Between work, family, school, and other responsibilities, it's nice to have a friend who's always there to support you, no matter what. But for these same reasons, it's also good to have a friend who understands that life can get crazy busy sometimes, and because of that, you might occasionally be short on time or energy to devote to the friendship.
If you think about it, a balanced give and take is an essential part of any strong friendship. You need to know to when to step it up for a friend in need—and when to back off. But what happens when your pal is more "take" than "give"? If your friend needs more time together than you can provide, it can be tricky to bring up the issue without hurting their feelings. Here are some tips to help you deal with a clingy friend, so you can set healthy boundaries and preserve the friendship.
Reasons for Dependent Behavior
Your friend may be clingy for a variety of reasons, some of which are temporary while others are a part of their personality. Before broaching the issue with your friend, take a moment to assess the reasons for their behavior. If your friend is going through an uncertain period, it's understandable that they may require more of your time. In this case, put aside your own comfort level for a sec and help them through the rough patch. Temporary clinginess can happen when your friend experiences:
- Personal loss from a death in the family
- Recent divorce or breakup
- Moving to a new town
- Getting a new job
- Having their best friend move away
If your friend is grieving, depressed, or otherwise emotionally distressed, urge them to seek help from a licensed professional. This doesn't have to be in lieu of the support you're happy to provide them, but some situations are best handled by a pro.
What does clingy behavior look like?
If your friend hasn't recently undergone a major life change like those listed above, they may just be a clingy or high-maintenance person by nature. Signs of clinginess include:
- Repeated phone calls and/or emails throughout a day
- Panic at having to be alone
- A need to find out what you're up to, which may include questions about other friends you're spending time with
- Dropping by your house or apartment too frequently (and without invitation)
- Not wanting to go home at the end of an outing
- Frequently coming to you for help with personal dilemmas or to unload issues
How to Set Boundaries With a Clingy Friend
Boundaries are important in any relationship, but with a clingy individual, they're crucial. A clingy friend won't think twice about their actions unless you clearly outline the behaviors you will and won't accept from the friendship. "We may have to tolerate a certain level of 'craziness' in order to keep this person in our lives," relationship and family therapist Roger S. Gil tells Lifehacker about high-maintenance friends. Setting boundaries (and remaining consistent in their enforcement) won't necessarily change your friend's behavior, but it'll allow you to preserve your sanity while helping you to accept your friend's quirks. Here are a few ways to accommodate a clingy friend's needs, without being a pushover.
- Take longer to respond to emails and phone calls. If you immediately respond when you get a message, your clingy friend might take that as a sign that you desire as much attention as they do. Wait a day or two before getting back to them to give the subtle message that you're busy.
- Introduce them to new situations and friends. Sometimes clingy people have had limited experience in meeting new people and experiencing new things. The more you can open up their world, the less they might depend on you.
- Ask them to meet you out when going places, rather than driving together. This not only gives you an easy way to end the evening, but it also encourages your friend to do things on their own. Ask them to get to the movie early and order tickets for both of you, save you a seat at the next author event, or put your name in at the restaurant. This will force them to be alone for a few minutes before you get there and give them confidence that they can do it more often.
- Respond with "enthusiastic regret" every now and then when they ask you to do something. This means you will turn them down while at the same time reiterating how nice it would have been to go along if you weren't so busy. This is a tactful way to occasionally dodge an invitation without blowing off your pal.
- Buy tickets to an inexpensive movie or event and tell them you can't make it but want them to still go. Give them the tickets and encourage them to let you know how it went. This will further entice your friend to find other people to do things with.
- Be kind. As long as your friend is respecting your boundaries, resist confronting them out of frustration. Take it as a compliment that your friend wants to spend time with you. Don't assume your friend is at fault because they desire more interaction from the friendship than you do. People require different things from relationships and everyone has a unique view of what's "normal."
- Be honest. If your friend wants more out of your friendship and you're just not feeling it, be upfront with them. Even if this means that you and your pal need to go your separate ways, you'll have a clear conscience knowing that you were honest about what you were willing to bring to the friendship.