You Need Some Space
The line between being a good friend and being an overbearing one is thin. Here’s how to walk it.
By Maria Alvarado, Savannah College of Arts and Design
Everyone has that friend they love to spend time and share all their secrets with.
Friends can be an essential part of life: closer than family, much-needed support during hard times and the best confidants. True friends are hard to find, so when one of them finally enters your life, you want to make sure that they feel how important they are.
At the same time, nobody wants to be pointed out as “the bad friend.” The bad friend is the one who usually doesn’t reply texts or pick up the phone when there’s an emergency; doesn’t ask why their friend looks unhappy and constantly forgets that they made plans to hang out. Since the distinction between a bad and a good friend is pretty clear, it’s no surprise that most people go above-and-beyond to show that they deserve to be categorized as the latter.
But, what happens when a friend needs more time than there is available? What happens when every text is an emergency text, and grudges are held when those texts are not immediately replied to?
The issue in these friendships can be summarized in one word: dependency. Dependent people are those who cannot leave their comfort zone. In friendships, dependent friends are the ones who always need to be with their best mate.
It might be hard to separate dependent friends from super close friends at the start. Because close friendships usually involve becoming part of the daily life of the other person, dependent or clingy friends are usually mistaken as overly-caring or “maternal” friends. They can also be seen as friends who simply need a lot of support to get through the hardships in their lives.
The closest experience I have had with dependent friends was through my youngest sister. A couple of years ago, she became the friend of a girl in her class. At the beginning, they had lots of fun hanging out, talking about the things they had in common—which were a lot—and constantly relied on one another for help with homework or the typical teenage drama.
It seemed like a regular high school friendship. This girl and my sister were BFF’s and they knew what was going on in the other’s life before anyone else around them did.
But, things started to change when my sister started going to extracurricular classes somewhere else, where of course, she made more friends. Surprisingly, this didn’t make her BFF happy at all; even though she was invited to group hangouts and they kept talking as much as they always did, the BFF didn’t seem to want to share her favorite friend with others.
As a result, passive aggression became part of their daily routines, until finally one day they had to confront the issue. Still, my sister’s friend was unable to understand what she was doing wrong, felt hurt and stopped talking to her all of the sudden.
It’s important to remember that not everyone will be able to understand that needing more space doesn’t necessarily mean that they are no longer wanted. Sadly, the way the phrase, “I need more space” is perceived usually leads to people breaking too far apart. This is not the goal of solving the overly clingy or possessive friend issue.
Though it may become clear that your friend is taking too much of your time, cutting the opportunities to meet new people, holding grudges about the time spent with others and refusing to enter any opportunity to socialize without the close company of their BFF, this might not be as evident to the person with the problem. Again, no one wants to be the bad friend.
No one wants to hear their friend tell them that they are never there for them or that they don’t care about their life.
But then, does this mean that the issue of reliance should just be pushed aside? Would there be any consequences to overlooking the cons of having a clingy friend?
The reason why extremely clingy friendships are so toxic is because they decrease the chances for the people involved to live their own unique experiences. In an effort to keep away the image of the “bad friend,” one could end up unconsciously reducing family time, talking less to other friends and slacking on homework or other duties.
In a way, this amounts to cutting out a small piece of our lives that will never come back. The dependent friend will never get to experience life outside of the comfort zone that they have found with their BFF, and the BFF will never get to do all the things they want to do. To sum up, this type of friendship is unfair to both parties.
It’s true that friends are extremely dear, but part of being a good friend also involves helping the other person become their better self. Rather than avoiding talking about how strangling things are becoming in the friendship, it would be better to show them that they can be okay on their own too.
Encouraging a clingy friend to enter conversations or join plans that involve strangers can be tricky, but surely not impossible. Introducing them to new things, situations, and people with whom they have things in common can help them open up and allow new and beneficial experiences into their lives.
I think communication is the key to dealing with a dependent friend that we love, but can’t stand. They need to understand that they are loved, but can’t possibly expect the company of their best friend every single day of the year. After all, no one is born joined to the hip with their best friend.
Asking for more space is not the same as ditching a friend. Not replying to every single text as soon as they pop up doesn’t mean that friend is no longer welcome, and having other plans with different people doesn’t make someone a bad friend. Simply stating these things can make life a lot easier and save more than one friendship from crashing and sinking.