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March 21, 2013
The Real Issue
An Unequal Friendship
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


I have a friend who calls me all the time. She’ll call three or four times a day when she’s having a problem or needs to talk (which is frequently). I’ve always been happy to talk to her when she needs me because that’s what friends do.

But lately, I’ve noticed that when I call her about things in my life, or when our conversations turn to me and my experiences, she doesn’t want to talk. She gets very abrupt and ends the call in about five seconds because she “just doesn’t have time for this.”

I’m feeling pretty bad about this. Why won’t she do for me what I do for her?


In a true friendship, each person gives and takes, talks and listens, treats and is treated. Each person feels nourished and supported. Friends don’t hang up on each other, for example.

This person is not your friend. Not really. Your relationship is too unequal. Unless she has other ways of showing you kindness and affection (in which case you should be glad for them and call someone else when you need to talk), it sounds like you are showering time and attention on her but not getting anything in return. This leaves you feeling depleted and resentful of her demands.

But the question here is not why she won’t do for you what you do for her. It’s why you continue to do for her what she refuses to do for you. There is no social obligation to spend hours of your life listening to a person who never wants to listen in return. And the more you listen to her, the more she will call.

So the next time she phones, don’t drop everything to talk to her. Call her back later if you have time. If she talks too long, politely tell her that you have to go and hang up. “Helen, I hate to interrupt, but I really must run. I’ll see you at church on Sunday.”

If you feel a charitable obligation to listen to her, by all means, go ahead.

But remember that you should not neglect your other relationships and responsibilities in pursuit of charitable endeavors. So decide how much time and emotional energy you want to devote to listening to her. Give her that time and no more.

Now, a caveat. When you call her or want to talk about your own life, are you gossiping? Criticizing others? Making inflammatory political comments? Complaining? Boasting? If you are doing these things, I am not surprised she ends the conversation: your conversation is unpleasant. So reflect on what you like to talk about, your tone, and the amount of time you spend complaining or boasting. You may find that your own behavior needs adjustment.

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