We all have them. The unresponsive friend. The type that proclaims they are “too busy” to reply to texts, emails and phone calls. They are the type of friend in which, as the kids say these days, they leave you on “read.” You enjoy talking to them and spending time with them, in those rare moments when they make themselves available. You don’t have much negative to say about them. They may even consider themselves a decent or good friend to you; but, you’re always chasing them. They may go days or weeks without returning your text or phone call. They’re frequently committing to things, then backing out. You’ve “rescheduled” getting together multiple times. This is an unresponsive friend, and you’re chasing them.
Side Note Tangent: People who proclaim they are “too busy,” are almost always not busy at all (though they may have irrationally convinced themselves they are), but instead, they are undisciplined, lacking in time management skills, and have priorities that revolve entirely around themselves..
I am going to address the issue of unresponsive friends in two different ways. First, I am going to share the advice I would give to most anyone in my counsel. Next, I am going to explain my unique situation with unresponsive friends and share how I have handled it in the past and how I plan to now and in the future. My own situation will be one that most of you won’t be able to relate to, though few who can may find it useful.
Unresponsive friends is a growing problem in our society. We have more ways than ever to communicate. We have all types of advancements that free up our time, making the tasks of daily living take far less time than at any point in history. Our jobs offer more flexibility than at any point in history, and in fact we have government mandated breaks during our workdays. There is simply no excuse for someone to be consistently unresponsive to their friends. It is a selfish, extremely selfish, way of living.
First, I want to make sure we are on the same page in terms of what is an unresponsive friend. This does not include the friend that is going through a rough time in life and may be emotionally unable to handle things, or has other temporary circumstances leading them to, well, be a bad communicator and bad friend. This is solely for the person who is consistently unresponsive. Know someone who says, “I am bad at responding to texts?” I am talking about those people. These are people you’ve known for a long period of time that are almost always slow to response and generally lacking in being present in your life (be that physically being there or emotionally being there).
What should you do with unresponsive friends?
You’ll see a lot of advice type blogs that will have quotes about how you should eliminate these people from your life. I won’t go to that extreme. There are few circumstances in which I would encourage someone to eliminate someone from their life. However, it is important that you understand what type of friend these unresponsive friends really are, have proper expectations to fit that, and that you stop chasing them and put that time and energy towards healthier and more enriching friendships.
Unresponsive friends can still have a place in your life. Some of them may be people that you may rarely hear back from, but when worst came to worst, if you texted and said you needed them, they’d be there. Those friends have a role in your life, but keep them in that role. Be there for them when they are in need, be vulnerable enough to reach out to them when you are in need (assuming they do consistently respond in those situations), but don’t spend much time initiating conversations, replying to their social media, or worrying about spending time with them and nor trying to involve them in social situations.
Having the proper expectations of unresponsive friends is important. If you text or call them, don’t expect to hear back. They are selfish. There may be moments in which they are capable of being unselfish, but for the most part, their world revolves around them. Expect little of these type of friends. They aren’t currently capable of being a good friend, you know that, they consistently demonstrate it, so place proper expectations on them and their friendship. In those moments you do need them, make sure you communicate it clearly. Most people, no matter how unresponsive, will respond when they see you through the bat signal up over Gotham.
Stop initiating communication with unresponsive friends. If you have something to share or communicate, don’t go out of your way not, but make a decision that this is a friend you won’t be chasing, a friend you won’t be going out of your way to keep trying to initiate communication with. Some of these people will eventually re-prioritize their live, they may develop better communication skills and start to value people and relationships more and begin to initiate communication with you. They may start to be present in your life. Some of them, without you consistently initiating communication, may drift away and out of your life. Let them go.
Unresponsive friends drain you of energy, they cause frustration, and they aren’t capable of offering much of value as a friend. Don’t toss them to the side, don’t give up all hope that they might one day became a better person, but do yourself a favor and stop chasing them.
Part 2: My Situation with Unresponsive Friends
This is the part that many of you won’t be able to relate to. If you can’t relate to it, revert back to the advice in the above section.
I am a leader. I am a dominate leader and personality. There are not a lot of circumstances in which I am in a setting or situation in which I am not the leader or dominate personalty. The acceptation to that is within my family in which roles are defined by relationship (Parents > Children, Older Sibling > Younger Sibling) and age.
In addition to being a dominate leader, I am a relationship builder. I value relationships. I value communication. Though I may at times be low on energy or feeling down in life, and though at times life can get busy, I always prioritize people and relationships above all else. There are times in which my commitment to live life in that way is not to my benefit, but I refuse to live any other way (I should also mention that I am stubborn).
Given the above information about my personality type, it should not surprise you that I am the leader in most of my friendships. I initiate almost all communication. I am the first to reach out. I am the first to give. I am the one (most) concerned with the status of and development of the friendship. I am the one (most) concerned with being of value and being present without fail.
I did an experiment a year or two ago. For two weeks, I stopped initiating any communication with any of my friends. (*Note – I don’t recommend this. In hindsight, its not a righteous thing to do to experiment with friendships in such a way).
When I stopped initiating communication with friends, the results were pretty much what you would expect. It was a lonely two weeks, and few friends reached out. There were a few friends that noticed I had not initiated any communication and, realizing a change in the communication within the friendship, they reached out. Those 2-3 friends are among my best friends today. However the bulk of the people that I had been consistently initiating communication with, not only did I not hear from them but almost all did not notice I was not present nor communicating during that time.
We do have to look at my little experiment through a bit of a filter. I was the initiator, in every relationship, of communication in my friendships. It is unlikely that you or most people are in such a situation. Most people have a mixture in that they may be the initiator of communication in some friendships, they may rarely be the initiator in others, and most have a healthy blend of the two. It is not reasonable for me to dominate the role of initiator of communication in my friendships, and then be upset or surprised when friends disappear when I seize that roll for a few weeks. Nonetheless, it was eye opening.
I would like to reiterate again that my situation is different than most everyone else. With that said, here is how have decided to start dealing with unresponsive friends:
I won’t be chasing as many unresponsive friends, though, I’ll still chase a few. That would seem to go against my previous advice of encouraging people to stop chasing unresponsive friends and let them drift away, but my calling is a bit different. My calling is in ministry. My calling is in building relationships (ultimately to help bring people closer to Jesus). The majority of my friends that I would place in the category of unresponsive friends are also my “lost” friends. For most, this is not a “lost” to mean they are living terrible lives, breaking laws and not contributing to society, but lost in that their priorities in life are very obviously off, and they are very much in need of a presence in their life to model a different way of being, a presence in their life that can encourage and help guide them to a more righteous way of living. Most of my friends accept, and in fact expect, my guidance in that way. Though, for the bulk of you reading this, if you tried to be a friend in that way, you’d get unfriended on Facebook pretty quickly.
While I will still continue to chase some of my unresponsive friends, because I feel it is part of my calling, I will most certainly be spending less time doing so and I will relieve myself from unmet expectations by stopping myself from expecting better of these unresponsive friends. They’ve proven they don’t value communication, don’t value relationships (most of the time), and the hard truth, they don’t value me all that much. However, I will still be there for them, and I’d gladly open up more of my time to them should they ever change their ways.
Do you have unresponsive friends in your life? Take a moment to think about that question. Think about who those friends might be. Make a decision of whether or not you should continue to chase them, or if you should allow them to drift away and focus more of your time on the friendships that are healthier and more enriching.
Stop chasing unresponsive friends, they are headed down a different track than you.