It's okay, you can tell me I'm too needy.
January 4, 2013 10:52 AM   Subscribe

Communication expectations in a friendship - what is reasonable to ask of a best friend?

I've been best friends with someone, we'll call A, for about 8 years. We are both grown adults, with no spouses or children if that matters. We live in different cities and get to see each other about once every month or two. We both enjoy the others company, call each other best friends, can talk about anything, etc. This is not a question about whether A still wants to be friends with me. However, A does not like to talk on the phone (at all, to anyone) so we only talk on the phone maybe once a month. We usually text or email daily. These communications are initiated by both of us. However, A has this annoying habit of sometimes going MIA for days at a time. A will not respond to our usual daily texts or emails for 2-3 days and then only will surface again if I text "Are you okay?" or something along those lines, or something exciting happens in A's life that A wants to tell me about. This makes me feel neglected. A will completely ignore whatever I said in the email or text and want to talk about this new exciting development in A's life. I dislike (1) the ignoring of my texts/emails to talk only about what A wants to talk about and (2) that it sometimes takes 2-3 days for A to respond to a text or email from someone who is A's best friend. Am I being unreasonable? Is this my issue or A's? Advice?
posted by sunshine37 to Human Relations (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
However, A has this annoying habit of sometimes going MIA for days at a time.

A is not going MIA. A is having a busy adult-people life, and sometimes, things in a busy adult-people life take precedence over keeping friends (even the best of friends) posted. When Bad Things were happening to me, and I fell off the face of the earth here and there, and friends got back to me, the absolute last thing I wanted to talk about was where I was and what I was doing. If I spent three days sleeping over at the hospital because I was visiting someone, or working 12-hour days for a week, social obligations would get pushed far, far back, and absolutely were not acceptable topic of conversation. And this is with friends I interact with on a near-daily basis otherwise. Friends living far away? No matter how close they are that is, unfortunately, even less of a priority while shit is being gotten together.

I am a lot like your friend A and, at this point, I have absolutely zero friends left who mind that I fall off the face of the earth for a bit. And, most of these friends are just like me, in that they, too, no longer have friends who do anything resembling tab-keeping. "Oh, I haven't talked to Frank in a few weeks, I hope he's good" and I send an email and maybe I get one back, maybe I don't. Maybe Frank sends me an email and maybe I have the time to reply, maybe I don't. No bad blood on either end. I know Frank has stuff to do, and Frank knows I have stuff to do, and it doesn't bother either of us.

So, yes, I would say you're being sort of unreasonable. 2-3 days to respond to a text or email is a perfectly acceptable amount of time to take to respond, short of a text or email reading SOMEONE DIED or ON FIRE.
posted by griphus at 11:00 AM on January 4, 2013 [30 favorites]

I agree that the ignoring of emails/texts to only discuss a new and exciting thing in A's life over what you had in your emails is really annoying and kind of crappy friend behavior. I don't think that taking a while to respond to someone, even a best friend is a cause for getting upset.

On the first one, I would address the issue in your monthly phone call. I'd say, hey, I was really hoping to hear from you about the issue I raised in my email and I was kind of disappointed that all you did was talk about this new! and exciting! thing that happened in your life. Next time, can you also respond to what I was discussing while we talk about the stuff going on in your life?

On the second, I would wait at least a week to send out the distress email. Both of my best friends live elsewhere and there will sometimes be at least a week between communications which I accept and understand is because they have their lives like I have mine. If I really want a response, I usually include that in the email - (hey! bestie, I'd really like to hear from you soon about this, thanks!).
posted by Leezie at 11:00 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is no universal standard of correctness here. For me, 2-3 days of not replying from a good friend occasionally is completely normal and acceptable, and the expectation of multiple-times-daily texting and email is not really alright with me at all. But it's OK if you have a different standard of what you want, as long as it's clearly communicated and agreed upon.

