How To Know If You're Friends With Someone For The Wrong Reasons

There are a lot of reasons to be friends with someone: you both like to do the same things, your personalities compliment each other, and you make each other laugh. These are solid elements upon which to build a friendship that will endure. When you face the world together and have each other's backs, you're doing it right. Still, every friendship has its ups and downs, its warm and cool phases. But in general, if you are pulling the same amount of weight and reaping equal benefits, your friendship will be good for your health. But what happens when you're friends with the wrong person? And how do you know if you are putting work into a friendship that will never be healthy? Here are some things to consider when trying to assess your friendships.

You feel sorry for her

It's natural and healthy to have sympathy for your friends and loved ones when they are going through tough times. After all, in our difficult hours, we need our friends to be present and understanding so we can endure. Psychology professor Daryl R. Van Tongeren, Ph.D., notes, "When going through challenges, social support is key. Sharing your feelings, gaining support from friends and family, and having people there to make sure you take care of yourself are important in this process. It's best when we don't have to go through this alone."

But sometimes, sympathy can turn into pity, and if that pity is the only reason you are spending time with someone, that friendship likely is not going to last. This is fundamentally because people do not like to be pitied. According to Dr. Aaron Ben-Zeev, "Owing to the belief in the other's inferiority, pity may easily insult or humiliate the recipient. Indeed, pity is often associated with the ridiculous. That is why most people do not like to be pitied." Bearing this in mind, it's easy to see feeling sorry for someone is not a good thing to build a relationship on, so it's best to discontinue the friendship and move on.

She gives you money

It's always nice when friends do nice things for one another. Whether it's getting someone a stunner of a birthday present or picking up a sweater that you know your friend would love, giving gifts to a friend is a great way to show her that you are thinking about her and care about her happiness. It's also good for your health! According to Scott Bea, a doctor at The Cleveland Clinic, "We all know giving helps others, whether we volunteer for organizations, offer emotional support to those around us or donate to charities. But studies show that giving is also good for the giver — boosting physical and mental health."

However, there are certain situations where someone is doing too much for another person by giving her extravagant gifts and excessive sums of money. Do you have a friend who gives you things even if it's not an opportune occasion? Does she give you money even when you don't ask for it? Does she insist on paying for your drinks when you're at the bar? It sounds like your friend might be an over-giver, which is bad for both of you. As author and psychotherapist Karen Kleiman notes, "Giving for the wrong reasons can be detrimental to both your relationship and your self-esteem. Women often report that they feel as though they give and give and receive little in return." All of the giving your friend is doing is depleting her emotional and financial resources, so it's best to stop accepting all of her gifts.

You met her through your friend

One of the most common ways people make new friends is by meeting our friend's friends. Chances are you will have some things in common with folks who enjoy going out and spending time with your mutual buds because good friendships are built on common interests. According to social worker Greta GIeissner, "Whether this pertains to hobbies, sports, goals, education, values, or religion, we often prefer spending time with people who enjoy the same things as we do. This allows for immediate connection and ultimately strengthens our relationships." So it's no surprise that if you enjoy hiking and being athletic with your friends, for example, you will have similar priorities in life such as fitness and staying healthy.

Still, it's important to remember that just because you enjoy the same things doesn't mean you are going to naturally build the same rapport when it comes to building and maintaining individual friendships. So if it isn't natural because you are too different despite your mutual friends, don't force it. There is another completely deparate issue to consider: your friend might not want to share her friend with you as it can lead to feelings of exclusion. According to Andrea Lavinthal, co-author of Friend or Frenemy? A Guide to the Friends You Need and the Friends You Don't, "Most girls won't admit this, but they'd rather you hit on their significant other than their best friend." That's another good reason to be careful which friend's friend you befriend.

You talk about her behind her back

Talking about your friends when they are not around is something many people do. Often, this activity can be a healthy way to discuss concerns you may have about the well-being of a friend. For example, what if you are concerned about your friend's mental health? Who do you talk to about this? According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, it's best to approach friends and family. The site notes, "Talking to friends and family about mental health problems can be an opportunity to provide information, support, and guidance."

But the problem here is not with this form of concerned talk — we're talking about the depreciating gossip that people enjoy when their friend isn't around. We certainly reap benefits from gossiping: stress relief, improved cooperation, and it can even foster self-improvement. But, being the target of gossip can be hurtful and potentially damaging. According to research psychologist Dr. Peggy Drexler, "Both research and the experiences of those who have been the targets of gossip... argue that gossip can hurt relationships and create a climate of fear and resentment, all of which feeds stress like humidity feeds a storm." So if you find yourself ready to talk trash, it benefits everyone if you bite your tongue and stop hanging out with the person you're talking about.

