One reason some folks may be afraid of emotional closeness, is because they’re scared that they will become attached, dependent, needy, and weak. But what does being attached, dependent and all that really mean?
Neediness, Dependence, and Excessive Emotional Attachment
For starters, “neediness,” emotional attachment, or dependence, might be about contacting the friend too often or spending excessive lengths of time with them. What is excessive depends on the friend and your relationship dynamic with them, as different people need different amounts of personal space. For instance, I consider seeing even a close friend for four or more times a week too much, and being continuously with a friend for three or more hours is overwhelming to me as well, unless they are my roommate. But some other friends may differ in their needs and wants. Likewise, some people like to talk to their friend every day, via phone calls or some other form of contact. I personally find daily contact too much, even with a close friend; I would prefer to send messages several times a week at most, with friends I feel especially bonded to or whom I especially like.
However, I have greater stamina when it comes to more casual communication, such as liking, reacting to, or commenting on friends’ Facebook statuses—I’m comfortable doing that nearly every day as long as I’m interested in their posts (or they in mine), and if I had the chance to go on Facebook on that particular day. There were a few close friends who exchanged emails with me once or even multiple times a day for weeks, but those were the exceptions. Emails also feel easier to deal with, perhaps because they feel less pressing than Facebook messages, WhatsApp messages, or texts.
One way to avoid being “needy” in your frequency and length of contact with your friend, is to sense what the other person is comfortable with, weigh your own comfort levels, and determine the appropriate amount and duration of contact you two should have. It is not always easy to correctly judge what the other person wants, however. There have been times where a friend invited me to hang out several times, but I said no every time, not because I didn’t want to see them, but because I had legitimate reasons to refuse, e.g. not liking the proposed location, having a class at that time, or some other innocuous reason.
Thus, persevering some more in inviting your friend would be helpful. Depending on your relationship with your friend, you might even be able to directly ask them if something is wrong; for instance, are you always suggesting activities or places they don’t like? Are your schedules difficult to match? Is there someone in the group your friend doesn’t want to see? Is your friend so stressed with work that they feel like they can’t afford the luxury to hang out with friends? Or did you do or say something lately that made your friend unhappy?
Another way that one could be considered too emotionally attached or dependent, would be that there is an inappropriate depth or detail in your self-disclosures, or you ask your friend personal questions too early in your relationship. Again, it all depends on the person and your relationship with them, because some people are happy to dive deep early on or even right from the start. Other people may be put off by such early disclosures.
To avoid seeming needy, attached, or emotionally dependent with excessive personal confidences, try to figure out how fast the other person is comfortable with going. Sometimes, though, you and a friend have only been talking about surface things, such as business-related matters, but if neither of you are willing to take the next step, then the friendship will likely stay on this surface level. So, I would take a few risks and experiment. I would reveal something a little deeper and more personal, and see how they react. If they respond positively, seem unbothered by it, or even start reciprocating by disclosing something more about themselves, then that is the green light for you to carry on, or even to dive even deeper when you feel that you are both ready.
Of course, there are times when a friend will suddenly jump from surface conversations with you to something very intimate and emotional. This may be a shock and a put-off to some people, but some others may respond more positively, depending on the circumstances, topic, etc. In certain social circles, it is appropriate to talk about some highly personal topics, even with casual acquaintances in the social group. (E.g. Sharing experiences of parental rejection in LGBT+ groups.) As well, I sometimes like it when a friend leaps into the deep end so early with me, because they are effectively giving me the permission to dive just as deeply in the future. Friendships can develop very quickly due to these early disclosures, but again, not everybody likes this kind of pace, nor do we have the same comfort level with every individual we meet in our life, so I would rather take it one step at a time.
Yet another way that one can appear overly attached, needy, and dependent, could be making “clingy statements” that demand the other person’s attention. There is a difference between expressing a need for more attention, versus expressing it in a way that feels repelling and cringeworthy.
