All my friends know this about me—never call when you could send a text instead. I cannot stand talking on the phone. Maybe you can relate. But as much as I love texting (I think of it as my love language), there are times when I don’t feel like responding.
Texting preference aside– have you ever had a clingy friend who you love but makes you cringe a little bit when a notification from them pops up on your phone? Maybe you even avoid opening it? Or when they’re around, you kind of tune them out, because they’ve just been draining you lately and you don’t really know how to say that in a nice way? Don’t worry —because same—and you’ve come to the right place.
Super-close friendships are one thing—but feeling like someone is all up in your grill all the time is another, and it can get suffocating. There are plenty of not-so-great or unhealthy ways to handle a clingy friend that I would not recommend — like ghosting them, or letting frustration pile up until you blow up at them one random Tuesday afternoon. Luckily, we’ve got some healthy alternatives on the table, too. Here are four strategies that will help you nip an uncomfortable situation in the bud in the most positive way possible.
Step 1: Know what your boundaries are (and communicate them).
After texting, my second favorite thing is healthy boundaries. I’m serious. Healthy boundaries ensure that you can love yourself and other people well at the same time—and they’re magical. “If you don’t know, now you know,” as Biggie puts it. Feeling like your friend is clingy is just a sign that one of your boundaries are being crossed, and they straight up won’t know that unless you’ve told them. (Though maybe you have —we’ll get to that later).
More often than not, we don’t set boundaries on day one of friendship. I’ve never said “Hi, it’s nice to meet you—also, please never ever call me,” in my first interaction with someone. It’s something I express when the time comes…which is usually in a text to that person about why they just called me as I send them to voicemail. You don’t have to defend your boundaries to anyone—but you do have to express them. Maybe you don’t want to hang out with them every single weekend. Or answer a “what’s up?” text fourteen times a day.
Once you’ve figured out where the lines are, you’ll know when they’re being crossed. So, figure out what’s okay and not okay within your friendship—maybe a fifteen-minute phone call is great (can’t relate…), but you start to lose your mind when that two-hour mark hits. Now you just have to tell them that.
Step 2: Try to use “I” statements when you talk to them.
Now that you know what you want to say to your friend, let’s think about how to say it. Healthy communication is a key element of any relationship because you should feel comfortable bringing up concerns when you have them. When that gets difficult, using “I” statements can help keep communication positive.
Simply put, “I” statements help avoid tension because they focus on your feelings rather than the other person’s actions. The goal? You have a way to express your needs and can help your friend avoid feeling defensive or shutting down. Let’s say I have a friend who’s called me eight times this week—not my favorite thing, right? When I talk to them about it, blurting out: “Wow, you’re suffocating me with all these phone calls—what gives??!” is probably not going to go over well. Instead, I may say, “I feel a little overwhelmed when I see all these missed calls because talking on the phone really stresses me out.” Now, I’ve expressed how I felt (without being accusatory!), and why. I’ve also set the stage to give them a chance to explain the reason for their clingy behavior—which takes us to Step 3.
Step 3: Be ready to hear them out, too.
If your friend is acting clingy, there’s probably a reason why—so try to find out. After you’ve expressed your boundaries and feelings using “I” statements, add in an opportunity to ask: “How are you doing, really?” Whenever I feel that a friend is hovering I take it as a cue to check in on them.
Step 4: Prepare for possible discomfort.
On the other hand, it may be hard for your friend to hear that you feel like they’ve been too close for comfort lately, even with all of your efforts to use care and compassion when you address it. That happens. If things hit turbulence or don’t go well, remind yourself of your boundaries and why you wanted to bring it up in the first place. You deserve friendships that feel good to be in!
Some unhealthy friendships can be repaired—but some are too toxic. Asserting your boundaries helps you know the difference. If this conversation doesn’t go well, it will tell you that it might be time to pull the plug on the relationship, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve seen a quote while scrolling through Instagram lately: “The only people who get upset when you enforce your boundaries are the ones who benefitted from you not having any”—and it’s so true. Even if it’s hard to hear, a healthy friend will appreciate that you made an effort to improve your relationship and that you were honest about how you felt.
A healthy friend will respect your boundaries—and talking about them doesn’t have to be a brutal experience. Think of it as a halftime huddle—you and your friend just need to figure out how to get things back in a good rhythm. Don’t ghost the situation, and don’t let things build up too much. Instead, pat yourself on the back for realizing your boundaries have been crossed, and then use these tips to get some breathing room, without sending your friend packing.
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