My friend Liz and I can talk about our hair for hours. She'll tell me if I need to wear a jacket with that certain dress. And we have something only the closest friends have: a Mustache Pact. That means if either of us ever goes into a coma, the other will come and wax the comatose friend. That's a real bud.
Then there are those friendships that require more. Have you ever checked the Caller ID with a moan? Cringed at a lunch invitation? Rolled your eyes when the doorbell rang? If you have a friendship struggle, you're in good company—so to speak. Ethel Mertz had Lucy Ricardo. Barney Rubble had Fred Flintstone. High-maintenance friends pop up in everyone's life at one time or another.
Whether it's because of annoying habits or attitudes, a difficult husband, intolerable children, or overwhelming neediness, sometimes friendship can be tough. A perfect friend? That's annoying, too!
I'd love to become "Super Friend," persevering locomotive–style in those relationships not only when friendship is easy and mustache-free, but also when it's work. Here's what I've learned.
Learn Your Limitations
I know about those "work" friendships. While friendship happens easily with Liz, my relationship with Jan has been a different story. Jan and I started chatting on the phone several years ago when our sons became good friends. Jan is caring and funny, and I enjoy our time together. But she started popping in several times a week. When she came to visit, she clearly expected me to drop everything and play hostess. Even the days she didn't drop by, she called—sometimes several times. "Just one more thing … " she'd say. Then an hour later, my errands would still be undone and dinner would be late—again.
In addition to the time demands, I started to feel emotionally drained. Jan counted on me for advice in some overwhelming struggles in her marriage, with her children, and even in her finances. She confided that I was really the only person to whom she could talk, so anytime I cut our calls and visits short, I felt I was abandoning her and guilt would creep in.
I've had difficulty learning that sometimes being a good friend is knowing when to lovingly say "no." Loving a friend at all times (Proverbs 17:17) doesn't mean attending to her at all times.
Jan needed more than just my friendship. I knew I needed to encourage her to rely on God to meet her needs. We started praying together, and I began to pray for her more on my own as well. And when I realized I wasn't doing her any favors by not being completely honest with her, I learned to let her know tactfully when I didn't have time to sit and chat. I'm still learning how to be a good friend to her.
Beg for Back-up
I also learned to point Jan to a network of my own mentors. At one point, I invited her to lunch with another friend I respect. I knew Lilly could offer Jan wise counsel and maybe a new perspective or two. I also knew I couldn't force a relationship. I simply made the opportunity and left the sharing part up to Jan. I was excited when she chose to open up. Lilly gave Jan wise insights, and we were fortunate to have another prayer partner.
Not only did it help Jan, but it took some pressure off me. I'd been feeling all alone in trying to help. It was scary to think Jan was looking to me, and me alone, to "fix" her problems. The Bible teaches that there is wisdom in having many counselors (Proverbs 15:22). Networking paid off for us both.
Overlook the Obnoxious
My friend Kim was feeling a different burden in her friendship with Linda. Linda grew up with little guidance in the social graces. They worked together in a small office where the everyday grind "forced" a friendship. But Kim dreaded their lunches out. It was more than just the loud talking, the open-mouth chewing, and the fact that Linda sat on at least one of her feet through the entire lunch. Linda talked nonstop. She rarely asked Kim about her own life. Kim couldn't get a word in to tell her anyway. The nonstop chatter and the bad manners were getting on Kim's last nerve.
She decided she was going to have to build some patience or just plain stop eating lunch. Okay, going without lunch might provide a great weight-loss opportunity. But Kim knew she might be missing an even greater opportunity to let this friendship trial polish her own character a little—even if it meant she had to endure the way Linda rubbed her the wrong way.
Kim made an important decision. She decided to accept Linda "as is" and shrug away some of those annoyances. She found that Linda had some wonderful friendship qualities—a great sense of humor and a generous, kind heart.
