{the life} What I’m Looking for in a Friend

by Rachel on March 29, 2012

It’s been about a month since my friend break-up, and I am happy to say I’m doing really well. Talking about it helped a lot; just acknowledging that it happened and allowing myself to feel the emotions and take the action that I would during any other break up has really helped me get over it.

Since it happened, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I stayed in such a toxic friendship for so long. Like I said right after it happened, I think I should give my female friendships as much thought, effort, and credit as I give my relationships. One thing I often think about with relationships is what I’m looking for in a mate; I consider a guy’s good and bad qualities and compare them to a list of what I’m looking for in a partner and what I see as red flags. Well, why not do the same for friends? So I decided that before I continue on in my quest for new friends (which is still going well — more updates soon!), I should think about what I’m looking for in a friend. And before I let any other friendships continue way past their expiration date, I should figure out what my dealbreakers are. So I thought about my best friends and and came up with this list.

New Friend Dealmakers

She’s talkative. I get really excited when I meet someone who likes to hear the sound of his or her own voice as much as I do. I really bond with people when we’re getting deep into a topic we both care about. When I meet someone I can go on for hours with about certain topics, who finished up a two-hour conversation on, say, women and social media, and says, “So what next?” I know we’re off to a great start.

She’s gracious. I struggled to come up with a word for what I’m about to describe, but I think gracious is sums it up. When I meet someone new, I want to know how she talks to or about people who are different than she is. To me, someone who is gracious is fair, open-minded, and non-judgmental of others. A lot of people don’t understand how I can be friends with people with very different political beliefs than I have, but I think that as long as they are gracious, we can still get along. (Actually I can have the same views as someone, but if they aren’t gracious, we probably won’t get along.)

She’s motivated. The people I connect with most are the people who are motivated to go for the things they want in life and to make the best of situations they can’t change. I love when I’m talking to someone and I can tell she’s just really excited about her life.

I’m sure what people are looking for in a friend is just as varied as what people are looking for in a significant other, so I’d love to hear what you’re looking for in a friend and what your dealbreakers are. (I’m sure they will make me think of a lot of my own too!) Please share!

{ 39 comments }

1 Sarah March 29, 2012 at 10:51 am

GREAT post! I think we all need to be reminded that our girl friend relationships are just as important as our romantic relationships. This post really helped me evaluate why some friendships haven’t worked and why that is OK. Thanks!

2 Jacki March 29, 2012 at 11:13 am

Dude, are we the same person? I’ve been working on a piece about this very thing – mostly how I recognized that I was in a wildly toxic friendship. The issues? Talking shit about other women, jealousy, and neediness. I became a punching bag for someone who was jealous of other women, insecure about herself, talked shit about all of her friends over any perceived slight, and didn’t want to hear about anything good that ever happened to her friends. It took a long time for me to realize that I couldn’t help her – and that the only person I could help was me by ending the friendship.

What I’m looking for in friends, again, is very similar to yours. An open and gracious spirit, talkative/social, flexible and understanding that with a 3 year old in the mix I can’t be 100% available on weekends anymore, and someone who is excited and happy about her own life – even if it isn’t perfect. I won’t spend time with people who only bring me, or themselves or others, down.
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3 Savannah March 29, 2012 at 11:18 am

This post has definitely made me want to delve into why some of my friendships and others haven’t. One of my new goals in relation to friendship and career is to meet more people (women in particular) that are interested in the same things that I am. I’m almost cripplingly shy so it’s hard for me to open up to new people, however I miss having a friend that is super into what I am into. Insightful post Rachel! Your writing has been EXCELLENT so far this year. You are an inspiration!

4 Stina March 29, 2012 at 11:19 am

The biggest dealbreaker for me, is when a person lacks personal responsibility or is always the victim (which I do think go hand in hand.) That was a big part of what lead to the break up with my former best friend. The problems in our friendship were, in her mind, always the result of something I did or didn’t do. Finally I said enough is enough.
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5 Julia March 29, 2012 at 11:31 am

YES to the victim stuff. And if someone wants to play the victim card over and over, it’s really hard to get them to stop. You gotta just walk away.

