Did you have a BFF when you were little?
A best friend forever?
In the summer, Jess and I loved to fling water balloons at each other in her front yard.
She taught me how to play “Greensleeves” on the piano. We devoured her mom’s lasagna while watching cartoons on Sundays.
Then, one day Jess told me a secret.
Since the secret was a bit naughty, and that made me feel uneasy, I told my mom. I didn’t know my mom would tell Jess’ mom…
The next time I visited Jess, she passed the ball to others, but not to me.
She didn’t offer me a slice of lasagna. Jess never spoke to me again—for the next 15 years.
I had lost my best friend because of one mistake.
As a 7 year-old, I couldn’t just “get over it”. I felt abandoned and unworthy. I became needy in friendships, to hold onto whatever love I could get.
Believe it or not, I still felt this way as an adult. After many painful (and beautiful!) friendships though, I finally learned to stop expecting too much from friends.
While it’s noble to have high expectations, they often lead us to disappointment. Having too-low expectations, however, doesn’t fulfill us.
It’s far better to have realistic expectations of friends. We can then accept our friends’ defaults and enjoy their presence more. Best of all, we learn how to stop seeking external validation and find joy within.
But lowering our expectations isn’t easy, especially for perfectionists. No one wants to invite jerks into their lives.
Here are some things to keep in mind…
Expectations and boundaries go hand in hand
When we assume that a friend will be on time to a coffee or try not to hurt our feelings, that’s an expectation.
Boundaries indicate what’s okay and not okay with us. It’s about how we take care of ourselves, despite others. Expectations are directed externally, while boundaries are about us.
But, expectations and boundaries inform each other…
If we feel upset because a friend often cancels last-minute, we learn that we have a boundary about respecting our time. When we communicate our boundary, we can expect our friend to honor it. And if they repeatedly don’t, we might end the friendship.
According to this article, there are 9 essential boundaries to have. Here are some examples:
- Time: I need my friends to be punctual to a hangout.
- Needs: Keeping in touch every month is essential to me.
- Reciprocity: It’s unacceptable that a friend contacts me only for help.
- Sharing info: I prefer to not talk about money with my friends. I’d be happy to talk about work and relationships.
- Values: I have a right to ask that my friends respect my political views, without trying to persuade me to change.
- Emotional self-care: I can listen to a distressed friend, but I won’t fix the problem for her.
- Attitude: To protect my time and energy, I don’t want to hang out with Debbie Downers. I want fun and positive friends.
- Support: Friends may not give me unsolicited advice.
- Saying no: I’m allowed to politely decline.
So, communicate your expectations and boundaries. Ask your friends about theirs too.
That way, you and your friends can agree on how to honor each other, avoid unnecessary conflict and become even closer.
Assess your friendships
Years ago, my partner Loïc described to me his “categories” of friends as concentric circles: he and I are at the core, his close friends in the next circle, acquaintances in the one after that and everyone else in the outermost circle.
Simple enough. But at that time, the idea of ranking friends shocked me, as if I were comparing the nutrition facts on boxes of pasta at the store.
I preferred to see my friends, however close they were to me, as one happy mishmash of potential human connection. Oh, the idealist in me…
But then, I felt disappointed when an acquaintance didn’t open up more. Somehow, I didn’t quite feel safe when I told my deepest, darkest secrets to one of my best friends. Yet I was also extremely grateful to have at least one person in my life with whom I could be completely myself.
That’s when I realized that I was expecting too much from certain friends. They couldn’t be what I wanted them to be.
Once I gauged my friendships, though, my expectations became realistic—freeing me from resentment, guilt and shame.
Psychotherapist Victoria Lorient-Faibish recommends assigning our friends to A, B, C and D categories, so that we don’t “have A expectations from a person that belongs in a C group”:
- Group A: your dearest friends with whom you feel safe to be 100% yourself, you don’t judge each other, they’ve earned your trust
- Group B: close friends who you trust less than A-group friends
- Group C: acquaintances, co-workers, downgraded B-group friends and friends of friends
- Group D: people with whom you’re obligated to be social (e.g. your boss, some co-workers, certain family members)
We don’t have to feel guilty about assessing friendships.
Of course, friendships can evolve. But making sure our expectations align with the present moment saves us from much frustration and resentment.
Choose friends with similar core values
When one of my dearest friends announced her plan to visit me, I was overjoyed. We hadn’t seen each other for 3 years. It’d also be the occasion to meet her fiancé.
But the thrill in my pounding heart quickly dwindled. My partner and I had just enough money for that month: If they visit, we can’t even pay for outings or restaurants. How embarrassing!
I confessed the problem to my friend, who understood and kindly offered to pay. But she had one condition—she didn’t want her generosity to be a burden for me.
And I’m sure glad that I was able to receive! Because we all had a marvelous time, dining along the Loire River and wine tasting in troglodyte cellars. My friend and I reinforced the bond we’ve had since high school.
Even though I lead a simple life and my friend, an extravagant one, we’ve always shared similar core values, like honesty, creativity and growth—the ideals that make us tick and guide our actions.
Of course, it’s possible to appreciate friends with vastly different beliefs and opinions than ours.
But choosing close friends with similar values keeps expectations in check and motivates us to uphold those values—our common heartbeat.
Find joy within
One of the biggest “mistakes” we can make is to expect friends—or anyone, for that matter—to validate our worth.
(I put quotation marks around mistakes because mistakes are ultimately learning opportunities.)
When we feel worthy in large part because of our achievements, looks, money or others’ praise and appreciation, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Because our joy depends on volatile things.
Similarly, it’s unreasonable to expect your friends to completely understand you.
I used to count on my best friend to approve every one of my feelings before I could move on from a problem. Despite many explanations, they couldn’t always understand how I felt. Which made me sigh in frustration and despair.
The thing is, no one can truly “get” you except… you! We all come from different backgrounds. Friends can guide us, but we have to take the next step ourselves.
Instead of expecting our friends to give us peace, love and joy, we can empower ourselves by nourishing these ideals on our own. Pour your feelings into a journal. Dance alone to blasting salsa.
Self-care goes a long way (get your free booklet below).
Then, when we hang out with friends, we’ll spend less time complaining and more time laughing… or just enjoying each other’s presence.
“If you take your happiness and put it in someone’s hands, sooner or later, she is going to break it. If you give your happiness to someone else, she can always take it away. Then if happiness can only come from inside of you and is the result of your love, you are responsible for your happiness.” ―Miguel Ruiz, The Mastery of Love
Take responsibility for your life
While it’s fair to expect (A- and B-group 😉 ) friends to support us, the ultimate victory is taking responsibility for your life.
That means, instead of blaming and expecting friends’ approval, we pursue what we want anyway. We learn from past hurts and treat ourselves kindly.
We are the dearest friend we have.
So, cultivate your personal garden of joy.
Plant lilacs and lavender for your own pleasure.
Then, when you invite friends over, they can enjoy the perfume of your labor.
About the author
Annie Moussu is a mindfulness coach on a mission to help women let go of perfectionism, self-doubt and people-pleasing. Sign up for her newsletter to get blog articles twice a month.
Further reading to stop expecting too much from friends: