The One-Topic Friend

I have this friend. And we only talk about one topic.

In this case, the topic is her love life. Specifically the ongoing saga of a would-be relationship she’s been pursuing with a guy I sort of know, but not well.

But the specific topic isn’t the issue. The issue is that this is our only topic of discussion. Ever. We never discuss our lack of discussion topics (we’re too busy talking about her love life), but it’s most definitely understood. On the phone, when the love-life conversation has run out, we both just say, ‘Ok, I’ll talk to you later,’ and that’s ok. Sometimes she’ll say “what’s up with you?” and I’ll say, maybe, “I went to the farmer’s market today.” And then she, or I, or both, will end with a quick “So, I’ll talk to you later?”

I should be quite clear: I don’t mind this. I’m interested in the romance saga, and I don’t have anything nearly as juicy going on in my life. But I’m intrigued by this type of friendship. The one-topic friendship.

I’ve had others like this. Friends with whom I talk exclusively about a mutual friend, or friends with whom I talk books and nothing else. Sometimes it seems easier to give into our one and only topic than to try and force chatter about the weather or some such.

The worst is when you have a friend and your sole topic if conversation is related to a specific event– a wedding, an interview, a pregnancy. Because once those events have come and gone, you’re left with nothing. And then the real test comes in. Can you find something else to talk about? Can you be real friends, the kind who talk about all sorts of randomness, rather than be relegated to a single point of discussion?

I wonder if this genre of friend should be added to the big list of friend types — there’s lifers, close friends, casual friends, acquaintances…. and one-topic friends?

You tell me. Anyone have any one-topic friends? Does it bother you? What’s your topic of choice?

31 Comments

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31 responses to “The One-Topic Friend

  1. I have a few one-topic friends. With some, it’s sports, with others, it’s school stuff. There’s one friend—whenever we talk, we just one-up each other about how busy we are. Still, it’s worth it.

  2. Anonymous

    Rachel…you write in an interesting style, and a matter that I work too…I’ve read your book as I already mentioned…let me ask you what you point as ‘romance saga’…warm regards…Walter

  3. Sylvia

    Most of the time I feel like one big ear and even tho I am somewhat interested in the same topic repeated over and over again It becomes wearisome and draining. There is no sharing, no exchange of energies, no sense of curiousity as to what is going on in my life and I am left with a sense of being SIDESWIPED – No sense of IN to Me I SEE no depth and no sense of being amplified. I deserve more than these narcissitic monologues – and look forward to meeting another like minded friend who delights in challenging, stimulating discourses on whatever strikes our unbounded fancies. Now that would be sheer delight.

  4. I wouldn’t mind it. I would give it a vote for its own category of friend types.

  5. Katherine

    To me, the word friend implies more intimacy than one topic of conversation allows for. I would say that my husband has his football buddies and I have my book club group. Do they fulfill a necessary social and emotional outlet? Yes. Are they true friends when all we talk about is football or books? No.

    • I agree. There is space for different associations but an actual friend is more mutually engaging. Otherwise you’re just playing free therapist, which is only fulfilling for so long.

  6. I’ve had a few one topic friends, and the topic was either the other person’s relationship or relationships in general. I don’t understand how these one-note friendships evolve, and I really can’t comprehend how I can meet with someone for months (maybe even years?) without getting tired of talking about that one topic. There seems to be all this energy and chemistry for this one idea and nothing else. I always wonder if it would be possible to explore other topics and expand the friendship, but I’ve never been able to pull it off.