6 Caitlin @ This Bride's Joyride March 29, 2012 at 11:47 am

Completely agree on the victim role! At some point you just have to play the cards your dealt and make the best of things!
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7 Bronwyn March 29, 2012 at 1:21 pm

This is so similar to a friendship I am in right now, we have problems, and I’d love to believe we could get past them… if she would acknowledge her responsibility in the fights/issues. Instead, it all seems to be my fault.
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8 Stina March 29, 2012 at 1:49 pm

That was exactly the situation I was in. I kept hoping we would be past our issues, but it would play out the same way everytime. I’d bring up the issue to try and hash it out, she’d place all the blame on me, I’d apologize for things that weren’t even my fault, and then we’d be “okay” while I was secretly resenting her and letting it fester until we were having the same argument a few days/ weeks/ months later.

In retrospect, I realize that I was part of the problem was that I was really miserable in other aspects of my life so I kept trying to hold on to the good times. Once I got the rest of my messes sorted out, I found the confidence to stop accepting the blame over and over again.
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9 Samantha M. March 29, 2012 at 2:35 pm

THIS. THIS, this, this. I “broke up” with a close friend for exactly this.

The other dealbreaker for me is flakiness. If I can’t rely on someone to get back to me in a reasonable amount of time, or he/she can’t be bothered to make time to hang out with me and I have to put forth all the effort, I force myself to let the friendship go because all it’s going to do is hurt my overly-sensitive feelings who takes each “flaking” as personal rejection.
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10 Julia March 29, 2012 at 11:29 am

I really appreciate this post, as well as the one on actual friend break-ups. Jacki, I have totally been there in the punching bag position, and I so appreciate your comments alongside Rachel’s.

It took me a while to realize that my friend was, in fact, toxic. I made a lot of excuses for her that didn’t ring true to my other close friends and family members and even my boyfriend–example: “Oh, R is just like that. She’s just really blunt.” Uh… blunt does not equal rude. Does not equal condescending. Does not equal making you feel bad about yourself.

I tried to talk to her about how I felt, about her behavior and how our friendship had shifted. Instead, she got incredibly defensive, verbally listing all the things I had “done to her” and I found myself apologizing for hurting her feelings. That conversation made me realize that I probably wouldn’t get her to acknowledge that she was pretty self-oriented and negative a great deal of the time. Of course, she was awesome and hilarious and fun the other 50% of the time–but like romance, only 50% of the good stuff does not a healthy relationship make!

We still talk from time to time, but I’ve had to learn to distance myself from her. I also had to learn to not feel bad about doing so. Despite missing her quite often, the silver lining is that I reevaluated what I expect out of friends and friendships instead of assuming that a girlfriend from college would always be in my life. One thing she accused me of was only wanting “yes” friends, and I had to honestly think about whether or not that was true. I definitely do want my friends to both support and challenge me, and I think the key difference is that all healthy relationships do so constructively, with love and maturity and respect. And for all sorts of reasons, that wasn’t present in my friendship with this woman anymore.

As a result, I’m probably a better friend in my current relationships, and I have a better sense of what to look for in new friends.

11 Emily Susan March 29, 2012 at 11:38 am

A deal breaker for me is when someone is overly into one aspect of their life. For instance, when someone can only talk about their boyfriend. Yes, I understand that they are important to you, and that they might be the source of conversation sometimes, but not all the time. Recently, I met a new person and hit it off right away, but then a few weeks into our friendship, I realized that they were a bit too much into their church and religion. Obviously, I don’t care if people have strong beliefs, but this was to the point were I felt pressured and judged. Not feelings I am comfortable with.

12 Caitlin @ This Bride's Joyride March 29, 2012 at 11:44 am

Your original post had me thinking much more deeply about a toxic friendship or two that I had long been ignoring. I wish I could say that I had the guts to really talk it out with the person, and maybe one day I will, but instead it gave me a sense of relief to just let it go. The hardest thing with certain toxic friendships is that that person may be part of a larger group of friends (and still close with others who either don’t see the toxicity, or are OK with it) so “breaking up” would be difficult. But letting go of a friendship that was once so close but somehow turned negative, jealous, etc – was such a relief. I can now just take it for what is best for me – an acquaintance in a larger group of friends!