The ignoring your stuff is a different issue, but again I can't imagine that every single day you have so much content in an email that really truly needs responding to. But if this person is your best friend you ought to be able to like... actually have a conversation with them about this stuff.
posted by brainmouse at 11:00 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think it's your issue. It's best to diversify your emotional support network so there isn't one single person that you are relying on for all your emotional needs. Make some additional close friends.
posted by amaire at 11:00 AM on January 4, 2013 [12 favorites]

Some people are just not into being constantly plugged in and available, even to best friends. It's perfectly reasonable for someone to not be into that. That said, you have a legitimate gripe about her not wanting to talk about what happens in your life when they resurface. I think, though, when someone is excited about something, you let them go first...then you can introduce your own news.

Have you talked about this with her? If not, you should tell her that, even though she doesn't mean to, it leaves you feeling neglected.
posted by inturnaround at 11:01 AM on January 4, 2013

I don't think the frequency is an issue here - it's okay and acceptable to not talk to your best friend for days at a time. You seem aware that her communication style and needs are different from yours, so you probably need to learn to accept that for what it is and not assume it means she is being a bad friend. I say this as someone who hates to talk on the phone, is an absent-minded texter, and who keeps in very sporadic contact with people I care about very much.

What I think is of concern is that she only wants to focus on her own life and issues, to the exclusion of yours. If you feel like you need to address something with her, I would focus on that issue rather than the frequency.
posted by something something at 11:02 AM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

2-3 days is nothing in an 8 year long friendship. I think you two just have different communication styles and that this is not a big deal.
posted by ohmy at 11:02 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's up to you to determine what level of contact is necessary between friends in order to fulfill your needs, but this amount of contact and your reaction to missing a day or two sounds unusual and unhealthy to me. I am the opposite kind of person, I don't talk to my best friends for months at a time, (I also hate the phone) but they remain my best friends.

Think about why you feel neglected after not talking for a few days... You know they're still your friend, why do you need to make sure they aren't dead after a few days of no communication? How do you think your anxiety makes your friend feel? Maybe like you're a bit needy? Possibly.

If you can relax about the amount of contact you have, that will probably be the best thing for your friendship.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:02 AM on January 4, 2013

I dislike (1) the ignoring of my texts/emails to talk only about what A wants to talk about

Talk directly to A about this ... "hey still need your feedback on issue X I texted you about" (unless the nature of those texts is chatty, like "at Wegmans woohoo!" which my friend inexplicably texts me, in which case I don't see why she would need to reply several days later). I have another friend who will say "yay that's awesome news!" or whatever to me and then say "ok my turn" and then we'll talk about her stuff. Sometimes it will be all about her and then the next time we talk I'll say "last time was all you, my turn now!" It's all about communicating.

I dislike ...... (2) that it sometimes takes 2-3 days for A to respond to a text or email from someone who is A's best friend.

Everyone uses texting differently. I ignore personal texts too sometimes, just as I let calls go to voicemail sometimes. It's a phone, it's not my ears. Some days I have the time and desire to text more than other days. You are probably just not in sync with this other person about how much contact you want, and you should talk to them about it if it bothers you but just to clarify things, not to get this person to change to your way of communicating. This person is not your spouse.

IMO grown adults who still do the "best friend" thing may want to consider expanding their pool of friends to hang out/chat with.
posted by headnsouth at 11:08 AM on January 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

You are allowed to re-direct the topic of conversation so that it covers matters important to each of you.

I agree with amaire, being upset that it takes 2-3 days* for someone to reply is a bit much. It's fine to still consider her your best friend, while having more sources of emotional support.

*totally normal time frame among my close friends, heck 2-3 days is when we are on top of things :)
posted by Neekee at 11:10 AM on January 4, 2013

Is this my issue or A's?

Your issue. Being in communication daily except for occasional 2-3 day breaks (while living in different cities) is probably already in the 95th percentile of how much communication people want. Be grateful for what you have.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 11:11 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

This is your issue. If you're talking constantly about non-important issues, taking a breather for awhile seems perfectly reasonable. Just because you initiate any type of communication doesn't obligate others to respond within your assumed timeframe.
posted by xingcat at 11:12 AM on January 4, 2013

Your expectations are unreasonable to me to the point where I would back WAY away from you as a friend (just the expectation, without even an ultimatum). That's way WAY too much pressure even if I didn't mind talking to you every day in the first place. It sounds exhausting.

