Tell Me About It: ‘It’s not my fault she doesn’t have many other close relationships’
PROBLEM: I am a 23-year-old woman. I have one friend, who texts me probably five times a day on WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook. I prioritise face-to-face time over time spent texting: I’ll text people for sure, but it’s usually friends in Australia and not someone I could meet for coffee next week.
I find it distressing and intrusive having a friend messaging me all the time and feel guilty for ignoring most of the messages, but it’s the only way I can control the behaviour even slightly as if I start replying to even more than a few, the frequency would go up.
My friend is very sensitive, and I get the feeling that I’m her closest friend. However, it’s not my fault and I don’t feel I should have to meet this level of need.
All the same, I am very loyal and the last thing I would want is to have to ditch her. I also don’t know if she realises that this behaviour is not normal, as I know one or two other friends have commented this to me that they have experienced the same. (In my opinion I really think she should be getting professional help).
The easy thing would be to lie and make an excuse, ‘I can’t use my phone at work’, ‘I can’t use my phone with my family’ etc. But really I’d love to just be able to say the truth: I do not want to be replying to five messages a day and be sharing every minute detail of my life, and though I love meeting face to face, I’m not signing up to constant contact, and it’s not my fault if they don’t have many other close relationships.
However, I know my friend has had some mental health issues in the past, so I know I can’t be this direct. It sounds very harsh when I try to word it all.
I basically don’t want to fall out with my friend, but I want to set boundaries without telling lies and without telling my friend to stop trying to contact me.
ADVICE: Your last sentence sets out what needs to happen and if you don’t do this, it is likely that the friendship will turn sour. You are already applying a dose of resentment and resistance to the friendship and hoping that your friend will see the light and pull back from so much contact.
Friendship is a hugely important factor in our well-being and we all know that real friendship contains bumps and challenges.
Yet, from what you say, your friend has done this to other people and has not learned from her experience, so without some overt conversation she is unlikely to change her behaviour. In fairness to her, she probably has not been told by others that she is too intensive and so she might not understand that her actions push people away.
When we are fearful of exclusion, it often results in our holding on too tight to what we have and this level of need (for reassurance that we are wanted) has the effect of realising our fear – rejection. Your friend may need professional help, as you say, but in the meantime, you are a friend and with this comes some responsibility to her.
Ask to meet her for coffee and when you are there tell her you want to talk about the friendship. Ask her what she thinks the issues are as, if she is able to answer this, you have a much greater chance that she will take charge of the changes that need to happen, and she may also feel less corrected or blamed as she is the one who is naming the problems.
Tell her that you want to keep the friendship and ask her how she thinks this might best happen – having her take some ownership over what will make the friendship work may give her some confidence and power over its survival.
For your part, you might say that you will not discuss this with other people, so she does not have to worry that gossip is happening behind her back. One conversation will not suffice as changing habits takes considerable time and we usually need lots of support to create lasting change.
Can you genuinely offer this? Or will you end up monitoring her and feeling disappointed if she has lapses of messaging you, looking for reassurance. We all have setbacks on the pathway to change (if you have ever been on a diet, you know this) and if you start this process, it is incumbent on you to follow it through for a reasonable time – this would be at least three months before you can reassess the friendship.
Friendship is a hugely important factor in our well-being and we all know that real friendship contains bumps and challenges. What happens next in your friendship will determine whether it turns into acquaintance or something more substantial. It will not just demand acknowledgment and acceptance from your friend, but you too will need to commit to its survival.
Your attitude now will have a huge influence on what happens next and this is your responsibility: is your attitude one of irritability or one of determination to mend?
The ball is in your court.