Are you being “needy” or is this person not a good friend?

So you’ve been called needy, and you don’t understand why. You thought you had a good friend, but it turns out that the friend needs a bit of space. What happened?

Believe it or not, even good friends need time apart. That doesn’t mean they don’t like each other, or that they don’t have fun together. It just means that in addition to spending time together, they want to visit with other friends, keep up with their responsibilities, and get a chance to explore their individual interests. Good friends will allow one another to do this without making each other feel guilty. They will both take opportunities to explore the things that make them happy outside of the friendship. This is important in order to keep the relationship from feeling like an obligation, and becoming monotonous.

Resentment tends to build in a friendship when one person feels as if the other has become too dependent on him (or her). When this happens, the other person may begin to feel restrained by the relationship.

It’s understandable that when you enjoy being around someone you want to spend plenty of time getting to know them. And if that person shares your expectations for the amount of time and effort that should go into the relationship, then he has the potential to be a good friend for you. But what if you keep trying to make plans to hang out with this person and he or she always seems to be busy? Then that person may see you as a fan instead of a friend.

So how do you let someone know you want to spend time together, without coming across as needy? Here are some tips:

  • Go easy on the invites: You may be tempted to invite your friend to do everything with you from studying, to eating lunch, to hanging out after school, to having dinner at your house. But if you’re the one that’s doing all the inviting all the time, it might be a good idea to pull backespecially if this is a friend you’ve recently met. Consider holding off on your next invitation until your friend offers one of his own. This will give you an idea of whether or not you have the same expectations for the amount of time you should be spending together.
  • Don’t invite yourself: Sometimes your friend will want to hang out with a specific group of people. Maybe his group of friends from the baseball team is getting together, or maybe he made plans to study with his friends from English class. Do not try to insert yourself into the group. If you aren’t friends with the other members, your friend will feel responsible for making sure you have a good time. This puts too much pressure on him on a night when he just wants to relax and have fun. Before asking to be included, make sure it would make sense for you to be a part of that group activity. This will keep your friend from feeling like he is obligated to always have you around. And it will help keep keep him from seeing you as needy.
  • Let him/her off the hook: Some weeks are busier than others, and sometimes things come up. Be respectful of the fact that spending time with you will not (and should not) always be your friend’s main priority. If he tells you that he can’t hang out because he has to study for an exam, wish him luck and let him study. Do not insist that your friend plan his time differently, find a way to include you, or commit to a day/time when he will next be available. Instead, give him the freedom to manage the people and obligations in his life the way he feels is best. This will keep you from coming across as needy or overbearing. It will also show that you support your friend’s decisions.
  • Be honest and direct: It’s okay for you to feel hurt if you think you’ve been overlooked by your friend or excluded intentionally. But if you’re upset by your friend’s behavior, the best thing you can do is tell him how you feel. Making accusations or trying to force him to hang out with you will only create more conflict. Just explain why his actions hurt you. If he is really your friend he will make an effort to include you more in the future.

We understand that making a new friend, and even spending time with old ones can be really exciting. When you find someone that you have fun hanging out with, you want to spend as much time with them as you can. But when your friend seems to be looking for space in order to give attention to the other parts of his life, it’s best for both of you if you allow him that space. Doing so will not only keep your friend from feeling smothered; it will give you the chance to explore other interests and social groups as well.

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Isa Marrs is the Founder and Executive Director of the Where I Can Be Me® social skills program. She is a board-certified speech-language pathologist who specializes in pragmatic language (social skills) disorders in children. Read More