I’ve had three big conversations with him discussing how each of our expectations for the friendship aren’t aligned, but somehow I’m always left feeling guilty — and then I compromise. This friendship has turned into something similar to me feeling obligated to hang out with my older sibling. How do I deal with a high-maintenance friend? Is it time to break it off?
Can’t Deal: Trust and respect are key components of a healthy friendship, and they are lacking in the friendship you describe. It sounds like you know what you want to do. Not wanting to talk to or be around someone is enough of a reason not to be their friend anymore.
You’ve been clear about what your capacity is and tried your best to manage your friend’s expectations and yet, you constantly feel bad. Are you okay not having this friend in your life anymore? What do you get out of the friendship presently? Does it make you feel more bad than good? Is this actually your best friend, or are you still friends out of obligation or a shared history?
Friendships evolve over time, but having fundamentally different ideas of what your friendship is supposed to be is more than an evolution. After already having “three big conversations” about this, you can decide if it’s worth being explicit about what’s at stake one more time. This may sound like, “I don’t feel heard in our friendship, and I’ve started to feel resentful. If this continues, I can’t keep being your friend. Can we talk about it?”
If you haven’t really committed to your boundaries then your friend probably sees them as suggestions. Let’s be honest: People will often take what they can get. For instance, if you’ve said you can’t talk all the time, and your friend keeps texting you and you respond right away, you haven’t reinforced the boundary. Instead, you can respond less often or with a set time to catch up to manage expectations on a daily basis. Boundaries that are verbally stated usually require a behavioral reinforcement.
You keep compromising on what you want, and it’s clear you want to spare your friend’s feelings at the expense of your own happiness. This makes you kind, but it demonstrates a lack of commitment to your own needs. Setting boundaries in relationships isn’t about trying to change the other person but rather protecting your own finite time and energy. The hard truth here is that regardless of if your friend is “high-maintenance,” you’ve maintained that dynamic.
Friendships are supposed to be supportive and nurturing, not demanding or controlling. There’s a difference between someone who is clueless and someone who blatantly ignores boundaries to get what they want. The latter can be a sign that the friendship is manipulative and unhealthy.
If you feel like you’ve given your friend the time and opportunity to respect your needs, and he hasn’t, then you probably shouldn’t be friends anymore.
Be honest while still honoring what this friendship meant to you. You can say something like: “I’ve really valued our time together while living in [name of city] and bonding over [shared hobby/interest]. For a while now, I’ve felt like our friendship has changed, and I no longer feel like we’re compatible.” Be specific about why you are ending the friendship by focusing on your needs. “I feel like I’ve tried to communicate what I want in this friendship, and I haven’t felt heard.” Or consider staying focused on the dynamic vs. what he is or isn’t doing. “I feel like I’m expected to be available to you all the time.” Be clear that you’re ending the friendship and that this isn’t a discussion: “I think it’s time to move on from our friendship, but I’ll always value the time we shared.”
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Avoiding this conversation because of the guilt you’ve been feeling won’t save you from feeling bad. This may hurt your friend, but being honest and intentional about how you feel about your friendship is actually a generous and loving act. Instead of continuing to feel resentful, clearly acknowledging that the friendship isn’t working allows you both to focus on ones that do.