We’ve all been there. She's that one friend who just doesn’t understand your boundaries, who calls you in the middle of the night or early in the morning, who wants to hang out with you constantly and who has problems when you form relationships with other people. It’s not healthy to have a friend who doesn’t respect your space or your individuality. Often, an honest conversation about your personal boundaries can help heal the relationship, so that you can stay friends and be happier in your friendship. Occasionally, though, a clingy friend becomes so toxic that it may be best to sever all ties.
Assess the Problem
It’s important to step back and assess what your personal boundaries are, and how your friend is overstepping them. Ask yourself questions, such as: Does your friend seems to want a closer, more intimate friendship than you do? And if so, what is it about this friend that makes you hesitate to spend more time with her? Is your friend more social than you and wants to go out more often than you do? Perhaps the clingy friend is actually exhibiting toxic qualities that make her the type of friend life coach Cheryl Richardson, writing for Oprah.com, calls “The Drainer,” someone who needs a lot from you, puts all of the focus on herself and drains you emotionally. To know how best to remedy the situation, you need to figure out what it is that makes this relationship one-sided from your point of view.
Breaking all ties with your friend should be a last resort, especially if you have never before confronted her about this problem. It could be a complete surprise to her that you are having doubts about the friendship. Once you have determined your personal boundaries, consider some possible solutions that could keep both your friendship and your boundaries intact. For example, you could tell your friend that you actually don’t like to go out as much as she does, but you would enjoy a monthly movie night or a game of trivia once a week. Maybe instead of avoiding all of her phone calls, you can invite her to hang out with a group of people, so that you can see her without creating extra time in your schedule just for her. Dr. Irene S. Levine, a psychologist writing for Psychology Today, suggests reminding a clingy friend that friends need to balance time together and time apart in order for the friendship to flourish.
Have an Honest Conversation
Most people would prefer to avoid the problem by ignoring the clingy friend and hoping that she gets the hint, but such tactics will only make your friend feel angry and hurt, and leave you feeling guilty. It’s much more healthy and mature to confront your friend about how she’s overstepping your personal boundaries. Richardson recommends starting with “In an effort to honor our relationship, I need to tell you the truth.” Then, tell your friend that you need to set some boundaries to feel more comfortable in your friendship. Try to make it about what you need instead of what she’s doing wrong. If your friend truly is exhibiting toxic qualities that upset you, then you can tell her why these things bother you, too. Be sure to present solutions that might heal your relationship. Ask your friend if she’s willing to accept those solutions.
Stick to Your Guns
If your friend agrees to respect your boundaries, make sure that you keep them clear and firm. Remind her gently if she asks you to do more than you agreed that you would, but also, keep your friendship alive by inviting her to spend time with you once in a while and having fun. After all, you became friends for a reason. If the relationship does turn out to be truly toxic, and she can’t respect your boundaries even after you have had an honest conversation, it might be time to protect yourself by breaking up the friendship. In that second conversation, you should be very clear with her about what you want and why. Then, stick to your guns and don’t call her back. If getting her out of your life makes you feel relieved, then you’ll also feel good that you addressed the situation honestly.
Emma Wells has been writing professionally since 2004. She is also a writing instructor, editor and former elementary school teacher. She has a Master's degree in writing and a Bachelor of Arts in English and anthropology. Her creative work has been published in several small literary magazines.