How to handle a lopsided friendship

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Kristen’s 12-year relationship with her best friend Heather was put to the test during the pandemic. (Both women’s names have been changed at Kristen’s request to protect their privacy.) Their experiences during the past few years couldn’t have felt more different: Kristen, a single, 35-year-old behavioral researcher in San Francisco, was unbearably lonely during the lockdown. Her best friend, Heather, also 35, married and living in Los Angeles, gave birth to her first child. Kristen expected Heather’s priorities to shift as she adjusted to being a new mom, but Kristen wasn’t prepared for how upsetting it would feel to be shuffled to an outer ring of her best friend’s life precisely when she needed Heather most.

They tried to keep in touch, agreeing to hop on a phone call every other Sunday at 8 am. But Heather was a no-show week after week. “She just would get really busy and overwhelmed and kind of just forget about me,” Kristen says. With every phone date Heather blew off, Kristen’s resentment grew. “It just got so painful that I was like, ‘This is not working,’” she says.

As we juggle the demands of this ongoing pandemic, friendships have shifted in all sorts of unexpected ways. Many people now seem to have less stamina for socializing, says Kat Vellos, author of We Should Get Together, a book about cultivating friendships in adulthood. Vellos believes folks became used to having smaller social circles, and some realized they prefer keeping it that way. As a result, these people might be more choosy about the friendships they do invest time in. That’s mostly a good thing, but it can be painful for the people who are hurt that they are no longer a priority.


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