Some examples of such clingy statements would be: “Let’s talk again after your dinner, okay?” “We’ll get to chat again tomorrow, right?” These sentences sound almost controlling. My automatic thoughts would be: um, I have my own schedule. Don’t try to pressure me into chatting at such precise times. More examples of clingy speeches would be: “You never pay attention to me!” “When will I get to see you again? You’re always so busy!” “How come I don’t ever get to talk to you or see you? It’s like you don’t like or care about me anymore.” “Why are you always so busy?” How pushy and forceful these statements feel.
In contrast, a speech where you express your desire for more attention without sounding so unpleasant, would be: “Hey, I rarely get to see you nowadays. Do you want to hang out sometime?” “Long time no see! Do you want to go for bubble tea?” After a hang-out, you may say, “Hey, I really enjoyed that.” “I’m so happy to finally see you again!” or “I really missed you.”
Thus, the difference between tactfully expressing your needs for attention, and making obnoxiously “clingy” statements, is that the former is more respectful, positive, and appreciative. It makes the other person feel that you like and treasure them, but it’s also not pushy or pressuring. Requests are framed as hopeful, polite questions, rather than as coercive “you ought to say yes to me” questions. For the unpleasant, clingy, and needy statements, they can sound pushy, manipulative, and even accusatory or blaming. There is some guilt-tripping involved too.
It is possible that the person making these pushy or guilt-inducing, blaming statements, are not aware of how they sound to the other person. I don’t believe that it’s wrong to crave someone’s attention and company, but asking for that attention in ways that make the friend feel accused, blamed, or pressured, is not likely to be beneficial to your friendship, even if your friend does succumb and give you that attention.
It’s much better to state your needs in a manner that is still gentle and appreciative, that feels like a praise rather than a criticism. You are indirectly saying to your friend, “You are likable and awesome, and you make me feel happy.” Someone using a clingy statement would be implicitly saying, “You’re so selfish and neglectful. What kind of a friend are you? What’s wrong with you?”
Therefore, it’s possible to want a friend’s company, but to express this desire in a way that is positive and considerate rather than clingy and coercive.
Another form of over-attachment or neediness, is where the person comes to rely on their friend for everything. The person may start thinking, “I can’t do this unless you do it with me, accompany me, or help me.” “I’ll only go if you go.” It’s not wrong to say or think these things sometimes, but if we say these too often, it will feel like we always need company and emotional support, as though we can’t go anywhere without this friend. I don’t mean to be unsympathetic to those who have very few or only one friend, where it’s understandable that they would latch onto a friend who is able to satisfy their emotional needs. However, the friend is human too; they have their own life, wants, needs, goals, and plans.
A related excessive dependence that could happen, is when someone starts saying, “Help me do X.” “Can you do X for me?” If these requests become regular, they are controlling, treating one’s friend like a servant, and are very disrespectful, even if the person who made these requests is not aware of how they are coming off.
Guilt, Self-Condemnation, and Jealousy
What if you know you are having “overly attached and needy” feelings, and understand that your demands are unreasonable, but you can’t get rid of these thoughts and feelings? What if you condemn yourself for having such “clingy and needy” feelings towards your friend?
I believe, again, that it’s not inherently wrong or “immoral” for having attached feelings towards your friend, especially if you don’t feel like you have anyone else in your life to support you, and you feel like you’re not able to handle some life challenges on your own. In fact, from my experience, condemning yourself for the thoughts and feelings that you have, is always counter-productive. Even if you believe they are wrong, do you think it’s helpful to beat yourself up over them? It would be much better to accept and acknowledge that you have these feelings and that they arise from natural, understandable human needs; and then see what you can do to help yourself.
One strategy to help yourself, would be to tell your friend in a respectful way that you wish for more of their time, like in the above examples. Another way to deal with “too-attached feelings,” would be to avoid making the above sorts of “clingy statements.”
Yet another method of dealing effectively with your feelings, is to steer clear of any possessive behaviors. For instance, calling the person every single day when this is not the established norm in your friendship; trying to prevent them from seeing other friends; trying to see them as often as possible, to the point of impropriety, e.g. almost every day when your friend is not equally as eager, or to the extent that you disrupt your friend’s life, such that they have much less time to work or to see their other friends or family; giving them too much or uncalled-for physical affection, such as hugging or touching them when the friend is clearly uncomfortable; trying to dominate your friend’s attention every time you meet in a group of other people, where this “attention domination” goes beyond having the extra attention one would get from being a close friend, as you are constantly trying to pull your friend’s attention towards you and away from other people; displaying resentment when you feel that they are not paying enough attention to you, or are paying too much attention to someone else.
