When Is It OK to End a One-Sided Friendship?

A friend of mine recently pared down her "friends" list on Facebook. She said she was cutting out people she hasn't physically seen or talked to or chatted with in at least a year, family excluded. I survived the cut, but it got me thinking about supposed friendships in my life (real life, that is) that are not serving me. For example, there is a woman I used to work with who I've been there for on several occasions (picking up her kids, listening to her vent about her marriage, etc.), but who is never there or available for me when I need someone. Every time I have called on her for help, or even just an ear, she has had some reason for not being there. She will call me about something she's stressed about, and as soon as I start talking about something I'm dealing with, she has to go. It's always about her and her needs. I have always been a caretaker and enjoy helping people, but in a few isolated cases I sometimes feel taken advantage of. I guess my question is whether it's appropriate to "end" a friendship that feels one-sided, and if so, how to go about doing that. I think I would feel guilty and selfish. —Friend for Now
Dear Friend for Now,

You know what they say: “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” I guess in this case, your part is the friend part and she’s the “in need” part. You say she calls on you when she needs help, but she’s never around when you could use a hand. It is wonderful to be able to help people, and some folks seem to be natural-born caregivers, but if you’re feeling taken advantage of, perhaps you should say so, directly, to your friend. Initiate a conversation about the meaning of friendship and helping hands, and see what she has to say. Then you could reply, if you like, and share your feelings. This could be a way to resolve an issue that has been festering for you. It might lead to a deepening of the relationship and real understanding of each other.

On the other hand, if a dialogue doesn’t develop and you don’t believe your feelings are heard and respected, say that, too. Tell her, if you think it’s appropriate, that unless your relationship becomes more balanced, you are thinking about terminating it. It seems apparent to me that you are not getting what you need from the friendship.

Friendship implies balance between two people; it may seesaw sometimes if one person is in a stickier patch than the other, but both partners have to know that they can—must, even—both give and receive.

You write that just thinking about ending the relationship, one-sided though it seems to be, makes you feel guilty and selfish. That’s an important piece of information. What does that mean about how you think about yourself? Must you always be the caretaker? Do you always have to be ready to help your friend out? Do you feel guilty when you discover that you, too, have needs that should be recognized and met? Why would that be? Do your needs feel less important? Do you feel less important or deserving of consideration and understanding? A good relationship means being able to both give and take, a relationship between equal partners.

Friendship implies balance between two people; it may seesaw sometimes if one person is in a stickier patch than the other, but both partners have to know that they can—must, even—both give and receive. Things can’t always go one way. It’s really important for people to know when they’ve had enough and to take care of themselves. After all, if you can’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anybody else, either. Before takeoff, the flight attendant advises you, should an emergency arise, to always put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others in need. There’s a reason for that.

Thank you for writing about this important question. Many good-hearted people find themselves with problems like yours, and I hope you arrive at the positive resolution you deserve.

Take care,

Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
  • Leave a Comment
  • Carlton

    February 19th, 2016 at 8:07 AM

    You said that you survived the cut, and that makes you feel good I am guessing? Or just wondering if the next time you will be deemed not worthy enough to remain included? People who do stuff like that I do NOT need in my life anyway, so fine, cut me out.

  • Jan

    February 19th, 2016 at 12:37 PM

    People are just selfish, and I think that there are going to be some times when we are guilty of this. That does not make it right but we are human and that is how we are. You just have to weigh it all out and decide if this is a person who is going to be worth the effort.

  • Rob

    February 20th, 2016 at 5:28 AM

    any time that anything is one sided indicates to me that the other person really doesn’t care about you so it is going to be wise to cut free from that

  • Tiff

    February 20th, 2016 at 11:17 AM

    If the only time that they seem to need me is when they need something
    then I don’t need that in my life

  • arlo

    February 22nd, 2016 at 10:44 AM

    Why continue to have a person in your life who only causes you to wonder and worry? Being friends should be easy, not where you are always having to think about what they want and stuff. It has to be something natural and not forced because if it is then it is sort of defeating the true purpose of what friendship really should be.

  • MauRA

    February 22nd, 2016 at 3:37 PM

    I have often wondered if there is something wrong with me that I always seem to attract the takers into my life. I never find someone like me I guess who is more into doing for other people. It always seems like the people that I get are the ones who just want to take advantage of me.

  • Mariah

    April 28th, 2017 at 3:41 AM

    The same case applies to me…I just cant get it

  • penelope

    February 23rd, 2016 at 10:22 AM

    There is nothing in the friend charter that stated that you had to remain tied to this person in friendship forever. There are always going to be people that you stay close with and then those that you grow apart from. That is the way life works, and if they are mature then they will understand all of this. It might not be a one sided thing wither. It could be something that both have been looking to do but that neither was brave enough to take the first step.

  • Hope

    February 25th, 2016 at 2:11 PM

    We should all have enough sense to know what to do with someone that is a toxicity in our lives

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