Imbalance in Friendships

Imbalance in Friendships

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Today’s question for Nina is about recognizing a one-sided friendship and deciding whether to restore the balance or move on.

Nina is always accepting anonymous questions so keep them coming!


Dear Nina,

My oldest friend and I email back and forth at least five times a day. We know everything that goes on in each other’s lives. He (Michael) lives in the same city, and he’s very active socially. He hosts many dinner parties with his partner, but my husband and I have never been invited. I have even expressed to Michael how lonely I feel sometimes with no extended family in town, but still—no invite. My kids have never even been to his house.

I’m wondering if Michael and I are true friends after all, or if we just have an email relationship. We invite Michael and his partner to our place for parties, but they rarely show up, and they make all sorts of lame excuses like being too tired to come over.

I don’t want to spend energy on someone who considers me a C-list friend when I consider him my best friend. Should I just walk away from this imbalanced relationship?

Thanks for any advice,

Tired of the C-list Status


Dear Tired of the C-list Status,

Based solely on the information you gave me, I agree that this friendship sounds more like a virtual one, than a face-to-face one. And yes, on first glance it seems imbalanced. If you had not shared the detail of the emailing back and forth five times a day, I would immediately lean towards you walking away from what appears to be a situation where you are giving 100% and Michael is trying to fade out of your life.

However, and this is a big however, those emails are not meaningless. Staying connected, even through email, takes time and effort on Michael’s part. He could easily take longer to answer those emails if he wanted to send the vibe that he’s not interested in communicating with you and staying updated on your life. Are you best friends? Perhaps that label is too generous, but that doesn’t mean the friendship is worthless for either of you. Perhaps you just need to reframe how Michael fits into your life so that your feelings are not hurt. You’ve known each other a long time and that counts, too.

I cannot know for sure why Michael and his partner do not invite you over or accept your invitations, but a few guesses come to mind. Just at this advice column alone I receive many versions of a question asking what to do when you don’t like someone’s spouse. Is it possible that Michael does not like your husband or that his partner is not totally comfortable with you, your husband, or both of you? Is it possible that they don’t want to hang out with your kids? Since you mentioned inviting Michael and his partner to parties, I also wonder if they don’t care for your friends.

Even if the answer to every one of those theories is YES, I don’t think it has to be a deal-breaker for the friendship. You and Michael can have a friendship that’s separate from his partner and your family. Again, if Michael did not answer your emails or stay in touch so closely on a daily basis, I would say that the imbalance in invites is cause to let the friendship go, but I can’t in good faith suggest ending a friendship with so much history and daily value in your life.

As far as I can tell, you have some options for what to do next.

  1. Talk to Michael (or email him) and mention that you’d like to see him in person every so often. Maybe ask him to let you know what works for lunch or coffee. It sounds to me like you’ve been focusing too much on group events so make sure to mention the one-on-one idea and see what happens. If he continues to avoid seeing you in person, I think it’s acceptable to ask him about it at that point.
  2. I suggest redefining your friendship. Putting a different label on the friendship is just for you and does not require a discussion with Michael. Instead of “best friend,” think: “old friend” and “close friend.” Those are both valuable types of relationships to have in your life, but they come with a different set of expectations than “best.”
  3. Stay focused on the joy Michael brings to your life instead of the areas where you feel he falls short. (That’s a good for all relationships.) No friend is perfect. It sounds like you would really miss his presence in your life so let go of the idea that he’s going to be the dinner party friend and allow yourself to feel good about the other ways he’s there for you.

I bet others reading this have been in similar relationships where there’s an imbalance in effort. (I know I have!) Each situation is different, but I would love to hear how others have handled it or what others would suggest to “Tired of the C-list Status.”

All the best,



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  1. Dana says:

    Nina, I think you hit every possible answer in this thoughtful response! I agree with all of it, especially the part about renaming the friendship. “Best” has been an issue for me in the past (wanting one, using the term without feeling reciprocation) and removing that label can help remove some unnecessary pressure and expectation.
    Dana recently posted…A Writer’s DreamMy Profile

  2. Dana says:

    I really appreciate that you look at all the possibilities before you answer these questions, Nina. This scenario reminded me of the Circles of Connectedness that Shasta Nelson wrote about in the first HerStories book – perhaps Michael has moved from committed friends to something less, and “C-list” hasn’t. If that’s the case, then redefining the friendship as you suggest would certainly help.
    Dana recently posted…What grown-ups doMy Profile

  3. I’ve had to reframe friendships before, even handing out some demotions, and I’ve been surprised at how good I feel afterward. Once the re-org is in place, something that would have caused hurt feelings no longer feels icky. I don’t feel pressure to perform or provide in the same way. Resentments go away. Instead of feeling like a break up, a reframing can actually make you feel better. Some friendships just belong in certain categories.

  4. Rivki Silver says:

    Imbalance in friendship can be so tricky! I like the suggestion to make some one-on-one time. It’s good thinking that there might be something more complicated in the group settings, some personality clashes that may be present which makes gatherings like that less than pleasant. I also like the advice to focus on the good in the friendship instead of where it’s falling short. That attitude can make the difference between happiness and frustration. Absolutely!
    Rivki Silver recently posted…Of Interest – FebruaryMy Profile

    • Nina says:

      ha! Thank you, Melissa! I actually thought I wanted to be at one point in my life. (A long time ago.) The problem is that I’m not great about listening to the same thing over and over. Maybe I could have been a behavioral psychologist, but I never could have been a straight-up analyst.
      Nina recently posted…C-List FriendsMy Profile

    • Nina says:

      It really can be an issue between friends if being around the spouse is so unpleasant. I found it suspect, too, that anything involving the spouse seemed to be a no-go.
      Nina recently posted…C-List FriendsMy Profile

  5. Pam says:

    I love your ability to see the best in people and view these situations with optimism. My first reaction upon reading the question was “Walk away from this lopsided friendship!!” But you raise some really good points.

  6. You’re answer is spot on. You just can’t let this kind of thing get to you. There are plenty of people, cool good people I’ve met, who have kids that line up with mine and we are barely beyond aquaintences. To top it off our mutual children are friends and still nothing. It’s been a one way street with me doing the initiating the first couple years. One can only try so many times. Such is life.

  7. Such a wise response. I agree – if it hadn’t been for the constant e-mailing, I would say that the relationship is one-sided, but it’s clearly not. I hope these suggestions can turn it into something more reassuring for the “Tired of C-List.”
    Jennie goutet recently posted…Just to Say Hi!My Profile

  8. Pam says:

    I had a random idea… What if every year, HerStories followed up on the most popular posts in this series, and asked the advice seekers whether they followed your advice and what the outcome was? I don’t know about your other readers, but I would love to know what happens next!
    Pam recently posted…AllergiesMy Profile

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