A few dealmakers:

1. Positivity
I need some positive energy in a friendship! Yes of course every has bad days but I realized that I just don’t deal well with very negative, pessimistic people. I spend all my energy and time trying to cheer them up or help them see the best in things. It’s such an energy drainer and ends up pulling me down too!

2. Admiration
When I look at the people who I am the closest with, I always admire certain qualities about them. I swear I become a better person just from their influence as a friend. One friend *always* follows through on what she says she will do and it has changed my last minute cancelling habit! Another friend genuinely wants to stop hunger among school age kids. She has put everything into her passion and it has made me so much more aware of what’s going on outside my bubble and to volunteer when I can and to also follow my own passion.

3. Open-Mind
As the daughter of divorced parents with a gay father, pro-choice and liberal mindset – I want someone also open-minded. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think everything has to think the same way as I do. But I like having friends who are just open to understanding other cultures, beliefs, values, sense of styles etc, even if it’s not their own.

13 Rachel March 29, 2012 at 3:31 pm

OK I had been creeping on your blog the other day after reading your comments and then I see this and now I’m like, Can we be imaginary friends?!

I LOVE “admiration” — I look for that too. I gush about my friends; I genuinely think they are amazing women and they inspire me to be a better person. So important!

Second, ummmm pro-choice, liberal, WITH A GAY FATHER? Can we start a club??!

14 Melissa March 29, 2012 at 11:47 am

FLAKINESS and lack of reciprocity are my biggest deal-breakers. I’m not going to beg anyone to be my friend, and if we make plans that you constantly flake out on at the last minute, it’s not respectful of me or my time. I once had a friend tell me I had to “be okay with being alone” when she was flaking out on me at the last minute because I told her I could have better spent the time making plans with someone who wasn’t going to cancel at the last second. It’s not that I’m not okay with being alone, it’s that I had plans and now I’m spending the evening alone because you’re inconsiderate! If I’m constantly reaching out to make the plans, that frustrates me. Just like with a guy, you want to be wanted a little, instead of feeling like you’re constantly nagging someone to spend time with you. I still hang out with her, but I don’t make plans. If she calls me, or if we have mutual friends in town, I see her. But I don’t rely on her.

I don’t find jealousy to be a deal-breaker on its own – acknowledging jealousy and why you might have those feelings is pretty self-aware. It’s the shit-talking without any self-awareness of why you have negative feelings towards someone that I find distasteful. I recently confronted a friend about how she constantly brings up other people’s weight, saying things like, “She got really fat,” or “Wouldn’t you love it if she got fat?” and it made me feel really icky. That’s why I really liked your choice of “graciousness” as a good quality.

15 Rachel March 29, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Good point on the jealousy! I agree that it’s a natural emotion. What’s a dealbreaker for me is when people are consumed by it and it gets in the way of them being a good friend. To me, someone who says flat-out says she isn’t capable of being happy for her friends (so, by extension, me) doesn’t deserve to have my friendship.

16 Sarah March 29, 2012 at 11:55 am

Dealbreaker — selfish. Someone who doesn’t realize that to have a friend, you have to be one. Sure I love hearing all about every little detail of your life, but as soon as its time to talk about me — all I get is a dial tone, crickets, or the cold shoulder.

I feel like lately I’ve been noticing this a lot about certain people. And they just don’t get it, maybe because we are in two places in our life and the friend just has a lower level of maturity to them. I wish i could say ‘we’ve been out of a college for a while, so why are you still acting like your in middle school?’

Ugh!

Thank you for serving as a mind reader. You seriously are like the best friend I wish I had!

17 Felicia March 29, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Amen about the neediness!!! I had a friend that would only call or hang out when she NEEDED it. If I needed to talk to her, she was always conveniently busy. I finally could not take it anymore and asked her why she would ignore my texts/ calls. I got a bitch response saying, “My life doesn’t revolve around you. I don’t have to respond to you every time.” Ummm…. OK friendship over. Well, there was more to it but still. I agree, some friendships are toxic, and it just takes some self respect and courage to say hey, this is not good for me.

Beautiful post.
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18 Caity @ Moi Contre La Vie March 29, 2012 at 12:56 pm

This is great! It so true that as women we tend to put an unproportial amount of time, energy and effort towards our relationships versus our friendships, I’m as guilty of that as anyone else. I like the idea of approaching your friendships the same way you approach your relationships, I definitely have let friends get away with something that would have made me breakup with a boyfriend… This got me thinking!
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19 Ali March 29, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Dealbreaker: Negativity; unwilling to take action to change things they are unhappy about.

