Is She A Fake Friend Or Is She Just A Bit Selfish?

Photographed by Natalia Mantini
Ever wondered what you'd say to a therapist, given the chance? We asked Dr Sheri Jacobson, a retired psychotherapist with over 17 years' clinical experience and the founder of Harley Therapy website, for advice on the things we worry about in private.


The person I consider one of my closest friends will often not prioritise our friendship over something more convenient or beneficial for her. We have to meet in an area convenient for her; she has no problem cancelling on me last minute; sometimes it feels like she’s only listening to me to find a way to talk about herself; and I worry that she’s most interested in being my friend only when my job (which involves working with famous people) is going well. But she can also be so funny and fun and has been there for me in the past when I needed her most. How can I tell if she’s a fake friend or just selfish? And if she is fake, what should I do?
Toni, 26


Most of us think from our own standpoint and so some selfishness in everyone is inevitable. But we are also social creatures. If that selfishness is not balanced by your social nature, that's when you get into the zone of fake friendships. These are friendships dominated and characterised by one sidedness: everything revolves around their life, their views, their interests. More than that, it can often veer into being transactional — and if they're using you for social status or perhaps financial gain, it can veer into exploitative. This lack of respect can mean they not only don't take your wishes into consideration, but actually demean or belittle them. Perhaps they do it in front of others and co-opt others into that viewpoint as well.
So how can you determine if this relationship is the former or the latter? I advise doing a stocktake: weighing up the pros and cons and seeing how much give and take there is each way. Try to be as objective as you can about your own behaviour and the way that you present in the relationship. Are you actually contributing? Are you offering to help when they're in need? And vice versa.
This can be an opportunity to reflect and ask yourself questions about this friendship. Are our respective lives better as a result of us being friends? And then to flip the question around, how would I be if that friendship wasn't around? Often a sign of a good friendship is if you're a better person because of the company you keep. If you're worse in general and your life has diminished that can give you an indication of how you actually fit together.
What you do with this information is up to you. For example, if a person has a sharp tongue and you don't like it, to what extent does it make you feel uncomfortable enough for that friendship not to be worthwhile? Maybe they do all the planning, they might be superb at organising things and getting people together, and they might be really fun. If the only thing that is pushing you away is that they can be mean spirited, it's up to you whether you're willing to take that trade off.
It also depends on whether you're willing to communicate that this makes you feel upset and uncomfortable. And that could be done sometimes in a light-hearted way so that it doesn't feel like a lecture. At the same time, keep yourself safe because if it is someone who is prone to exploit and you're a bit more impressionable, you may choose to back off without explanation. If they're going to try and manipulate the conversation to make you think you're in the wrong then a gentle manoeuvre away might be preferable to a confrontation.
Friendships take so many different different guises. Sometimes they end up abruptly and proactively, sometimes you just drift apart and sometimes it reverts back to the way it was before. Individuals lives change: they will shift and meander, and sometimes we find ourselves very much further from from each other because of those differences. Whether you return to that friendship or repatch it, it's good to benchmark it at this point in time. Is this friendship making me a better person? Is it enhancing or diminishing my quality of life?
Relationships in general can be messy. We're not perfect individuals and having idealistic relationship standards is often going to result in disappointment, so better to be a bit more compassionate towards the other party and yourself, but of course within reason.
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