Updated: Nov 15
It's one of the top complaints: Having a friend who doesn't seem as invested as you are. How do you manage your frustration when a friend is not reciprocating?
If I had to rank the top three concerns that women bring to me as a friendship coach, this issue would definitely be on that list. But what can you do when your friends don't initiate as much as you do? How do you know when it's all in your head or when it's a sign of actual disinterest? Is there any hope for a friendship where one person seems to be doing most of the labor? [Watch the video.]
Let's break it down:
I have three key points to help you address this situation in a way that helps to create a little more understanding and a little less frustration. One has to do with a renewed mindset, one is a tangible action step, and the other is an attitude. It takes a healthy combination of all three to begin shifting your focus and experiencing more joy in the relationships with the women you love.
1. Focus on the reception, not the invitation. (Mindset shift)
The trouble with focusing on who is initiating most is that you lose sight of what really counts: what happens when you two come together.
Now let's be clear, you are not "petty" or "sensitive" for being disappointed when you begin to feel that you're the person who's keeping the momentum in the friendship. We all want to feel desired-- even in our platonic relationships. We want to know that we are lovable and valued. Having people we love reach out to pursue us is more than a feel-good gesture-- it helps to validate us.
But if you find that you're the one who prompts most of the hangouts and texting and phone calls, consider this: If, when you get together, you each enjoy each other's company and your friends seem equally excited to be together, then see if you can find a way to focus on that, instead of who gets credit for making it happen. If you suggest getting together and your friends respond with an enthusiastic "Yes", try to find a way to be content with their enthusiasm for sharing in experiences with you.
If you happen to be the friend who suggests brunch, movie night, and happy hours, it’s normal to wonder why your friends don’t extend the same level of outreach. This observation typically leads to frustration, as it’s common to interpret our friends’ lack of initiative as an overall lack of interest. But it’s important that we don’t begin “filling in the blanks”, especially with negative assumptions. While you may feel disappointed, hoping to finally be on the receiving end of an invitation, your concern may be misplaced. The hard truth is that some women are naturally more inclined to coordinate and initiate connection. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not appreciated by their friends. [And we talk about this often on the Friend Forward podcast!]
Try this: One suggestion from fellow friendship expert Shasta Nelson is this: Instead of focusing on who initiates, shift your eyes to those who happily and eagerly embrace your invitations. If your friend says “Yes” to spending time together, find a way to appreciate that.
But for the friends who are saying "no" or consistently cancelling-- well, that is a relationship for which you might like to reconsider your investment.
In summary: It's less about who initiated and more about who receives you.
2. Give opportunities for reciprocity. (Behavior shift)
During a recent session with a client, I noticed she was strong-willed and decisive. She was likely the one in her friend group who was initiating hang-outs because she was a vocal motivator, and her friends looked to her to coordinate and make decisions. Whether consciously or unconsciously, women looked to her to set the tone for the conversations and outings.
As much of a “go-getter” as she is, I suggested she try giving others an opportunity to create their own invitations instead of operating as followers. If you often find yourself to be the “point person” for your friend group, try the same activity I suggested to my client…
Try this: If you’re leaving brunch (something you likely initiated), try saying something like, “That was awesome. Thanks for meeting me today. And hey, how about next week, you pick the place we eat at. Give me a call this week and let me know the day and place you want to meet next. — I feel like I’m always pushing my ideas for brunch spots onto you, but I’m sure you have some of your own and I can’t wait to visit a new spot with you!”
Phrasing things this way does a couple of things:
It shifts some initiation responsibility to her without accusation. The last thing you want to do is present the, “I’m always doing all the work in this relationship” accusation. That rarely ends well because it immediately makes others defend themselves.
Extending the opportunity for reciprocity also allows your friend a chance to be mindful of her outreach and to practice exercising her invitation muscle.
In summary: If you are relatively dominant in your initiative, it may help to allow other friends the space to suggest outings and prompt outreach.
3. Keep initiating. (Attitude shift)
It is never wise to keep score in any relationship, and friendships are no different. It is possible that you may be the one who initiates more than others, but it doesn’t necessarily equate to you being more invested than your friends.
The key is to try to see the ways in which your friends do enrich and add value to your friendship.
Is she a great listener? A thoughtful gift-giver? A reliable caretaker? If you train yourself to notice the ways your friends add value to the relationship, you’ll feel less disappointment and resentment. The worst thing you can do is withdraw, lessening your outreach and withholding your affection.
You may be tempted to make a point or to test her friendship, but this lack of communication and effort leads to misunderstandings and, worse, the dissolution of a good thing.
Try this: Whenever you feel yourself measuring efforts, try to think of the things your friend adds to the relationship. Also, acknowledge the fact that there are things she may do for you that you are overlooking, and to think of how much pleasure and fulfillment you receive from the overall relationship.
Zoom out from the minutiae and try to see the holistic friendship. And if there is balance overall, take it.
One final thing to do is to look at the experience from your friends’ point of view. What does it look like when you two come together? Do you have great conversation? Is it a relatively positive exchange? Does your “hangout” require spending money when she’s actually on a tight budget?
We too often play the “main character”, centering our own experiences. But to get more clarity around the situation, it helps to look at things as if you are playing the “supporting role”. Is it possible your friends would reach out more if the experience was more in line with what they’re looking for?
This is not to discourage. Quite the opposite: I encourage you to ask your friend if she wants to do something different or get together at a time that’s more suitable for her schedule. Examine how you behave once the two of you do get together and see if it’s a pleasant experience. Communicate your needs and expectations and ask questions to learn what she is looking for. You might be surprised by what you hear.
Overall, the key is to keep giving — keep communicating — and to acknowledge the ways your friends pour into you. Once you train your eyes to many forms of giving in your friendship, soon, you won’t feel such an imbalance.
[Action steps provided by resident friendship coach Danielle Bayard Jackson]
What to do when you're the friend who's always initiating
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