Dealmaker: Adventurous! Willing to try something different; willing to look stupid on a dance floor; willing to try something strange from a menu; willing to not care what strangers think of us.

20 Sara March 29, 2012 at 1:56 pm

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, because I have a gigantic ‘trust blindly, get burnt’ problem. It helps in new relationships but has bitten me in the ass a few times.

My main dealbreakers:

1) Selfishness – I don’t care if someone doesn’t want to share food, or is stingy with loaning shoes – that’s fine. This is more than that:they only talk about themselves, they are never aware of other people’s schedules, are constantly late, whine when they don’t get their way on plans…

2) Flakiness – which I suppose goes hand in hand with being selfish. I think respecting peoples time shows you respect those people. I can’t stand it when someone wastes my time.

3) Preachy – I don’t need to hear about how xyz is the reason you breathe and how I should also do xyz. I especially don’t need to hear it 20 times after I said I’m not interested.

My dealmakers:

1) Conversationalist – not just a talker, but asks questions, comes up with topic to discuss, someone that can help carry a conversation in a group. I am a very chatty person, and it helps to have someone that asks follow up questions. Especially since I’m a person that tends to get awkwardly talkative if its too quiet and end up telling stories that aren’t appropriate. People that I can bring to a party with different groups of friends and not worry if they’re going to be ok.

2) Sarcastic/not easily offended – I’m very sarcastic, and I tend to have a blunt way of speaking about things. My friends are people I love because they can dish it out as well, or laugh me off. I don’t take life very seriously, and was raised in a household where we all have a dry, teasing sense of speaking to each other. I’ve accidentally offended people before, and while regrettable, its made me realize that I can’t be friends with people that don’t get that type humor. I don’t want to have to police myself when I’m around friends.

21 Linda March 29, 2012 at 2:11 pm

This is great. Jealousy is a huge dealbreaker for me. I think it’s so important to surround myself with people who ENJOY their lives, and are HAPPY for the good things in other people’s lives. I think it’s also important to make these sorts of lists, and check them against my own behaviors. I’m not perfect, and I know some of these flaws come out in me at times. It’s a good reminder to be the sort of friend that I want!

22 Rachel @ Healthy Chicks March 29, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Oh Rachel, I can tell by this post alone (and by all your posts for that matter) that you’d be such a wonderful friend to have. I myself even enjoy having you in my life, even if that means reading your inspirational, motivational blog posts.

Jealousy & shit-talking excessively about other women (or ALWAYS complaining) are huge deal-breakers for me as well.

Keep up the amazing work lately. These posts are truly fantastic, and always make me think. xoxo
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23 Lori March 29, 2012 at 3:52 pm

What I’m looking for in a friend is summed up by describing my two best friends:
1. Open-minded and gracious (loved that word, Rachel). Our political and abortion views could not be more different, but I’ve never felt anything but acceptance toward and from them.

2. Love of laughter. Not that I never want them to take life seriously, but it’s so nice that the bulk of our time together is full of love and laughter. We’ve been through extremely tough times, but we’re always smiling at the other end.

3. The “we don’t need to talk to each other every day” feeling. I live 1000+ miles away from them, and yet when we get together, it’s as if no time has passed at all.

The deal breakers can be listed by describing my former friend:

1. Like people said above: jealousy. She couldn’t be happy that I was getting married, she couldn’t be happy that I had a great job, couldn’t be happy that I was getting more education. You name it, what I had turned into a conversation about what she didn’t have.

2. Tying into #1, she was such a Debbie Downer. There is only so much complaining I could take (almost 10 years worth) before I just started to get annoyed by having the same conversations over and over again about what she didn’t have.

3. Feeling obligated to her. That I should be calling her all the time. Taking all my free time to see her. I felt like I was dating her and she was just being way to freakin’ needy.
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24 deva at deva by definition March 29, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Camaraderie (I never spell that right..). I want a friend I can talk to for hours – without getting bored.

