Your cellphone rings for the umpteenth time in a day, prompting thoughts of "not again" as you see a needy friend's phone number on your caller ID. You don't want to hurt her feelings, but she has become far too clingy for your comfort level. How you handle this situation depends on your history with this friend -- even then, you might have to try several different approaches to get your message across: She's calling you too often.
A longtime friend is going through a tough breakup, her mother is gravely ill, or she just lost her job. She calls you often for reassurance, moral support and advice. During a difficult time, you probably won't say anything to her about the frequent calls, since this isn't the norm for your relationship. To the extent that you can, be there for her when she needs to talk, in the knowledge that she would do the same for you and that the situation is, presumably, temporary. Should the frequent calls persist after the problem is resolved, you might need to reconsider your approach.
Whether with a longtime friend or a relatively new chum, you need to set boundaries to protect yourself from her too-frequent phone calls. Tell her you can't take personal calls during work hours, if that's the case, or that frequent calls are distracting at the office. Make clear to her that your family is a priority during the evening -- ask her not to call during the dinner hour or until after the kids are in bed. Another option, depending on your phone service plan, is to remind her you can only afford occasional, short phone calls to keep within your budget.
The Direct Approach
Dealing with friends who do not respect your boundaries or seem oblivious to your growing frustration with their frequent calls might require a more direct approach. Although it might make you uncomfortable, be blunt: Tell your friend you value her friendship, but you cannot take the nonstop calls. Tell her you still want to talk to her occasionally, but your schedule only allows for a short call once a week. If you want to take the sting out of your new stance, suggest replacing the calls with an occasional lunch or dinner together at which you can catch up on each others' lives.
Certain friendships may simply have run their course or become one-sided. If the bond between you and your friend was tenuous to begin with or no longer relevant -- you attended the same junior high school -- or you've outgrown what initially connected you, such as frequent partying or spur-of-the-moment travel, it may be time to move on. Florence Falk, a New York City psychotherapist cited on Oprah.com, states that it is natural to outgrow certain friendships over time, and that it is not only acceptable, but healthier, to let go of such relationships. Tell your friend directly that you don't feel you have anything in common any longer, or, if that seems too harsh, take the "blame" for the break by stating that you can no longer be the friend she needs, according to Sandy Sheehy, author of "Connecting: The Enduring Power of Female Friendship," on Oprah.com.
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