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How to Handle a Clingy Friend

Dealing With an Emotionally Needy Person

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Women sitting on sofa watching a movie
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Having a BFF is great, but what if your friend is a little too high maintenance for you? If your pal needs more time together than you can provide (or desire), it can be difficult to bring up the issue without hurting your friend's feelings. However, you don't need to completely distance yourself from a clingy friend, either.

Reasons for Dependent Behavior

Your friend may be clingy for a variety of reasons, some of which are temporary while others are a part of their personality. You first need to have an understanding on where your friend is coming from before you deal with the issue of clinginess.

For example, if your friend is going through an uncertain period, it's understandable that he or she may require more of your time. In this case, put aside your own comfort level for a while and help them through whatever it is they are dealing with.

Temporary clinginess can happen when your friend experiences:

In these situations, your friend may need more of your attention for a short while until they move to a healthier place in their life.

What Does Clingy Behavior Look Like?

If your friend hasn't recently undergone a major life change like those listed above, he or she may just be a clingy person by nature. Signs of clinginess include:

  • Repeated phone calls and/or emails throughout a day.
  • Panic at having to be alone.
  • A need to find out what you're up to, which may include questions about other friends you are spending time with.
  • Dropping by your house or apartment too frequently (and without invitation).
  • Hesitancy at ending phone calls.
  • Not wanting to go home at the end of an outing.

How to Set Boundaries With a Clingy Friend

Boundaries are important in any relationship, but with a clingy individual they are crucial. Without them, the friendship will likely come to an end. With clingy pals, a direct approach (such as "Look, you require more time together than I do. You need to stop calling me so much.") will only serve to hurt their feelings.

Instead, try these methods first:

  • Take longer to respond to emails and phone calls. If you immediately respond when you get a message, your clingy friend might take that as a sign that you desire as much togetherness as they do. Wait a day or two before getting back to them to give the subtle message that you are busy.
  • Introduce them to new situations and friends. Sometimes clingy people have had limited experience in meeting new people and experiencing new things. The more you can open up their world, the less they might depend on you.
  • Ask them to meet you out when going places, rather than driving together. This not only gives you an easy way to end the evening, but it also encourages your friend to do things on their own. Ask them to: get to the movie early and order tickets for both of you, save you a seat at the next author event, or put your name in at the restaurant. This will force them to be alone for a few minutes before you get there, and give them confidence that they can do it more often.
  • Respond with "enthusiastic regret" every now and then when they ask you to do something. This means you will turn them down while at the same time reiterating how nice it would have been to go along if you weren't so busy. Never get frustrated and hurt their feelings when you don't want to go along. (For example, don't say, "Why are you asking me? I just saw you yesterday!")
  • Buy tickets to an inexpensive movie or event and tell them you can't make it but want them to still go. Give them the tickets and encourage them to let you know how it went. This will further entice your friend to find other people to do things with.

Finally, when dealing with someone clingy, don't get frustrated or angry. Don't assume your time is more important than theirs just because they desire more interaction from the friendship than you do. People require different things from relationships and everyone has a unique view of what's "normal." If your friend needs more time and you're not comfortable with that, respect that they are looking for a best friend and perhaps you are not.

 

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