Ambition – I am an ambitious person. I may not seem like it because I look – a LOT – before I leap, but I want friends who encourage my ambition, and understand that I research a lot before making big decisions, and to support me- even when they think I am wrong.

Multi-dimensional – I want a friend who has multiple interests, whose conversations aren’t always about the same things (granted, I”ve been the one-dimensional friend lately, I’ll admit. I’m working on it), someone who will ramble about her interests, even if they aren’t mine, and will listen to me ramble about mine.
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25 Ella March 29, 2012 at 8:08 pm

I’ve realized over time that all my very closest friends have one major thing in common: they are all no-drama mamas. EXTREMELY important.

26 Caitie March 29, 2012 at 8:23 pm

I’d be your (internet-based) friend! I’m 100% with you on jealousy/pettiness being dealbreakers- I like some juicy gossip as much as the next person, but I avoid trash-talking. And I’ll add flakyness as one of my dealbreakers as well. Currently, I’m dealing with this from one of my oldest friends- our lives are in very different places at the moment and I’ve barely talked to her since Christmas because she’s blown me off at the last minute when I’ve been home or forgotten a Skype date. It’s hard to know how to handle a situation like this, for sure.

27 Dallas March 29, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Word.

For me, I think my dealbreakers are people who are fake/can’t handle realness. I’m a pretty blunt person, and if you want me to sugarcoat it when I think things are out of line, then we’re not going to be very successful.

Dealmakers: someone with a little bit of bite to them — not mean all the time, but someone who can observe things with a hard eye sometimes; someone who loves to talk; someone with diverse interests; someone who has a sense of humor.

I’ve been really working on making new friends lately — joining clubs, volunteering, etc. I’ve been surprised at how easy it is to find acquaintances to hang out with and how hard it is to find people to really go to the next friend level with.

28 RAIN March 30, 2012 at 9:49 am

I have a list of deal breakers for sure.
And they include many of the things above.

But…

What I have been thinking most about lately is being the kind of a friend someone wants to have. Really looking at myself. Am I flaky? Am I selfish? Am I not as gracious as I can be? Do I listen? Do I judge? Am I jealous?
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29 Suz March 30, 2012 at 10:10 am

Love your posts Rachel although I’m probably old enough to be your Mom at 48.

I think it’s a wise list but don’t forget that there’s alot of introverts out there (like I used to be) that also make wonderful friends. We tend to warm up to people once we know there made of the right stuff.

In the meantime, enjoy your journey and meet lots of people. :)

30 stef March 30, 2012 at 10:43 am

I just wanted to say thanks for addressing the topic of a friend breakup. I broke up with my best friend this time last year, but instead of properly dealing with it we just sort of got really angry with each other, it blew up, we stopped talking, and nothing was resolved. I wanted out for the EXACT reasons you list above – general cattiness and meanness towards pretty much everyone, exceptional neediness, and jealousy. Now that I’m out of the eye of the storm I can clearly see how I tolerated the behavior far longer than I should have, brushing it off with a “well yeah… but that’s just her way..”

As for myself, I’m a shy person at first, but when I get talking I feel like I can easily dominate the conversation. I’ve been checking myself lately with both friends and co-workers, making sure that I’m being a good person and giving them their share to talk. I think it’s making me a better friend and keeping my selfishness in check.
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31 Rachel March 30, 2012 at 2:37 pm

This whole series is really helpful for me. I’m in a new town and don’t know anyone here besides my boyfriend and his buddy. I’ve always struggled with making friends, and right now it’s even worse, as my free time is consumed by triathlon training. I’m struggling to meet people my age who don’t think my hobby is bizarre and lame.

But reading these dealmakers and dealbreakers is really helping me whittle down what I want in my new friends. They may not have the same interests I do, and we may not have a lot in common, but as long as they’re good people with morals I can respect, and who respect my morals, we can definitely be friends.
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32 Rose March 30, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Hi,
I’ve been reading your blog for a bit and never commented. Your writing is great, topics always interesting and thought provoking.
Thought I’d comment on this because I have lost several toxic girlfriends over the last 3-4 years, like really close ones, who dropped like flies. I do think a lot of it has to do with my positive outlook on life, and sadly, that I have been in a very happy relationship for these past few years (sad that this made my “friends” jealous and not want to be around me or him). So it did come down to jealousy. I did make excuses for all these friends for too long, and they All ended up starting fights/confrontations with me, out of thin air, and then just not speaking to me again. It has been a weird and humbling experience, and I do wonder about making new friends, but the ones left around me are my true friends and my boyfriend is Truly my best friend.
I think losing girlfriends is something many women go through as they grow up (I am 25) and you don’t really hear about… until it happens to you.
I agree with your traits about friends, and I will admit I never give friends qualities as much thought as I ever gave to boyfriends! I would add sense of humour. But maybe that’s a give-in!