If you want to keep this friend I'd suggest finding additional friends who don't mind this high level of contact, or spreading around your attention to multiple friends, and backing way off with your expectations. If she replies fine, if she doesn't, don't stress, and take it as a cue to maybe send fewer messages her way.

Re: the content of the texts, I'd worry more if texts formed your entire relationship, but since you see her every month or two, if real-life conversation is fine and she isn't self-centered etc, I wouldn't worry about it. Not everyone likes chatting by text etc, and sometimes that translates into not replying to what you're telling her about your life, but keeping you updated if anything interesting happens in hers. She may just see texting as a sharing of occasional information tidbits rather than a real conversation.
posted by randomnity at 11:13 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I once had a friend who would go MIA for weeks/over a month at a time. It was never because she was busy or didn't have a chance to send me a message. It was that she wanted me to chase her, be worried, make her feel wanted and missed. THAT was being a bad friend and causing drama. That seriously sucked. That was the main reason why our friendship ended. This does not sound like what you're dealing with. A day or two here and there where they don't reply, I can shrug off, and attribute to "They are busy.".

I think if you are the close friends you feel you are you should be able to bring it up with her. Expecting her to always answer everything promptly isn't realistic or reasonable, and you're probably going to find this happens more and more as people get older and their lives get busier. (Just wait until one of you gets in to a serious relationship or has kids!) Therefore, I think you need to adjust your expectations a bit. Asking her to give you a heads up when she is about to go MIA isn't unreasonable. You could say something like, "Hey, sometimes you sort of fall off the radar for a few days. I'm guessing it is because you just get really busy, which is totally fine. Maybe just send me a quick message to say you're swamped and are going to be going radio silent for a few days."

That said, your being so bothered by her not replying immediately all the time makes me suspect you don't have a very big social network. The only time I got upset over stuff like this with a friend was when I didn't have a very big social group and I did have many other friends to fill the voids when she fell off the map. I recommend you try to widen your net and make more friends. Join some clubs. Get involved in a charity. Whatever works.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:13 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

My best friend and I talk probably every three or four days on the phone. I am not always great at returning messages because chronic illness. I am going to give her an enormous hug when I see her because of her patience with me about this. We have been best friends for over 25 years.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:16 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Thanks everyone for the answers! I got the message loud and clear and definitely needed to hear it. I will back off and try to put the focus on expanding my social circle.
posted by sunshine37 at 11:18 AM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm terrible at replying to texts and emails from my friends, at times. Sometimes I don't reply for weeks, or longer. It has absolutely no correlation with how I feel about said friend, or their issues. At times, I really don't want to talk about what I've been doing during the period I was MIA. Sometimes, I'm just really busy.

The method of communication really does matter, though. I hate phonecalls, for various reasons, but I like skype calls. I'm more likely to respond (and respond immediately) to an IM than an email or text message.

As far as I go, you'll get a response within 2-3 days if it's a message along the lines of "Can you come to event x in the near future", "I'm having a major life crisis along the lines of breakups, house burning down, medical problems, depression, etc." (assuming this is not a regular event for said person), "Can you get back to me with easy fact" like a mutual friend's mobile number. Response time varies for general catchups.

That said, I'm always happy to talk about whatever my friend wants to, unless there's a specific reason otherwise. I might not be so keen to talk about their awesome date the day after I've broken up with my long term boyfriend, for example. They may have to bring up the topic, though - I forget the specific contents of emails, and don't always assume they want to talk about it!
posted by Ashlyth at 2:39 PM on January 4, 2013

One other thing - is the 2-3 day period often over the weekend? My best friend and I IM all day long at work but on the weekend we usually don't talk at all since we're both busy with our kids and life and stuff. As much as I'd like to text her silly things on Saturdays and Sundays, I hold back because I'm pretty sure she wouldn't be cool with that level of communication. She wouldn't have time to respond (she usually has a lot more things planned for the weekend than I do) and then she'd just feel guilty if she didn't.

I also try to not always be the first one to start the communication for the day and just let it go even if we don't talk all day on a weekday. If it's something I need an answer to and I can't wait until Monday then I'll send an email which she can respond to in her own time (but feels less demanding than a text, in my opinion).

Even best friends get tired of each other so maybe just give her some space?
posted by dawkins_7 at 6:43 PM on January 4, 2013

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