It's been surprising the kind of friendship these women have built—despite their differences. Kim's learned to be more bold in "getting a word in" with Linda. That's been helping Linda become a better listener. Still, instead of restaurants, Kim suggests more carry-out Chinese. The friendship really does require extra work. But Kim will tell you she's glad she's investing in the relationship, and glad she's been able to rise above some of the smaller annoyances to get to know the real Linda underneath.
Confront a Crime
There was a time, however, when Kim thought she might have to walk away from the friendship. Linda strayed into an adulterous affair. Kim struggled with how to confront her lovingly. She knew she wouldn't be a good friend if she looked the other way or pretended it just didn't matter.
Kim didn't want to be condemning, but she knew she had to let Linda know that what she was doing was wrong. While a good friend shrugs away minor annoyances, she doesn't shrug away destructive behavior. Kim gently spelled out what the Bible says about keeping a marriage commitment, and let Linda know she hoped Linda would restore her marriage and their friendship.
Kim celebrated the day Linda asked for help in getting her marriage and her life back on track. Kim was quick to help Linda be restored in every way. Linda's still working on her marriage, and Kim continues to work to be a good friend to her.
Overcome an Obstacle
"Shopping? Er. … Will Benny be in preschool?" It seemed tacky for me to ask. My friendship struggle with Annie had nothing to do with sweet Annie. It had everything to do with her four-year-old terminator, Benny. On our last shopping excursion, lunch at the food court had been no picnic. I discovered that ketchup packets are not childproof. I also discovered that while little boys' tennies are ketchup-proof, my new dry-clean-only jacket wasn't.
When we made it to the department store, Benny decided to climb on the perfume counter and spray all the bottles. He squirted the saleslady right between the eyes. I haven't been back there since.
Before the day was finished, Benny tried to put a kitten in the fish tank at the pet store, attempted a money-collecting venture from the fountain, and then, after our "reward" trip to the ice cream shop, discarded his soggy cone into my shopping bag (again with the dry–clean–only clothing).
I treasured my friendship with Annie, but I wasn't sure I could handle the package deal. Yet I knew that because of her challenges with Benny and with a difficult marriage, too, Annie needed a friend all the more.
When Annie sent out a tearful SOS, I decided our friendship was worth working for and rolled up my sleeves. I offered her books on marriage and child-rearing that had helped me. I hit the Internet and found more helps, and I put her in touch with other women who'd experienced the same struggles.
My most monumental decision was that if nothing changed, I would work around the obstacles and be a friend to her. Since that decision, Annie's experienced a few victories in her marriage and with Benny. But all the struggles are not completely over.
I can't say I never hesitate before accepting a shopping invitation, but accepting the challenge and concentrating more on my friend than any obstacles have helped to build a strong friendship for us both. (And I've learned to wear less dry–clean–only.)
Cherish the Challenge
If you're working to become "Super Friend," remember to "Look! Up in the sky!" There's wisdom in trusting God to help you know when to encourage, when to back off, and when to come alongside your friend.
"Super Friend" can love, encourage, endure—everything just short of leaping tall buildings in a single bound. She perseveres not only when the friendship is a breeze, but even when the Super Cape is ketchup-stained.
So press on in your high-maintenance friendship (and make sure you buy machine-washable)!
* Except for Liz, all names have been changed.
Rhonda Rhea, a speaker and freelance writer, lives in Missouri.
Are You a High-Maintenance Friend?
Take this quiz to find out!
1. You've just had another rough day at work and want to call your friend to vent, but you remember she's having her in-laws over for dinner. You
A. call anyway. She'll understand.
B. decide your friend has enough on her hands tonight. You'll touch base later.
2. Your friend's just discovered she's pregnant and shares her exciting news. You
A. scream in excitement and tell her you're going to take her out to celebrate.
B. say, "That's nice," then launch into a story about … you.
3. Your friend says something that rubs you the wrong way. You
A. refuse to talk to her for two weeks.
B. give her the benefit of the doubt. After all, she's your friend, and you realize she'd never say something to intentionally hurt you.
