“I always end up in friendships where I am the one to reach out, call, text, and make plans. Why are all of my friendships so one-sided, and are there ways to get my friends to reciprocate more?”
It can feel frustrating, exhausting, and unfair when you are always the one that has to reach out, text, call, and make plans with friends, but they rarely reciprocate. Sometimes, there’s a simple explanation (like they’re busy or stressed), and other times, the reasons are more complicated. There may be a deeper problem if you’re always the one to initiate with a friend or if this is a pattern in most of your friendships.
This article will explore some of the most common reasons why friends don’t initiate and things you can do differently to create more chances for your friends to reciprocate.
There are many reasons why you might feel like you’re always the one who has to initiate with friends. Not all of them are personal, and some will even resolve on their own, while others will require you to speak up, pull back, and sometimes, even end the friendship. Understanding the root causes can help you figure out which is the best course of action.
Sometimes, the reasons you always have to reach out first to a friend really aren’t personal and instead have more to do with their issues or insecurities. One common example is a friend who goes M.I.A. after getting or losing a job or a boyfriend. These kinds of big life changes can be stressful and are valid excuses for not keeping in touch—at least for short periods of time. 
- They are more introverted, shy, or reserved than you are
- They have social anxiety and feel uncomfortable about initiating a conversation
- They feel socially awkward or like they don’t have good social skills
- They worry about inconveniencing you or calling or texting at a bad time
- They are insecure and worry that you don’t really like or care about them
- They have texting anxiety or don’t know how to start a conversation
While it might feel like you’re the one who always initiates with friends, it’s a good idea to reality-check this belief. Sometimes, your own emotions and insecurities can paint a distorted picture of your relationships, causing you to see them in a more negative light. If this is the case, it might mean that you need to do some inner work and also focus more on the good aspects of your friendships.
Here are some examples of thoughts and beliefs that may be emotion-driven (but not an accurate reflection of reality):
- “Nobody cares about me.”
- “People only care about themselves.”
- “None of my friends try as much as I do.”
- “I don’t have any real friends who care about me.”
Strong friendships can weather short periods of time where you are doing more work, but mutual effort is needed to make the friendship last. If the ‘mutual’ part isn’t happening in one or more of your friendships, it might be a sign you’re in a one-sided friendship. Here are some of the signs that can indicate your friendships are one-sided:
- You’re always the first to call, text, invite a friend out, or initiate plans.
- You feel like you put way more time and effort in than your friends do.
- Your friends often don’t respond or reply to your texts or calls.
- Your friends only talk about themselves and never ask about you.
- Your friends only reach out when they need something from you.
- Your friends aren’t there for you when you need something from them.
- Hanging out is always on “their terms” or dependent on their schedule.
A good friend is someone who you can trust, open up to and rely on to be there for you in times of need. If your current circle doesn’t include people like this, it may be a sign that you are choosing the wrong friends to invest your time and effort into. Not everyone has what it takes to be a good friend.
If you have friends like the ones listed below, it can be a sign that you’re choosing bad friends:
- Toxic friends who start drama, compete with you, talk behind your back, manipulate you, or abuse you.
- Flaky friends who don’t show up, cancel plans last minute, or can’t be relied upon to help in times of need.
- Emotionally unstable friends who are always in a state of crisis and need something from you but can’t give much in return.
- Fairweather friends who are always willing to hang out for a good time, but won’t show up when it requires them to do something hard or boring.
A lot of people who feel like their friendships are one-sided struggle to set healthy boundaries and speak up about what they need. When you don’t speak up and say what you want and need from friends, it’s unfair to expect them to automatically know how you’re feeling. Some of the signs that poor boundaries might be the reason you are always the one to initiate with friends are:
- You often feel used or taken advantage of but rarely stand up for yourself.
- You avoid conflict with friends until you get to a “breaking point,” then lash out.
- You put their wants/feelings/needs before your own but then feel resentful.
- You feel guilty or bad about asking for things you want or need from friends.
- You invite certain friends out of “obligation” and not because you really want to.
- Many other relationships feel one way or one-sided, with you putting in more effort.
Sometimes the problem is that you initiate so much or so often that you don’t give your friends a chance to reciprocate. If you don’t let more than a day or two go by without calling or texting them, the problem might be that you aren’t giving them enough time to reach out to you. If your friends are good at responding to you, but it feels like you’re always starting the conversation, this might be the problem.
Sometimes, a friendship that feels one-sided is actually the result of having different expectations than your friend has about what it means to be a good friend. For example, you might feel like good friends should talk daily, while your friend feels like you can stay close by talking once a week. This might explain why they don’t always reply or respond to you or why you’re unhappy with how often you talk or hang out.
- How often you expect friends to reach out, call, or text; you may have different definitions of what “keeping in touch” means.
- The amount of time that is “acceptable” to not talk or reply to each other.
- What your friend needs to do to reciprocate or prove they care about you.
- How much time you spend together and what counts as “quality time.”
- What kind of support you want or expect from each other.
- How open, deep, or vulnerable you are with each other.
Sometimes, the reason a friend is avoiding your calls or not responding is that they just don’t feel the same about you or your friendship anymore. For example, maybe they view you as more of an acquaintance rather than a friend. It’s also possible that you’ve just grown apart from an old friend because life’s taken you in different directions.
If you feel like you’re always chasing a friend who doesn’t reply, it could be that your friend just isn’t interested or willing to put the time and effort into your friendship. This realization hurts, but research suggests it’s pretty common and that only about half of those you consider ‘friends’ are “real” friends who are equally invested. Identifying when the feelings aren’t mutual can help you move on and focus more of your effort on friends who reciprocate.