33 ShortSkirtsandScience March 30, 2012 at 10:11 pm

I love this list, I think you make some great points. I had a really great friend in high school who I just had to give up on eventually because she couldn’t be happy for me. She would get mad because I got into an ivy league and she didn’t or because I was voted the senior superlative and she wasn’t. It was really hard to let that friendship go, because I really enjoyed being around here, but relationships should build you up, not tear you or other people down.
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34 Nicole @ Giraffelegs March 31, 2012 at 3:00 pm

You are entirely spot on with this post. I think sometimes we forget to be just as picky with friends as we are with men.
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35 Jess-ThatJessGal March 31, 2012 at 4:02 pm

This isn’t 100% on topic, but some of you might find it useful: My boy bestie Michael recently introduced me to the idea of having “tier” friends. For example-he and I are “Tier One” friends. We always make time for each other even though we live in two different cities (2 hours away), we know each others schedules (ex: I called on my way to work the other morning because I knew he was awake as well and he answered the phone with “what’s wrong?” because he knew that was out of my normal schedule-PS. nothing was wrong, I was just multitasking), we talk about more than just surface things and I know in an emergency we would have each others back. My college roomie Jenna and camp bestie Christine are others that fall in Tier One. Tier Two friends are ones that you either used to be really close with, but are drifting way from each other, and/or a person you are getting really close with, but they aren’t Tier One (yet). Tier Three friends might be co-workers that you grab lunch with, a pal from high school that you only occasionally, etc.

I don’t know if this idea is new, it was to me, but it’s really helping me balance my time and social expectations. I’m an incredibly loyal friend, but I get frustrated when others don’t reciprocate. By “sorting” my friends and acquaintances in to tiers it’s helping me protect myself from over-devoting myself to someone and getting hurt when they don’t in return. Not unlike dating, eh?
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36 Stephanie April 1, 2012 at 12:17 pm

This post really makes want to be a better friend myself. I want to work on any jealousy, gossip or bad behaviours that I might have. I can’t expect anything better out of someone else unless I hold myself to the same standard!

37 Angela April 2, 2012 at 10:06 am

I love your posts about finding/making new girlfriends. I am in the same boat. I have gone through friends before, friends that were terrible for me, friends that I was terrible for. And now I need to find a friend or friends that have the same interests and totally cliche things.

Good luck on your friend finding journey!
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38 Angela April 2, 2012 at 10:44 am

*fixing website link.
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39 Abelle April 2, 2012 at 1:45 pm

I’ve learned that a definite dealbreaker for me is when someone absolutely refuses to ever admit that they’re wrong about something. This past year, a friend of mine I used to be rather close to suddenly turned rather pretentious and condescending all of a sudden – it seems like she’s so contrary ALL THE TIME and refuses to admit it when she’s wrong, even if someone can outright prove it with factual evidence. She’s just gotten so pretentious (when she has no cause to be) and stubborn that it’s made it really unpleasant for me to be around her, and I’ve found myself avoiding her often as a result. Part of me feels bad about it, but at the same time, I don’t want to be around someone who just tells me I’m wrong all the time. I’ve thought of having a friend-breakup with her, but I’m a month away from graduating college and won’t have to see her on a day-to-day basis after that, so I’ve debated whether or not bringing up a serious, possibly drama-causing issue like this is really worth it at this point.

Another dealbreaker for me is when people only talk about themselves and don’t take any interest in what’s happening with me and my life. I certainly don’t mean that someone needs to listen to me go on about every detail of my life, but when you only talk about what’s going on with you all the time and don’t seem to actually take an interest in how I’m doing? It makes me wonder why we’re friends if you don’t seem to actually care about me.

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