For the latter, you might say, “You spend so much time with Daphne that you barely make time to see me anymore!” This sounds accusatory and highly critical, and is not something anyone would want to hear, let alone accept. A better statement would be: “It seems like you’ve been spending so much time with Daphne lately, that I barely get to see you nowadays. I admit that I’m a little jealous. I miss you! Do you think we can hang out this Friday night?”
It is debatable whether you should admit to your friend that you’re jealous. You may fear that your friend will interpret your jealousy as blame and criticism, that they will become awkward towards you, grow guilty, or want to avoid you because they don’t want to deal with a jealous and “probably clingy” friend. However, I argue that it depends on your tone of voice, or any emoticons, emojis, or punctuation marks for textual communication. Display openness and vulnerability to your friend. Convey the message that “I desire your company, I really like you, so I can’t help but be jealous that someone else seems to have so much more of your time than I do.”
Yes, even that indirect message may sound possessive, but at the same time, it makes the friend feel valued and wanted. Admitting your jealousy but in a respectful and vulnerable way, rather than a belligerent or resentful way, would help your friend understand how you feel, and they will hopefully sympathize and you two can talk about what you can do in the future to make you feel better. For instance, making plans to hang out at your favorite coffee shop next weekend. An expression of sadness, hurt, and longing, is much more likely to elicit sympathy than expressions of bitterness and accusation.
I also want to share this example of telling your friend about your needs and wants in a respectful way: “Hey, I feel a little hurt and disappointed when I look forward to eating a meal just with you, but then you invite someone else last minute. And even when you ask me if it’s okay if they join, you have already invited them, so I’m unable to say no. I know you’re really nice and friendly, and want to include other people. But I would really like to spend time alone with you. If you want to invite others, could you tell me much earlier, so I don’t end up getting disappointed? And please ask me before you invite somebody over! If I say no to them, it makes me look jealous, possessive, and mean, so I always feel pressured to say yes.”
As you see, it can be tricky to maintain a focus on your feelings and needs, and not sound like you’re blaming the other person; but you also have to make clear your request and explain the reason behind your request. The above example isn’t perfect; it could be more concise, for one. Some may argue that you just need to state your request and your friend should be able to figure out the reasoning on their own. However, this reasoning is not actually intuitive or obvious to everyone. So it may be necessary to be explicit in your explanations.
An additional way that one could try to dominate and monopolize a friend’s attention, is to make yourself super charming and lovable to the person; you learn how to please them, so that you become their favorite, or at least one of their favorites. I don’t think it’s wrong to want to please someone you really like, or to want to become one of your friend’s favorite people. As long as you don’t act out in possessive or inappropriate ways, like the kinds of possessive behaviors described above; and that your affection and love for them is sincere, i.e. you want their love because you hope they will like or love you back. You are not trying to gain favor in return for something else in the future, like money or other substantial help.
Now, if you’re like me, you’ll find it far easier to say something that implies criticism towards yourself, than to say something that implies criticism towards your friend. But why don’t we not frame these as criticisms at all? We don’t have to see this as a case of whose fault it is or who is to blame. Instead, we can see it as an interpersonal system, or an interaction cycle or pattern. The systems idea is from couples’ therapy, though the concept can apply to platonic relationships as well.
Thus, instead of thinking: “My friend is so crappy for spending so little time with me and spending tons of time with somebody else.” You would think: “I feel really jealous right now. I desire my friend’s company, and it seems like they’re neglecting me and giving that attention to somebody else. I feel so sad and angry! I wish I could spend more time with them.”
In the latter quote, 1) it’s very focused on your feelings, your needs and yearnings. 2) It’s not casting judgment on your friend’s character. 3) We use the word “seems,” because we don’t know for sure that your friend is neglecting you on purpose, though it may feel that way. If you think they are neglecting you without realizing it, the word “seems” emphasizes that they had no intention of ignoring or abandoning you, and they certainly had no knowledge or awareness that you are hurt and sad.
