One-Sided Friendships – Why They Happen and How to Deal With Them

Scientifically reviewed by Viktor Sander B.Sc., B.A.

I’ve been on both sides of one-sided friendships. I’ve had friends where I always had to be the one who contacted them or came to their place if I wanted to hang out, or listened to their problems while they didn’t seem to care about mine. I’ve also had friends where they were the ones who always wanted to meet up when I didn’t feel like it.

Today, I’m going to talk about these one-sided friendships, why they happen, and how to deal with them.

Most advice on the internet is “just end the friendship”. But it’s not that easy: If you didn’t care about the friendship and could just cut it, it wouldn’t be an issue in the first place, right? People who tell you to just end the friendship don’t understand the complexity of the situation.

What is a one-sided friendship?

A one-sided friendship is a relationship where one person has to put in more work than the other person does to uphold the relationship. Because of this, there’s an imbalance of effort. A one-sided friendship can be painful. It’s sometimes called a one-way friendship.

How do you know if you are in a one-sided friendship?

  1. You always have to take initiative to meet up, and if you don’t, nothing happens.
  2. You need to go to their place, but they don’t want to come to yours.
  3. You are there for your friend, but when you need support, your friend isn’t there for you.
  4. You help your friend out and are nice toward them but get nothing back.
  5. Your friend only talks about themselves but isn’t interested in you.

1. Are you being nice but get nothing back?

Here’s my take on being nice: When it comes to friends who appreciate it, I help them out in any way possible. I know that they are thankful for it and that they do anything to help me when I need it.

When it comes to friends where I get the vibe that they aren’t thankful, I’ve learned to stop helping them out. I’m still being a good friend to them, but I don’t do them favors. Being nice to someone who doesn’t value it only degrades your self-esteem.

There’s a lot more to be said about this. For example, what if you have few friends and don’t want to risk losing them, even if the friendship is lopsided? Here’s my complete guide on what’s being nice and what’s being too nice.

2. Do your friends mainly talk about themselves and aren’t interested in you?

If you have one or a few friends who talk about themselves, I would recommend you to start meeting other people so that you don’t have to rely as much on your self-centered friends. I know, this is easy to say but harder to do. In step 5 below I go more into detail on how to grow your social circle.

However, if it’s a pattern in your life that you are the listener, maybe you’re doing something that makes people only talk about themselves. This is a big topic that we’ve written a guide on here: What to do if someone only talks about themselves.

3. Do you always have to take the initiative or come to their place?

How to know if someone’s genuinely busy or if it’s an excuse

If someone’s genuinely busy in life, you should cut them some slack. If you need to fill your social needs, you need to expand your social circle so that you don’t have to rely on only one person.

But it can be hard to know if someone really is busy, or if it’s just an excuse. If someone says that they are bad at keeping in touch because they are busy, but you see on Facebook how they are always with other friends, it’s probably an excuse. Saying that you’re busy is a common excuse because it gives you a way out without being confrontational.

Some are bad at keeping in touch or have their needs fulfilled

However, some are chronically bad at keeping in touch (me included). It doesn’t mean something personal against you. They’re not being mean. They still APPRECIATE your friendship. It’s just that they don’t CRAVE it like you might, especially if your social circle is smaller.

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For example, if your friend has several close friends, there might always be someone who contacts them, and they get their social needs fulfilled without even having to think about it. Or, if someone’s in a relationship, they might get their needs fulfilled through their partner.

What to do if someone’s going through a depression or a hard time

If a person is going through a depression or hard times they’re not likely to be able to meet up. It’s nothing personal. It’s about neurochemistry.

Text them every once in a while and let them know that you’re there if you need them, but don’t push it and don’t take it personally if they don’t come back to you. When they’re out of that period, they’ll be very thankful that you were there for them.

4. What should you do with a one-sided friendship?

If you have few friends and fight to keep them even if they don’t treat you right, it’s harder. Ask yourself if your friendship is making you happier than if you would not have had it? Then, you can keep it, even if it has its drawbacks.

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My advice if it’s only one or a few of your friendships that are one-sided:

  • Option 1: Talking to your friend. (Ineffective) You can try talking with your friend, but it usually doesn’t solve the core problem. (This is something I know from personal experience and after listening to my readers.)
  • Option 2: Cutting the tie. (Usually a bad idea) You could cut ties, but I don’t think this solves the problem. You’ll have one less friend, and if you didn’t value the friendship, you wouldn’t be reading this article in the first place.
  • Option 3: Grow your own social circle. (Worked wonders for me) The only way to solve this problem long-term is to grow your own social circle. If you have several friends you can hang out with, you’ll be less dependent on your self-centered or busy friend(s).

