“Dear Aunt Josephine, a couple of months ago I met a new friend while we were both out walking our dogs. She was really friendly and chatty and invited me to go for coffee. We had lots in common and quickly became close. She was very open about how she was still struggling after coming out of a long-term relationship two years ago, and I sympathised because I’ve been there myself.
But I’m starting to find our friendship really suffocating. She rings me daily to talk about how lonely and miserable she is (she recently moved into the area) and I dread seeing her name flash up on my phone. I’ve started to make excuses for not meeting up, but it’s hard because we both work from home and she seems to think I’m always available.
This isn’t the first time that I’ve felt overwhelmed by the demands made on me by a friend. I always seem to give a lot of energy to certain friendships without getting much in return, and it’s exhausting. I feel sorry for my new friend because she’s going through a hard time and she hasn’t made many friends here yet, but I can’t keep this up. What should I do?”
Dear Conflicted, your friend probably hasn’t made many other friends yet because she’s directing all her time and attention onto you. It’s hard when you move to a new place, especially after a break-up, but it sounds like you have become her surrogate boyfriend/tour guide/counsellor. You are none of these things, and if you were, you should at least be getting paid for it (the last two anyway).
You also say that you always end up with friends who need a lot. Someone wise once told me that the same people keep showing up in our lives to teach us a lesson. Maybe this is what has happened here. You are obviously a caring and conscientious person, but maybe this is to your detriment in certain situations. Perhaps others sense this obligation in you, and use it to their own advantage.
It might be worth looking at why you seem to end up being the rescuer. Is this a pattern that started early in life? Try to pinpoint why you end up feeling this alternating guilt/resentment in your relationships. A good friendship goes both ways. You are not just someone’s 24-hour free helpline. And at the risk of sounding harsh, your friend’s relationship ended two years ago, not two months. At some point she has to move on, or at least start trying to find some positives. But this is harder to do if she’s being allowed to wallow, unintentionally or not, because of your good nature.
In a practical sense, it would be good to start drawing some boundaries with her that will break this cycle. Tell her that you have a new work rule and you can’t be disturbed between the hours of 9am and 5pm. If she does call and carries on, just tell her nicely that you have to go. Or don’t pick up! You could also explain that you’re not a trained counsellor – you can suggest that it might be beneficial for her to go and see one to work through her thoughts. You could also try going to a group activity when you next meet up, as it will be a good opportunity for her to meet other people and it will change the usual topic of conversation. The truth is that her happiness is not your responsibility. You can still be friends, but keep it on your terms. The fact is, she is a grown woman who survived on her own before meeting you, and she will continue to survive and hopefully thrive in the future, whether you are friends or not.”
Journalist, life coach & author Josephine holds a certificate in holistic counselling but is best known for giving out good advice. Ask Aunt Josephine a question by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Unfortunately, Aunt Josephine can’t enter into personal correspondence.
Stock photograph by Unsplash/Bella the Brave.