So, your attitude here is not of blaming your friend for hurting you, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Your attitude is of understanding that this is the situation, and here are my feelings, needs, and longings.
Some people may fear that becoming emotionally attached will cause them to be “weak.” But what does being “weak” mean?
Weakness might be that you can’t take care of yourself. But are you truly unable to take care of yourself? Or are you just resenting the need to ask for help when you’re truly stuck on something? We don’t always have the resources or abilities to solve all our problems by ourselves, after all. Plus, you can always help your friend back another time.
One may also think that it’s “weak” to have strong feelings for someone. Yet, it’s normal to have stronger feelings towards some people, maybe because you have many things in common, in your personality traits, beliefs and attitudes, interests, or something else. Perhaps this friend always seems to cheer you up, or they make you feel valued and empathized with. Maybe you feel that out of all your friends, this friend is the one who understands you the most. It’s normal and okay to want more attention and time with somebody you like very much, as long as you don’t do anything inappropriate to get their attention, as exemplified in the previous section of this post.
Alternatively, being “weak” might mean that you’ll need the person’s comfort, support, or encouragement, or else you won’t be able to do anything; this over-reliance on your friend is similar to a point I made above on dependency and neediness. If so, can you find ways to motivate yourself to do something even without their emotional support?
Also, is it so wrong to be motivated by the support from somebody you like and care about? Some people can be powerfully motivated to do something they normally have trouble doing, just because they don’t want to let a certain person in their life down. But anything that helps you do that difficult task is valid! It doesn’t matter if your motivation is not the most glorious one in the world.
It’s only if you need the person’s support for everything or almost everything you do that it may become a problem. What if they don’t support you one day? For example, due to illness, death, being busy, moving away, becoming less close to you, or other reasons.
Having a strong sense of purpose and meaning in life, is one way you can motivate yourself to do something in the absence of anyone’s emotional support. Can you link what you need to do to something you care deeply about?
How about other people in your life? Other friends, maybe family members, any teachers, classmates, or acquaintances who believe in you? A good way to not feel so dependent and therefore “weak,” is to not focus your attention on just one person. You may think about a certain person the most often, but you can spend time thinking about other friends too, so that you can scatter your attention a bit.
Making the difficult task more manageable can help to motivate you without the support of your friend. You could break down the task into smaller, concrete steps. Encourage yourself to start, or to just do a little bit. Often, the anxiety goes down when you begin the task, even if you don’t do that much yet.
Counter any beliefs that you can’t do this task. You may think, “I’ve never succeeded before! I won’t ever succeed, so why should I even try?” Yet, how many times have you actually tried? If the task is very hard in itself, you should expect a lot of “failures” before you can succeed anyway—failure is the mother of success. Also, your skills, knowledge, and experience are likely greater than they were before, so you have a higher chance of success now. Were there any special circumstances in the past that prevented you from succeeding? Such as doing it while you were sick or when you were going through a very emotional time, trying to do it when you were not prepared or experienced enough, or only choosing the most difficult tasks to do?
This is not a manual on how to motivate yourself to do challenging things, but those are some ideas.
Another possibility, is that you might feel “weak” if your emotions are intensely influenced by a friend’s words and actions. For instance, you feel devastated or depressed if you think they’re avoiding you. And you feel ecstatic if they’re paying attention to you or if they seem to reciprocate some of your feelings. So you feel like you’re being pulled along like a puppet. They have so much power over your emotions.
However, why is this emotional vulnerability considered “weak”? What does it mean to be “emotionally weak?” Maybe their influence on you feels like a deprivation of your power, because you feel subject to someone else, like you’re under somebody else’s control? Perhaps you feel that you are unable to say no to them, and are willing to do anything they ask? You might be afraid of losing autonomy or control.
