Advice Column: Response to The Back-up Friend

Dear Hailey,

I have a close friend who I’ve known for a long time. We are both in our 30’s and this past summer she got engaged to a man she met online. They didn’t date long before announcing the engagement (6 weeks).

I am happy for her, but I feel like I’ve been shoved aside- granted I KNOW that the boyfriend/fiance/husband relationship does become the first priority because that’s the person you’re going to spend forever with and all, but this person has always been super considerate and thoughtful, but since she started seeing him we haven’t talked much at ALL. Not even through texting. And, when we do it’s all about them. I realize that she is in the zone of planning a wedding and everything, but we Face timed the other day, she wanted to show me her dress and she didn’t even ask me how I was. I have never seen someone change so much while being engaged.

I haven’t wanted to ask your advice because I didn’t want it to sound like I was jealous. I swear, I’m not jealous at all- I’m just sad that I’ve been left in the dust, as a friend. The problem is, this has happened in the past. Every time she would get a boyfriend, we wouldn’t really talk and if we did, it was all about “them” or “him” etc. Then, there would be a fallout and then she and I would talk everyday like we always did, and the scenario repeats and repeats again.

One of my other friends said, “It’s like you’re the boyfriend when she doesn’t actually have one.” I’ve felt used by this person before and while I love her and want her to be happy- I just don’t want to cross and ocean for her when she can’t jump a puddle for me anymore. I feel like maybe our friendship was never as strong as I’d believed before, and that’s ok because I have other friends who do take the time to reach out and keep the friendship mutual.

Thank you for listening.

The Back-Up Friend

Dear Back-up,

Whether it is relationships or friendships, you never deserve to be someone’s second choice. It sounds like you have been aware of this issue with her friendship for a long time, and you are working on coming to terms with it. However, there is absolutely no denying that it sucks.

One of my favorite exercises to do with clients that you might find helpful is to make an ecomap. This is an activity that allows you to visually express and view where your energy and effort are going, and what you are receiving, all from people in your life. I was taught to use circles for women and squares for men, but do whatever floats your boat. Use arrows to illustrate which direction energy and effort are going, solid or dotted lines for amount of energy, and double solid lines to indicate large amounts of time and energy. Spouses, children, and very involved friendships often fall in this category.

Here is an example eco map for the fictitious “Susie”:

Most healthy relationships will have both give and take (I say most because children, or family members you are a caregiver for are often an exception to this). Even for reciprocated relationships there is going to be fluctuation, and so it’s best to look back over the past 6 months. Friends who show little to no interest in your life, but expect you to listen to them definitely fall under the category of demanding more than they give, such as Y in the above diagram or the more extreme example of Z.

One of the hardest but also incredibly important tasks in life is learning to set boundaries. Decide what you want to do about this friend. If she shows an interest in being involved in your life again, will you allow it? Maybe keep her as a limited acquaintance?  Or is it healthier for you to end the friendship, or simply let it fizzle out? Make your decision, and stick with it.

Also, is it important to you that she knows how you feel about being the back-up friend? If you want to get those feelings out, but don’t feel it’s necessary to mention it to her, then write a letter to her but don’t send it. You can keep it in your journal, throw it away, burn it, etc. If it’s necessary for her to be aware of your feelings for you to move forward, then speak with her about this.

I wish you luck in making this decision, setting boundaries, and with moving forward.


Overview of “Susie’s” Eco Map

Dotted lines: Limited energy/time

Solid Lines: Indicate large amounts of energy/time

Arrows: Indicate the direction energy and time are going

Circles: Women

Squares: Men

B: Mutual friendship

C: Mutual strong friendship, possibly a marriage

Y: Uneven friendship

Q: Mutual causal friendship

Z: Uneven relationship, possibly a child, or a very needy friend

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