This month our friendship advice columnist advises a letter writer who is hoping to transform a friend into a BFF. What would you say to a friend who wants to be best friends with someone who is not putting in equal time and effort?
I have this friend, ‘Kate,” who I met through a mutual friend, “Jane.” Kate and I hit it off, became close friends, and there was a point when we liked each other more than we liked Jane.
Everything seemed perfect in our friendship until Kate got a new group of friends. At first, she had time for me, for Jane, and for her new group. But recently Kate and Jane and I have had some problems. Kate avoids us for a few days, and then comes back when one of us (not her) has apologized.
Now, I’m the kind of person who wants to belong to any group or relationship I’m in. And with Kate, that isn’t happening. I always have to initiate the conversation, keep it going, and be the one to say goodbye. Isn’t friendship supposed to be two people putting in equal effort? And I’m not included in the pictures she titles “My BFFs.”
Yet, no matter how much pain Kate puts me through, I always end up sucking up to her again. I know that this is wrong, but I really want to be her best friend. Should I try to make her my best friend? If so, how? Or should I accept things the way they are and be just friends?
Thank you for your time,
Trying to Reach BFF Status
Dear Trying to Reach BFF Status,
While reading your letter, I noticed a big friendship red flag that deserves some discussion before I answer your questions.
The reg flag: the foundation of a friendship matters.
I question the strength of your initial friendship with Kate since it began through mutual feelings about Jane. I assume the only reason you know Kate liked you more than she liked Jane is because Jane became a subject discussed between you and Kate. I say this with no judgement as it’s tempting for women to bond this way. I’ve been in this position, too. Who hasn’t? The bond feels real at first, but a relationship that builds as a reaction to a common irritation with a third person stands on shaky ground.
Now onto your more specific questions. First, you asked:
Isn’t a friendship supposed to be two people putting in equal effort?
Yes, for the most part, but things don’t always work out that neatly. There are times when one friend has to carry the weight and do so gracefully without taking it personally if that friendship is going to survive. That’s true when one member of a friendship is dealing with an illness, a divorce, a new job, a financial crisis, or really any good reason. There are plenty of decent explantations for one person in the friendship to initiate more of the communication for a while. It’s nice when your extra efforts to carry the weight are acknowledged, but if a friend is in crisis mode, then expecting that friend to shower you with accolades for being the friendship leader is probably expecting way too much.
And by “you” I don’t mean YOU, letter writer, because your situation with Kate has nothing to do with the crisis scenario above. It sounds like Kate is not as interested in the friendship as you are and that is why she doesn’t initiate contact. I think you are reading the situation correctly that her lack of effort is meant to send a message. While the “my BFFs” tagging on Instagram, Snapchat, or any social media channel is not something of my generation, I know enough about human nature to see this as a deliberate (and cruel) message from Kate as well.
I often advise letter writers to this column not to read every gesture or lack thereof as a point to be taken personally, but in the case of you and Kate, I would start hearing her silent message loud and clear. Kate does not want to be close friends. Friendly, perhaps. Best friends, no.
And now I’d like to address the last three questions in your letter, which I suspect you already know the answer to on your own.
Should I try to make her my BFF?
Absolutely not. A “best friendship” happens naturally. It’s a label that comes later, in hindsight, and I truly believe it cannot be sought after at any point along the way. Any relationship that it is manufactured and/or makes you feel “less than” about yourself is by definition not “best” or even “good.”
Or should I accept things the way they are and be just friends?
Yes! You gave yourself the best advice already.
Now I have a series of questions for you: Why is Kate’s attention so important? What would her approval change about your life? Could you achieve these sought after changes another way? The desire to improve certain aspects of your life is normal, but attaching that end result to the opinions and unpredictable behavior of another person (friend or love interest) is a bad idea. You cannot control anyone else’s opinion. I don’t know enough about your life or the gap you’re hoping to fill with Kate’s BFF status, but I challenge you think hard about a better way to address what’s missing. At the very least putting less effort into your relationship with Kate will give you time to nurture friendships with people who are interested in reciprocating.
Best of luck, Trying to Reach BFF Status! I’m cheering you on from afar.
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