But are you truly never able to say no to your friend? If so, are you afraid of what will happen if you say no? Do you think that saying no will cause you to lose them or to make them stop liking you? Yet, friends don’t always say yes to each other, and they can still stay friends. Even if feelings are hurt or your friend is disappointed, it’s a part of life. People don’t always say yes. Being refused or rejected sometimes, even by people who love you, is a normal phenomenon and is nothing to be afraid of.
Moreover, can anyone truly be completely autonomous? Aren’t we all relying on each other to some extent? You may be relying on them, but they are relying on you for some things too, even if you don’t realize it. Even if your friend doesn’t realize it.
Furthermore, do you think that you have zero power or influence over your friend’s emotions? When we are close friends with someone, unless they don’t care about you at all (in which case, why are you still friends with them?), they will be affected by you too. They would also be happy if you sincerely praise, encourage, or comfort them. As they are a close friend, they will likely enjoy and look forward to your companionship as well. And they would also feel sad if you seem to be rejecting, neglecting, or avoiding them.
Sometimes, we may put a friend on a pedestal, because we desire their approval so much, and as a consequence, we forget that they are a human being too, with their own needs, wants, sorrows, and fears. They have the power to hurt you, yes, but you have the power to hurt them too. Not that you should hurt them, especially since you love them so, but I am just saying that your friend is susceptible to emotional pain as well: your relationship is probably not as one-sided as you imagine it to be.
The fact is, if you like and care about somebody, which is the basic definition of a friend, then you will inevitably be influenced by them emotionally. If their words and actions have no effect on you, then they might as well be a stranger.
Maybe you agree that friends influence each other, but you think they have a much bigger pull on and power over you than vice versa. Well, sometimes the emotional influence and power are unequal, like a power imbalance. But does that mean you have a bad, unhappy friendship? Does it mean that you can’t genuinely love your friend, and they sincerely cherish you? Plus, do you feel that you are dispensable, and that if they lose you, they won’t be sad at all and their life will be unchanged?
On the other hand, if your friend truly does not care about you, then it’s best to cut ties. There is no point in staying in a relationship where there is no affection from the other side. Sometimes, this friend may be a kind person in general. But if they feel nothing in return towards you, maybe because they don’t think you are compatible with them, or they dislike some of the things you do, then why give yourself the pain of sticking with somebody who is indifferent to you?
If you don’t want them to disappear from your life completely, you can always just be casual acquaintances. These suggestions may sound sad or even cruel, but it has to be done if they don’t even like you back.
A caveat is that sometimes, a person does actually like you back, but you feel so insecure that you don’t see it, or you believe that they are just being “nice” or polite. So, while I don’t advocate staying friends with someone who is indifferent, I would also encourage a more optimistic attitude, to give your friend the benefit of the doubt.
Why Do We Even Care About or Want to Become Emotionally Close to Someone?
This is an important point to clarify, as you might feel that emotional closeness is an obligation, or simply something that the society thinks you should do, but you don’t actually see the point in doing it. Wouldn’t life be much easier if you could be as free-flowing as the wind, affected by and attached to nobody? Are there any good things about being emotionally close?
I would argue that yes, there are plenty of benefits to emotional closeness. For one, you will feel less lonely if you can be genuinely close to and connect with someone. You know those people with many friends who still feel lonely, because they don’t feel close to anyone? Another benefit of closeness, is that you can meet many of each other’s emotional needs and desires. For instance, the need to belong, to be loved, valued, cared for, appreciated, and respected; the desire for comfort, encouragement, and inspiration; a longing for somebody to look up to, who can also protect and take care of you; or a yearning to protect or take care of somebody else. Having emotional support during tough times is another advantage of being close to someone.
Lastly, instead of framing emotional closeness as a kind of dependence, frame it as a kind of interdependence. You can both rely on each other for support, company, comfort, and encouragement; but simultaneously, you give each other the space and freedom to do things by yourself and to be your own person.
After reading this post, would you still fear becoming too attached, dependent, needy, or weak if you grow emotionally close to someone? If so, what can you do to handle or erase these fears, aside from avoiding emotional closeness? Do you have any other strategies to add to the ideas in this post, on how to tackle the fears of becoming “attached to and dependent on” someone, or how to conquer our worries of growing “weak” as a result of closeness?