“I would rather die than go to this birthday dinner,” she sobbed from the couch, tears streaming down her face. “It is so excruciating to be in this friend group, but I have nobody else.”
As a therapist, I see countless young women involved in friendships where they’re constantly feeling put down, betrayed, and alone. Too many educated, brilliant women are settling for less-than-fulfilling friendships. Why?
The fear of being alone is a huge reason why people settle for friendships that don’t bring out the best in them. As we transition into adulthood, our personal values evolve and our needs change. Recognizing that a friendship doesn’t bring out the best in us can be a painful and unsettling acknowledgement.
Here are 5 indicators we’re settling in a friendship:
1. You feel immense dread when the person reaches out to you. Dread is a sign that our internal boundaries have been crossed. Maybe we know deep down that the friendship isn’t really working out, but we continue engaging out of loneliness or boredom. Over time, this can lead to us to feelings of self-resentment and anxiety.
2. You feel you aren’t growing in the relationship. Examine how you feel after spending time with this person. Do you feel empty or alone? Emotionally drained? Ask yourself, “Does this friendship bring me joy?” If it’s not an absolutely resounding “YES,” maybe it’s time to reconsider.
3. The friendship is one-sided. Social media has changed the way we experience effort and expectations in our friendships. Instagram “likes” are not a replacement for face-to-face contact and intimate conversations. If you’ve noticed the person doesn’t reach out unless you reach out first or is virtually impossible to track down, this might be an indicator that the friendship may not be as important to the other person.
4. They only reach out when it’s convenient for them and flake when something better comes along. When they do make plans, they’re often at the last minute and you’re constantly wondering whether or not they will actually show up this time. Instability and inconsistency in a friendship can create feelings of distrust. If it’s hard to differentiate whether they are in your life out of convenience or because you truly enjoy each other’s presence, you may want to reconsider the friendship.
5. You don’t feel heard. You’ve directly communicated your frustrations and concerns to the other person and have been ignored or minimized. Healthy relationships are built on a foundation of shared trust, respect and communication. Without these components, any friendship is likely to deteriorate regardless of how long you’ve known the person.
It it’s important to acknowledge that just because a friendship fit into your life perfectly at one point, that doesn’t mean it always will. If the friendship is important to you, you might want to reach out and get clarity. Something as simple as checking in and asking, “Are we okay?” might lead to a deeper conversation. If you’re feeling hesitant to reach out, think about about where the doubt stems from.
The ability to empathize, feel heard and feel safe enough to share your needs with another person is what helps strengthen a friendship and keep it alive. On the other hand, sometimes it is necessary to create space in our lives for new people and new opportunities. As we get older, it is common for our roles to change and for our social circles to get smaller. However, we can still love people and want the best from them even though they may not be present in our lives.