How To Navigate A Seemingly One-Sided Friendship

Whether it's a platonic relationship or a romantic one, it takes two people to make that relationship work. If only one person is putting in the effort, doing all the texting, and making all the plans, there has to be an a-ha moment for that friend where they ask themselves, "Why am I always the one showing up to this friendship?"

While friendships come and go in waves, especially as we get older and priorities start to change — like when a friend has a baby — friendships should still have at least some level of equality in them. If not, then what's the point? "If a friendship is off-balance, one person takes up too much space and the other person takes up too little," Kaitlin Kindman, LCSW, tells Women's Health. "The person taking too little space rarely, if ever, gets what they're needing from the friendship, and one or both parties aren't able to truly be themselves."

On the flip side of one person always reaching out, there can also be the friend who's always calling the shots. "This is the person who always decides which restaurant you go to, what movie to see, and likely pouts if she doesn't get her way," says Kindman. While some people might dismiss a one-sided friendship as not a big deal, because it's not of the romantic persuasion, research has found that social rejection, especially from someone close to you, can actually affect the part of the brain that interprets physical pain (via Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). So, yes, that ache you feel from your one-sided friendship is legit.

So, how do you navigate such a situation? First, you need to pinpoint the level of one-sidedness.

Figure out if it's definitely a one-sided friendship

Are you just feeling sensitive and rejected because your friend has new priorities in their life or is it definitely a lop-sided friendship? This is something only you can determine based on the history of your friendship compared to the now of your friendship.

"As humans, we have a tendency to personalize things and make it about us," licensed psychologist Han Ren, Ph.D., tells Shape. Because of this, we might not see our friendship clearly, especially if the shift is sudden. If a friend is focused on their impending wedding, just got a new job that's keeping them at the office long hours so they can prove themselves, or just had a baby, they may be a little preoccupied. Any of these circumstances, as well as many others, can contribute to a friendship feeling one-sided to the person who doesn't have as much on their plate at the moment. 

But as long as your friend, despite all these new responsibilities in their life, still makes an effort to the best of their ability to be there for you, checks in on you when they can, and supports you when you need it, even if they've had to cancel on you a couple of times, they're still there and can likely be trusted to maintain the relationship (via Healthline). Yes, the friendship has changed, but your friend hasn't left the friendship.

What a one-sided friendship looks like

However, a friend who's not in the friendship and has one foot out the door looks different. "One-sided friendships are characterized by one person doing significantly more than their fair share of the 'heavy-lifting' within a relationship," licensed marriage and family therapist, Tiana Leeds, M.A., LMFT, tells MindBodyGreen. "The 'heavy-lifter' tends to be the one to initiate communication, make plans to get together, provide support, and generally care more about the friendship."

If this is the scenario and your friend doesn't have an actual reason for this type of behavior, then it's time to confront the situation. If you can't get your friend to see that they've clearly left the friendship or if they're dismissive, then you need to let them go. Maintenance, after all, is one of the phases of a friendship. One person can't maintain something that involves two people, so the next phase may end up having to be dissolution (via Psychology Today).

Friends come and go throughout our lives, and some friendships simply aren't meant to last. And guess what? That's not a bad thing! We need certain people when we're at certain stages in our lives and when that stage is over, the friendship no longer works or makes sense. While it's devastating to lose a friendship, especially one that was so much a part of your everyday life, it's better to let go and look back fondly as opposed to hanging on to something that no longer exists.