Some people who feel like they’re always the one to initiate or try harder with friends are too focused on keeping score of what they do for friends and what friends do for them. This kind of scorekeeping isn’t healthy and can cause your evaluations of your friends to constantly change. On days when they “score’ a point,” you might feel good about your friendship, but on days when they don’t, this can quickly change.
Here are some examples of unhealthy “scorekeeping” with friends:
- Counting the times they’ve called, texted, or invited you to hang out.
- Comparing this to the number of times you’ve initiated.
- Keeping track of how long it takes them to respond to texts and calls.
- Being too focused on who texted or called who first or how often they text or call.
- Keeping a mental list of things you’ve done for them or ways you’ve been a better friend.
If most of your friendships feel one-sided or you’ve had a lot of friends suddenly stop talking to you, you may be doing something to push people away. When it feels like your friends are always avoiding you or excluding you, it sometimes means that you need to make a change.
Here are some of the behaviors that could be pushing friends away:
- Being too mean, critical, harsh towards friends (even in a joking way).
- Complaining too much or always seeming negative.
- Talking about yourself all the time without listening to them.
- Being condescending, arrogant, or too competitive with friends.
- Taking things too personally or being too sensitive or reactive.
- Creating drama by gossiping or talking badly about others.
- Being too needy or clingy with friends or smothering them.
It is sometimes possible to change the dynamics of a friendship that has become one-sided. Below are some tips and strategies to help create more balance and reciprocity in your friendships.
The first step is to figure out whether it’s your friend that needs to change or your expectations of your friend. You can do this by making a list of what expectations you have of your friends and considering whether or not these are realistic or fair (to you and them). Some examples of expectations that may be unfair to you or them include expecting a friend to text or call daily or respond instantly.
It can also be a good idea to look back at some of your texts and call logs to get a realistic view of whether you’re really always the one to initiate. This can also give you a better understanding of what expectations are realistic. For example, if you notice that a friend mainly calls you on weekends or evenings, it might be unrealistic to expect them to pick up or respond during weekdays.
Everyone has slightly different things they want and need from their friends, so you can’t just assume your friend will automatically know unless you tell them. These conversations can be difficult and uncomfortable but are important to have with friends who you feel close to and trust. When you want to save or strengthen a close friendship that has become one-sided, initiate an open conversation about your feelings, wants, and needs by:
- Texting a friend you haven’t spoken with to say, “Could we catch up soon?”
- Meet face-to-face and say something like, “Could we do this more often?”
- Ask a close friend if they’re upset with you if they’ve been distant or things feel “off.”
- Have specific ideas in mind about what they can do differently (e.g., text you more often, initiate or invite you out more, etc.).
Once you ask for the things you want or need from friends, resist the urge to reach out or rush in, even if they’re slow to reply. Leaving the ball in their court is the only way for you to give them a chance to initiate and reciprocate more.
Here are some tips on how to put the ball in a friend’s court:
- Send a text asking them to give you a call to catch up when they have time.
- Say you’d love to hang out with them and ask them to choose a day and time.
- Send a group text to ask if anyone else has any plans over the weekend.
- Check in via text less often and let them initiate more conversations.
- Like or react to their social media posts instead of sending direct messages to them.
Signs of effort are what show you that a friend is actually trying to change, be a good friend, and improve their friendship with you. Looking for signs of effort is better than looking for very specific changes in behavior because this provides more chances for your friend to show they care.
Some encouraging signs that a friend is making an effort to improve your friendship include:
- They call or text you more often.
- They ask more questions about you and your life.
- They do small but thoughtful things to show they care.
- They offer to help, listen, or show up in hard times.
- They stopped doing things you asked them not to do.
- They suggest plans or invite you out more often.
- It feels like they’re being more considerate of your needs and wants.
Not all friendships are worth saving, and it’s important to know when to end a friendship that isn’t fulfilling. These experiences can teach you what traits and qualities you are looking for in a friend and can mark the beginning of a new chapter that includes more mutual and fulfilling friendships.
Here are some signs that may indicate it’s time to pull back, let go, or end a one-way friendship:
- You’ve been clear about your feelings and needs but aren’t seeing any real changes.
- They make a temporary change but aren’t consistent over time.
- Your friend rarely responds, reaches out, or calls you back.
- The friendship feels forced, or you don’t enjoy your time with them.
- They say or do things that hurt you, offend you, or make you feel excluded.
- Resentment builds because you put in more than you get back.
There are many reasons why you might feel like you’re always the initiator with one or more of your friends, and knowing the cause can provide clarity about what to do to change this dynamic. Having open conversations, asking for what you need, and putting the ball in their court can sometimes correct these problems, but only if a friend is willing to invest the effort.
When this doesn’t happen, it may mean you need to focus on expanding your social circle. This way, you can experience the many benefits of having strong, close, and mutually fulfilling relationships with friends who are willing to put time and effort into the friendship.
Try taking a direct approach. Let them know how you feel and ask them to reach out more. After making your needs known, wait for them to initiate sometimes instead of always being first to text or call.
People have different expectations about how much and how often they reach out to friends, so there’s no set standard for what’s normal. As people get older, they often value “quality” over “quantity” when it comes to interactions with friends and need less frequent contact to remain close.
If you’ve asked for what you need, patiently waited and watched for changes, and given many chances, it may be time to cut things off with a friend who isn’t doing their part in a friendship. Instead, invest your efforts into friendships with people who seem eager and interested in reciprocating.
Reciprocity is a key ingredient in building and maintaining strong, close, healthy friendships with people. While it’s normal for friendships to become unbalanced for short periods of time, close friendships require equal time and effort from both people.