Friendship Expectations: How High Is Too High?

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Do you have high expectations of your friends?

Last Tuesday I had dinner with a close girlfriend. Fairly soon into the evening, we began to discuss friendships. I relayed the details of two complicated friendship events that occurred in the last few years.  Both cases involved women whom I trusted and believed to be my go-to humans. My girlfriend looked at me and said, “you need to lower your expectations of other people.” I let that soak in for a minute, fighting against a compulsion to say BUT. “This is not about you,” she continued. “It’s just who they are or where they are in their lives.”

Do I really have high expectations of my closest buddies? Shouldn’t we all? By high aspirations, I mean I want to be treated with kindness and respect.  I want to be surrounded by a community of people who love me back, ones I can call in the middle of the night when the shit hits the fan. If I have a tragedy or a bum knee or a bad day, I want a text, a coffee or a check-in call. I want my birthday acknowledged. I don’t want to be lied to (even the white ones are damaging.) It is what I do for others. It’s a tall order. According to my wise girlfriend, however, I am not always going to get these things from my friends. That is when I ask myself, is the friendship really worth it?

According to Ashley Fern of Elite Daily, “one of the keys to happiness lies within the management of your expectations of people and circumstances. If you do not have expectations, you can never be disappointed. Often we tend to believe that the way we treat others will be the way we are treated in return. But, unfortunately, this does not always happen.”

But how? I wanted my friend to give me the answer that night, to lessen my disappointment and give me tools to avoid these pitfalls from happening. In reality, that is not her job. (I had to manage that expectation on the spot.) It is up to me to understand why I want these people whom I consider the cream of the friend crop to meet me in the same place. I don’t want them to be carbon copies of me. I love each of my tribe members for their brilliance, heart, zaniness and warts. Maybe I need to take into consideration that some of this hurtful behavior is not intended but simply a byproduct of a challenging time in their lives.

Elinor Greenberg, PhD, CGP, says there are things that we can expect and deserve from our friends – they don’t betray our confidence, throw us under the bus for their personal agenda, that they tell us the truth when we ask about something or just tell us they can’t talk about it with no lying involved and last (but not least) they have our back if they hear something disparaging said about us.

Fragility magnifies disappointment. Six months post my mother’s passing, I feel vulnerable when I think about what these friends did. Although I play the strong-willed, life-loving card to the world, I am in need of support, kindness and friendship more than ever. When these two incidents occurred I was ready to walk away. I did not because of our powerful connections. Now I want to find the right way to meet them wherever they are.

Inspirational speaker Mel Robbins posted this advice on Instagram: People Treat You How You Let Them.

You make the rules, she goes on to say, you don’t have to be treated badly. “Define the behavior you won’t accept,” says Mel.  Maybe there is a way to keep the relationship and my feelings intact, but let these friends know that what they did is not OK.

No one is perfect and I don’t expect my friends to be, because that would be boring. We all have “stuff” to work on and we all make mistakes. Mistakes can be hurtful but they can also be teachable moments. As long as my friends have my back, don’t lie, keep my confidence and love me, I shouldn’t expect much more. And when they do hurtful things, it’s my job to tell them promptly and work it out. I hope they will do the same if and when I ever fall short of being anything but the best kind of friend.

What about you? How do you handle expectations vs. the reality of a friendship? Please post your thoughts in the comments section below.

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  1. How timely. I just wrote my own personal essay on the subject. Because I care so deeply and constantly thinking about1 how I can lift others up, I am often hurt when I realize others just don’t think the same way. I have reminders in my to-do lists to reach out to people; I don’t let more than two weeks go by without connecting. I fear if I do not keep these connections that they will certainly be lost. When I am thinking of someone, I also reach out sometimes with just a short text and other times with a quote or shared mantra to remind them of how awesome they are. I struggle to find meaningful, deep relationships with other females and perhaps it is because my expectations are just too high.

    • It’s never easy Avril and I feel like even in this stage of life, I am still learning how to be a good friend that doesn’t get disappointed in others. I would love to read your personal essay! If you want to share it with us, please send it to

  2. Great story – I am very sensitive regarding my friends and what they’re going through, but I am often disappointed because people don’t seem to take an interest in me the way I take an interest in them. I guess I have to lower my expectations as well so that I am not hurt.

    • Yes sadly we do But know this dear Mary, you are a loving and kind person and that is not going to change. As long as you know in the end you gave whatever relationship you are in everything you have, then you are the winner. Expectations are lowered for me, but I am not going to lower them for myself!

  3. I think I must have really high expectations as well! Having lost my husband 2 years ago–I am still in a very fragile emotional state. I have a few friends that have really come through and seem to understand what just including someone can mean. But I have friends–that I thought were close–but they have rarely reached out at all. My sons says I should call and reach out–but right now I am really needing someone else to reach out to me!

    • I think you deserve to have high expectations after tragedy but know that others may find you strong and think you don’t need them as much as you do. I would say tell the ones that you don’t want to lose how you feel and I am sure they will hear you. This may include losing a few along the way (but that is so OK because they were not meant to be in your life.) Also know that doors open when windows close — I bet you meet some amazing new people in your new journey. Let me know and keep me posted.

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