  7. Yessssss, I do have one of those. With us, it\’s how much she doesn\’t like her job and how they don\’t value her. Except unlike you, I got tired of it and said, very nicely but firmly, \”you know, A, it really seems like you will put up with ANYTHING from your company because they pay you so well, so it sounds like you need to just get happy about it\” and she\’s more there. So now we still talk about that but we\’ve also started talking about other things. Last supper was great as we spoke about ME – my growing love of photography. She\’s very visual and artistic so I think this \”talks\” to her too

  8. I do have a one topic friend. I just never stopped and thought about the fact that he’s a one topic friend,lol.

  9. foroneplease

    Yup, some relationships are frozen in time..like this friend of mine who I’ve known since I was 5, she got married and moved away a decade ago (she was in a rush to get married :P) And now every time we meet, all we talk about is the stuff we knew when we were little! It’s nice to be with her nonetheless :)

  10. I have a couple of one-topic friends — one is an old high school friend with whom I reconnected 30 years later and who can’t seem to move past high school in our conversations — maybe because he was a more interesting person then (or maybe he thought I was a more interesting person then!). Another is my neighbour. We both met another neighbour at about the same time and we bonded over our growing dislike of the woman. No matter what else I talk about with my neighbour it always circles back to the other woman. I’m about to put my foot down because I can’t bear it. I am worried that if I do, though, I will offend her so badly that we’ll never speak again.

  11. Pam

    Hi Rachel, I just read your book (LOVED!) and have just begun reading your blog. First time commenter! I have had one-topic friends in the past, and I’ve BEEN the one-topic friend as well. In your situation, does she rely on you for advice, or just a sounding board? Were you always discussing *just* her relationship? I’m thinking back to a friendship that I had that became a one-topic destination: my love life. Although I tried to ask questions of my friend’s life, she didn’t disclose nearly as much as I did (plus, she’s married and I’m not), so it always came back to me. Eventually, perhaps from oversaturation, she started to become critical , maybe because she felt like she was an expert. At this point, it went sour! Do you think friendships that become one-sided are doomed to go bad? Just curious as to your thoughts.

  12. d*

    This is a good question, Rachel. At times, I’m a one-topic friend, with the topic being me, but it’s only because the other friend does not want to talk about themselves. I actually need to end a friendship soon (read: today) that has gone on like this for years. Not learning about the other friend makes me feel overexposed and unduly self-absorbed. It also makes me sad that they don’t want to share their life with me, like I’m being kept at arm’s length.

    Eventually, these types of relationships, whether I’m the one-topic friend, or the other is, usually peter out and we don’t keep in touch as much. It just takes too much effort. Not to say that I need all my friends to talk about all topics, but if the reciprocity isn’t there, then I’m more than likely am not going to make the relationship a priority.

    But to sound contradictory to what I just said, I think it depends on the topic. Let’s say the topic is about writing–that topic is very varied and one could go on for hours talking about it. But again, if it ends up just being about one person, then I feel like it’s some shrink-patient relationship. Again, reciprocity is really important to me, and sometimes it’s just not going to be there all the time, but it is a priority for me.

  13. Anonymous

    A few of my coworkers this year were definitely one-topic friends. We got a new supervisor at the beginning of the year that no one really got along with and that’s alllll we ever talked about. It got pretty draining after awhile but it always felt too hard to change the subject because what would I change it to? Everything else felt forced. I recently left that job and saw a few of them a couple weeks ago and it definitely felt weird having to subsist on other topics of conversation.

  14. Bonnie

    My friend’s single topic is our joint childhood, bad memories and all, and it’s going nowhere. She feels needy, I feel sad and used, and guilty if I allow myself to. We’re stuck, or at least I am. Any ideas?
    Anonymous

  15. Lisa

    The NY Times just had a great article about how hard it is to find friends after college, and one of the women actually talks about something kind of similar. She said that now she’s older, she looks for friends that meet a specific need, like someone to play basketball with, someone else to go to dinner with, etc. I guess she finds it easier to find someone to fill a niche like that than to seek out a single person she could do everything with. An interesting perspective, and an article that made me think of you Rachel! Here’s the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/fashion/the-challenge-of-making-friends-as-an-adult.html?_r=2&adxnnl=1&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1342552468-0SwXxcUjYhV/TFMmvES5Yg

    • This past Sunday Styles section of the NYTimes had an article on making new friends and used Rachel’s book as a reference.
      She is becoming “The expert” in this field.
      Hooray!

