How To Avoid Forcing A Friendship

“I have a friend I don’t really feel close to. It’s a meaningless friendship because we don’t have a lot to talk about. We don’t have a real connection. But I’ve known this person for a long time, and I feel reluctant to cut them out of my life. How do you know when to give up on a friendship?”

If you have a friend you see only because you feel like it’s your duty or because you feel guilty if you don’t stay in contact with them, you’re in a forced friendship.

For example:

  • You feel obliged to call or hang out with an ex-colleague regularly because you used to be good friends at work, even though they left the company two years ago.
  • You feel obliged to go out for dinner with your old friend from high school whenever you are in the same town, even though you don’t have much in common nowadays.

Or you may be on the other side of a forced friendship. Perhaps you’re trying to make someone else like you, but deep down, you suspect that they aren’t putting in much effort. You may wonder, “Do they only see me out of pity? Is this only a friendship out of obligation?”

In this guide, you’ll learn how to develop more balanced, mutually satisfying friendships.

1. Let them initiate conversations and make plans

If you are always putting in considerably more time and effort than your friend, you may be forcing the friendship. You may have noticed that you are always taking the lead in starting conversations and making plans.

If your friend is shy or socially anxious, they might be reluctant to reach out because they aren’t sure what to say or don’t want to be a nuisance. Or they might value you yet have little or no time to socialize. For example, they may be in the middle of a demanding college course or adjusting to life as a new parent.

But as a general rule, someone who wants to be your friend will want to talk to you and spend time with you.

If you’re the only person driving the friendship, take a step back. Message them occasionally to let them know that you’re thinking of them, but don’t take sole responsibility for making arrangements. Tell your friend that if they want to hang out, you’d be happy to see them. If your friendship is healthy and balanced, they will make an effort.

2. Take your time when getting to know someone

If you are too desperate to turn someone from an acquaintance into a close friend, you may come across as overeager. The other person might also feel that you’re forcing the friendship.

It’s natural to be excited when you meet a potential new friend, but research shows it takes around 50 hours to form a close bond.[1] Try to be patient and allow the friendship to unfold naturally.

Our guide on going from “hi” to hanging out contains tips on how to build a friendship.

3. Learn to be happy in your own company

If you’re staying in a forced friendship because you are lonely, learn to enjoy your own company. When you can be content by yourself, you are less likely to end up in forced or unhealthy relationships.

You could:

  • Take up a new hobby
  • Learn a new skill or study for a qualification
  • Try meditation, mindfulness practices, or spend time on spiritual development
  • Take a trip or vacation alone

If you struggle with self-acceptance, our article on how to build self-esteem as an adult may help.

4. Let people solve their own problems

Sometimes, we feel obliged to stay friends with someone because they always seem to need help. For example, if you know someone who is always having relationship problems or keeps losing their job, it can be tempting to play the role of therapist.

But over time, you may become resentful and only talk to them because you think they need you. Or they might stay in touch with you only because you make their life easier. When you make it clear that you won’t bail them out every time they need help, you may discover that the friendship is over.

If you care deeply about the other person, you can point them towards professionals and services that will help them. For example, if they often complain about their chaotic love life, suggest they see a counselor or look at relationship self-help books together. But you can’t force someone to change, and if their problems are beginning to drain you, it may be time to cut back on the time you spend together.

5. Set firm boundaries

“I need to learn how to fix a forced friendship when I like the other person but don’t want to spend much time with them. I feel so awkward when someone wants to hang out, and I’d rather do something else.”

If you tend to go along with plans even though you’d rather be doing something else, you may end up spending time with people out of a sense of obligation. Or if you allow someone to confide in you, they may get the impression that you are friends, even if you’d rather keep your distance.

Eventually, you may get stuck in a forced friendship. This can be prevented if you practice setting boundaries and making your preferences clear.

For example:

  • “Thank you for thinking of me, but I’m very busy these days and don’t have much time for socializing.”
  • “I’m flattered that you feel you can confide in me, but I don’t think I’m the best person to ask.”

See our article on how to stop being a doormat for more advice on drawing boundaries and saying “no.”

6. Accept that not everyone will like you

Sometimes two people seem like they should be friends on paper, but when they hang out, they simply don’t connect. In these situations, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend hanging out with the other person—you are unlikely to ever be compatible as friends.

If you’ve tried hanging out with someone two or three times and you don’t feel a sense of connection, move on. Don’t stay around and try to earn their friendship.

7. Keep your expectations realistic

Some friendships work well in a specific setting but not in others. For example, you might have a good time with someone when you’re spending time together doing a shared hobby, but in other settings, the friendship feels forced. It’s OK to have “climbing friends,” “book club friends,” and “work friends.”

Enjoy each friendship for what it can offer you. If someone only wants to hang out in one setting, don’t push them to spend more time with you.

8. Know the signs of an unhealthy friendship

“I don’t know when to give up on a friendship. What are the signs to look out for?”

Here are a few indicators that it’s time to back away from a friendship:

  • You often feel negative or tired after hanging out with your friend
  • You give support and help to your friend and get nothing in return
  • Your conversations often feel awkward
  • You always have to be the one to make plans
  • You or your friend have changed (for example, in terms of political views or lifestyle choices), and your differences are causing friction
  • You always have to be the one to initiate contact
  • They don’t care about events that are important to you

This list of signs that you’re in a toxic friendship might also help.

If your friend’s behavior is bothering you, you have several options.

You can try talking to your friend. Explain how you feel and ask them to change. For example, if you are always the one to initiate plans, you could ask them to take the lead at least occasionally when it comes to meeting up. This can work if you are both invested in the friendship. However, it’s not guaranteed to work; your friend may become defensive.

Alternatively, try backing away from the friendship and expand your social circle. Stay in touch with your friend, but focus on getting to know new people. If your old friend chooses to come back into your life, that’s a bonus.

Finally, if someone has become abusive, it’s OK to cut them off completely. For example, if they have been openly aggressive, it may be best to block them and refuse to engage. Dropping friends can be hard, but occasionally it’s necessary for the sake of your mental health.

9. Know that forced friendships cost you time

Meaningless friendships come at a cost. Instead of hanging out with people you don’t like, you could be investing that time into making new friends who will enrich your life. Most of us don’t have a lot of free time to socialize, particularly as we get older, so try to prioritize friendships that make you happy.

It can also help to remind yourself that by spending less time with friends you only speak to from a place of guilt or obligation, you are freeing them to find friends who genuinely want and like their company. Add up the hours you’ve recently spent on a forced friendship—it can be a useful reality check.

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Viktor is a Counselor specialized in interpersonal communication and relationships. He manages Socialpro’s scientific review board. Follow on Twitter or read more.

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  1. Toroagoshi and LilRose from VRChat brought me here to talk about this and I find the “Force Friendship” thing to be laughably absurd. The sad part, that how I am lonely because I do want to interact with them but people like LilRose don’t like it so much that they just unfriended me on VRChat, believing that I still follow her around and sometimes act like a stalker as what it looks to others. When I follow people around and stare at them, it’s strange for them.

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