Reciprocation: A Tricky Situation

One of the most common grievances I hear from women regarding their friendships is that they feel like they’re always putting in the effort. They make the plans, send out the invites (via email, phone, old-school mail), and call in the reservations, while their friends just show up.

I understand how frustrating that can be. Women want to feel wanted—this is true of friendship as well as romance. It’s important to feel like your friend’s as eager to see you as you are to see her. And reciprocation, as we know, is one of the primary rules of friendship.

That said, I do believe that sometimes people overanalyze the one-sidedness. It doesn’t necessarily always mean that the friendship as a whole is unbalanced, or that one party cares more than the other. In friendships—as in marriages—people often fall into specific roles, and very often one of those roles is that of planner. In college, there was a guy in my extended group of friends that we called Social Chair. He was, without fail, always the one who organized all outings, whether it was a night out at a bar or a trip down to Jazz Fest. (I never actually went on that trip, regrettably…)

I think that this friend really enjoyed being the planner, but I don’t actually know for sure. It’s possible that he felt the same way that readers have described—exhausted, frustrated, unappreciated. But the reason the rest of us didn’t reciprocate wasn’t because we didn’t like him. It was because he seemed to enjoy being the planner, and he was quite good at it. And on the plus side for him, being Social Chair meant he got to choose the plans.

I understand that the relationships between a group of college pals is different than a two-person, intimate bestfriendship. But the principle is similar. If you’re always the one reaching out, your friend might assume that’s your role. She may not even be thinking this consciously. Maybe she’s just so used to you doing the work that she forgets to take the initiative.

Keep in mind that I am not defending a friend who never puts in any effort. It can be really annoying. Just recently one of my relationships with a potential BFF fizzled because I was constantly doing the work. There was no reciprocation.  I would set up plans, she would sound excited and then cancel at the last minute asking for a rain check, I would respond with the dates I was available and then… nothing. Eventually I got bored of the same routine over and over, and I stopped trying. That’s when it became clear that I’d been the only one trying at all.

What I am trying to say is this: Don’t write a friend off point blank because you feel like you are always the one making the plans. Might there be a reason for that, other than ‘she’s rude’? It’s quite likely.

(Also, keep in mind the psychological phenomenon of “unconscious overclaiming”: The idea that we overestimate our contributions to something—like a relationship—compared with other people’s. Might you be overestimating your BFF “workload” compared to hers?)

If your friendship imbalance is truly bothering you, you might need to talk to your friend. But it’s hard to have that conversation without appearing as if you keep score, so I’d suggest thinking seriously about where her supposed lack of effort comes from before going the confrontational route.

Thoughts? Am I right to give the non-planner the benefit of the doubt? Or is lack of reciprocation a dealbreaker?

8 Comments

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8 responses to “Reciprocation: A Tricky Situation

  1. Ana

    I think you’re right. Basically, most of us will be lazy unless put to the test. If your friend is continuously making awesome plans & inviting you along, then you will likely just go along for the ride! If she stops for a while, then it may dawn on you to pick up the slack (if you really care about the friendship).

    And I do often assume that people who make plans frequently (the “social chair” types) really do ENJOY that role. Or that the plans they make are so elaborate and fun that you feel like anything you cooked up would be too boring. For example, if your friend is always snagging invites to cool events, you may feel like your offer of “ummm. lets grab dinner at chili’s and see a movie” may not be worth her while.

    That being said, your situation sounds a bit different, in that you made the plans and then she bailed on them for good. That’s not just someone who isn’t a planner…that’s a total flake!

  2. Megan

    Definitely a dealbreaker. I feel like the people who don’t put in the effort don’t actually WANT to be friends and that makes it hard to motivate myself to try to be friends with them. I have fallen into the role of planner SO many times and I actually really resent it. I step up because it doesn’t seem like anyone else will that is the most frustrating thing in the world – feeling like if you don’t do something, it won’t get done.

    • Lorrie Paige

      I totally agree with Megan. Been there, done that many times. Lesson learned.

      As I get older, time is more precious to me, so unless there is a crystal clear indication of interest and reciprocation, it’s a moving on situation for me pretty quickly. In this way now I don’t feel like I wasted my time and am not angry with myself or having any feeling of resentment toward the person who didn’t make the effort.

      For me, it must be a “love at first sight” in a platonic way; in this way, there is mutual love with both of us planning/making the effort pretty equally so there is no reason to “keep score”.

  3. Devongirl

    I would love to be the planner, I think that people who are able to play this role underestimate what a great skill it is. Part of the reason I am no good at this is my fear of rejection, I find it hard to ask people to make plans with me, either because I’m afraid my plans are not good enough, or I really just don’t believe that people will want to spend time with me.

    The other side of this is that I can have the tendency to over agree to others’ plans, even when the plans are not realistic for me. Like agreeing to get up early on a Saturday and drive three hours to go hiking, after working overtime all week – needless to say this didn’t happen, but was a good lesson for me!

    • Nora

      Wow- this is so me! I feel like if I try to make the plans, they won’t be as fun as everyone wants them to be or they simply won’t want to go since I will be planning the event instead of our other semi-pushy gf who does all the planning..

      I also feel like I say yes to plans/events, even if they’re unrealistic for me just for what I call “relationship upkeep.”

      thanks for writing on this, Rachel. Yet another great post! Keep doing what you’re doing!:)

  4. Laura

    What do you do about the ones that are truly flakes when they’re on your Facebook? I have a friend who makes no effort to stay in touch off Facebook but is always commenting on my Facebook. I haven’t seen her in 6 months. It was the situation where I initiated 99% of the contact and she often flaked on plans. On Facebook she talks to me like we’re BFF. Very confusing mixed message.

    Facebook has really complicated relationships and I’d love to see more posts about it, Rachel. How do you handle the pbff you meet that don’t work out if they’re on your FB. Do you unfriend them, limited profile view (no wall)?

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