived failures and avoid other friends for fear of driving them away, too.
You don’t know what to expect
Your friend might occasionally do something to reinforce your faith in their friendship but never follow through. They might text something along the lines of, “Hey, just thinking about you,” or “It\’s been too long!” Plans to get together soon.
They waste no time in asking for your help. The shift flattens your excitement and makes you think they value only what you can do for them.
“They might fall back into their usual habit of failing to respond even if they don’t need anything. You believe they don’t mean to hurt you, but their neglect makes you doubt.”
“Sometimes people get so wrapped up in their own concerns that they don’t have enough energy to help others. Their lack of interest can leave you feeling unfulfilled.”
You still feel lonely
It is natural to want to maintain strong friends. It is possible that isolation can have serious mental and physical health consequences. A friend who returns the comfort you offer with little consideration of your emotional needs may not be able to ease your loneliness.
“Emotional support requires emotional energy. When you devote time and energy to a friendship when you don’t get anything in return, you can feel disconnected and have little energy for other friends.”
When a friendship is unbalanced, you might be wary of trusting it.
“Even when your friendship feels unbalanced, you don’t have to give up on it.”
These strategies can help you bring it back into balance.
Have a conversation
“One-sided friendships can be contributed to by different factors. Even if your friend hasn’t felt able to share, they may not realize how much you feel.”
You can let them know how their behavior affects you and give them an opportunity to share what is going on.
“I” statements and other good communication techniques can help you avoid sounding accusatory.
“I have noticed that I always reach out to someone. I think if I didn’t talk first, we wouldn’t talk at all, that makes me sad I am wondering if there is a reason why I don’t hear from you much.”
Change up your interactions
Pinpointing the exact location of your friendship can often provide solutions.
“They might never reply to messages with a few words. You think they don’t want to talk to you, but you discover they dislike texting. You should have conversations over the phone.”
They may come to your house frequently but never invite you over. You would like to visit them occasionally, but are unsure if you can. They tell you that they live in a small apartment with a family and have very little space for guests, so they decide to meet at the park.
Take a step back
It is perfectly okay to invest less energy into others when you are drained. It is possible to paint a clearer picture of your friendship by spending a week or two talking.
If they text after a few days, they should say, “Are you OK?” They may have a hard time reaching out first. It is worth considering if that friendship is really serving your needs when you haven\’t heard anything for 2 weeks.
“You might find that you don’t mind recognizing the friendship for what it is. Maybe you have other friends that are healthy and balanced and don’t mind having one friend who wanders in and out of your life.”
Ask for what you need
“People might hesitate to offer emotional support or more tangible assistance if they don’t know you’ll accept it.”
It is never helpful to assume someone knows what you need.
It doesn\’t mean you want them to come over if you tell a friend, “I feel sad and lonely tonight.” Some friends might say, “I\’ll be right over,” but others might not.
Asking for it clearly can prevent confusion.
One-sided friendship can cause distress. A friendship can only be carried by one person. Even trying to sustain the relationship can leave you exhausted and resentful.
“One sad truth of life is that friendship don’t always thrive, no matter how much time, energy, and love you put into them.”
These tips can help you end it.
Make your intentions clear
They insist they care about your friendship, but they continue to cancel plans and ignore your texts when you tell them how you feel.
A good next step? Let them know that you will not be holding up the friendship alone.
“It hurts to keep trying to reach you when you don’t seem to care. I can’t keep investing time in this friendship when you don’t do the same.”
Stop reaching out
You need to stop reaching out after you end the friendship. Even if you miss them or worry about them, stick with your decision.
You ended the friendship because it hurt you. Getting back in touch can help them continue their advantage.
Being a good friend can be difficult. They need to make a commitment to improve if they really value your friendship.
If you want to give them another chance, you should wait until they get in touch.
Get support from people you trust
Losing a friend hurts even when you decide to end it.
Spending time with other loved ones can help you feel less alone and remind you that people care for you.
The loss of any friendship can take a toll on well-being, but realizing someone you care for doesn’t have the same regard for you can cause deep emotional pain. Besides loneliness and confusion, you might also notice:
If you’re struggling to cope with painful or unpleasant emotions, therapy can have a lot of benefit.
A therapist can help you come to terms with and process feelings of grief, loneliness, or depression and teach skills for building new, healthy friendships.
When they need help, friends always make sure to offer it to you.
“You shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting some of the same support you give because everyone needs help from time to time.”
Crystal Raypole worked as an editor for GoodTherapy. Her interests include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. She is committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.