Are Your Friends Sucking the Life out of You?

By: Donna Lee Schillinger

The sluggard’s craving will be the death of her because her hands refuse to work. All day long she craves for more but the righteous give without sparing. Proverbs 21:25-26

“The leech has two daughters, “Give! Give!’ they cry.” Proverbs 30:15

There are takers and givers. Which one are you?

Takers? I’ve known a few. Some extreme, others subtle. In more than one case, it took me many years to figure out that I was in a relationship (a friendship) with a taker. Takers can be interesting and fun people. They can invite you to their house and make you dinner. They can even listen to your problems (for a while). But when push comes to shove and you really need something from them – they are unavailable! When put to the test – they fail!

If you’re a generous person, a giver, you’ll want to overlook that time when your taker friend wouldn’t help you or when she was absent when you needed her to be present. That’s fine. I’ve done that before and in retrospect, I say it’s fine, as long as you don’t suffer from delusions that she will be there for you the next time. You know that old saying, “A friend in need is a friend indeed,” well, the opposite is true too. “If a friend is conspicuously missing when you’re in need, that person is not friend – take heed.”

About a decade ago, I met a woman named Lucy through work. She was witty and energetic, analytical and a loving mother. We became friends.

About two years into our friendship, Lucy started to have personal problems. Her boyfriend (who was half her age) dumped her for a woman his own age (go figure). Lucy was devastated and desperate.

Now, I’m sure you’ve had a girlfriend who was obsessed with the topic of her breakup, and maybe even you have been that person. When going through a breakup, it’s all a person thinks about. Most of us, however, have the good sense to try to change the subject every once in a while because, even in our wounded state, we can see what a burden we’re being to our friends. Not Lucy.

Lucy poured out her feelings to me. She was the first and only friend that has ever literally cried on my shoulder. It was awkward – I didn’t know how to comfort her, so I was just there for her for hours and days, in person and on the phone.

Eventually she got through it and eventually, I moved away, but I visited her even from a few states away. The last time I visited Lucy, I was engaged to be married. She said she was coming to my wedding. I mentioned that I was registered at such and such place and she said she wouldn’t dare stoop to buying a gift off the registry. She didn’t want to give a place setting or a blender – she was going to search for a unique gift that my future husband and I would appreciate for years to come. The way she described it, she put me in mind of an original painting or sculpture.

In the months before my wedding, Lucy called and e-mailed many times, always reiterating her plans to come to my wedding. I asked Lucy if she would play a special role in my wedding and she agreed. A few weeks away from the big day, Lucy started mentioning the difficulties with the various transportation options she had. She finally settled on driving.

Three days before my wedding, she called me and told me she was not going to be there – something about tires. This is the last thing a bride wants to hear and especially when the person was going to have a role in the wedding! I took it in stride while I was on the phone with her, but I was upset.

On the day of my wedding, she called again. (By the way, why do people do that? Have you ever been frantically preparing for a party only to have the phone ring a dozen times – people who are coming to the party who just want to ask a “quick question”? A woman on her wedding day is a bundle of raw nerves and has a thousand things to do. And everyone wants a piece of her! It’s nuts.) Anyway, I let the machine take Lucy’s call. She was wishing me well and said that she would send my gift. I’ve been married seven years now and I’m still waiting for that gift. I never even got a card!

Some months later, Lucy called again. I wasn’t home; she left a message and that was the last I heard from her.

Besides the occasional need for a babysitter, I’m not one that needs a lot or asks for much. So it took my wedding for me to find out who my real friends were. My time of need was one of the most special days of my life, a day I had often dreamed of, and wanted all my good friends to share. My wedding was awesome! But it also holds some sad memories as well – the realization that a few people I had called “friend” were not that at all. Lucy wasn’t the only person who let me down on that day. Another “friend,” Paul, called me the day before my wedding and bailed. He was driving in from six hours away and he was supposed to bring my teenage brothers with him. He knew that his decision not to attend would make it impossible for my brothers to be there. And yet he didn’t even apologize!

Both Paul and Lucy really disappointed me that day. Over the weeks and months that followed, I reflected on the years of our relationships and the many conversations into the wee morning hours with both, and realized I had been providing some sort of therapy for them. I had listened to their troubles, given advice, provided references and visited them. It hadn’t occurred to me before, but our relationships had been very lopsided. Both are really interesting people with good senses of humor and I suppose that is what kept me engaged in the relationships. But they were incapable of giving to me the one time I needed it. Not coincidentally, Paul didn’t send even a card either, and all I ever heard from him again was also one message on the answering machine.

While on the one hand, I found myself disappointed by some people I thought to be good friends, my wedding day also held pleasant surprises: gifts of time and effort from people from whom I hadn’t asked or expected it. Even as I was entering into a new phase of life, joining my life to that of another person, I was learning valuable lessons about true friendship. It was a lot to pack in one day.

I hope that as you develop friendships, you’ll occasionally “do the math” to assess if you’re in a lopsided relationship with a taker. Takers may fill your social calendar well enough, but don’t plan your wedding around them.

Hold this thought: You can give all you want to a “taker.” It will never be enough.

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2 thoughts on “Are Your Friends Sucking the Life out of You?

  1. wow… that was awesome. you know that really help me see that i have been for the past couple of years a taker. I have been stressing and talking about the same guy over and over but never really offered any real support in return. I was always worried about becoming that for awhile but this really just confirmed it. You know i could be myself up but honestly i am motivated to become more of a giver a true giver….
    awesome entry keep it up

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