“But David, I can’t just grow my social circle! It’s not that easy!”

I know! It takes time and effort and can feel almost impossible if you’re not born socially savvy (I wasn’t). But a few simple tricks can do wonders for your social life. I recommend you to read this guide on how to be more outgoing.

5. What to do if people don’t want to meet up

If it’s a recurring theme in your life that people don’t take initiative, you can to see if there’s something YOU do that might make people less eager to stick around. There are a few traits that can make people lose interest after a while.

(We’ve written more here about why friends stop keeping in touch after a while)

When I was younger, I was very high energy. I had a friend who stopped keeping in touch with me and he hinted that I was tiring. I didn’t take offense. Instead, I committed to being able to adjust my energy level better to the situation. Today, we are back as friends.

I’m not saying that you should go around and try to be low energy. For some, they need to be more HIGH energy. The point of this story is that when you do anything that makes your friend feel uneasy, it is tiresome for them to the point that they prefer to be with other friends

Below are some examples of common bad habits that can make people less motivated to meet up.

Whose world are you the most in?

I had a friend who talked a lot about her own problems. She also wasn’t a very good listener. She seemed to zone out whenever I talked or interrupt me mid-sentence.

At first, I didn’t even notice. After a few months, it started getting annoying. After a few more months, I tried hinting that she should be a better listener, but when she didn’t change, I got worse and worse at returning her calls.

Maybe I could have done it better, and part of me feels bad for how it turned out. But since I mentioned that I didn’t feel listened to and there was no change, I didn’t know what else to do, and I had no energy left to be her therapist anymore.

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To make sure that I don’t make the same mistake she did, I ask myself: Whose person’s world am I the most in? If I talk a lot about myself, I make sure to spend a similar amount of time in my friend’s world by showing genuine interest in them.

Are you generally negative or positive?

Sometimes, things suck and we have the right to be negative. But if we make negativity a habit and talk about how bad things are as a rule more than as an exception, friends lose their interest in us.

At times, I know that I can be too cynical and pessimistic. When that happens, I make sure to tone that part down and to focus on the positives as well. It’s not about being super-peppy and happy, it’s about being realistic rather than pessimistic.

Are you building rapport?

Another friend of mine was a bit of a know-it-all. Whatever I said, she had to fill in to show that she knew about the topic. This also became more and more annoying over time. It wasn’t that I actively disliked her, I just preferred being with other friends who didn’t do this.

I once came across another person who fought me on everything I said. I mentioned to her that I love Trader Joes (A grocery store chain). She responded: Yeah, but the wine section is bad. I mentioned something about the weather being nice. She said that she didn’t like the breeze.

Both these friends are breaking rapport. Me being too high energy, which I mentioned above, is a third example of breaking rapport. I recommend my guide on building rapport.

Do you show that you listen?

One girl I know always checks her phone as soon as I start talking. She tells me “But I promise that I listen!” when I point it out to her, but here’s the thing: Listening isn’t enough. We need to SHOW that we listen.

This is called active listening. What I do is to keep eye contact and ask sincere questions. I’m making sure to NOT wait for the other person to be finished talking just so I can tell my story.

When someone talks, practice giving them your full attention and put everything else aside.

Making people like you versus making people like being around you

Here’s a big mistake I made when I was younger: I tried to make people like ME. It turned out to lead to a bunch of problems: Humblebragging, trying to top others stories with cooler ones, waiting for others to finish speaking just so I could speak, being preoccupied with how I came off rather than caring about my friends.

When I made friends with some really socially savvy people, I learned something important: Don’t try to make people like you. Make people like being AROUND you. If you try to make people like you, they’ll pick up on the neediness. When people like being around you, they’ll automatically like you.

How do you make people like being around you?

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  1. Show that you like and appreciate them
  2. Make them feel revitalized and happy after they’ve met with you (In other words, avoid excessive negativity or bad energy)
  3. Be a good listener and SHOW people that you give them your full attention.
  4. Build rapport – don’t focus on your differences, focus on your similarities and build the friendship around that

I’m excited to hear what you think or if you have any questions! Let me know in the comments below.

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David Morin is the founder of SocialPro. He's been writing about social skills since 2012. Follow on Twitter or read more.

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