You have a crush on her boyfriend

It's scientifically proven that we're more attracted to someone if they are taken. According to Dr. Valerie Gordon, "Mate poaching is a robust phenomenon, and it is here to stay. When single women see a moderately attractive male, they are more interested in him if they believe he is already in a relationship!" So it is not a surprise if you find yourself crushing on your friend's boyfriend. But it's what you do in this situation that reveals the strength of your friendship. If you really value your friendship, you will do whatever it takes to get over your crush so you can preserve the friendship. But if you're hanging out with her just to see him, you know that your friendship is not going to last.

You live together

In many cities across America, the cost of rent is increasing, even though incomes are not. In order to deal with this, more and more people are opting to live with roommates, which keeps the cost of rent more manageable than living alone. Ideally, depending on who you chose to live with, you might find yourself becoming friends with her. Some roommates end up becoming lifelong friends, whether you meet in college or live together while in the workforce. But simply living together is not a compelling enough reason to invest in a friendship, so if you are just spending time with them because it's convenient, your friendship is likely not built on a solid foundation.

But if you get along with her naturally, share interests, and truly enjoy each other's company, that's great because many roommates don't get along with each other. "As a psychiatrist, I have heard innumerable sad stories of roommates at odds with each other," notes psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Neuman. "Roommates are in a singularly good position to drive each other crazy if that is their intent." Given these odds, keeping it respectful can often be the way to go instead of forcing a friendship with her.

She's a VIP

Access to elite clubs, front row seats at the theater, expensive clothes and accessories, friends in high places: if your friend always seems to have these, she's a big fish. Fortunately for you, you are her friend, so often she will invite you to the game with her, help you network for a job, or have you tag along for an exciting premier. Would you still be friends with her if her economic and social standing was on par with yours? If so, enjoy the perks!

But bear in mind that your friendship might be strained by the imbalance of capital. "There can be a major sense of insecurity and worthlessness associated with one person making more money," notes psychologist and director of the Institute for Behavior Therapy Barry Lubetkin. Sociology professor Dalton Conley agrees: "Money makes explicit the inequalities in a relationship, so we work hard to minimize it as a form of tact." Clearly, a financial imbalance between friends begets the need for emotional labor in maintaining your friendship, but you will know if it's worth it. And if you are only palling around with her for the VIP treatment, your interest in the friendship is shallow at best.

You're related

There is a lot of pressure on women to be close friends with her sisters. After all, they are likely to be your longest relationship in life, more so even than spouses and parents. And, according to Dr. Terri Apter, child psychologist and author of The Sister Knot, your siblings "know you better than anyone. They may not always admire you, but they'll always be intensely interested in you."

So it might seem obvious that you and your sister would be best friends. And while it is common, it's not universal. In fact, psychologist Martin Lloyd-Elliott notes that his clients are not altogether likely to get along with their sibling. "Many of my clients get on badly with siblings, which could partly be down to the family dynamics of why they're seeing me." He estimates that only about a third of people have good sibling relationships. So don't put undue pressure on yourself to be your sister's BFF, and don't force her into a friendship that doesn't come about organically. You're not alone.

You're falling for her

Every once in a while, you stumble onto what you think is the perfect friendship. It starts with two women bonding over an ex-boyfriend on social media. Then you find that you enjoy the same movies, like the same new restaurants, or have the same hobbies. Soon enough, you fall into an routine, spending all of your free time hanging out together. But what happens when you start to miss her when she isn't around? Are you ignoring texts and calls from your other friends because you are preoccupied with her? Did she accidentally leave her shirt at your place but you're hoping she left it for you on purpose? If so, it sounds like you're developing romantic feelings for her, which is okay, but there's one problem: as far as you know, she's straight.

As Dr. Helen Oddesky, a Chicago based Clinical Psychologist and the author of Stop Anxiety From Stopping You, notes: "You are hoping the friendship will turn into romance. This is a surefire path to heartbreak. Ask yourself, are you prepared to listen to their stories of dates and romances and give the type of advice a friend would? How would you feel watching them fall in love with someone else? Trying to be friends hoping that it will turn into something more can cause a lot of heartache. If you are not in it for the friendship, decide whether to take the step and reveal how you feel or end the friendship."

Maintain balance

An imbalance in some form, be it financial or emotional, is the root cause of less-than-ideal friendships. Therefore, in order to have healthy and balanced bonds, it's important to continually and proactively nurture your friendships. According to Jessica S. Campbell, LCSW, "While most of our relationships are not two perfectly and evenly matched people coming together — the best and most stable relationships do need to have things like mutual respect, open communication, and an ability and willingness to work together to resolve conflict." So, make sure that you are putting in as much as you are getting out of your friendships in order to have the best and most fulfilling bonds. Your friendship needs work in order to thrive.

As licensed counselor Dr. Suzanne Degges-White notes, "Friendship can offer an enduring lifelong bond and become an unrivaled source of mutual support, both emotional and instrumental—but it is important to recognize that a friendship untended can quickly become a friendship ended."