  16. I’m trying to become more aware of the amount of time I spend talking about one, absorbing (to me) topic. Those relationships get stale really fast, and I don’t want my desire to understand and talk about my “”one topic” to cause me to become a bore or a drain on my friends.

    By the way, Rachel, I love the thought-provoking questions you ask on your blog. And your post the other day on busyness . . . changed my life.

  17. I wonder if this type of friend is actually that…a friend. We all have people in our lives with whom we have small talk, but the conversations do not go beyond the superficial or like you say, the “one-topic.” Usually, these people are considered acquaintances (co-workers, neighbors, etc.).

    However, as many of us have experienced, acquaintances can blossom into friendships – maybe you two connected over your love of running, and so you’d talk about running all of the time. If you’re able to move past that topic and discuss other things, then the friendship has potential to become strong.

    If the topic of conversation is only about one thing, and it bothers you, my question is: have you tried to talk to this person about your feelings? Sometimes we’re consumed with what’s going on in our lives that we’re not always aware of these things. Maybe this person approaches all of her friends this way, and it’s not just you.

    Thus, I think it’s a matter of how you label this person, what role she has in your life, and whether or not it bothers you.

  18. d*

    Hi again. So I learned from my friend that I did not break up with that she was focusing on me as avoidance from the tough stuff she was going through–which she didn’t really share much with me until much later. We were thankfully able to work things out.

    All to say that friendships, like, people, can be complicated. It’s hard for me personally not to feel insulted if people prattle on and on about their life and not ask about yours OR let you do that and not let you in on their life. It’s all about preferences–if you’re OK with the imbalance or not.

  19. I don’t mind if a friendship starts out that way. It only bothers me when I’ve had close friends who have devolved into one-topic friends. It always makes me wonder if I did something wrong, but I’ve never been brave enough to ask.

  20. I don’t mind the one topic friend… unless the one topic the person wants to always talk about is THEMSELVES. Not much of a mutual friendship, and not someone with whom I want to give my time and energy!

  21. Juliette

    Unfortunately my experience has been that one-topic friendships are short-lived..I guess my perpective is that is takes a certain level of self-denial to talk about the same thing, literally repeating sentences word for word…to the same person and be expect that the relationship has any hope for energy/ growth….I have also found that if I am stuck in this sort of relationship, it is because the vibe to share freely is off…there is kinda of a feeling that we have found a comfort zone, so just stay there. But I have also had friends who call to talk about themselves, if I offer any details about my own life, I get a “uhuh”…then silence….That will tend to be my exit cue in a potential friendship..

  22. I was the one-topic friend once. I was going through a hard time with my family and that’s all I could talk about. I learned to start keeping my mouth shut when I lost a friend over it. I cringe to think at how annoying I must have been. That poor friend of mine.

  23. Keokah

    I had one of these. I say it should NOT be added. The only thing we talked about was her “horrible” marriage. If I ever interjected anything about me, her response was “yea girl, but then he…” She left me drained, so I left her alone. Maybe I should have said something but I’m usually the “I’m tried of you so I stop talking to you” type.

  24. Oh my GOODNESS!
    I DO have a friend like this – the ONLY thing we ever talk about is her love life. It bothers me, I must admit. Dont get me wrong – I am a fabulous listener (if I do say so myself!), but sometimes it would be nice to have a two-sided convo, you know?
    Love your post, thank you for sharing :)
    xxo

  25. I do in fact have a couple one topic friends, and I am okay with it. The hardest part was early in the relationship defining the fact that when I spoke to them the conversation would always center around that topic. Once I cleared that in my head I was okay.

  26. Many myself. Which sucks because I would give you the shirt off my back but you have to listen to me talk about me first. Lose a lot of friends this way.

  27. I have a one topic friend! She ALWAYS tells me about her love life and that’s all. I’m so sick of hearing it! Funny to hear the term “one topic friend”. Love your blog :)

  28. I’m probably the one-topic friend. lol But I think I have a few of those. It’s common when you’re acquaintances with a lot of people to have very few things in common to talk about than the one thing, especially if they don’t bother to get to know you.

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