4. You talk to your friend on the phone
A. at least twice a day.
B. at least twice a week.
5. During a telephone conversation your friend tells you she needs to go. You
A. quickly wrap up and say good-bye.
B. launch into a long story about yourself, and she has to tell you three more times she needs to hang up.
6. You promised to help your friend move on Saturday. But then you find out about a party you really want to attend. You
A. figure your friend will understand—and go.
B. remember how many times your friend has been there for you, then help her move.
7. Your friend doesn't connect with you as much as you'd like. You
A. realize that, as a mom of two kids, she's probably overwhelmed and isn't connecting with anyone—except Barney.
B. try to make her feel guilty by making little comments about how she's always too busy to remember her friends.
8. You hate your job and keep complaining about it to your friend. She tries to cheer you up. You
A. decide to do something about your situation.
B. do nothing, but keep complaining to your friend. It's easier, plus you know she'll keep cheering you up.
9. You want to have lunch with your friend. She tells you how busy her week is, but she'll see if she's available. You
A. take that as a firm yes, then take it personally when she can't make it.
B. tell her to give you a call when she gets some free time.
10. Your friend tries to give you constructive feedback on a situation. You
A. get upset, strongly defend yourself, and refuse to listen to her words.
B. try to keep an open mind. You might not agree, but then again, she might have a point.
- A=2 B=1
- A=1 B=2
- A=2 B=1
- A=2 B=1
- A=1 B=2
- A=2 B=1
- A=1 B=2
- A=1 B=2
- A=2 B=1
- A=2 B=1
Total your score for each statement.
If you scored 10–12: You're such a thoughtful friend. You take others' feelings into consideration and don't expect them to cater to your every need.
If you scored 13–16: Take a closer look at your score. There are times when everyone needs more attention. Be careful not to expect too much from your friends. As Jesus said in Matthew 7:12: "Do to others what you would have them do to you."
If you scored 17–20: Your motto may be "It's all about me." You tend to focus on what's best for you and give little thought to other people. Try putting more focus on the feelings of others. You'll find that people will be more willing to return the favor when they know you're interested in give-and-take.
Keep Your Friends—and Your Sanity
Everybody needs friends. But sometimes you may wish you had a little less of the frustration that goes with the package. I know, because I have. Here are some solutions that have helped me—and might help you, too:
For a "phone yacker" friend: Set a limit. When she calls, say, "I only have 10 minutes to talk," then stick to that. For me, it helps to set the oven timer. When it beeps, I know we're at the time limit and I extract myself from the conversation.
For a "complaining about others" friend: Listen for what's behind the complaint. Is it a lack of self-esteem that causes her to put others down? If so, you wouldn't be a genuine friend unless you gently point that out in an appropriate time and place.
For a "woe is me" friend: Listen … unless your friend's problems are continually the same, and she never does anything to change her situation. If so, she, in essence, is asking you to play her therapist. When that's the case, you'll soon become discouraged and not want to talk with her at all. So this may be the time to say firmly, "It sounds as though you're struggling with the same issues. Have you considered professional counseling?" Help her find resources, then back off slightly. If you don't, you'll become part of the problem—enabling her to remain the "victim."
For the "frequent drop-in" friend: Don't always stop what you're doing when she lands at your doorstep. Say, "Hi! I'm in the middle of ironing. Want to grab a diet Coke and join me downstairs? We can talk while I work." By doing so, you're saying, I want to be your friend, but I also need to get something done while you're here. As a woman who's worked outside the home for 17 years, I'd never get any housework done otherwise.
For the "expects a lot of you" friend: Go out for lunch and confront the situation lovingly. Say, "Your friendship's important to me, Pam. But at times I feel you expect too much from me. Because of my schedule, I really can't get together for lunch every week. But I do want to set aside time just for us once a month. When is a good time for you?"
As you use these time–tested strategies, you may lose a few friends. But the friendships you keep will be deeper and more fulfilling.