Are you being drained by an "obligatory friend"?
Updated: Sep 26
Ever feel like you HAVE to be friends with someone?
You’re spending time with your friend, Breanna, and listening to her talk about this week’s love crisis when you realize you’ve been zoned out for the last few minutes. You stealthily check your phone once again to see what time it is, eager to bring this hangout to a close. Then you catch yourself, and you’re hit with a wave of guilt.
Why are you disinterested?
Why are you so eager to leave?
Why do you keep saying yes to spending time together when deep down, you’re really not feeling it?
Maybe it’s because she’s become an obligatory friend, a woman whose friendship you maintain because you feel like you have to. Yikes.
Today we’re going to explore:
The signs that your friendship has become obligatory
5 common reasons women choose to stay
The disadvantages of maintaining an obligatory friendship
[Prefer to listen instead of read? Click here to hear the content on the Friend Forward Podcast.]
We’ll also provide 2 action steps you can take if you’re ready to gracefully and compassionately bring things to a close.
We’re talking about an obligatory friendship, not another woman who is less than, boring, or uninteresting. Whenever we determine something is no longer for us, we have to resist vilifying the other person or making it look like they’re inadequate. When we use the phrase “obligatory friend”, we’re speaking to what the dynamic has become and less about who this person is and what she lacks.
Signs that perhaps your friendship has fallen into a state of obligation:
You’re putting in a lot of work to maintain the conversation.
You’re no longer interested in her life updates.
You’re checking in out of a sense of duty, not powered by genuine desire to spend time together.
You’re dreading the time you’re about to spend together.
Why do we keep these friends around? Why does this happen?
It may be that we did come together under circumstances that were important to us at one point in time. Perhaps it used to add value, or we had shared interests or life experiences. But if today the friendship is only functioning because you feel like you have to make it work, then yes, this would qualify as an obligatory friendship.
Before we outline WHY we stay, we want to share a client’s story (details changed for privacy).
We had a coaching session with a client we’ll call Tiffany, a work-from-home mom of two young kids, and she was struggling to have a hard conversation with a friend who was dominating her time. This friend always came over unannounced, asked about spending time together 40 times a week, and was slowly dominating all of Tiffany’s time. But Tiffany kept saying, “Yes,” even though she felt the conversations were often too negative and she didn’t have the time to give.
When we began to explore the reasons for which she felt compelled to maintain this friendship, she revealed each and every one of the following reasons.
5 Reasons Women Stay in Obligatory Friendships:
We owe it to history. We feel like we’ve already invested so much time into this friendship that now it’s just...what we do. It will feel like we have “nothing to show” for all those years we spent in the friendship. Maybe this friend added value at one time, but we need to honor what our needs, interests, goals, and lifestyle is NOW.
We don’t want to hurt her feelings. Releasing a friendship that no longer serves us doesn’t detract from the fact we can be considered someone who is generous and a good friend.
We won’t have anybody else. We’d rather keep this friendship, so we at least have something.
We owe it to her out of loyalty. We feel guilty for wanting to leave a friendship with a woman who was once really supportive and there for us. We don’t want to seem disloyal.
If we don’t stay friends with her, who else will? We’re putting the pressure of “caregiver” on this friendship, and that’s just too much pressure for anyone.
Disadvantages of continuing to opt-in to a friendship you’re not genuinely interested in:
Resentment. You’re investing time, energy, and emotional bandwidth you can’t afford. We think continuing this friendship is an honorable thing, but then we’re complaining about it to others.
Dishonesty. We’ve talked about the 13 traits of a good friend, and according to psychologists who specialize in friendships, one of those qualities is honesty. We may not be walking around lying to people, but another version of honesty is showing up authentically as yourself in your friendships. If the other person is under the impression that you’re showing up with a genuine desire to continue the friendship, it’s just not sincere.
It impacts other friendships. We only have so much cognitive capacity to maintain a limited number of close relationships. We’re dedicating space that we could be using on other friends who fill us up and add value. We only have so much emotional bandwidth and so many hours in a day.
What if we entertained the “obligatory friend’s” perspective? What if we were told that the friend who hangs out with us all of the time only does so out of obligation? We might have a series of reactions like, “I don’t want her pity” or “Don’t do me any favors!”. We’d begin to question the sincerity of your time together. It might be hurtful, but we’d probably feel liberation being released from that kind of relationship.
We owe it to this obligatory friend to let her be with others who enjoy her company and are interested in the same things. She deserves that.
How do we let go of a friend?
Before doing an absolute cut-off, first consider if this issue could be resolved by decreasing the frequency of spending time together or re-categorizing the friendship. Some of us are disappointed in the friendship because we just hang out too often or one-on-one instead of in groups, so maybe we can rethink the dynamics. Alternatively, maybe we change our expectations of the friendship: instead of categorizing her as our “go-to friend”, maybe she’s someone we just enjoy happy hour with now and again.
If you’re at the point where you’re ready to let go of the friendship, it’s time to have the conversation. In our program Friendship Elevated, we give scripts, strategies, and coaching sessions to talk through this. But we can tell you that to guide the conversation, make sure you make it about YOU and not them. You should not be using phrases like “I just think you’re too _____”. This can be hurtful and make people defensive. We need to highlight what we need.
Here’s your friend advice homework :
Write down the names of the people you’re mostly spending time with or you count as a friend.
Identify the reasons for which you’ve elected to keep these friendships going. Hopefully you’re seeing something about value added.
Look at how many of those reasons were things like, “We’ve been friends forever” or “It’s just what we do.”
Listen to friendship coach Danielle Bayard Jackson on the Friend Forward Podcast for more insight.]
This helps you see the friendship in a tangible way and then begin to take some action step. If you have further questions, we’d love to talk to you about it! You can book a 75-minute one-on-one coaching session or join our Friendship Elevated program, an 8-week coaching program with other women that includes 4-5 coaching sessions (price increases October 1).
Until then, we’re rooting for you always on your ongoing journey to better female friendships.
Danielle Jackson, Friendship Coach and Speaker
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