Breaking My Mom’s Biggest “Friendship Rule” Helps My Relationships

published Oct 10, 2023
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When I was in high school, every time I wanted to go out on a weekend evening, my mom would remind me that it wasn’t a good idea to accept every invitation. She’d tell me it was advice passed down from her own mom, and that being too available would somehow translate into fewer social invites. The logic seemed to be that if people assumed you’d always be there, they’d stop bothering to invite you.

But, as I navigated friendships and, eventually, adult relationships, I realized how wrong this philosophy is. In reality, saying yes to plans leads to more plans. The more you show up, the more others expect you’ll show up. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized I value people who are reliable and consistent — someone who’s flaky or rarely available is probably not worth investing time or energy in. Yet, the “too available” mindset is pervasive, and the idea of being seen as desperate or over-eager keeps too many people from going all-in on all kinds of relationships. 

Many people have seen a similar approach play out in romantic relationships. You don’t text back because you don’t want to be seen as too interested. You pretend to be noncommittal, all in the name of playing games. But rarely do people talk about how this tendency creeps into friendships, too.

Have you ever gotten a group text about a dinner out and waited to reply so you wouldn’t be the first one to give an enthusiastic yes? What about pausing before inviting a friend to meet up for coffee at the last minute because you were sitting around with nothing to do? These are the games that make their way into friendships. Rather than just showing up and being unapologetically excited about others, people pause and hold back. They don’t realize that their enthusiasm and just showing up could actually lead to deeper connection. 

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Why Being Afraid to Show Up Hurts Adult Friendships

Dr. Kelsey M. Latimer, a psychologist, explains, “When people are gamey and indirect in adult friendships, it’s understandable. It’s fear. We are worried about being too invested, or seeming desperate or that we like someone more than they like us.”

“We believe overthinking all of these actions like ‘who texted who first’ is going to help us in the relationship,” adds Latimer. She notes that this way of thinking actually makes friendship more complicated than it needs to be. Instead of showing up as yourself, you overthink it. You wait to reach out. You try not to be the one to initiate plans twice in a row. You feign busyness rather than meet up on a whim.

But it doesn’t have to be that way and, even if you’ve been conditioned to always keep your friendships at arm’s length, it’s not too late to change. Here’s what Latimer recommends. 

Show up as yourself.

Rather than try to be some cool version of yourself, just be you. “When we show up as ourselves, that doesn’t mean a friendship will always work out, but when it does work out, it will be the right friendship for you,” says Latimer. Friendships should not revolve around keeping a scorecard of when you last put yourself out there or purposefully spacing out your appearances. 

Be the friend you want to be.

Latimer encourages people to be the friend they’d want to be, and to show up when they feel compelled to. “Friendships should bring out the best in you and allow you to be free in yourself. Ditch the games and approach friendships the way you want the relationship to look.” That could mean texting back immediately every time a friend reaches out or being the one that always reaches out, eager to get the band together. Don’t worry about being too enthusiastic, and know that it’s probably appreciated on the other end.